Historic Houses Northumberland: Chillingham Castle

Chillingham Castle in the north of Northumberland is an atmospheric, medieval fortress. We found it quite mesmerising looking around the ancient building, the formal gardens and the hillside parkland and lakes.

Chillingham Castle from the Italian Garden
Chillingham Castle from the Italianate Garden

Originally the site of a monastery, the present building dates back to the 13th Century but with many modifications along the way. Its strategic position in the borderlands meant it saw much military action over the centuries and had many royal visitors including Edward I, Anne of Denmark and James I.

The Castle was the seat of the Grey and Bennett families for 500 years and is presently the home of Sir Edward Wakefield, who is married to a member of the Grey family.

It is typical of many of the properties in the Historic Houses portfolio that many are family residences, but with state rooms, gardens and parkland open to the public.

Don’t expect a neat, well-ordered set of rooms when you visit. Rather it has very much a lived-in feel, with items looking as if the were randomly put down over very many years.

Chillingham: Tea Room from the Balcony
Tea Room from the Minstrel’s Gallery

Even the Tea Room is an eye-opener. When we first saw it from the over-looking gallery, it quite startled us as we seemed to have been transported back through hundreds of years to a medieval Minstrel’s Hall.

The black antlers on the wall above the serving desk seemed to be from an unbelievably massive stag. We learnt later that they were from a prehistoric elk unearthed in Ireland and could be half a million years old.

The coffee and freshly baked cheese scones were, by the way, excellent.

Chillingham Castle

Chillingham: Great Hall
Great Hall

We started our tour of the castle in the magnificent Great Hall. It was built for the visit of King James VI of Scotland (later to be James I, King of England), but has had many other royal visitors.

The stone-flagged floor and beam ceiling set the atmosphere, but it is the wall decorations that provide much of interest to see. There is a curious mixture of tapestries, armour, weapons and animal antlers.

After climbing upstairs and passed a cluttered hat storage room and a bedroom with a fine lace canopy, we reached the King James I Room. This is one of a suite of three rooms, along with the New Dining Room and the Plaque Room Library, built specially for the king.

King James I Room
King James I Room

Notable features of the King James I Room are the fine gilded Elizabethan ceiling and wall screening of patterned silk, originally made for Chatsworth House. A decorated bath in the bay window was made for Marie Antionette and was apparently once owned by Mick Jagger!

Passing through a Museum full of weird and wonderful bric-a-brac, we came to the small, but beautifully restored Chapel.

We completed our tour in the tiny, bleak Dungeon and its adjoining room full curiosities like a grandfather clock, various items of horse tack and, attached to the wall, a massive, iron cooking pot, that was once used to feed hundreds of soldiers.

Unlike all other heritage properties we have visited, there seems to be a policy at Chillingham Castle that items can be touched an handled, even some of the weapons on display.

Formal Gardens

Chillingham: Italianate Garden
Italianate Garden

There is a large Italianate Garden to the west of the castle. This dates back to 1828 and was designed by Sir Jeffry Wyatville after he had completed the gardens at Windsor Castle.

It features the longest herbaceous border in the North of England and there are lovely views over the well trimmed hedges back towards the castle.

Various old garden implements are scattered around the gardens which add to the atmosphere of the place.

Parkland and Lakes

Lakeside Walk
Lakeside Walk

A pathway from near the east side of the castle leads down a wooded hillside towards two lakes. There are no signposts along the way.

We assumed that we would be able to walk around the lakes and then back to the house, but the pathway just seemed to head off into the distance. In the end, we turned around and headed back the way we came, covering in all about two miles.

There are some pleasant views over the Cheviots along the way, but we had no sightings of the white cattle for which Chillingham is famous.

Entry to the Chillingham Castle is £10.50 for adults, £9.50 for seniors and £6.50 for children. However if you take up annual membership with Historic Houses, you will get free entry, plus free entry to 300 other heritage sites. Enter our unique code STEW05 at ‘Add discount code’ and new members will receive a £5 discount. This also applies if you wish to give annual membership as a gift.

We have reviewed several other properties under Historic Houses and see also: Historic Houses versus National Trust – Which to join?

Additional Photographs of Chillingham Castle

Front View of the Castle
Front View of the Castle
The New Dining Room
New Dining Room
Chillingham: The Chapel
The Chapel

POSTED 2nd JULY 2021 by STEVE HANSON. The photographs were taken by BARBARA HANSON.