Northumberland is England’s northernmost and least populated county. There are only 64 people per square kilometre here, compared to some areas of London that have 16,000. Northumberland boasts beautiful scenery, historic towns, nature walks, sandy beaches, and more castles than any other English county. Though England’s North East does not attract quite as much international travel, Northumberland’s fascinating history and sweeping landscapes are worth a trip up north. Here is a highlights-reel of any good visit to Northumberland:
Stretching 73 miles across northern England, Hadrian’s Wall was the northwest frontier of the Roman empire for nearly 300 years. The wall was built in 122 AD under orders from Emperor Hadrian, who wanted to separate the Roman and Barbarian territories.
Visitors can access the wall from Northumberland National Park. There are plenty of Roman forts and museums along the wall, including Corbridge Roman Town, with its granaries, markets, workshops, and temples; Chesters Roman Fort and Museum, the most complete Roman cavalry fort in Britain; and Housesteads Roman Fort, with its incredible views of Hadrian’s Wall Country.
Hadrian’s Wall is a great place for both history lovers and outdoor enthusiasts. The area has a number of walking trails and cycling paths. The Hadrian’s Wall Path National Trail runs 84-miles along the wall’s rolling fields and moorlands, with a number of shorter loops for all fitness levels. Between May 1 and October 31, walkers can even get a “Hadrian’s Wall Walkers Passport” and collect stamps at each of the major historic sites.
Northumberland National Park
Of the 11 National Parks in England and Wales, Northumberland is the most remote, least visited, and, therefore, the most tranquil. The park has 1,100 kilometres of walking paths; visitors can trek through the rolling moors and grasslands of the Cheviot Hills and hike to The Cheviot, the highest point in the park at 815 metres. On a clear day, the Lake District is visible from this peak — and some say they can even see Edinburgh.
Along with its stunning landscapes, wildlife, and historic Hadrian’s Wall, the park has also been granted Dark Sky Park status by the International Dark Sky Association. With low levels of light pollution, the national park is an excellent spot for stargazing. Within the Dark Sky Park lies Kielder Observatory, a public astronomical observatory that hosts frequent educational events with expert astrologers.
Historical (and Haunted) Castles
Northumberland is home to more than 70 castles that have seen their fair share of violence, this being a border region between a historically hostile Scotland and England. Many of these castles are open to the public and offer glimpses into Northumberland’s intriguing history. Here are just a few:
Alnwick (pronounced “annick”) is a historic market town located just five miles from the Northumberland coast. The town’s biggest attraction is undoubtedly Alnwick Castle, the second-largest inhabited castle in the country, second only to Windsor Castle.
Alnwick Castle was built in the 11th century to protect the English border. The Duke of the Northumberland’s family, the Percys, have inhabited the castle since the 14th century. Visitors can tour the castle grounds, visit the state rooms, and learn about the Percys’ history.
Harry Potter fans will immediately recognize the castle grounds, as Harry Potter and the Philosopher Stone and Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets were both filmed at Alnwick Castle. The Outer Bailey area was where Harry learned to ride a broomstick — and the castle even offers broomstick lessons for young fans.
Bamburgh Castle towers 150 feet over the Northumberland coast. The castle dates back to the sixth century and was once the royal seat of the Kings of Northumbria. Bamburgh has housed famous English kings throughout the centuries, from Henry VI to James I, and during the War of the Roses, Bamburgh became the first castle in England to fall to gunpowder.
The castle is still inhabited today. There are 14 State Rooms open to the public with more than 2,000 artefacts. Visitors can explore the nine-acre castle grounds and take in the magnificent sea views. You can even stay in Bamburgh Castle’s former medieval bell tower.
This one is not for the faint-hearted: Chillingham Castle is known as the most haunted castle in the UK. Dating back to the 12th century, the castle saw plenty of attacks during Northumberland’s bloody border feuds and welcomed many Royal visitors. The castle remains much as it was during Tudor times, with extravagant gardens, dungeons, and even a torture chamber.
Chillingham’s paranormal activity is well-documented: visitors often report hearing voices or seeing shadows. The castle hosts ghost tours exploring the haunted castle’s grounds, and guests can even stay overnight in the Coaching Rooms — if they’re brave enough.
Northumberland’s Coastal Towns & Islands
The Northumberland coast is a designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, with more than 30 miles of stunning beaches. For a relaxing getaway, visit one of Northumberland’s quaint seaside towns: Alnmouth, for one, is a picturesque village with colorful cottages, a seaside golf course, and beautiful sandy beaches. Amble is known for its fresh seafood, excellent views of the coastline, and wildlife, including nesting birds and seals.
Seahouses, another popular beach holiday destination, is also a gateway to the Farne Islands, located just a few miles off the coast. Sir David Attenborough called the Farne Islands one of his favorite places in the UK. The area is known for its incredible wildlife, as more than 100,000 nesting birds make their home here each year. This is a great place to see puffins, Arctic tern, and colonies of Atlantic and grey seals.
Further north lies Lindisfarne, a tidal island linked to the mainland by a long causeway. Also called the Holy Island, the area is famed for its monastery, which was founded in 635 AD. Visitors can check out the Lindisfarne Priory and learn about the birthplace of the Lindisfarne Gospels, one of the world’s most precious books. Travelers can also check out the Lindisfarne Castle, with its stunning views of the sea. Just make sure you time your travel properly: the Holy Island is cut-off from the mainland twice-daily due to fast-moving tides.
Practical Matters: Traveling to Northumberland
Northumberland is easily reachable by car or train: from London, the drive is about six hours on the A1 highway or take a three-and-a-half-hour train from King’s Cross to Alnmouth. From Edinburgh, Berwick-upon-Tweed is just an hour drive. Newcastle International Airport is the closest airport, just a 45-minute drive from Alnwick.
Northumberland’s vast landscapes, historic forts and castles, and quaint seaside villages make this a great place to escape city life. Choose Alnwick, Berwick-upon-Tweed, or any one of the county’s coastal towns as a jumping off point and start exploring this remote, yet fascinating, corner of England.
Have you ever been to Northern England? Let us know on Twitter!