A whirlwind tour of the castles of Northumberland

Recently, Man and I spent a wonderful holiday in Northumberland.

There were a couple of reasons for choosing that location: a) we’d never been before; b) we heard it was beautiful and c) there are an awful lot of castles and as part of my Fifty before Fifty challenge, I have decided to try and visit every castle in England before my fiftieth birthday.

So, here’s a very quick tour of the ones we saw – I think alphabetical order is appropriate here.

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Alnwick Castle

Huge, imposing (expensive) and also closed. Mainly because we did a quick check in on the way home and got there at 8am.

This is still the home of the Percy family, Dukes of Northumberland and is, apparently, a fabulous day out. Sadly we didn’t have all day to spare.

Built after the Norman conquest, it has been remodeled several times and played a big role in various skirmishes with the Scots, as did most of these border castles.

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Bamburgh Castle

Probably one of my favourites, mainly because of its coastal location. Again it is huge and imposing. I’d love to know what that little dome thing is to the right of the photo.

This castle is built on a rocky outcrop and in the fifth and sixth centuries there was a fort here belonging to the Din Guarie. It may have been the capital of the kingdom in this part of the world.

Aethelfrith passed it on to his wife Bebba, which is where the name Bebbanburgh, or Bamburgh, comes from. The Vikings destroyed in in the 10th century and it was rebuilt by the Normans.

Another reason I like it is because it is my ancestral home. It was once owned by Robert de Mowbray, Earl of Northumberland and an ancestor of mine (Mowbray is my maiden name). Shame we picked the wrong side at the Battle of Bosworth Field, things could have been so different :)

545bbBerwick Castle

Just visible through the trees here is Berwick Castle, once the last bastion of the north, or the south, depending on which way you look at it because the castle was founded in the 12th century by the Scottish King David.

Its location has meant that it has changed hands on numerous occasions, alternately being Scottish and English down the centuries.

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Dunstanburgh Castle

Another coastal beauty and once the biggest castle in Northumberland. There is evidence of prehistoric activity on this rocky outcrop, but the main body of the castle was constructed in the early 14th century by Earl Thomas of Lancaster, cousin of Edward II, and later completed by John of Gaunt.

It covers about 11 acres and was a favourite subject of Turner to paint.

140bEtal Castle

Now what’s a tiny little place like Etal doing with a castle? The little villages of Ford and Etal (will be subject of yet another post) have now joined forces to become a tourist attraction. Once they both had castles and were constantly feuding with each other.

Ford’s castle is now some sort of educational facility and the public is not allowed near it, sadly.

Robert de Manners, nobleman and doctor, got permission to ‘crenellate’ his manor at Etal (thereby turning it into a castle, in 1341.

The castle was a site of pilgrimage for people seeking medical and dental treatment from its owner and Robert is renowned for creating one of the earliest translations to English from Arabic of the 11th century medical text by Ibn Butlan Taqwim al-Sihhah. Obviously he was a very learned man and I think that’s very cool.

959bLindisfarne Castle

I loved Lindisfarne Castle and, again, that was mainly due to its location. Lindisfarne is a special place.

This is a 16th century building, and its construction sort of coincided with the dissolution of the monasteries. Subsequently a lot of stone used to build the castle was taken from Lindisfarne Priory.

It sits on Beblowe Hill, the highest point of the island.

In 1901 it became the property of Edward Hudson, founder of Country Life magazine, and he had Sir Edwin Lutyens remodel the castle and Gertrude Jekyll the gardens. You don’t get much more impressive than that at the time.

602bMorpeth Castle

Now considering Morpeth is the county town of Northumberland, the castle is a bit bland now. The original motte and bailey was destroyed in 1216 by King John and a new castle created in the bailey in 1346.

Its claim to fame is that in 1644 a garrison of 500 Lowland Scots held for Parliament against 2,700 Royalists for 20 days.

In the 1940s it was given to the Borough of Morpeth and has since been a family home and holiday accommodation.

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Prudhoe Castle

This castle, on the south banks of the Tyne, is another that started life as a motte and bailey, built sometime in the 11th century.

Following the Norman Conquest, the castle was owned by the Unfraville family and when the last Umfraville died, his widow married a Percy and Prudhoe became the property of the Earl of Northumberland.

It has changed hands several times since then but returned to the Percys in 1557.

It became the property of the Crown in 1966 and is now managed by English Heritage.

And finally …

221bWarkworth Castle

Another English Heritage property (it’s a good job we have membership), Warkworth Castle and the town of the same name lie on a loop in the River Coquet.

Historians seem uncertain as to whether it was originally built by Prince Henry of Scotland of Henry II of England but they do know it belonged to the fitz Richards and the de Claverings before eventually becoming the property of that Percy family again. Definite property magnates specialising in castles were the Percys.

Alan Percy, 8th Duke of Northumberland, gave the property to the crown in 1922 and there it has stayed.

So, there you have it, a whirlwind tour of nine castles of Northumberland. According to my list of castles, there are 21 in the county so I am still 12 short.

I’m just going to have to go back … damn :)

 

 

 

 

 

 

9 comments
  1. Anny said:

    Yes, we’ve never managed to fit them all into a single visit – you’ve done extremely well. We managed a free tour of Alnwick – years ago mind, we just wandered in and kept going – we did have two cute little girls with us, maybe that helped, but the same ploy didn’t work last time, they’ve tightened things up a bit since then. It will always remind me of Blackadder more than anything else. Dunstanburgh is one of my favourites – what a position. Did you try the kippers at Craster?

    • Yes we did :) absolutely gorgeous. Fell in love with Northumberland and its beautiful countryside, coastline and castles. Can’t wait to go back :)

  2. Thats quite a list 171 English churches, so thats a trip to every county…should be fun….I think my favourite to look at is Leeds Castle, but because we didn’t live too far away from it in Kent we never went to see it. I must admit you have got me looking at castles again, so you are doing a good job :)

    • Thanks :) what with the castles and the churches I’m going to have my work cut out lol. But it’s such fun trying to track down all these places :)

  3. wow, well done you….and you didnt start to suffer from castle fatigue :-)
    We were in Northumberland a couple of weeks ago, and like you I loved Bamburgh, but we only looked at the castle from the outside as we had the dogs with us, so we headed to the beach and then a beer garden!

    • Oh we did a fair bit if beach and beer garden too :) It’s such a beautiful place

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