Castles and Houses of Northumberland
A visit to the low lying coast and wide open spaces of Northumberland is always a treat but when it includes a host of historic houses and castles the pleasure is magnified greatly. Perhaps the most impressive of these is Bamburgh Castle, which sprawls over a rocky plateau on the coast, close to the Farne Islands. Late in its long life it was bought by the visionary inventor and philanthropist Lord Armstrong, whose innovative house at Cragside we will also visit.
Further highlights include a trip to the holy island of Lindisfarne and visits to both the castle and priory; a visit to Belsay Hall, built in 19th century Greek revival style from stone carved from its own quarry which was later transformed into a unique garden; and Wallington House, which dates back to 1688 and also boasts a fine garden. Then there is Alnwick Castle, which has been described as the ‘Windsor of the North’ and is the second largest inhabited castle in England. For once we will spend more time in the castle than in the neighbouring garden, but it would be remiss not to visit this most inspiring of projects.
We depart by train on a morning service from London Kings Cross to Newcastle (please note connecting rail travel to Newcastle is available on request and there is a discount of £100pp for those making their own way to Newcastle).
On arrival at Newcastle Station we join our coach and depart for our first visit, the house and gardens of Belsay Hall, a classical brown stone mansion, built in the 19th Century in Greek revival style to the design of its owner, Sir Charles Monck. Inspired by a honeymoon trip to Athens, the unfurnished Pillar Hall is at the centre of the house, with closely spaced Ionic columns and a beautifully light atrium. Enjoying spectacular views of the magnolia terrace, the family bedrooms retain their original fireplace grates and floral wallpaper from the 1800s.
The hall was built from rock carved from Belsay's very own quarry, which was later transformed into an exciting and dramatic garden – creepers twist up sheer rockfaces while rare trees grow in the meadows in the ravines.
We continue by coach to our comfortable hotel in Newcastle.
Following breakfast, we travel north along the dramatic Northumberland coast to Bamburgh Castle, an impressive fortress that has stood guard here for over 1400 years. Sprawling over nine acres of land on its rocky plateau, Bamburgh is one of the largest inhabited castles in the country. The 150 feet high escarpment and natural harbour made Bamburgh the obvious choice for the sixth century Kings of Northumbria to build their royal capital, Din Guaydri. Throughout its colourful history Bamburgh has been home to a succession of kings from Henry IV to James I and it was the first castle in the world to fall to gunpowder in the War of the Roses. Visionary inventor, industrialist and philanthropist Lord William George Armstrong bought Bamburgh Castle in 1894 and set about transforming it into his vision of the archetypal castle. The castle houses his unique collection of artwork, ceramics and objets d’art that Armstrong loved and brought him joy.
A few miles along the coast lies the Holy Island of Lindisfarne, which we will visit in the afternoon, as the island is accessed by a causeway that is covered at high tide. Perched atop a rocky crag, the 16th century Lindisfarne Castle presents an exciting and alluring aspect. Originally a Tudor fort, it was converted into a private house in 1903 by the young Edwin Lutyens. The small rooms are full of intimate decoration and design, with windows looking down upon the charming walled garden planned by Gertrude Jekyll. After the castle, we will also visit Lindsfarne Priory. The famous Benedictine Priory built during the late 11th century was one of the most important centres of early Christianity in Anglo-Saxon England.
Please note that there is a three-quarter-mile walk from the coach park to the castle, although minibus transfers are available at a fare to be paid on board. There are no toilets in Lindisfarne Castle, nor a café, but full catering facilities are available in the village.
After breakfast we depart for Alnwick Castle, the historic home of the Duke of Northumberland, which has been described as the Windsor of the North and is the second largest inhabited castle in England. It has been in the possession of the Percy family since 1309 and the castle houses an exquisite collection of art treasures, including the finest examples of Italian paintings in the north of England. Lunch (not included) is available in the adjoining Alnwick Garden, accessed by a pleasant walk through the grounds. This unique garden project was inspired by the Duchess of Northumberland, and has established itself as one of the most notable gardens in England.
In the afternoon we visit Cragside House at Rothbury. Cragside was designed by Norman Shaw for the industrialist and inventor Lord Armstrong (he who later purchased Bamburgh Castle) and was built in 1870. The very name makes one think of a Grimm fairy tale and the appearance of the house rising high above a rocky bluff overlooking the Debdon Valley has more than a touch of Wagner. This was the first house in the world to be lit by hydroelectricity and it is crammed full of ingenious gadgets – most of them still working. Below the house a precipitous rock garden, one of the largest in Europe, cascades down the slopes to a formal garden.
After breakfast we check out of the hotel and travel into the Northumbrian countryside for the last time as we visit Wallington House, which dates back to 1688 and was home to many generations of the Blackett and Trevelyn families, all of whom have left their legacy behind. The house is set in magnificent grounds with lawns, lakes and woodlands, and a stroll here will be the perfect finale to our short break.
We then return to Newcastle for our afternoon train journey back to London Kings Cross (or other onward connections).
- Brightwater Tour Manager
- Local Travel - Private a/c coach
- Meals - All meals included with water (wine with dinners)
- Entries & Tips - Entry to all sites in program; tips included
- Hotels - Accommodation in hand-picked hotels.