For McCool Travel’s 156th travel interview, I am happy to introduce you to Anton Diaz of Our Awesome Planet. I met Anton and his wife ...
Have you been to Northumberland?
Northumberland is the most remote and least populated county in England, which made it very appealing to me. Occupying the northeast corner of the country, Northumberland has been labelled the most tranquil place in England.
Travel north or west and you reach Scotland. Just south of Northumberland is Newcastle and Cumbria while the North Sea marks the eastern edge of Northumberland.
Places to visit in Northumberland include castles and forts, as Northumberland has more than any county in England; historically, the castles were built and used to protect the English (and Roman empire) from those Scottish renegades.
8 Great Places to Visit in Northumberland
Hadrian’s Wall was built in the year 122 AD at the thinnest horizontal section of England, to mark the northern edge of the Roman empire (Britannia province). Hadrian’s Wall is now part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site called Frontiers of the Roman Empire.
Another wall was built 20 years later (142 AD) north in Scotland—called the Antonine Wall—but the Romans retreated back to Hadrian’s Wall, and then abandoned Britannia altogether in the 5th century.
To support Hadrian’s Wall and the northern frontier of the Roman empire, there were many Roman forts. Two excellent fort sites are Vindolanda and Vercovicium (Housesteads). Vindolanda is operated by a charitable trust which operates a museum (including the Vindolanda Tablets and a remarkable collection of preserved leather goods), owns an extensive property of Roman ruins, and annually hosts volunteer archaeologists. Housesteads is an English Heritage site with great examples of barracks, toilets, and a hospital.
Hexham is a convenient base town to stay for visiting these Roman forts, Hadrian’s Wall, and other area destinations. During the summer season, a tourist bus operates among these local sites. The bus route is numbered AD122, 122 being the year that the Emperor Hadrian visited this area and oversaw the construction of the border wall.
Northumberland National Park: Hadrian’s Wall, Housesteads, and Vindolanda are all located in Northumberland National Park, which will house an upcoming state-of-the-art visitor centre called The Sill.
Holy Island of Lindisfarne
It is fun to visit Lindisfarne because the surrounding sea water covers the island causeway twice a day for several hours. Once on the island, explore the 16th century castle, the 11th century Priory ruins, quaint small village, and superb Lindisfarne Centre museum—with exhibits on island life, Viking history, and an electronic display of the historic Lindisfarne Gospels.
St. Cuthbert brought Celtic Christianity to the Northumberland region in the 7th century and is considered the patron saint of Northumberland and Northern England. While driving onto Lindisfarne, the Pilgrims’ Way is visible parallel to the causeway. Pilgrims’ way is part of St. Cuthbert’s Way, a long distance walking trail (63 miles).
St. Cuthbert is buried in Durham Cathedral, a magnificent and historic building from the 11th century, about 90 minutes away.
Alnwick Castle (pronounced “ann-ick”) has been the home of the Percy family since the 14th century. In Henry IV, Shakespeare mentions Alnwick castle and its most famous resident, Harry Hotspur, son of the 1st Earl of Northumberland—Harry died in battle, before he could become 2nd Earl.
In the 21st century, Alnwick was the setting of Hogwarts Castle for the first two Harry Potter movies and Brancaster Castle for the Downton Abbey Christmas specials. Many other movies and television shows have been filmed here.
Alnwick Garden is called the world’s most extraordinary contemporary garden and is the pride and joy of the Duchess of Northumberland.
Dark Sky Discovery Site
“The only observatory with its own bar,” said Roy Alexander, the local science teacher and lead astronomer at Battlesteads Observatory at Battlesteads Hotel & Restaurant. Roy’s presentation was entertaining and informative. Our audience was varied—preteens to seniors—and Roy managed the crowd (many with adult beverages!) while imparting some knowledge.
Bamburgh Castle is a spectacular coastal castle, one of the largest still intact castles, and was the first castle ever to fall to artillery. Bamburgh Castle was purchased and restored by inventor and industrial magnate Lord William Armstrong. Another Armstrong property, Cragside, was the first house in the world powered by hydroelectricity. Warkworth Castle is also mentioned by Shakespeare in Henry IV. The ruins of Dustanburgh Castle can be reached by walking from Newton-by-the-Sea (see below).
There are two dozen castles in Northumberland, including the previously mentioned Lindisfare and Alnwick castles.
Home of Earl Grey
Charles Grey, 2nd Earl Grey, was Prime Minister of England and is historically popular for leading countrywide political reform. Earl Grey tea was specifically designed to counter the natural lime in the water at Howick Hall, the Grey family estate. Today, Howick Hall Gardens is a popular place to visit in Northumberland. The onsite Earl Grey Teahouse can only be visited by people with paid admission to the gardens.
There is also a monument to Earl Grey in downtown Newcastle.
Northumberland Coast AONB
The Northumberland Coast AONB includes Holy Island of Lindisfarne, Bamburgh Castle, and Warkworth Castle (see above). The village of Seahouses is a perfect stop for fish and chips and a boat ride to the Farne Islands. The tiny village of Newton-by-the-Sea is the starting point for a beach walk to Dustanburgh Castle. I was told that The Ship Inn in Low Newton serves magnificent crab dishes.
I just love that there are portions of England labeled Area of Natural Beauty. Here is a listing of all AONBs.
What places to visit in Northumberland would you recommend?