Standing upon Bamburgh Dunes in windswept Northumberland, I watch three dogs bound over salt- softened grass to chase waves and gulls. In the distance stands Farne Island Lighthouse, a resolute silhouette before the late autumn sun. To my left are Holy Island’s ruins, and to the right, there’s nothing but boulders and sand. While there is a tea shop nearby, and a van selling cockles and whelks even closer, this isn’t the ‘pleasant pastures’ or ‘clouded hills’ version of England I dreamt of when, all those years ago, back in Australia, I first considered the romance of distant shores. But it’s one of the innumerable English scenes I now adore.
Although they’ve never been easy to pen, these editor’s letters typically come to me - unexpected and rough - in a particular location. For France it was while ensconced in a Champagne châteaux, Japan happened when seeking solace along the Kumano Kodō, and for Scotland, it was when battling sleet upon the Isle of Skye. These settings all seemed, in those moments, to capture the soul of our chosen country. Yet England was different. This may be a tiny island but it’s staggeringly diverse. It is sylvan, unpredictable, sublime, originative and contradictory - a land of eccentricity and ingenuity, a mix of worlds, practices and lifestyles all enriched and enlivened by an enthrallingly complex past. Travel here and discover more than you thought possible - and that defining Englishness is a daunting task indeed.
I mused on this opening while delving into Dorset’s literary history, tramping across the Peak District and plotting journeys to distant islands. It could have been Cornwall’s harbours, tales of Roman conquests, artistic movements born in seaside towns or star-filled skies that provided inspiration. But alone, in isolation, they never felt right, for England has many guises and no one scene, however iconic, quaint or quintessential it may be, entirely encapsulates this peculiar country. The land of hope and glory truly is the sum of its parts.
This extract from my England Editor's Letter was written while spending a glorious long weekend in Crabtree & Crabtree's Stewards House in Berwick-Upon-Tweed. It was my first trip to Northumberland - a destination that stars in the new England magazine, a place of gin, dark skies and wild spaces - and, faced with glorious September weather and a property I had no desire to leave, I could not think of a better introduction to this historic, fascinating part of the world.
The house itself is a feast of rose-coloured stone, homely furniture, sprawling gardens, vintage details and classically English soft furnishing. Downstairs, the spacious kitchen is ideal for those looking to show off their culinary prowess and mark use of the the region's exceptional produce (Chain Bridge Honey, for example, is just down the road). The kitchen leads on to the living room, complete with a tempting fireplace - and nearby is a wood-panelled billiard room, both perfect for cooler nights in. The upstairs bedrooms - all adorned with Farrow and Ball paints in muted hues and curtains that would make Laura Ashley proud - becomes yours the moment you pass through their doors. Should you be a fishing fan, this hideaway couldn't be more ideal, found upon a salmon river that separates England and Scotland. But the wonders of Northumberland, and Scotland to the north, all beg to be explored. Castles overlooking the waves, ancient fortresses designed to stir fear in the hearts of would-be Danish invaders, markets towns that have changed little over the centuries, wind-worn fishing villages, stone harbours and fields that appear to cascade on forever. If you're seeking an English escape somewhere sure to inspire, then perhaps a week at Steward's House would be just the trick
Crabtree & Crabtree have a range of self-catering accommodation offerings across Northumberland and Scotland - all properties coming with history, quirk and personality. The Cowshed, another Northumberland C&C gem, also appears in our England magazine - which you can order here. To make bookings or check out the C&C escapes available, click here.
Photographs taken by Angela Terrell while staying at Steward's House.