During our week in Northumberland, someone gave us a hint about a little gem of a place to visit. Ford and Etal are adjacent villages that are like stepping back in time. We piled into the van with bikes on the back and set out to explore.
Etal Castle is an English Heritage property located in the village of Etal in Northumberland. Inside the visitors’ centre is a small exhibition depicting the Anglo-Saxon warfare that took place in and around the castle and nearby Flodden Battlefields.
For families, Etal Castle is a lovely place to explore. There’s little left of the castle itself, but there’s plenty of grass to run around on and the ruins give a good sense of what the castle would have been like. It’s dog friendly too, and the perfect location for a picnic if the rain holds off.
Heatherslaw Steam Railway
A short walk from Etal Castle, you can catch the Heatherslaw Light Railway miniature steam engine to Heatherslaw village. Coaches are either fully enclosed or open but with a roof. It’s the perfect way to see the countryside as you make your way over to Heatherslaw village.
Instead of joining everyone on the train, I took the van over to Heatherslaw station. From there, we got on our bikes and cycled over the little bridge to the tourist information centre and Heatherslaw Corn Mill. We then followed the cycle track out of the village and headed towards the Hay Farm Heavy Horse Centre. Unfortunately after a nice ride on quiet roads and farm tracks, we met up with a really fast, main road. I didn’t feel confident cycling on there with the children, so we headed back to the van the way we’d come.
Hay Farm Heavy Horse Centre
This was the highlight of the day for all of us. Entry to Hay Farm Heavy Horse Centre is free, although they do ask for donations to support the amazing work they do as a rare breed approved conservation centre. Most of the residents are Clydesdales, but there are also other breeds that would have been used during the era of the working horse. There are a few pigs and some feathery residents too. We wouldn’t advise arguing with the goose.
We took a short carriage ride around the farm to see some of the other horses. I loved the fact that the whole centre is dog friendly and dogs are even allowed on the carriage ride. The centre is run on a not-for-profit basis and aims to raise awareness of the importance of heavy horses. They also fundraise to allow them to continue their work. They have a breeding programme for the rare breed animals they hold and also rescue and adopt horses.
There’s a small gift shop on site that also sells hot and cold drinks and rather delicious cakes. You can also take a picnic to enjoy at various locations around the site. Alternatively, order a home made picnic from them. The whole centre has a lovely, family friendly feel to it and it’s great to be able to support the important work they do whilst enjoying a relaxing day out.
The Ford and Etal website has a huge list of activities that are going on in these quaint little villages. Duddo standing stones are Northumberland’s equivalent to Stonehenge and the archaeological remains of Ford Moss Colliery stand as an iconic landmark. After the colliery, you could visit the paintings of its miners displayed at Lady Waterford Hall alongside the collection of Pre-Raphaelite works.
Children will also enjoy Lady Waterford Hall, where traditional activities are available. From word searches to a detective trail and dressing up in Victorian costume. Cyclists and walkers will enjoy exploring the area, with the short distance between villages making them accessible without a car.
Ford and Etal: the verdict
We didn’t feel that a day was long enough in Ford and Etal. Despite arriving quite early and staying until the Heavy Horse Centre closed, we only scratched the surface. With many of the attractions being dog friendly and putting on special activities for children, it’s an ideal place to spend a day or two exploring with the whole family. We’ll definitely be back next time we’re visiting the area.