We didn’t intend going to Bamburgh Castle that day. We drove down the coast, past the imposing structure, on our way to Seahouses where we planned to catch a boat out to the Farne Islands. However, it was so windy the boats were not sailing. The helpful lady at Billy Shiels tours told us to call in the morning to find out if they’re sailing before driving out again. We never did get out to the Farne Islands but we were not disappointed as there is so much to do in Northumberland. After a walk around Seahouses and the harbour, we headed back north up the coast to the castle and are we glad we did.
Bamburgh is called The King of Castles and it is easy to see why. It is very impressive as it sits right on the coast in Northumberland. We parked in the free parking lot at the foot of the castle and walked up to the entrance. If you do not want to walk up the hill, you can drive up to the higher parking lot which costs £2 for the day. As you enter the castle, there are storyboards along the walls providing the history of the castle and the families that owned it. The recorded story of the castle begins in 547 and follows through to present time as the castle changes hands from one king to another and then to private citizens. By 993 the castle is left in ruins for 100 years after a Viking invasion. In 1164 the Great Tower was built and in 1221 the Great Hall. In 1610 the castle was gifted into private ownership after a long and royal history. In 1700 Lord Nathaniel Crewe bought the castle for £20,000. Upon his death in 1721 the castle was turned over to trustees to manage. However in 1894, Lord Armstrong bought the castle for £60,000 and it was back in private family hands. The castle passed to his great nephew on his death in 1900 and was opened to the public for the first time in 1931. There are pictures of the current Armstrong family in the castle though none of them live there. However, there are private apartments at the castle and some holiday lets.
In all, we spent about five hours at the castle. There was an art exhibit in the stables – Experience Peter Phillips’ “An Artist’s View” of Breathtaking Northumbria, and we all bought prints – it is lovely work. It was difficult to choose because they were all so good. The ones on exhibit here were of the castle and area and wildlife. The artist, however, has work from various places around England. My aunt also bought his book “Alnwick Parks Sketchbook.” In addition to the landscapes there are smaller whimsical prints and humorous prints. The exhibit is on until October 2017. If you go, end your visit here so you don’t have to carry your purchases around the castle.
By the time we finished looking at the exhibit and making our purchases it was time for some lunch. There is a delightful café in the castle with wonderful food – The Clock Tower Tearooms – in the old castle library. Unfortunately there isn’t much room for seating. For this reason, they ask that you secure a seat before you order your meal. We ended up asking two young men who were sat in the middle of a table for six to move down and make room for us so we could order. You can also take your food to go and eat out on the grounds. However, it was a bit chilly and breezy in late April. We had sweet potato and red pepper soup with buns and shared a crab sandwich while the man in the group had a tuna sandwich with crisps and salad. We further fortified ourselves with coffees and ginger loaf/coffee cake before heading into the castle for the audio tour.
The castle rooms were very interesting and the views over the coast and countryside are stunning. You can get an audio guide or a written map but there are also boards in each room identifying the room’s use and notes on artifacts and paintings in each room. The Great Hall is particularly striking. I was drawn to a painting of Cilgerran Castle in Pembrokeshire that is attributed to Turner. The teak ceiling in the King’s Hall is also impressive: 300 tons of Siamese teak. There are staff in the rooms who are very helpful if you have any questions.
When we left the castle rooms we sampled some Alnwick gin mixed with grapefruit juice. It was very nice. The gift shop has a number of interesting items and it is also near the Armstrong and Aviation Artefacts Museum. The museum tells the story of Lord Armstrong and his engineering ventures and the history of aviation in WWI and WWII.
Once we got outside we found the old Northumbria Royal Throne and took turns sitting on it for a photo. We also watched some people try their hand at old games – running with a hoop and keeping it moving with a stick. It’s harder to do than it seems.
“Peter Phillips’ website”:http://www.phillips-creative.co.uk “Bamburgh Castle”:http://www.bamburghcastle.com