Tynemouth PierPassionate people, passionate places: the slogan by the North East England tourist board is spot on. Long apart from the rest of England administratively, the North East has a history of rebellion and a reputation for hardiness. Romans, Vikings, Normans, Angles, Saxons: all the big players in British history have passed through here. One of the first things to strike the visitor is the wild beauty of the land, which must have seemed both impenetrable and alluring to colonisers. The Romans left their mark upon the unforgiving landscape with Hadrian’s Wall, which stretches 117 km across the north of England and is now the most popular tourist attraction in the area. But visitors who make a beeline for the wall, stopping only perhaps to admire the impressive Norman Cathedral in Durham, are missing out: there is more to see in the North East.

The region is made up of Northumberland, County Durham, Tyne and Wear, and Tees Valley. Newcastle-Upon-Tyne, the region’s key city, is a testament to the ingenuity of the people in embracing modernity and shuffling off a now defunct industrial past which so informed its identity that it spawned the phrase “carrying coals to Newcastle”. It is now a centre for business and culture. The people of Newcastle are known as Geordies and have a very distinct accent and dialect of their own, a lot of which can actually be traced back to the Danish Angles whose influence was so strong in the North East. However, the culture of the North East also has close links to that of Scotland, which is reflected in customs such as the rapper sword dance and the clog dance, and in the traditional music of the region with its use of smallpipes, a kind of bagpipe.

Durham is a quaint university town, a quick train ride away from Newcastle. The Cathedral and Castle rise high above the town, looking over the cobblestones of the old city centre. The town was reputed to have been founded when a milkmaid and her Dun Cow, lead the monks of Lindisfarne, who were carrying the body of Saint Cuthbert, to the site. Saint Cuthbert’s resting place became the most important religious site in the country before the martyrdom of St Thomas à Becket. Saint Cuthbert is still buried at Durham Cathedral as is another important figure, the Venerable Bede, the medieval ecclesiastical historian who was born and spent his life in the North East. Christianity in England grew up in the North East. Lindisfarne or Holy Island, which lies off the coast of Northumberland, was an important base for Christian missionaries and the beautiful Lindisfarne Gospels were created here. However, Lindisfarne is just one in a number of picturesque islands off the coast. There are also a number of castles in Northumberland ranging from the imposing Banburgh to Alnwick Castle, featured in the Harry Potter movies to Chillingham Castle, which is reputed to be haunted.

It can get very cold up north, which generally experiences lower temperatures than the rest of England. During the middle of winter, the region experiences low levels of sunlight and, in places, heavy snow. To keep warm, the locals enjoy a rich diet with such dishes as: Pease Pudding, a popular dish dating back to the medieval era, when it was sold by vendors on the streets of Newcastle. It is made from split yellow peas, water, salt, spices and often bacon; and Stottie Cake, a bread roll, made from self-raising flour, salt and milk, which is often used in chip or bacon butties (sandwiches). This region also produces excellent seafood and cheese, as well as popular brews such as Newcastle Brown Ale, called “Newkie” or “Brown Dog” by the locals, and Lindisfarne Mead.

The North East, having struggled with deindustrialization, is a vibrant region of England. Come for the beautiful, rugged landscape and the overwhelming sense of history, but linger longer for the warm local culture.

Writer:  Leah O'Hearn

Bamburgh CastleIn Northumberland, excavations at Horwick have revealed structures from the Mesolithic era (10,000 – 5500 years ago) but evidence for human habitation in this region before the Bronze Age is still quite scant. When the Romans colonized Britain in 43 AD, they found much of the north ruled by Queen Cartimandua of the Brigantes tribe. For some time, they allowed the Brigantes to retain control of their territory but eventually, the Romans took over. In 117AD Hadrian became emperor of Rome and decided to reinforce the northern border of Britain, which long had problems with invading tribes from Scotland as well as occasional disturbances by the tribes in the North East.   

With the departure of the Romans in the 5th century AD, the people of the North East were easy targets for the Picts north of Hadrian’s Wall. In desperation they turned to the Angles of Denmark and the Saxons of Germany, hiring them to fight off the Picts in return for land. This initial agreement turned sour for the Britons, as the Angles and Saxons themselves began increasingly to invade further south. By the middle of the 6th century, two Anglo-Saxon kingdoms dominated the North, the Deira and Bernicia which together made up the Kingdom of Northumbria. Under this regime, Christianity blossomed – the Lindisfarne Gospels were created during this period.

Later the Vikings invaded, taking over much of the north, bringing the country under Danelaw. The Kingdom of Jorvik, centred on York in Yorkshire, controlled most of the north of England and would prove to have considerable impact on local culture.

After the Battle of Hastings in 1066, there were uprisings in the north against the Normans, during which many Normans were killed. William the Conqueror marched his armies north and perpetrated the Harrowing of the North as punishment, burning all the fields in his path from York to Durham and salting them to render them useless for one hundred years afterwards.  

During Tudor times, the region frequently rebelled against the English crown. During this period, the region was mostly Catholic and this led to the Rising of the North, an unsuccessful rebellion against Elizabeth I in 1559 to restore Mary, Queen of Scots to the throne. The region continued to have Jacobite sympathies after the Restoration and following the death of King Charles II, when there was a difficult 30 year period of contention for the throne.

The Industrial Revolution changed the North East immeasurably. By the end of the 1700s, there were two important coalfields, the one in County Durham and the other in Northumberland. The world’s first railway came into operation during this time to service the coal industry and ran from Darlington to Stockton. The coal industry was the main driver in the development of the region as the shipbuilding and engineering industries grew alongside it.   In recent years, as the coal industry has closed down, the North East has been aiming at developing its tourism industry and at attracting the financial and technological industries.


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Click on the link to download your 18-page PDF version of NORTH EAST ENGLAND.  It covers Northumberland, Hadrian's Wall, Newcastle and Durham County.