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Good times, green pastures and grouse in England's engaging north-east. WORDS: Trevor Paddenburg

If you need any more convincing, here are some reasons why you should get the hell out of London and dash up North:

B&B at home
From the pornstar interior of Jersey Farm near Barnard Castle to the simple decadence of Kings Lodge in Durham and the haunted Lord Crew Hotel in Blanchland, the north is home to more quaint little hotels than a Monopoly board. Most of them come with breakfast included - English-style, meaning a piled plate of bangers, bacon, black pudding and anything else good for clogging the arteries.

Wake up to cows, not cops
Sounds corny, right? Just wait till you try it - there's something infinitely tranquil about lying in bed and hearing nothing but birdsong and cows in need of a good milking. As opposed to the London backing-track of buses, planes, trains and automobiles.

Meet some lairy locals
There's a lot going for London, but good luck getting a friendly nod on the tube or a g'day from a passing pedestrian. Not so up north. Pop into the Shakespeare ale house or even the local JD Wetherspooon in Durham, and you'll be swamped by colourful characters lining up for a chinwag over a pint. The only problem is escaping after three or four, because they'll start buying you brandy shots just to show you how welcome you are.

Bask in the vista
There's much more to the north-east than endless cow paddocks. The landscape is dramatically different up north, with the most spectacular sights including the powerful High Force waterfall in Teesdale and the ghostly moorland of the Derwent Valley (which separates County Durham from Northumberland). Finding a quiet spot for a picnic isn't hard either. Northumberland is the most sparsely populated county in England, with Durham not far behind.

Stuff your face
The only thing better than good old-fashioned country friendliness is good old-fashioned country cooking, and it's in abundance in the north. Feast on free-range chicken and wild mushroom pie at the award-winning Rose And Crown in the village of Romaldkirk, or save your appetite for the gourmet Saturday morning market in Hexham.

Ramble around ruins
Relax to your heart's content but make sure you muster up the energy to see some of the region's castles and ruins. Arguably the best is world-heritage listed Hadrian's Wall, a massive stone barrier studded with forts spanning 73 miles across Britain from the east
coast to the west. It was built by Roman soldiers way back in 122AD to mark the frontier of the Empire.

Nurture yourself in nature
Lace up your boots and hit the countryside for a hike, head to the River Tees for a spot of fly fishing or spy the red deer around Raby Castle. Or, if you really want a taste of traditional England, grab a gun and go grouse shooting. Organised hunting safaris are available during grouse season from August to January. After that, it's probably time to put your feet up and - yep, you guessed it - relax.

Castle capers
England's north is littered with castles, but most are in ruins or have been restored as tourist attractions.

Raby Castle, where the Cate Blanchett flick Elizabeth was filmed, is different - it's still home to the 11th Lord Barnard. The castle, near the village of Staindrop, was the location of a secret meeting in 1569, when 700 knights hatched a plot to overthrow Elizabeth I in what became known as the 'Rising of the North'.

While Lord Barney, as he's affectionately known by the locals, still lives in an apartment in one of the castle's towers, the rest of the historic building is open to visitors, and it's well worth a look.


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