Earlier this week, a Northumberland village was named one of Airbnb’s hottest resorts in the UK.
However, it was not the UK’s favorite beach destination, Bamburgh. It wasn’t even one of the best staycation destinations of 2022 and the coolest postcodes to move to UK, Beadnell.
It was much further south than either, and perhaps raised a few eyebrows for anyone who hasn’t visited recently: Newbiggin-by-the-Sea. Rated in the top 5% of the UK’s most deprived areas in the 1980s, it is no coincidence that it is now on Airbnb’s list, having made a number of investments to reverse the decline of the village since then, with tourism now being a key part of its economy.
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As far as attractions go, the village is probably best known for the statue of the couple, which stands atop the breakwater protecting the beach. The statue has divided opinion since it was installed in 2007, although the village has a number of things going on that have gone much more under the radar.
Newbiggin Maritime Center showcases the proud history of the fishing village and is home to the ship Mary Joicey, which was rescued from a Berkshire berth and around which the center was originally built. And until October, he has an oil painting of the village of LS Lowry, on loan from a private collection.
There is also the restored Rocket House, the second oldest in the country, and several independent shops including butchers, bakers and gift shops after investments by Mary Portas and Northumberland County Council in the early 2010s. walkers and cyclists can also base themselves in the village for the England Coastal Path or to get to the nearby Woodhorn Museum.
Having Northumberland’s only south-facing bay means that on a clear day from the promenade at Newbiggin you can see Souter Lighthouse at Marsden with binoculars. Move a little to the right and you will see Penshaw Monument.
Sheila Harrison, who moved to the village in 1972, has been a volunteer with the Newbiggin Heritage Partnership for 15 years. She said: “Newbiggin has an incredible geographical position, a fascinating past, resilient people who are passionate about a better future for their families and their village. Almost 50 years ago I moved here and I just knew I I would never move because I loved people.
“Even now, you walk along the ball and everyone talks to you. They’re passionate about the place, they love its history.”
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Although it has been considered a fashionable holiday destination, many who come to Newbiggin come from Northumberland for the day. Kristine, who had traveled from nearby Ashington to play on the beach with her four-year-old daughter, said: “We don’t come every week but it’s nice to come here once in a while. We like the playground and good free parking – and it’s pretty close to my house!”
Karen Hogg discovered the village during the coronavirus pandemic, having retired the day the UK was plunged into lockdown. Then she visited Newbiggin from Blyth because it was quiet but continued her visits with a friend Heather, and said she would buy a house there if she won the lottery.
She said: “People are so friendly, it’s one of the friendliest places you can go. It’s lovely that everyone talks to you when you’re here.
However, as you would expect from a place that had been named an Airbnb trending destination, some visitors come from further afield for their stays. Alan, who builds sand castles on the beach with his two daughters aged nine and six, had come from Lincoln for the week and said: ‘I love Northumberland but Newbiggin was not a place we had seen previously until we have a last minute reservation.
“Since we arrived we learned that it was up and we really liked it. We spent a few days here and did a day at the beach at the top which is quieter and today we stayed here – nice to have town so close.
“We’ve also been to Alnwick Garden and Newcastle Life Center to entertain the kids so that’s a good base too.”
Despite being crowned as a so-called trendy destination, Newbiggin doesn’t seem to have the bustle of Seahouses or Tynemouth. It was overcast and quite cool when I visited, but I was surprised to see only a handful of people on the beach during the first week of summer vacation.
The beach has had a lot of work since a huge storm in 1992. Coastal erosion has caused defences, such as the breakwater on which the couple’s statue stands, to be put in place, while the beach is made of sand imported from Skegness which has been ‘blasted’. ‘ ‘ to where he is now from a tanker.
Wayne Rigg believes the beach has “a lot of potential” and set up Newbiggin Surf Company, which would bring young people to the town. Wayne has lived in the village since 2011 and says current residents are living off of city improvements.
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He said: “Newbiggin beach has so much potential but there are often no people on it. Newbiggin shouldn’t be left behind when you have Amble, Tynemouth, Whitley Bay and Cullercoats – we should compete with all those places and there’s no reason we can’t.”
Wayne says the Newbiggin Surf Company has had a “great reception” since its debut earlier this year, and some people have even told him it’s one of the reasons the beach is busy again. He added: ‘The bay is sheltered and you have the breakwater so you can’t get drifted out to sea – it’s a good place!’
Although Newbiggin is “on the rise”, Sheila Harrison fears he has become “a victim of his own success”. A big change in the area in recent years has been house prices, with a house on Seaton Avenue selling for 26,000 in 1998 and £55,000 in August 2020 for £132,500 in November 2021, an increase of 141% value.
Another bay-view terraced house went from £180,000 to £332,000 over a three-year period from May 2018 to September 2021. Rising prices and a lack of jobs mean young families in the region now have a much harder time getting a foothold on the property ladder.
Converting properties to Airbnbs could push property prices up even further and Sheila hopes it doesn’t lead to the city becoming ‘saturated’ with vacation rentals, as has happened in other parts of the Northumberland coast. She continued: “Airbnbs means we have a busy main street and people spend their money, but basically that’s it.
“A lot of visitors are keen to see Newbiggin but a lot also use them as a base to see other parts of Northumberland. And I think because Beadnell is saturated they come further south because further north you don’t You can’t just buy properties to be Airbnbs – and that’s driving up the prices, and the people who want to live here.
“And then of course there’s the car park, the lanes aren’t used to having these cars. So there are issues, but as I say we want people to visit Newbiggin and spend their money.”
Have you visited Newbiggin-by-the-Sea? What did you think? Let us know!
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