NORTHUMBERLAND

Lone Sycamore, NorthumbriaCornered by the Scottish border and the North Sea, Northumberland is a sparsely populated region that gives the impression of having just been discovered, with its wild seas and lonely stretches of rugged, desperate landscape. About a quarter of this beautiful land is protected as Northumberland National Park.

Yet its history is rich: it marked the farthest reaches of the Roman Empire; the area was one of the earliest adopters of Christianity (and its borders still cradle Lindisfarne or Holy Island); and the ancient kingdom of Northumbria, which streched way beyond the county's current borders, was a perennial combatant on the fields of war, targeted by Viking invaders and settlers before finally succumbing to Norman conquest. The visitor therefore has it both ways- a stunning scenic experience culminating in the Northumbland National Park, as well as rich historic one of castles and ancient sites.

Culturally, Northumberland is closer to Scotland than England. For many years the relationship between those north and south of the border was less than friendly and the stunning landscapes of Northumberland were marked by frequent border skirmishes. Today, the language, customs, and music of the Northumbrian people still reflect those of the Lowlands of Scotland and the county even has its own tartan.


 

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Berwick Castle ruinsB
erwick-Upon-Tweed  (pop.12,900) is England’s northernmost town and has experienced something of an identity crisis throughout its long history: between 1174 and 1482 alone it was by turns English or Scottish as power changed hands 14 times and the dialogue continues today. Situated at the mouth of the River Tweed, it is famous for its bridges and its military history.


Arrival
Berwick-Upon-Tweed lies upon the northern bank of the River Tweed at the mouth. The town faces the river rather than the sea. The train station is on the north-eastern side of the old town at Railway Street. Buses can found at Railway Street and Golden Square. Visit here for details about their Berwick town bus services.

 Sights
As a crucial border town, Berwick has a wealth of military history: the once vitally important Berwick Castle, of which only two walls remain, the west curtain wall and the White Wall with its evocatively named Breakneck Stairs; the nearby Elizabethan Bell Tower, built to sound out warnings of raids to the artillery at the Elizabethan Ramparts, impressive town fortifications built in 1558; and the Lord’s Mount, an artillery tower also constructed in the 16th century.

Completed in 1721 to the designs of the famous Nicholas Hawksmoor, the Berwick Barracks [The Parade, +44 1289 304493, £3.70] were the first purpose built infantry barracks in the country. The ‘By Beat of Drum’ exhibition explores the lives of infantrymen throughout British military history.
All of these are run by English Heritage but are open free to the public in daylight hours:

The Royal Border Railway Bridge is a distinctive feature of the town. Designed by Robert Stephenson and completed in 1850, it is best viewed from the train as it approaches the town from the south.

Hotels
11Quaywalls [11 Quaywalls, +44 1289 309945, £30 per person] For excellent views of the river, you can’t beat 11 Quaywalls. The rooms are clean and simply decorated and this B&B is overall excellent value for money. 

Queens Head Hotel
[6 Sandgate, +44 1289 307852, £90] The Queens Head is a stylish little place located in the old town. The rooms are comfy and the showers powerful. Be sure to try out the bar and restaurant, which are popular with locals. 

 



Lindisfame Island CastleH
oly Island or Lindisfarne (pop. 165) is a tidal island off the Northumbrian coast. It became one of the early bastions of Christianity in the 7th century when a priory was founded here. England’s most revered saint, St. Cuthbert, was bishop at Lindisfarne and was buried here until his remains were removed to Durham after Viking raids throughout the 8th and 9th centuries. Re-established under the Normans, the priory continued until the Dissolution of the Monasteries under Henry VIII.

Layout          
The village is very small but the terrain can be quite difficult. Much of the north of the island is a nature reserve. The priory stands at the south of the village, while the castle is reached by skirting west around Ouse Harbour.  Before visiting the island, consult the charts here to check that the causeway is open and safe to cross. The opening times of the castle and priory are regularly adjusted according to the whims of the sea, which submerges the causeway twice daily. There is a minibus service connecting the village and the castle, visit here for details.

Sights
Holy Island PrioryIn AD 635 St Aiden founded Lindisfarne Priory [+44 1289 389200, adults £4.50] and the secluded community reached prominence under St Cuthbert. The ruined priory looks over a stunning sweep of the Northumbrian coast, an inspirational landscape that perhaps led the monks to create beauty themselves in the form of the Lindisfarne Gospels. Visitors to the priory are sadly unable to view this wonderful tract as it is housed in the British Museum in London. 

Lindisfarne Castle [+44 1289 389244, Castle and garden adults £6.60] is part Tudor fort, part Edwardian artwork after its makeover by architect Edwin Lutyens in 1903. It was originally built using some of the stones from the priory, which had ceased to be used after the Dissolution of the Monasteries.

Finally, not so much a sight as a taste – don’t leave without trying St Aiden’s Winery’s [+44 1289 389230]Lindisfarne Mead, a fortified wine of grapes, herbs, honey, and water from the island’s artesian well: just as the monks used to make it. 

Hotel
Manor House Hotel [Holy Island, +44 1289 389207, £95-150] Situated in the market place, the Manor House has wonderful views of Ouse Harbour and the castle, and it is beside the ruins of Lindisfarne Priory. Rooms are simply furnished.

 



Bamburgh CastleThe unassuming coastal village of Bamburgh (pop. 460) was once the capital of the Northumbrian kings. It is most famous for its magnificent Norman castle, which is dramatically situated atop a basalt outcrop overlooking stretches of white sandy beaches. Like Lindisfarne, it is considered one of the key sites of early Christianity in England. At the invitation of King Oswald, St Aidan came here from Iona to spread the faith in Northumbria and founded Bamburgh’s small parish church as well as the priory on Holy Island. 

Layout          
Bamburgh is not very big. The castle is on the eastern end of the village, while most of the village arcs out south of the church on Radcliffe Rd/Church St. Arriva [www.arriva.co.uk/northeast ] runs bus services 500, 401, and 501 from Alnwick and Berwick to Bamburgh.  

Sights
T
he site of Bamburgh Castle [+44 1668 214515, Adults £8] is ancient: there are indications of prehistoric settlements and, in the 400s and 500s AD, the native British kingdom of Northumbria held its seat here. The castle as we see it today mostly dates to Norman work on the site and Lord Armstrong’s reconstructions in the 19th century. The structure is a stunning example of its kind and is full of myth and legend: keep an eye out for the Pink Lady or Green Jane and any number of other long deceased inhabitants of the castle.

St Aidan’s Church [free entry] was founded in 635 AD, though the building today dates to the 12th century. St Aidan died here, leaning up against a wooden beam that is reputed to be the only remaining part of the original church.

Across the road from the church, is the Grace Darling Museum [Radcliffe Road, +44 1668 214910, Adults £2.75] dedicated to the memory of the young Victorian heroine, who, alongside her father, rowed out in a storm to help the survivors of a shipwreck in 1838.

Hotels
The Greenhouse
[5/6 Front Street,  +44 1668 214 513, £40] is a good option though you should book in advance in summer.

Budle Hall [Bamburgh, +44 1668 214297, £40 per person] Situated outside Bamburgh, this charming old house is not far from the beach, which has views of Holy Island. Wonderful breakfasts.

Bamburgh Hall Farm [Bamburgh, +44 1668 214230, £35-45 per person] This 17th century working farmhouse is elegant, unique, and well-located, a short stroll away from the castle. 

 



Farne Island puffinOn the 30 or so islands of the Farne Island chain, one of the most distinctive sights must be the black and white puffin with its comic orange beak. The Farne Islands are one of Britain’s best spots for bird-watching but the unique ecology of the area also makes it popular for diving, canoeing, and sailing.

Layout
Boats leaves from Seahouses on the coast once an hour between 10am and 3pm, weather permitting. Tours of the islands take from 2.5 to 3 hours but tickets do not include entry fees to certain islands. For further information, visit the National Trust or call +44 1665 720651.

Sights
In summer Inner Farne plays host to puffins, eider ducks, razorbills, shags, cormorants, terns and other birds. In the 7th century, it was the long-time home of Saint Cuthbert, who may have been the first person in England to institute rules to protect birds.

Brownsman Island is not open to visitors but, from the boat, you might see the grey seals there in autumn with their pups.

Longstone Rock
was the home of Victorian heroine Grace Darling, who with her father set out to save shipwrecked passengers from the SS Forfarshire in 1838.

Staple Island possesses remarkable geography with sea stacks or ‘pinnacles’ that are strictly for the adventurous. It is also home to many bird colonies in summer.

Hotel
Malabar Guest House
[20 King Street, +44 1665 720531, £30-40 per person] The Malabar is just a few minutes walk away from the harbour so you won’t miss the boat when staying here. It has modern rooms and good hearty breakfasts.

 



Warkworth CastleW
arkworth’s location within the fold of Coquet River adds interest and charm to what might otherwise be simply another quaint English village. Added to this is the wealth of history in its distinctive castle.

Arrival
Warkworth (pop. 1,500) is nestled in a loop in the Coquet River and close to the coast. The castle protects the south of the village. There are bus stops along Castle Street a.k.a. the A1068.

Sights
Warkworth Castle
[+44 1665 711423, Adults £4.50] was a wooden motte castle when it was first built in the mid 12th century. The impressive cross shaped Keep was not added until the Percy family took over in the 14th century. Harry Hotspur, a Percy, helped put Henry IV on the throne and then rebelled against him, a story which Shakespeare set down in King Henry IV. Part of the play was set in Warkworth Castle.

Below the castle and reachable only by boat is the romantic Hermitage [+44 1665 711423, Adults £3.20]. According to The Hermit of Warkworth written in 1771 by Bishop Thomas Percy, a knight called Sir Bertram remained here in solitude after building the chapel in memory of his brother and his beloved.

Hotel
Fairfield Guesthouse [16 Station Rd, +44 1665 714455, £88-90] Fairfield Guesthouse provides beautiful rooms and excellent food but it is located outside the central village.

 



Alnwick CastleA
lnwick(pop. 8,000) – pronounced ‘AN-ik’- is a town of battle scars and commerce, which has a spacious and attractive market place that is still regularly filled with stalls after 800 years of operation. Although the town dates back to AD 600, its growth was bound to the establishment in 1096 of its magnificent castle, which eventually passed into the hands of the powerful Percy family, confidants and, occasionally, enemies of the English kings. Another castle with a dramatic history is not far away, Chillingham Castle, which is famous nowadays for its long deceased inhabitants. 

Layout
Situated south of the River Aln, Alnwick is centred on its old market place and the old town is clustered around this area. Recent developments have led to housing and industrial estates which sprawl out to the south. Its railway station is no longer in operation and the nearest is now at Alnmouth but there is a bus and coach station at the corner of Lagny and Clayport Streets, down the road from the Market Place. Visit here for details.

Sights
Alnwick GardenAlnwick Castle
[+44 1665 510777, Adults £12.50] might be better known as Hogwarts to younger visitors as this solid and impressive castle featured in the Harry Potter films. Besides its extensive career in film and TV, Alnwick Castle has also been also the historic home of the Percy’s and the Dukes of Northumberland since 1309. There’s plenty to do with regular events including medieval scriptorium and soapmaking workshops, magic shows, and story-rich tours.            

The castle is also home to the Alnwick Garden [+44 1665 511350, Adults £10.50] project, which began in 2000 to transform the then derelict 18th century garden into an innovative modern landscape. There’s the Cherry Orchard, the Bamboo Labyrinth, the Grand Cascade with its water jets, and the Poison Garden, which grows belladonna, tobacco, cannabis, and mandrake among other things – behind big, black locked gates, of course.  

Situated in the old ornate train station is one of the country’s largest secondhand bookshops, Barter Books [Alnwick Station, +44 1665 604888]. The famous ‘Keep Calm and Carry on’ poster was rediscovered here in 2000.

Chillingham CastleHop on bus 470 towards Wooler and take a day trip to Chillingham Castle [Chillingham, +44 1668 215359, Adults £7], reputedly one of the most haunted sites in England. Because of its strategic border location, it was frequently used as a base for attacks in Scotland and was in turn attacked and besieged itself. Its long and often dramatic history - it’s been around since the 12th century - has apparently resulted in a considerable amount of paranormal activity. One of the more famous wraiths is Lady Mary Berkeley who roams in search of her husband (who, incidentally, ran off with her sister).

Hotels
Georgian Guest House [3/5 Hotspur Street, Alnwick, +44 1665 602398, £25 per person] For its central location, the Georgian Guest House is a bargain. It provides a good solid breakfast and has a friendly, laid back atmosphere.

Chillingham Castle [Chillingham, +44 1668 215359, £100-70] Why not spend a night in a haunted castle? This is self-catering accommodation but there are plenty of pubs and restaurants in nearby Chatton. The rooms are old and certainly not luxurious but, on the other hand, no Travelodge has experienced 12th century border battles.  

 



Cheviot HillsF
orming a wild and beautiful border between Scotland and England, the Northumberland National Park takes in a variety of landscapes: To the north are the Cheviot Hills, part rolling grassland and part heather, while to the east are the Simonside Hills, home of the Duerger, demon dwarfs that lead travellers astray; to the west of the park are conifer forests around Keilder Water, the largest artificial lake in Europe, while the southern border follows Hadrian’s splendid wall.

Layout
The park stretches north east from Hadrian’s Wall and takes in the Simonside Hills as well as the Otterburn Ranges, where regular army training should be noted with caution by walkers, before finally covering the Cheviot Hills on the border with Scotland. Public transport throughout the park is limited but the southern border is well served by bus 65 and, in summer, the Hadrian’s Wall AD122 bus.

Sights
The rounded forms of the Cheviot Hills were actually the result of volcanic activity in the long distant past. From the higher peaks, it is possible on clear days to see as far as Lindisfarne off the coast. Visit here for detailed information about walking trails.  

Throughout the park are a remarkable 50 or so hillforts dating back to 300BC. These settlements may have been home to a couple of extended families at once.

Simonside HillsBut the Simonside Hills are different: there aren’t traces of settlements in this area. Rather, there are a number of burial grounds and cairns, which seem to mark the hills out as sacred. Look out for the Neolithic cup and ring carvings at Doddington Moor, Bewick Moor, and Lordenshaws.

Most of the visible remains of Hadrian’s Wall actually fall along the southern edge of the Northumberland National Park. It is here that you will find the famous Vindolanda as well as other important sites and museums such as Housesteads, Cawfields, and the Roman Army Museum. Visit our Hadrian’s Wall section for more information or click here.

 



Craigside HouseO
n the eastern edges of the Northumberland National Park, the town of Rothbury (pop. 1,750) was once a cattle and wool trading centre but is now used as a base for hikers intending to explore the Simonside and Cheviot Hills. Near Rothbury is the splendid Cragside House. 

Arrival

Rothbury is cut in two by the River Coquet but the centre of town is on the north bank: it is here that you will find the High Street with its hotels and pubs as well as a number of bus stops.

Sights
When Lord Armstrong had Cragside House [Rothbury, +44 1669 620333, Adults £13.90] built in 1863, he was demonstrating the wonders of modern technology: it was the first building in the world to be lit by hydroelectricity and there was a Turkish bath suite, telephones, and even a lift. In its day, it was called a ‘palace of the modern magician’.  

Hotels
Coquetvale Hotel [Station Road, +44 1669 622900, £80-110] Set in a beautiful heritage building, the Coquetvale has lovely views of Rothbury and the river. The rooms are well furnished and the on-site Italian restaurant has a great menu.  

The Orchard House [High St, +44 1669 620684, £99-189] This luxurious B&B has all the little extras that can make your stay special. It is beautifully decorated throughout and the breakfasts are full and varied.

 



Hareshaw LinnB
ellingham (pop. 1,230) or, as the locals say, ‘Bellin-jum’ is a little village on the Hareshaw Burn as it meets the North Tyne River. Most often visited by hikers to catch their breath on the Pennine Way, it is also well placed as a staging post for trips into the Northumberland National Park. 

Layout
Most of Bellingham is situated on the north bank of the confluence of the Hareshaw Burn and the North Tyne. Bus stops can be found in the High Street. 

Sights
The 12th century St Cuthbert’s Church is an atmospheric place. Its simple design is in keeping with its original vaulted stone roof.  

Cuddy’s Well is still flowing long after St Cuthbert found the spring of clear water. It is covered now with a Georgian era spout and the water is still used for baptisms in the church.

The Hareshaw Linn Walk takes in the area’s 19th century ironworking heritage, which is nestled in lovely scenery. The trail crosses 6 wooden bridges before arriving at the Hareshaw Linn, a peaceful 9m high waterfall

Hotel

The Cheviot Hotel
[Bellingham, +44 1434 220696, £35 per person] This family run hotel is certainly friendly and welcoming: it has a homelike feel with good solid food and décor to match. A good choice for those travelling with kids.

Riverdale Hall [Bellingham, +44 1434 220254, £49-58 per person] Riverdale Hall has nicely furnished rooms and a heated indoor pool and sauna that might be appreciated after a long day’s walking. A great choice for fishermen as the hotel is right on a river bursting with salmon.