Northumberland is one of England’s loveliest counties. The Northumberland National Park, the Cheviot Hills and Kielder Water and Forest have a remote and haunting beauty.
Northumberland is unique. It has its own red and gold flag and its own tartan. It even has its own musical instrument, the lilting Northumbrian pipes. Northumberland is perfect for peace and relaxation. But it is also an ideal spot for many activities including walking, cycling, fishing, golf, sailing and birding.
A Golden Coast
The 60 mile Northumberland coast has long, clean sandy beaches punctuated by magnificent castles, pretty fishing villages and the historic Holy Island of Lindisfarne.
Hadrian’s Roman Wall
Northumberland’s border history has left many legacies. The most famous is Hadrian’s Wall and its four main Roman forts at Housesteads, Vindolanda. Chesters and Corbridge.
There are also many historic castles. Furnished gems include those at Alnwick, Bamburgh, Lindisfarne and Chillingham. Dramatic ruins include those at Dunstanburgh. Warkworth and Etal.
No other region of England has as many castles and fortresses as Northumbria – a testimony to the region’s strategic position during turbulent times past. Ever-wary of invaders from the sea and raiders from Scotland, the Border landowners built large and lasting strongholds.
The magnificent castles of Alnwick, Bamburgh, Chillingham, Dunstanburgh, Durham, Lindisfarne, Lumley and Raby are all potent examples of past battles and glories. Now, these magnificent buildings still stand proud – but as museums, stately homes, impressive ruins … and even hotels! Several are still privately owned and lived in.
A glance at the history of just a few of them tells the wild and bloody story of Northumbria. Be sure to check out the things to do in Newcastle guide for more helpful information on the castles of Northumberland.
The Wild Border Reivers
For 300 years, the English and Scots fought bitterly for control of the borderlands. For example, Berwick upon Tweed changed hands thirteen times before becoming English (in all but footballing terms!) in 1482. Throughout Northumberland, a great chain of castles and fortified manor houses still stands as testament to this fierce dispute – Warkworth, Chillingham, Callaly, Cresswell, and Etal castles, along with the historic battlefields of Otterburn and Flodden. The modern path of the Reivers is much more peaceful – the Reivers Cycle Route crosses some of the most charming areas of Northumberland on its way to Cumbria.
Raiders from the Sea
The regionís coastal fortresses were often built in response to the threat of seaborne invasion. A stunning example of this is Tynemouth Castle and Priory, perched bravely on the clifftops at the mouth of the River Tyne. But perhaps the most impressive of them all is Bamburgh, standing high above the beach, but nonetheless stormed three times by the Norsemen.
Palaces of the Prince Bishops
Elsewhere in the region, you can see mighty castles that are the legacy of Durham’s Prince Bishops. Durham and Norham Castles, and the Bishopís Palace at Bishop Auckland were all once well-defended ecclesiastical palaces, from the days when Bishops ruled the North like kings. Durham Castle became the home of England’s third oldest University in 1832, and is now a student residence which accommodates visitors during vacations.
Powerful families also once ruled Northumbria, building impressive fortified homes. Barnard Castle in the south of the region was a Norman stronghold; Raby Castle was the home of the Nevill family, who governed large tracts of County Durham for centuries; Dunstanburgh was the property of the Duke of Lancaster; and Alnwick Castle has always been the home of the Percys, Dukes of Northumberland.
Scattered throughout the area are many more historic castles, fortified farmhouses (bastles), pele towers such as Preston Tower, and atmospheric romantic ruins. Some are so hidden away that only the keenest history sleuth is likely to find them!