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Spotlight On Northumberland

Let us take you away from the hustle and bustle of the towns and cities to the rugged beauty of England's most northerly county.

Northumberland is rich in history, scenery and hospitality and there are many fantastic places to visit.

We have picked out three for you:

  • Belsay Hall & Gardens - a 17th Century Manor House with a secret at the bottom of the garden!
  • Alnwick Castle - a magnificent castle with a 1000 years of history but which is also a family home.
  • Chester Roman Fort - along the line on Hadrian's wall with a little something extra.

Belsay Hall & Gardens Belsay, Near Morpeth, Northumberland

We visited Belsay Hall on rainy August Day and were thoroughly amazed at what a hidden gem it is!

The rain seemed to add to the atmosphere of the breathtaking gardens and to the eeriness of the empty house. However, the real treat was waiting at the other end of our garden walk.

I was intrigued on hearing about a medieval castle on this site and so we set off through the gardens to find it. I'll admit that the gardens were not of immediate interest and I thought I would pass through them as fast as possible but, in fact, I was so taken by them that our arrival at the castle was somewhat delayed! We took photo after photo as we meandered through, drinking in the grandeur and uniqueness of a garden unlike any I'd ever visited.

The castle, I learned, is the predecessor to the Hall which was completed in 1817 when the Middleton family finally abandoned the ageing castle to take up residence there.

The Hall (and the original castle in fact) is built from stone quarried from the site which lies between the two and created the basis for the garden which, due to its structure, has its own micro-climate allowing plants that would not normally survive in northern England to thrive. The Castle gives tantalising insights into its past and you are left to imagine the scene on Christmas Day 1817 when the family moved out to live in the brand new Hall.

Alnwick Castle, Alnwick, Northumberland

Alnwick Castle has been home to the Percy family for 700 years and the current owners, the 12th Duke of Northumberland and his wife, welcome visitors to explore the 1000 year history of their family home.

You may recognise some of the breathtaking interiors of Alnwick Castle if you are a fan of Downton Abbey, it starred as Brancaster Castle in the 2014 Christmas special.

There has been a castle on this site for 1000 years and its position, on the Scottish border, meant it is a heavily fortified building.

In the middle ages it was an important border fortress and acted to secure the English border from Scottish incursions.

Now though, it's much more peaceful and relaxing. You can take tours of the amazing state rooms, take broomstick riding lessons, try your hand at medieval crafts, watch falconry demonstrations and lots more!

Chesters (Cilurnum) Roman Fort Collerford, Hexham, Northumberland

There are a number of forts along Hadrian's Wall which are well worth a visit but there are a few reasons why I have picked this one out. Its remains include one of the best preserved Bath Houses of Roman Britain, abutments to the bridge where the Military Way crossed the picturesque river and a 1890s museum which is a piece of history in itself!

As you walk around the site you can get a feel for its size and how it functioned as a settlement. There are a number of things to look out for; iron collars which used to hold the pivots for the doors on the West Gate and a paving slab in the headquarters building with a phallic symbol - which, unlike some would have you think, is not a signpost to the nearest brothel but a good luck charm!

The Bath House deserves a special mention. The group I was accompanying, including a number of children, loved walking through and exploring the ruins following in the footsteps of the Romans who would have bathed here just under 2000 years ago. You can see the flushing latrine, the changing rooms and the various rooms which would have been of varying temperatures. There is a working reconstruction of this bath house at Wallsend (Segedunum) Roman Fort which I have not visited but fully intend to soon! For more information on that click here.

Last but not least I want to mention the quaint, and jam packed, on-site museum with finds from Chesters and four other forts.The museum is little changed since the 1890s when it was created - which I think makes it a fascination in its own right!

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*£50 for a 1-day itinerary. The cost is £50 per day.

I hope you have enjoyed this edition of the Spotlight On series. Drop us a line and let us know!

Until next time, take care!

Philippa and the British History Tours team

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