Castles, coast and countryside
Date Posted: 10/07/2010
With a tranquil landscape that belies its turbulent past, Northumberland offers a myriad of historic attractions and stunning gardens for visiting groups.
With dramatic sections of Hadrian’s Wall standing amongst stunning countryside, magnificent gardens and majestic castles, Northumberland is big on group attractions.
The legacy left by the Roman Empire is on a scale unlike any other part of Europe outside Italy. Northumberland also has more castles than any other English county, a testament to its turbulent past. On a more tranquil note, much of the beautiful white sand coastline has been designated an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
Northumberland’s wealth of bustling towns and villages are sure to delight. Hexham, with its historic abbey, has been named England’s favourite market town, whilst the country town of Morpeth has everything from old-fashioned department stores to England’s only bagpipe museum.
The Northumberland Tourism website includes plenty of helpful pointers for planning a visit and sample itineraries are due to be uploaded in the near future.
Seaton Deleval Hall opens its doors
In May, just four months after the National Trust announced that Seaton Deleval Hall had been saved for the nation, the 18th century architectural masterpiece opened its doors to the public.
It was the result of one of the trust’s biggest ever campaigns to save the property from private sale. A fundraising campaign launched in 2008 raised more than £3 million, and by the end of 2009 the hall was in National Trust ownership.
The magnificent mansion, designed by Sir John Vanbrugh for Admiral George Delaval, was built between 1719 and 1732. Highlights for visiting groups include the atmospheric cellars and stables, walks in the peaceful gardens and the opportunity to see inside part of the west wing, formerly the private rooms of the last owner, Lord Hastings. Seaton Deleval is currently open from Friday to Monday for all visitors and from Tuesday to Thursday for pre-booked groups.
This year marks the 200th anniversary of the birth of the Victorian industrialist and inventor Lord Armstrong. Cragside, his revolutionary home perched on a rocky crag high above the Debdon Burn, is crammed with ingenious gadgets. It was the first house in the world to be lit by hydro-electricity and to use newly invented incandescent light bulbs. By the 1880s there was hot and cold running water, flushing toilets, a Turkish bath, an early form of telephone, a motorised cooking spit and even a passenger lift. Surrounding the house on all sides is one of Europe’s largest rock gardens.
It’s a fascinating place to visit, and group tours and refreshments are available. New attractions include the World of the Water Wizard exhibition, and to celebrate the anniversary year, the National Trust has launched Armstrong Ale. Made by Northumberland-based Wylam Brewery, the ale is sold in the gift shop and your group members can also sample it in the restaurant.
Breath of fresh air
One of the county’s best kept secrets is Northumberland National Park. As well as being England’s northernmost national park, it’s also one of the least visited and least populated, providing outdoor groups with plenty of opportunities to stretch their legs or go mountain biking, rock climbing or horse riding.now
Covering around a quarter of the county, from the Scottish border in the north to south of Hadrian’s Wall, it includes the awe-inspiring Cheviot Hills and Otterburn Ranges. The park is also rich in wildlife and your group may spot red squirrels, the rare black grouse and the curlew, a moorland bird with an unforgettable cry that is the emblem of Northumberland National Park.
Unearth garden secrets
Famous British landscape designer, Capability Brown, was born in Northumberland in 1716 and his creative influence has rubbed off on generations of gardeners in the county. Ranging from the historic and elegant to the quirky and eccentric, Northumberland’s gardens will amaze and amuse your group members in equal measure.
Howick Hall Gardens was named by Gardener’s World magazine as one of the country’s top five coastal gardens. It was home to 19th century prime minister Charles Grey, the second Earl Grey, who famously gave his name to the aromatic black tea. The Alnwick Garden is an exciting contemporary garden. Just ten years ago, the site was empty and derelict and it took the bold vision of the Duchess of Northumberland to transform it into the eclectic garden that awaits your group today. Unique features include one of the world’s largest wooden tree houses, spellbinding water displays and the infamous poison garden.
Other green attractions are the walled gardens at Whalton Manor, designed by renowned landscape designers Edwin Lutyens and Gertrude Jekyll; Dilston Physic Garden, with more than 600 types of medicinal plants; and the Minotaur Maze at Kielder Water and Forest Park, where a small glittering room made from recycled glass awaits any group members who successfully find their way to the centre.
Mine of information
Renowned as the birthplace of footballers Jackie Milburn, Jack Charlton and Bobby Charlton, Ashington was once known as ‘the largest mining village in the world’. Although the mines closed in 1988, groups can get a first-hand experience of Northumberland’s mining heritage with a visit to Woodhorn Museum, Archive and Country Park.
The atmospheric Coal Town exhibition and colliery experience will transport your group members back to 1918 to discover the story of mining through the eyes of the local community. They will experience the sights, sounds and smells of a working colliery and the tough life faced by miners and pit ponies through computerised exhibits and authentic old pit buildings.
The exhibition building, with its striking serrated-edge roof, was designed to look like the coal-cutting machines once used deep underground. Woodhorn is set in the Queen Elizabeth II Country Park, with plenty of coach parking spaces and themed tours available for visiting groups.
One of the UK’s greatest wildlife experiences is just a boat ride away from the coast of north Northumberland. In summer the Farne Islands are ‘home’ to more than 100,000 pairs of breeding seabirds, including 55,000 plus pairs of puffins. The birds are incredibly tolerant of human visitors, and a trip to the islands provides an unforgettable experience for groups interested in birds and photography. There are also fantastic views of the mainland on the boat journey.
When the birds leave in late summer, the islands become the pupping grounds for the second largest colony of grey seals in England. The islands are open to visitors from April to September. The best time to visit for the breeding seabirds is mid-April through to late July, when landing is possible on Inner Farne, Staple Island, and Longstone. The seal pups can be viewed from visitor boats from late October until mid-December. Two boat companies are licensed to land on the islands and both have booking offices on Seahouses harbour.
Ten great group attractions
1 Hadrian’s Wall: Once patrolled by soldiers from all corners of the Roman Empire, this remarkable landmark is dotted with garrison forts and museums that bring history to life.
2 Lindisfarne: Still a place of pilgrimage, the Holy Island of Lindisfarne, topped by a castle dramatically perched on a rocky crag, is only accessible by a causeway at low tide.
3 Alnwick Castle: Famous for its starring role as Hogwarts in the Harry Potter films, Alnwick is England’s second largest inhabited castle and boasts magnificent interiors and a private art collection, including works by Van Dyke and Canaletto.
4 Hexham Old Gaol: The oldest purpose-built prison in England, and used as a jail for almost 500 years. Inside the thick stone walls, your group will gain an insight into crime and punishment in medieval Northumberland.
5 Belsay Hall, Castle and Gardens: This grand medieval castle was later extended to include a magnificent Jacobean mansion and neighbouring Belsay Hall was inspired by the temples of ancient Greece. Outside is a unique quarry garden.
6 Berwick-upon-Tweed: Situated at Northumberland’s northernmost tip, the Old Town is completely encircled by an Elizabethan wall, the most expensive undertaking of England’s golden age.
7 Bamburgh Castle: Once home to the kings of ancient Northumbria and reputedly haunted, this spectacular castle has sweeping coastal views and houses an impressive collection of arms and armour, porcelain, furniture and art.
8 Brinkburn Priory: Founded in 1135 for canons of the Augustinian order, the priory near Longframlington was restored in the 19th century and is Northumberland’s finest example of early Gothic architecture.
9 Duddo Standing Stones: Northumberland’s equivalent of Stonehenge, the stones are at least 4,500-years-old and shrouded in mystery.
10 RNLI Grace Darling Museum: This Bamburgh museum commemorates the life of the Victorian heroine who was 22-years-old when she risked her life in an open boat to help survivors of the wrecked SS Forfarshire in 1838.