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The sparsely populated stretch of Northumberland north of Hadrian’s Wall is a place where creatures of feather and fin vastly outnumber people, where dark skies, ancient holy lands and mysterious cairns put human existence into a humbled perspective

There’s no timid tippy-toeing for the gung-ho Jack Russell. It bounds into the North Sea without so much as a flinch, channelling its energy and enthusiasm into chasing the same tennis ball it’s already retrieved several times. His owner wears a raincoat despite the mellow afternoon sun — you can never be too careful — and seems quite content to keep throwing.

To the left, seagulls stomp about in the rock pools. To the right, wisps of seaweed decorate the beach, and the ruins of Dunstanburgh Castle act as a siren call to muddy booters who regard not being able to get there by car as an integral part of its appeal.

Idyllic contentment laps over Low Newtonby- the-Sea. It’s a tiny place, dominated by a grand horseshoe of whitewashed buildings that appear to have gone AWOL from a town square. Among them is The Ship Inn, where the bar queue snakes to the door over uncompromisingly unvarnished wooden floors. The pub brews 26 beers, including Dolly Daydream, a bitter, and Sea Coal, a dark wheat beer, and serves up lobster without the fine dining frippery. It’s very Northumberland — a penchant for the good things in life, combined with an active disdain for tarting them up.

This no-nonsense simplicity extends to the Newton Pool Nature Reserve, a short squelch along the path. Here, two spartan wooden hides look out over the wetlands. Elsewhere, the idea of just sitting down for an hour looking at what birdlife flies by might seem phenomenally dull. Here, where mobile phones rarely have reception, it starts to seem oddly appealing. My previous protestations of not giving a damn which bird is which suddenly morph into painstaking debate over whether the one gliding across the water is a European white-fronted goose or a Greenland white-fronted goose.

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About National Geographic Traveller (UK)

This month, we ditch the jeep to discover Africa from a different perspective. Whether on foot, by boat or hot air balloon, we’re showcasing the continent’s wild side on an active safari across Kenya, Tanzania, Botswana and more. We go north of Hadrian’s Wall in Northumberland; discover Japan’s Tohoku region; and spend a long weekend in Vilnius. Other highlights this issue include Lima, Fife, Budapest, San Francisco and Turin, while our photo story unearths the tradition of gold panning in Costa Rica.