Places to visit
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Bamburgh Castle – www.bamburghcastle.com
Who can fail to notice Bamburgh Castle spanning 9 acres of land on its rocky plateau high above the Northumberland coastline? It is one of the most spectacular of England’s coastal castles, with a long and complex history.
Some important early medieval archaeology survives below the Norman castle that we see today. Excavations in the 1970s and more recently show that the site was one of the key strongholds of Anglo-Saxon Northumbria. The outcrop of basalt rock on which it is built was occupied from around AD 500, and recent excavations have revealed part of what may be the entrance of the early structure, and the stonewall that defended it.
The early structure has long gone, and what remains today is a great Norman keep (dating to c.1120), and a series of bailies contained within the curtain walls. In 1610, with the unification of the Scottish and English crowns accomplished, and the frontier no longer significant, the castle was sold to the local Forster family, who stripped it of its materials. In 1704 it was bought by Lord Crewe, Bishop of Durham, and it was used at different times as a school, a hospital and accommodation for shipwrecked sailors.
The structure’s modern restoration as a ‘fairy-tale’ castle dates to 1894-1905, and was undertaken after it was purchased by Sir William Armstrong (who built Cragside, see below). The castle is still owned by members of the Armstrong family and much of it is let as private apartments.
Take a tour of the 14 public rooms and more than 2,000 artefacts, including arms and armour, porcelain, furniture and artwork.
Cragside – www.nationaltrust.org.uk/cragside
The National Trust property Cragside House was formerly the home of the famous inventor William, Lord Armstrong 1810-1900 (of Vickers-Armstrong fame). In 1878 Cragside was the first house in the world to be lit by hydro-electricity, powered by generators on the estate. The House is magnificent and beautiful, with a lived-in atmosphere, and is well worth a visit.
The beautiful grounds and gardens around Cragside form a 1000-acre estate, with over 40 miles of footpaths. Meander past lakes, streams and some of England’s tallest trees or drive the winding, scenic roadway. The scenery is ever changing and spectacular!
If you have children, take a drive through the estate and find the play area. There’s something for all ages.
Alnwick Castle – http://www.alnwickcastle.com
Seat of the Duke of Northumberland, Alnwick Castle has been in the Percy family since the 14th century. The oldest part of the keep dates from the 12th century when it was owned by the de Vesci family. Alnwick Castle is well maintained and the staterooms are a magnificent example of Renaissance style having been redecorated in the 19th century by Italian craftsmen. The castle is filled with fine china, paintings and furniture.
The current Duke and his family live in the castle, but they only occupy part of it. After Windsor Castle, it is the 2nd largest inhabited castle in England. It was used as a stand in for the exterior and interior of Hogwarts in the Harry Potter films.
Alnwick Gardens – www.alnwickgarden.co.uk
Adjacent to the castle, the current Duchess has created The Alnwick Garden, a spectacular formal garden set around a cascading fountain. It was designed by Jacques and Peter Wirtz of Belgium and work started on the site in the millennium year 2000.
Also, take a walk down to the Treehouse. This enormous and beautifully crafted structure is built from sustainably sourced Canadian cedar, Scandinavian redwood and English and Scots pine. It sits high in the treetops in a copse of mature lime trees and looks as if it’s been there forever.
There are walkways in the sky and wobbly rope bridges for bouncing on, all accessible by wheelchair and buggy. On the Treehouse’s deck there’s the Roost which is wonderful to relax in whilst drinking hot chocolate and eating cake!
At the heart of the Treehouse is a unique restaurant. There’s a roaring log fire in the centre of the room, trees growing through the floor, handcrafted furniture and screens created from fallen branches. Most importantly, the locally-inspired food is delicious. If you wish to dine here make sure you book early to avoid disappointment.
Please note that tickets to Alnwick Garden give access to the Garden only. Alnwick Castle tickets give access to the Castle only. To visit both attractions, check out their ‘buy together and save’ ticket.
Belsay was built during the 19th century by Sir Charles Monck. The Hall was built in the grounds of a 13th century castle, which later was converted into a Manor house. The Manor House is now a picturesque ruin. Belsay Hall was rescued by English Heritage and saved for the nation to enjoy.
Belsay also has a grade 1 listed heritage garden….truly for plant-lovers. Today the dramatic Quarry Garden (where the stone to build the hall was taken) flourishes with exotic trees, shrubs and herbaceous plants, many from the Himalayas. It is protected from harsh weather by 30 foot high cliffs dripping with ferns and moss. Elsewhere the formal gardens provide colour and spectacle with a magnificent Rhododendron Garden, Terraces and Winter Garden.
Dunstanburgh Castle – www.english-heritage.org.uk/dunstanburgh-castle
Built on the most magnificent scale, Dunstanburgh Castle stands on a remote headland and dominates one of the most beautiful stretches of the Northumberland coastline. The best way to access it is from Craster village (please note there is a walk of approx. 1 mile before reaching the castle and there are no toilets on the site!)
The castle was built at a time when relations between King Edward II and his most powerful baron, Earl Thomas of Lancaster, had become openly hostile. Lancaster began the fortress in 1313, and the latest archaeological research indicates that he built it on a far grander scale than was recognised, perhaps more as a symbol of his opposition to the king than as a military stronghold.
The earl failed to reach Dunstanburgh when his rebellion was defeated, and was taken and executed in 1322. Thereafter the castle passed eventually to John of Gaunt, who strengthened it against the Scots by converting the great twin towered gatehouse into a keep.
The focus of fierce fighting during the Wars of the Roses, it was twice besieged, but subsequently fell into decay.
The castle is managed by English Heritage and National Trust members can enter free with a valid membership card.
Holy Island and Lindisfarne Castle – www.lindisfarne.org.uk
Location has always been the main attraction for the owners and occupiers of Lindisfarne Castle.
From a former fort to the holiday home of a wealthy Edwardian bachelor seeking a quiet retreat from London, the idyllic location of the Castle has intrigued and inspired for centuries.
The renovation by Arts and Crafts architect Edwin Lutyens both hides and emphasises the old fort, all the while overlooking Gertrude Jekyll’s enchanting walled garden and the unexpected grandeur of the Lime Kilns, an imposing and striking reminder of Lindisfarne’s industrial past.
Holy Island is a tidal island and vehicles can only cross the causeway when the tide is open. Opening times vary significantly every day so please familiarise yourself with the causeway opening times for the day of your visit, you don’t want to get stranded! Remember to take your camera…it is simply stunning!
Originally home to the Lindisfarne Gospels and the site of grisly Viking attacks, Lindisfarne Priory now has a most peaceful atmosphere and beautiful views make a visit here well worth the effort.
The Priory was an important centre of early Christianity, and the home of St Cuthbert. Today you can marvel at the ornate carvings on the extensive ruins of the monastic buildings and enjoy the serenity that first drew the monks here.
Chillingham Castle – www.chillingham-castle.com
This 12th century stronghold, home of Sir Humphrey Wakefield and his family, became ‘basecamp’ for the 1298 conquering attack on William Wallace by ‘Hammer of the Scots’, King Edward 1st. Since 1246, the Castle has been owned by one continuous blood line with the Earls Grey ruling the Castle for the founding centuries.
The Italian garden was laid out in the 19th century by Sir Jeffrey Wyatville, fresh from his royal triumphs at Windsor Castle.
Today, Chillingham Castle is best known for its reputation as one of the most haunted castles in England.
The 365 acre parkland remains home to the historic Chillingham cattle, which are said to be the only remaining wild cattle in the world.
The Farne Islands – www.nationaltrust.org.uk/farne-islands
The islands you can see to the right of Bamburgh Castle when standing at the front of the house are the Farne Islands.
They are possibly the most exciting seabird colony in England with unrivalled views of 23 species, including around 40,000 pairs of puffin. During summertime around 150,000 breeding pairs of seabirds cram onto the islands.
It’s also home to a large grey seal colony, with more than 1,000 pups born every autumn.
Historically, the islands have strong links with Celtic Christianity and St. Cuthbert, who lived here in the 7th Century. The island’s other famous resident was young Victorian heroine Grace Darling who, along with her father, rescued survivors of a stricken paddle steamer in 1838.
There’s a medieval Pele tower and Victorian lighthouse (where Grace lived with her family), plus a visitor centre. Take a boat ride to the islands from Seahouses, where booking kiosks line the harbour.
Warkworth Castle – www.english-heritage.org.uk/warkworth
Warkworth Castle (English Heritage) is sited on raised ground in a loop of the River Coquet. The original motte and bailey castle was built in the mid 12th century by Earl Henry of Northumberland, son of David I, King of Scots. In 1157, Henry II recovered Northumberland from the Scots, and in the following year gave Warkworth Castle to Roger FitzRichard. But the castle is most famously associated with the Percy family, who acquired the castle in 1332.
The Percy family were one of the most powerful in the country, controlling much of Northern England. Despite having a major castle nearby at Alnwick, they frequently resided at Warkworth and made big improvements to the castle, most notably with the addition of the great keep in the late 14th century. The keep is one of the finest in the country, with an advanced design that would have provided impressive accommodation as well as a status symbol worthy of such a powerful family.
Take a free audio tour through the extensive remains of a great hall, fine gatehouse and the circuit of towered walls.
Wallington Hall – www.nationaltrust.org.uk/wallington
Wallington Hall (National Trust) is located in the centre of Northumberland, approximately 12 miles West of Morpeth.
Inside the impressive House you can explore a huge amount of Northumbrian history with an excellent selection of pre-Raphaelite paintings that dominate the impressive arched central hallway. The central hallway was originally built as an open courtyard, but was roofed in the 1850’s to house William Bell Scott’s eight large wall paintings capturing 2,000 years of local history. Of particular interest in the house are the Kitchens and Dining Room which show the interesting lifestyles of the Trevelyan Family. The house and grounds were donated to the National Trust by Sir Charles Trevelyan in 1942, which was the very first donation of its kind.
The House is set in over 100 acres of beautifully peaceful woods and parkland. The highlight of the grounds is without a doubt the Walled Garden, it is a good ten minute walk from the main house but well worth the effort. Even outside of spring and summer the greenhouses are full to the brim with wonderful colourful plants.
The ‘Wild’ West Woods are a wildlife haven and have plenty of things for the kids to do including a great wooden play area. There are plenty of walks in this vast estate that take in lakes, woodlands and rivers. The large courtyard has a huge open lawn in front of the Cafe and shop and makes the ideal spot for a picnic in the sunshine; it’s a great day out for the whole family
Kielder Water and Forest Park – www.visitkielder.com
Kielder water is the largest man-made lake in northern Europe and is capable of holding 200 billion litres of water. It has a shoreline of 27 miles and is 170 feet at its deepest point. It was built at a cost of £167 million and officially opened in 1982.
Kielder Water & Forest Park features mile upon mile of purpose-built trails including forest walks for all the family and dedicated mountain bike tracks. The Lakeside Way is a 26 mile multi-user trail, suitable for walkers, cyclists, horse riders and wheelchair users, that encircles the shoreline of Kielder Water.
A haven for wildlife, Kielder Water & Forest Park is also home to around 50% of England’s native red squirrel population. In 2009 three chicks were born to a record breaking osprey couple – the first birds for at least 200 years to successfully raise chicks in Northumberland. So far they have returned to breed every year since. You can also spot see a range of rare wildlife including the Kielder Super Six: osprey, red squirrel, pipistrelle bat, roe deer, salmon and otter.
Kielder Observatory – www.kielderobservatory.org
All year round – a star gazing and astronomy heaven! Kielder Observatory is located in the heart of Northumberland International Dark Sky Park.
North Northumberland has the largest expanse of dark night sky in the whole of Europe, thanks to minimal light pollution. Winter nights are darkest and best for viewing deep sky objects such as galaxies, while in summer you can view the beautiful Milky Way, passing comets, shooting stars and see the Sun’s surface using our incredible telescope.
For more information about Northumberland International Dark Sky Park see their Dark Skies page.
Come to Kielder Observatory to:
Learn about the night sky and use the powerful telescopes.
Meet experienced astronomers and learn how to take stunning photographs of distant objects in the Universe.
Experience meteor showers (shooting stars) and other celestial events.