The market town of Hexham , which lies about 25 miles east of my hometown of Newcastle, truly is a lovely place to visit for the day. On our way up to Bellingham to stay at Hesleyside Huts for the Easter weekend, Alex and I stopped off in Hexham with high hopes to see beautiful, historic buildings and a quaint market square. Despite the rainy weather, our expectations were exceeded and we ended up coming across a few nuggets of gold which I can’t wait to tell you about!
Although there’s parking nearer the centre of Hexham, I’d recommend parking in the Wentworth Car Park by Waitrose, just on the outskirts of the town centre. The walk up to the Market Square only takes about 10 minutes from here and you get to see Hexham from a completely different perspective – set upon a sloping hill in all its glory. If you’ve got a Northumberland County Council parking disc, don’t forget it when you head to Hexham!
Here are a handful of the places Alex and I visited, as well as things we saw and immediately loved about Hexham:
Delve Into the History of Hexham Old Gaol
The best way I can describe Hexham Old Gaol is: a small space steeped in history for all to enjoy! This museum, set over four floors, has been cleverly converted from England’s oldest purpose-built prison dating back to 1330, to a fantastic learning space with bags of activities and interactions to keep the whole family interested.
Take the lift and descend into the dark dungeons, before exploring what each floor has to tell you about the old gaol system, the Wardens and the lives of the Border families from long ago. As a historian, I was also extremely excited to discover that Hexham Old Gaol is the home to the Border Library Collection! This place really is a historic gem, with friendly and helpful staff who are eager to answer your questions and tell you about the fascinating history of this building.
With tickets priced at only £5 per adult, £4 per concession and free entry for children aged 16 years and under, you really can’t go wrong with a visit to Hexham Old Gaol. Your ticket also entitles you to a year’s worth of free visits so you can return whenever you please. Just make sure you don’t make the mistake of pronouncing gaol as ‘gowl’ like someone did – sorry Alex!
Experience Hexham Abbey
Right at the heart of the thriving market town of Hexham, is Hexham Abbey: an exquisite building which has been standing for over 1,340 years. There’s nothing quite like entering a place of such peace and beauty, which has been a cornerstone of the Hexham community and a place of Christian solace for so many years.
The stained glass windows were my absolute favourite part of the Abbey – I find it incredible how the Abbey has seen so much turmoil and destruction over the years, with Scottish raiders lead by William ‘Braveheart’ Wallace raiding part of the Abbey in 1297, yet it remains so peaceful and serene. When I visit places such as Hexham Abbey, I remember why it is that I love history and exploring historical sites so much – you can’ t beat the feeling you get walking into a place like that!
Wine and Dine at Bin 21
I couldn’t think of a better way to top of a day full of history and exploration, than with some great food and wine! We had considered heading to the famous Bouchon Bistrot, but we were after something much lighter than rich, French food – however delicious I believe the food at Bouchon to be!
My parents had told us about a Wine Merchant just off Market Square and we thankfully came across Bin 21 almost straightaway! We walked into the busy store, complete with bottles of fine wines, real ales and spirits as far as the eye could see. Very quickly, we were taken upstairs to a cosy seating area in the Grape and Bean Wine Bar and Coffee Lounge part of the shop, where we opted for some Prosecco and a meat and cheese board.
We selected three yummy meats from the list, and three different types of cheddar that caught my eye. We’ve been big on trying different flavoured cheddars recently (after we discovered Blacks Cheeses at the Living North fair last year), but our new favourite has to be the Black Bomber Cheddar from Snowdonia! It’s so creamy and delicious, and it went perfectly with some tangy chutney on warm bread. The food and the wine were clearly of a very good quality, and our host was extremely friendly and gave us her top tips on where to visit around Bellingham. We’ll definitely be returning to the Grape and Bean Wine Bar at Bin 21 – Northumberland’s largest independent retailer of wines, spirits, fine cigars and beers.
Explore the Streets of Hexham
One of the nicest, most relaxed parts of our day in Hexham was just wandering round its streets and Market Square – it really is a lovely town and community. I knew I was going to like Hexham within the first 15 minutes of our visit, as on our way to the Old Gaol I spotted a wooden box containing fruit and vegetables that had been planted for members of the community to harvest as they pleased. I can’t tell you how much I loved this sentiment, and how brilliant I think it is that Hexham holds onto the community spirit that so many towns have lost over the years.
If you’re lucky enough to be in Hexham on the second or fourth Saturday of the month, you must check out the long-established Hexham Farmers Market. If you visit at any other time of the month, don’t worry, there is still plenty to see in the town – the Forum Cinema is a wonderful art-deco spectacle in itself!
There’s something for everything to enjoy in Hexham, but if you are passionate about good food, good wine, history and community spirit, this guide may come in particularly handy!
Head over to the Visit Hexham website for more information.