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Best North East Castles to Visit

Andrew Clarey Out and about

I’ll be the first person to admit that I’m absolutely crazy about castles. I have been since I was a small kid. My dad was crazy about castles too so perhaps its genetic. I love how dramatic and cinematic they look and how turbulent their histories have been.

Well, fortunately for me I live near Northumberland, which has the highest concentration of castles anywhere in the UK, but its quality, not quantity that counts and I can safely say Northumberland also has some of the most breath-taking castles found anywhere, UK and beyond.

Most of the most impressive castles are concentrated along the Northumberland coast, built to protect us from invaders, most notably the Vikings. The fact they are so concentrated means that they are also really easy to visit. There is a direct bus from Newcastle (Arriva Coast and Castles Connection X18 Newcastle – Berwick Upon Tweed) that stops off at some of the most impressive castles – Alnwick, Warkworth and Bamburgh. If you set out early enough you can easily visit 2 or 3 of them in one day and make it home in time for dinner.

X18 Timetable:

https://www.arrivabus.co.uk/globalassets/documents/north-east-services-documents/x18-newcastle-to-berwick/anx18full-x18-plus-418_270915.pdf

The castles are all completely different in character. Some like Alnwick are intact with opulent interiors, but others like Walkworth and Dunstanburgh are dramatic ruins. Here is my guide to some of the best castles in Northumberland.

 

ALNWICK CASTLE

The most complete of all the Northumberland Castles. It is probably most famous for taking on the role of Hogwarts in the Harry Potter movies, but has featured in numerous other movies and TV shows.

Built in the 11th Century is dominates the surrounding area, with massive towers and impressive keep and is still home to the Duke of Northumberland who’s 11th Century ancestors ruled the North as a kings.

Given the Harry Potter connection, it is the most commercialised of all the castles and has a lot of Harry Potter related attractions. It has over 800’000 visitors a year and is one of England’s biggest tourist attractions outside of London. It reopens on the 28th of March and admission is £11.45 including a student discount.

 

WARKWORTH CASTLE

The castle was probably laid out in its present form in about 1200 and was the favoured residence of the powerful Percy family from the 14th to the 17th centuries. As the Earls (and later Dukes) of Northumberland, they were among the greatest landowners in northern England. Nearby, on the banks of the river Coquet and accessible only by boat, are the remains of a chapel known as the hermitage, carved directly out of the cliff rock.

Now partially ruined, the incredible keep is still pretty much intact and can be seen from miles around. It sits at the head of the pretty little village of Walkworth on a loop on the river. It has a very different feel to Alnwick as it isn’t over-run by tourists, so it is much easier to relax and appreciate the architecture.

The castle is open at weekends year-round and re-opens 7 days a week at the end of February. Admission is £5.75 including a student discount, and free to English Heritage members.

DUNSTABURGH CASTLE

My favourite of all of Northumberland’s castles, despite the fact there isn’t actually very much left. 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.

It sits dramatically, perched on cliff tops above the sea, its distinctive, partially destroyed gatehouse dominating the landscape for miles around. The 2 miles walk along the coastline to the castle (no cars are allowed near it) really is one of the most awe-inspiring walks in the North of England.

Once you go inside, there isn’t that much remaining, but you get some stunning views along the coastline all the way to Bamburgh Castle. The nearby village of Caster also has the best smoked kippers from…. well anywhere.

The castle is open every day from the 1st of February. Admission is £4.50 including a student discount and English Heritage members get in free.

 

BAMBURGH CASTLE

Probably the most dramatic of all the coastal castles, Bamburgh is absolutely MASSIVE. You can literally see it from miles around.

When Northumberland was a separate kingdom from the rest of England in the 4th and 5th Centuries, the site of Bamburgh Castle was the capital of the North of England, before the fort was destroyed by Vikings.

The castle looks like it is straight out of Game of Thrones, so it’s easy to see why it has appeared in countless movies over the years, as from some angles it looks like CGI.

The castle was ruinous (apart from the 10th Century keep) until Victorian times, when it was restored by industrialist Lord Armstrong. Just below the castle is one of the best beaches in the whole of the UK. Enormous castle and miles of golden sand – what’s not to love?

The castle is open weekends all year round (weekdays from March) and admission is £10

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