English Heritage cares for a staggering 26 properties across Northumberland – each offering a unique insight into the county’s long and turbulent history.
From Roman ruins on Hadrian’s Wall to coastal fortresses like the impressive and sometimes forbidding Dunstanburgh Castle, centres of Christianity such as Lindisfarne Priory and country mansions in the shape of the Grecian-inspired Belsay Hall, there is no shortage of places for all the family to enjoy.
Regular live-action events from rampaging Romans to vile Vikings, merciless medieval marauders and the more genteel Georgians help bring the area’s rich history to life. You can find more information here.
Dunstanburgh Castle stands on a remote and starkly beautiful headland looking out over the North Sea, and was built at a time when relations between King Edward II and his most powerful baron, Earl Thomas of Lancaster, had become openly hostile.
Lancaster began the fortress in 1313, and the latest archaeological research indicates that he built it on a far grander scale than was recognised, perhaps more as a symbol of his opposition to the king than as a military stronghold.
The earl failed to reach Dunstanburgh when his rebellion was defeated, and was taken and executed in 1322. Thereafter the castle passed eventually to John of Gaunt, who strengthened it against the Scots by converting the great twin towered gatehouse into a keep.
The focus of fierce fighting during the Wars of the Roses, it was twice besieged and captured by Yorkist forces, but subsequently fell into decay.
Tucked away just one mile from the village of Corbridge in the heart of Northumberland is Aydon Castle
Almost completely intact, it is one of the finest and most unaltered examples of a 13th century English manor house. Set in secluded woodland, it was originally built as an undefended residence, but almost immediately fortified on the outbreak of Anglo-Scottish warfare.
Nevertheless it was pillaged and burnt by the Scots in 1315, seized by English rebels two years later, and again occupied by Scots in 1346.
Belsay Hall, Castle and Gardens
You get double for your money at Belsay with a 14th century castle and a 19th century house and garden.
The grand medieval castle, later extended to include a Jacobean mansion, boasts stunning views over the surrounding parkland from the top of the tower.
The stone for Sir Charles Monck’s neoclassical house with its Pillar Hall was taken from a quarry in the grounds and later made into a romantic gorge with pinnacles and exotic plants. Around the house there is a terrace which overlooks a rhododendron garden.
Berwick Barracks and Main Guard
Home to history and the arts, Berwick Barracks was built in the early 18th century – among the first in England to be purpose built. The ‘By Beat of Drum’ exhibition gives an insight into the life of the British infantryman from the Civil War to the First World War.
A stone’s throw away from the Scottish border and located in a Georgian market town it also boasts a range of other temporary and permanent exhibitions to explore: The King’s Own Scottish Borderers museum, the Berwick Gymnasium Art Gallery and the Berwick Borough museum.
Berwick Castle and Ramparts
Explore the remains of a medieval castle crucial to Anglo-Scottish warfare, superseded by the most complete and breathtakingly
impressive bastioned town defences in England, mainly Elizabethan but updated in the 17th and 18th centuries.
Surrounding the whole historic town, you can walk the entire circuit.
The beautiful 12th century church of the Augustinian priory of Brinkburn survives completely roofed and restored. Picturesquely set by a bend in the River Coquet near Rothbury, it is reached by a scenic 10 minute walk from the car park.
Chesters Roman Fort and Museum
Built almost 2000 years ago to house a Roman army garrison guarding the nearby bridge across the River Tyne, Chesters Roman Fort with its officers’ quarters and well-preserved baths and steam room, shows vividly what life would have been like here at the Empire’s northern outpost.
Completing the picture there’s also an amazing collection of Roman items found during the excavation of Hadrian’s Wall.
Halfway between Rothbury and Alnwick on the B6341 lies this riverside ruin, principally the solar tower, of a manor house progressively fortified against the Scots during the 14th century. Discover more.
Set in the charming village of Etal by a ford over the River Till, this castle in north Northumberland was built by Robert Manners as a defence against Scots raiders in the mid-14th century. However, it fell to James IV’s invading Scots army in 1513, immediately before their catastrophic defeat at nearby Flodden.
An award-winning exhibition outlines the interesting story of the bloody Anglo-Scottish warfare of this border castle.
Covering 73 miles across North East and North West England, this celebrated World Heritage Site is the best known frontier in the Roman Empire. Many well-known places along the wall in Northumberland are in the care of English Heritage, including Chesters and Housesteads Roman Forts as well as Black Middens Bastle House and the Temple of Mithas at Carrawburgh.
Live-action events where you can get up close to gladiators and discover 2000 years of history are held regularly at many of the properties along the wall.
Housesteads Roman Fort
Housesteads is the most complete Roman fort in Britain. Set where Hadrian’s Wall climbs to the top of a dramatic escarpment, there are some stunning views to enjoy from the walls of this ancient fortress.
You can imagine what life must have been like for the 800 roman soldiers based here as you wander among the remains of the barrack blocks and the commandant’s house. There is even an original set of Roman toilets!
The fascinating museum houses many artefacts and also features a model of how the fort looked in Roman times.
Commanding a vital ford over the River Tweed, Norham was one of the strongest of the border castles, and the most often attacked by the Scots.
Besieged at least 13 times – once for nearly a year by Robert Bruce – it was called ‘the most dangerous and adventurous place in the country’.
But even its powerful 12th century keep and massive towered bailey walls could not resist James IV’s heavy cannon, and it fell to him in 1513, shortly before his defeat at Flodden.
The extensive 16th century rebuilding which followed, adapting the fortress for its own artillery, is still clearly visible.
Sitting offshore on Holy Island and reached by causeway at low tide, the peaceful atmosphere and beautiful views in the priory make a visit here well worth the effort.
Lindisfarne Priory, original home to the Lindisfarne Gospels, was an important centre of early Christianity, and the home of St Cuthbert. Today you can marvel at the ornate carvings on the extensive ruins of the monastic buildings and enjoy the serenity that first drew the monks there.