Northumberland may be the least densely populated county in England, but it is richly endowed with many of the finest heritage sites in the country, most of which come under the stewardship of English Heritage, Historic Houses or National Trust.
In addition to Hadrian’s Wall, which skirts the south of the county, there are several great castles, like those at Bamburgh and Warkworth, reflecting Northumberland’s often stormy past on Scotland’s border.
The important religious heritage of the area is reflected in the ruins of two great priories at Brinkburn and on Lindisfarne, and the wealth of the area is seen in several fine stately homes like those at Cragside and Wallington Hall.
English Heritage has about fifteen sites with no entry charge along the Northumberland section of Hadrian’s Wall (plus a few additional sites over the border in Cumbria). These provide good starting points for walking explorations of the wall and its fortresses.
In addition there are three sites with paid entry (free of course to English Heritage members) where there are more substantial Roman remains and museums. These are at: Housesteads Roman Fort (free also to National Trust members), Chesters Roman Fort and Corbridge Roman Town.
Of English Heritage’s ten castles in Northumberland, our top choice is Warkworth Castle on a hill overlooking the River Coquet and the scenic village of Warkworth. A medieval Hermitage is built into the rocky bank of the river a short walk and boat ride away from the castle.
Of the other castles, most are in ruins, although in the case of Dunstanburgh, they are very striking ruins on a remote headland (free entry also to National Trust members). Aydon Castle is more of a manor house than castle and was lived in from the 13th Century until 1966.
Belsay Hall is an impressive Regency style house, but unfurnished as a requirement when taken over by English Heritage. However exhibitions are often held within the Hall. The estate has Belsay Castle within its grounds, reached by a winding path through the Quarry Garden. This is one our favourite English Heritage properties and is well worth repeat visits.
Holy Island, also known as Lindisfarne, has been an important centre of Christianity since 635. The island’s unique atmosphere can be sensed when visiting the ruins of the 12th Century Lindisfarne Priory.
Brinkburn Priory was restored in the 19th Century and is now one of the finest examples of Gothic architecture in the Northumberland.
Historic Houses has six free-to-members properties in Northumberland, four of which have been inhabited for many centuries: Alnwick Castle, Bamburgh Castle, Chillingham Castle and Chipchase Castle.
Preston Tower is a 14th Century tower house, uninhabited, but furnished as might have been in those times, and Bywell Hall is a late 18th Century family home.
Of these, our favourite property is Bamburgh Castle, in part because of its striking coastal position offering spectacular views across the beach and over to Lindisfarne and the Farne Islands. The fourteen rooms open to the public contain over 3,000 artifacts.
National Trust has three large stately homes in Northumberland: Cragside, Seaton Delaval Hall and Wallington Hall.
Our favourite is Wallington Hall, which we described in a recent article. However Cragside, a Victorian country house, has many fascinating features, including the first use of hydroelectric power to provide lighting, as well as large rock gardens and a 1000 acre estate. A major restoration is presently underway at Seaton Delaval Hall.
Lindisfarne Castle, the National Trust property on Holy Island, is more impressive from outside rather than inside, although the 1901 restyling by Sir Edwin Luytens has provided some interesting features.
The National Trust has two fascinating small cottages in the county: George Stephenson’s Birthplace and Cherryburn, the of Thomas Bewick, an English wood engraver and ornithologist.
The National Trust also has stewardship over the Farne Islands with its abundance of seabirds (access is by boat from Seahouses) and Allen Banks and Staward Gorge with its Victorian garden along the sides of the gorge.
Important Notice: Before setting out to visit any of these heritage properties, please check their respective websites as to whether currently they are open and whether prior booking is required. Also only travel locally at the moment.
Special Offers: If you intend to visit several heritage sites in a year, then taking up annual membership of one or more of the three heritage organisations could save you a lot of money. We have special offers on annual and gift membership.
English Heritage – For 15% discount on annual and gift membership, click on English Heritage, enter EH2020 at checkout.
Historic Houses – For a £5 discount on annual and gift membership, click on Historic Houses, and use our unique discount code STEW05.
National Trust – To receive free binoculars with annual or gift membership paid by direct debit, click National Trust.
POSTED 19th JANUARY 2021 by STEVE HANSON. The photographs were taken by BARBARA HANSON.