IT IS ironic that an area rich with real castles and culture should get a boost from an imaginary one. The place to see in Northumbria at the moment is Alnwick castle, best known in Irish homes as the setting for the Harry Potter movie.
Unlike many movie locations this one lives up to its billing.
This is no Victorian restoration, rather a real-life castle with a huge outer wall dating to the 13th century. It is
The good news for a family visit is that it is just beside the Haven caravan site at Haggerston, which is renowned for a wide range of activities and facilities. Environmentalist David Bellamy, in the spirit of the local patron Saint Cuthbert, has devised nature tours for visitors to Haggerston, and pony rides are among the campside activites. Wizard and witch evening for the children have become a renowned part of the Harry Potter experience.
Berwick Upon Tweed was magnificent, girt by massive grey bastions and the thickest (only?) Elizabethan walls in existence. They were pretty useless, judging by its history. The town changed hands 17 times between England and Scotland and ended up with some sort of half way house status, becoming part of England in 1482, but retaining Scottish burgh status and is the only English team allowed to play in the Scottish League..
It used to get a separate mention on major foreign policy documents and they say the town is still at war with Russia over the Crimea because it was mentioned in the declaration of war but not in the peace. Today’s town is filled with shady streets, stately Georgian terraces and fine walks.
Another nearby castle, Bamburgh, is still lived-in and magnificent, and its dungeons some of the scariest in the business. Chillingham’s pride is its rare herd of white wild cattle who survived foot & mouth. They are the only survivors of an ancient breed, with distinctive black noses and red-lined ears, the herd roams 365 acres of parkland. Edward VII, while staying at the castle, entertained himself by shooting the herd’s king bull of the time.
The castle was restored by Humphry Wakefield who also rescued the roofless castle at Lough Cutra in Galway.
There are fifty castles in all in Northumbria and there is an Irish connection with more than a few. Also worth a visit are Ford (with miniature railway), Dunstanburgh (an evocative coastal ruin near Craster) and Warkworth (with its nearby hermitage in a cave, reached by rowing boat).
Anyone interested in early Christianity should also visit the excellent Bede’s World in Jarrow (with recreated early Northumbrian settlement), near Newcastle, Durham Cathedral (his resting place) and Monwearmouth church at Sunderland.
There are several famous landmarks on the car journey along the Scottish border, including Coldstream, where the stone of Scone is said to have been spirited across the Tweed into England; Flodden Field, where hundreds of men and horses lie buried after the terrible Scottish defeat in 1513, the ancient church at Norham, and the old Chain Bridge at Fishwick.
Splendid in its solitude at the end of a spectacular causeway that is covered at low tide Lindisfarne is perhaps the most important monastic site bequeathed to the neighbouring island by the early Irish Christians. It was founded by St Aidan in 635 and became one of the most important seats of learning of the time, although little remains of the original monastery.
The local council helpfully provide platforms where you can climb if the tide catches you, and spend a night with the gulls.
It is Cuthbert, not Aidan that is venerated with Lindisfarne today. Cuthbert retired in 676 to Inner Farne, where he devoted himself to prayer and where he built an oratory and cell. His successful efforts to protect birds (hence St Cuthbert’s duck) made him probably the first conservationist.
You can check out St Cuthbert’s Way walk, which links a few sites connected with the saint, including and the haunting St Cuthbert’s Cave.
- Haggerston features on the Stena Holiday and Haven brochures. Weekends start. The site is a six hour drive from Holyhead, best reached by the M6 and then an incredibly beautiful journey along the Scottish border.
- Other locations on the Potter-trail around Britain include be the cloisters at Gloucester Cathedral, Lacock Abbey in Wiltshire, the Bodleian Library in Oxford and Durham Cathedral, the Australian High Commission in London, Ottery St Mary in Devon and King’s Cross, the railway station where trainee wizards board the Hogwarts Express from an invisible platform.
- The boat trip from Seahouses to the Farne Islands is well worth doing and a variety of local operators ply their trade from the harbour when the weather’s right, with some boats landing on one or more of the isalnds.
- Chillingham Castle (00441668-215359) is situated off the B6348, about five miles from its junction with the A1, 12 miles north of Alnwick, Northumberland. Open Monday and Wednesday-Sunday until late September (seven days a week in July and August), noon-5pm (last admissions 4.30pm). Admission: adults £4.50, OAPs £4, children free. For details of holiday apartments, call the above number or fax 01668 215463.
- Chillingham Wild Cattle Park (00441668-215250) is open Monday and Wednesday-Saturday, 10am-noon; and Sunday, 2-5pm. Admission: adults £3, concessions £2.50, children £1. there are the famous wild, white Chillingham cattle to visit.
- Eating: The Bistro at the Victoria Hotel, Bamburgh, combing local tradition with the best of European style and presentation. For good value, you can’t better the Jolly Fisherman pub at Craster, whose all-day specialisties include crab soup and Craster kipper pate.
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