If you really want to escape the crowds of England, Northumberland is the place to run. Northumberland’s population is smaller than many of London’s boroughs, but it is the sixth largest county by area. Northumberlanders have no cities and live in fishing ports, famous market towns and small remote villages in the deep valleys of Northumberland National Park.
The castle is almost 10 cents here and serves as a lingering reminder that fighting and sieges have been a part of life in the region for hundreds of years. Places like Bamburgh Castle and Alnwick Castle are family-friendly with quirky reenacters, while many others are spooky ruins that perfectly complement the wild countryside.
Let’s explore the best places to visit in Northumberland:
Alnwick is a tranquil market town with terraces of limestone flat-roofed townhouses, second-hand bookshops, coffee shops and bars.
The biggest attraction is the town’s castle, which is the second most inhabited castle in the UK after Windsor.
You’re free to hang out in the summer, and Harry Potter fans have an added bonus because this property is Hogwarts in the movie.
You’ll also be drawn to Alnwick Gardens, landscaped hedges and flower beds around the waterfall.
To arouse morbid curiosity, the Poison Garden is stocked with hemlock, foxglove, and plants that produce ricin and strychnine.
Plus, visit the castles of Chillingham, Edringham and Dunstanburg, and experience awe-inspiring beach views at Low Newton and Embleton Bay.
2. Berwick upon Tweed
England’s northernmost town is just a few miles from the Scottish Borders, at the mouth of the Tweed River.
There is no doubt that this community has been taken from England and Scotland over the centuries.
When Richard I captured Berwick from the Scots in the 1300s, he built the city walls, which were converted to defend against cannons during the reign of Elizabeth I in the 1500s.
Most of these defenses are still here, which is very rare for an English town.
From three sandy beaches to the mouth of the Tweed Estuary, there is much more to see, crossed by Stevenson’s majestic Royal Frontier Railway Bridge.
Dating back to the early 1700s, during the Jacobite uprising, Berwick Barracks has fascinating exhibits about the last conflict on British soil.
This beautiful, mysterious and ancient island can be reached on foot via an ancient route known as the Pilgrimage Route, but obviously you need to keep an eye on the tide times before setting out.
In Lindisfarne you’ll come across a monastery founded in the 600s and revived centuries later by the Normans.
On this site, you will travel back to the earliest Christian times in England, and also English, as the biography of St Cuthbert in the 7th century is the oldest surviving English text.
The English Heritage Centre has stunning Celtic religious carvings and tells the story of the Viking onslaught that ravaged the island in the 800s.
4. Northumberland National Park
England’s least-populated national park includes 400 square miles of remote highland filled with abandoned historic sites.
To the north is Fleck’s Tower, a small fortress that served as a watchtower and lighthouse in the Marquez region of Scotland in the Middle Ages.
Across the south is most of Hadrian’s Wall, with fragments of the fort every few miles along the way.
Meanwhile, walkers, horse riders, mountain bikers and anyone else craving peaceful open spaces can fill their boots in this far-flung land.
At night, the sky in the park is dimmer than anywhere else in the country, another delightful consequence of the lack of large settlements, and it’s nothing short of heaven for stargazers and amateur astronomers.
If you want to know more about Northumberland in the Roman era, you couldn’t find a better place than Hexham, directly on the wall.
The only trouble will be knowing where to start, as the forts in this part of the county, such as Vindolanda, Cilurnum and Housesteads, are in good condition considering their age.
The Roman Army Museum adds another layer of interest, and the Mithra Temple in Cara Fort is a reminder of how rich the land was 2,000 years ago.
Newer but equally fascinating is Hexham Abbey, with early English Gothic architecture from the 12th century.
Go down and investigate the basement built entirely of Roman stone, which still bears ancient inscriptions.
6. Sea House
Seahouses is a very pretty fishing village with a working harbour on the Northumberland coast of outstanding natural beauty.
Many of your activities will focus on the beautiful harbour, where you can board a boat for a seal-watching trip or go offshore for an expedition to the Farne Islands.
After enjoying the refreshing sea breeze, head back to the village’s warm inn for a pint and meal.
There are dunes and huge sandy beaches up and down the coast, and if you’ve ever loved horseback riding, you can ride around the water in the most romantic setting imaginable.
Morpeth is a farming town in the southern part of the county that retains most of its historic buildings.
These include the 1600s bell tower and Morpeth Chantry, a 13th century church with a tourist information centre.
Coordinating with the elegant cityscape is the Sanderson Arcade, a shopping arcade that looks like it might be 100 years old but was completed only a few years ago.
Youngsters can make some animal friends at Eshott Heugh Animal Park and Whitehouse Farm Centre, while there is also culture at Belsay Hall and Wallington, two acclaimed country parks just minutes from town.
Also in AONB, Northumbria, Bamburgh attracts holidaymakers to St. Aiden’s beaches, hilly dunes and a remarkable castle.
Standing on a volcanic plateau, this mighty landmark was the seat of the Norse kings of Northumbria, with medieval Norman architecture but a story that dates back to the 400s.
There’s another angle to Bamburgh’s charm: the village has a museum for Victorian resident Grace Darling, the daughter of the keeper of the feldspar lighthouse on the rocks on the coast.
In 1838, she helped rescue nine people from the wreck of a paddle steamer in Faufa County, becoming a national folk hero in the process.
On the most remote western edge of the county, the village of Kielder is about as far from English civilization as possible.
Yet despite (and because of) this remoteness, there is still a lot going on.
Near the summit of Black Fell, the Kielder Observatory is an El Dorado for amateur astronomers, and if you’re new to science, there are even volunteers to show you how to use the telescope.
In the village, Kielder Castle is actually a hunting lodge built by the Duke of Northumberland in 1775, but has an informative visitor centre.
Also completely isolated is Kielder Forest Park, which was only planted in the 1950s when it became the largest man-made forest in Europe at 250 square miles.
At the southern end of Northumberland’s AONB, Amble is a lovely old harbour where Coquet flows into the North Sea.
Nature lovers arrive on Cokai Island in summer, when 35,000 puffins scramble to nest.
The lovely waterside village of Warkworth, with its endless sandy beaches, is a huge landmark of Warkworth Castle.
During the Anglo-Scottish Wars of the 14th century, it was a coveted stronghold and was twice besieged by the Scots.
If you’re willing to go the extra mile, you can explore the Warkworth Hermitage, a medieval chapel cut from the cliffs of Coquet and accessible only by boat.
What immediately excites you about Corbridge is that many of the buildings are made of salvaged Roman stone from the abandoned town of Corstopitum.
You can go and see what’s left of this garrison, which remains one of the most complete archaeological sites on Hadrian’s Wall, complete with information boards that bring the foundations to life.
Aydon Castle is a medieval manor whose defensive façade owes its to centuries of conflict along the Scottish Borders to unravel medieval history.
Record the first weekend of June in your journal for the Corbridge Festival with street theatre, market stalls, a real beer talent contest and a fantastic lineup of live music.
Ashton was a small village until the 1840s, but the coal seams in the area were quickly mined and the town developed into one of the largest settlements in Northumberland.
It’s a working town and the most notable attraction is the heritage coal mines of Woodhorn, east of Ashington.
The turn-of-the-century mine has been barely altered, with the meandering houses, soaring derricks, engine rooms and plenty of original outbuildings all as good as new.
For smaller visitors, there is the Woodhorn Railway, which uses two locomotives with industrial use, one at the Seaham Colliery and the other at the Channel Tunnel.
Where to stay: The best hotels in Northumberland, England
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