It was like a scene from the classic but gory animated film Watership Down…
A large family of rabbits were happily hopping about and munching the grass around our holiday home when suddenly a cat appeared.
The rabbits scattered into the bushes but one baby bunny was too slow and was last seen flailing in the jaws of the savage pussy (as the chorus of Bright Eyes played in my head).
Luckily, the dawn raid was not witnessed by our two Bing, Miffy and Peter Rabbit-loving children, aged three and six – the eldest would have been mortified.
For them, the abundance of bunnies meant it was like staying in Teletubby Land and they would have been quite happy to just stare out of the windows all week.
We were staying in a cosy, bright and comfortable ‘‘deluxe’’ lodge at Riverside Leisure Park, on the edge of Wooler in Northumberland.
It says a lot about the lodge that it could fail two of my all-important holiday home criteria (toaster too small for bagels and the toilet paper too flimsy) yet still gain a five-star rating from me.
My three other benchmarks are: 1) an uncomplicated heating system; 2) showers that are not boiling one second and freezing the next; and 3) a TV in the bedroom you can watch without creaking your neck.
Tick, tick, tick!
In fact, the lodge was a million miles from what you would normally associate with mobile accommodation. For starters, it was big…. very big.
The luxurious living area had a kitchen bigger than you’d find in most homes, a dining table that comfortably seated six, and two comfy sofas that three people could easily cosy up on.
There were two spacious shower rooms, two twin bedrooms and one double bedroom – all good sizes – and the pièce de résistance for my wife was the walk-in dressing room.
Decking wrapped around half the lodge, with a bench for eating al fresco (and bunny spotting).
As the name suggests, a shallow river runs through Riverside and there’s a fishing lake where we fed the ducks and swans, then fled from the rather threatening Canada geese.
There are two nice playgrounds on site with a bar / restaurant, an amusement arcade, a swimming pool and an entertainment area a short walk away, across a road.
During the week, our children took part in mosaic art, indoor archery and a coconut shy (actually a Haribo shy). We decided to give the ‘’pie your folks’’ morning a miss!
There was also entertainment in the evenings, including children’s bingo and karaoke, plus dance and talent competitions, the winners for which were determined by the cheers from onlookers.
I’m not bitter but my daughter only lost out in the dance final because the winner’s family was bigger and louder than ours. A proper judging panel would have said she was fab-u-lous in true Strictly style!
The mascot at Riverside (and its sister venues) is Vincent the fox, who must never, ever be confused with his foul-mouthed namesake, star of the hysterical BBC3 puppet show Mongrels.
Vincent’s ‘’V Stars’’ were led by ‘’Baldy Brian’’ who had a great rapport with the children and – unusually in our experience – always remembered all of their names.
Wooler is well placed for a handful of day trips all within 30 minutes. Here’s what we got up to…
Seals at the Farne Islands
We took a 90-minute tour from the fishing village of Seahouses to these islands, which are two to three miles off the coast.
Here we saw literally hundreds of grey seals basking on the rocks and some of the 20 species of sea birds which nest here, including those adorable puffins.
Around 100,000 birds make the islands their home each year (others include guillemots, razorbills, eider ducks and terns) and 1,000 seal pups are born there every autumn.
Our boat also passed Longstone Lighthouse, home in 1838 to 22-year-old Grace Darling, famed for rescuing nine people from a paddle steamer that ran aground in a storm.
There are plenty of other boat trips to choose from, including ones that land on the islands, which are popular with enthusiastic ornithologists and wildlife photographers.
If you’re lucky, as we were, you may also spot some dolphins.
Mainland side of the Holy Island causeway
Also known as Lindisfarne, it was from this picturesque tidal island that St Aidan and St Cuthbert spread the Christian message in the seventh century
Places to visit include castle, in the care of the National Trust (currently covered in scaffolding) and the evocative ruins of the priory, which was ransacked by Vikings.
You can drive to Holy Island but it is cut off twice daily by fast-moving tides (search ‘’Holy Island stuck’’ on Youtube for an example as to why you should always check the safe crossing times).
We joined a fascinated crowd beating a retreat at one end of the causeway as the road was slowly submerged by water.
Alnwick Castle is the second largest inhabited castle in England and has been home to the Duke of Northumberland’s family, the Percys, for over 700 years.
Its popularity grew when it was transformed into the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry in the Harry Potter films. But with kids too young to be impressed by that, we visited the gardens next door.
Alnwick Gardens, The Duchess of Northumberland’s vision for a forgotten plot, is full of imagination, inspiration, quirkiness and play – and the no.1 highlight of our week in the North-east.
It’s a truly magical place for the whole family, from the Grand Cascade with its dancing fountains to the dark and mysterious Bamboo Labyrinth, and the Serpent Garden’s wondrous water sculptures.
Then there’s one of the world’s largest tree houses, where you can either grab a snack or fine dine, and the Poison Garden full of plants that can kill (yes, we took two overly inquisitive children there).
And you never know who is around the corner in this ‘’Garden of Fairy Tales’’ as it’s home to Little Red Riding Hood, Princess Beauty and a suitably creepy Wicked Queen, among many others.
This is one of Northumberland’s most iconic buildings.
Once home to the kings of ancient Northumbria, the castle we see today was built at great expense by famed industrialist Lord Armstrong in late Victorian times, and is still home to his family.
We didn’t go into the castle but paid a couple of visits to the dunes and beaches below its impressive ramparts.
We hopped across the border one afternoon to the small town of Coldstream, which lies on the north side of River Tweed.
Coldstream gave its name to the regiment which marched from there to London in 1660, an action that resulted in the restoration of Charles II.
The Coldstream Museum highlights the history of the regiment and is located on the site of the original headquarters.
The town has a country park which is good for bird watching as well as pleasant river, lakeside and woodland walks.
In the 18th and 19th centuries the town rivalled Gretna as a popular centre for runaway marriages.
Adrian Caffery and family were guests of Verdant Leisure at Riverside Leisure Park. Prices for a week in a deluxe caravan in January start from £199. Verdant Leisure operates six other holiday parks in County Durham, Berwickshire, Ayrshire and Dunbar. See www.verdantleisure.co.uk or call 03300 535524.
Newspaper article here wooler