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Alnwick Castle & Gardens

Alnwick Castle (© Klaas Lingbeek- van Kranen | iStockphoto.com)

Introduction

Alnwick Castle reflections in the river Aln at dawn (© Gail Johnson | Dreamstime.com)

Alnwick Castle (pronounced "Anick") is the ancestral residence of the Percy family, Earls then Dukes of Northumberland since 1309, and is still inhabited by the present Duke. It is one of the largest medieval castles in the Britain and rightly deserves its nickname of "Windsor of the North". It is in fact the second largest inhabited castle in England after Windsor, and shares a similar opulence in its interior decoration.

Alnwick will look familiar to many visitors thanks to its appearance in several Hollywood blockbusters, such as Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (1991), Elizabeth (1998), the first two Harry Potter films (2001, 2002) (e.g. at the scene of the Quidditch match outside Hogwarts School), and again in Ridley Scott's Robin Hood (2010). The BBC's historical sitocom Blackadder, which ran from 1983 to 2008, was shot in great part at Alnwick Castle as well.

History

The castle predates the arrival of the Percys in Alnwick by at least 200 years. The earliest known castle dates from 1096, when Yves de Vescy, Baron of Alnwick, erected the first fortifications to defend England's border from Scottish invasions. It was besieged in 1172 and again in 1174 by William the Lion, King of Scotland and William was captured outside the walls during the Battle of Alnwick.

In 1309 it was bought from Antony Bek the Bishop of Durham by Henry de Percy, 1st Baron Percy and it has been owned by the Percy family ever since. The first Lord Percy of Alnwick restored the castle. The Abbot's Tower, the Middle Gateway and the Constable's Tower date from this period.

In 14045 the Percys rebelled against Henry IV, who besieged and then took the castle. The castle captured again three times in short succession during the Wars of the Roses (1455-1485), in 1461, 1462 and 1464.

The castle was renovated in the 16th century, and the interior was heavily altered by the renowned Scottish architect and designer Robert Adam in the second half of the 18th century. The ostentatious Neo-Gothic addition were partly removed by the 4th Duke, Algernon (1792-1865), who redecorated many rooms in Classical Italianate style.

The Castle

Exterior

Alnwick is a motte-and-bailey castle surrounded by a colossal rampart adorned with towers at regular intervals. The Constable's Tower houses displays of military and historical interest. The Postern Tower exhibits an archaeological collection that includes frescoes from Pompeii, relics from Ancient Egypt and Romano-British objects. In the Abbot's Tower, you will find the Regimental Museum of the Royal Northumberland Fusiliers.

Various activities and events for children are organised on the castle grounds, such as medieval workshops, falconry displays, or magic shows inspired by Harry Potter.

The northern wall was lowered almost to the ground to open up the view on a small park, known as The Pastures. The park straddles the River Aln and was landscaped by Capability Brown and Thomas Call in the 18th century. Nearby is the much larger Hulne Park, which contains the remains of the 13th-century Hulne Priory.

Interior

Only 6 of the 150+ rooms in the castle are open to the public, but these are the most sumptuous. The stern and drab character of the exterior doesn't prepare guests for the splendour of the lavishly decorated State Rooms. The two most impressive rooms are the Italian Renaissance style Drawing Room and the luxurious Dining Room. The walls are adorned with paintings by Italian and Flemish masters such as Van Dyck, Canaletto or Titian. As for the monumental Library, it was started 400 years ago and now holds over 16,000 books.

Opening Hours & Admission

The castle is open daily from April to October, from 10:00 am to 6:00 pm (last entry 4:15 pm). The State Rooms and Knights Quest close at 5:00 pm. Admission to the castle and grounds is 12.50 for adults, 10.60 for students and retirees, and 5.50 for children under 16 years old. There are also combined tickets with the garden (20.80 / 17.80 / 5.50), and combined family tickets (two adults and up to four children) for 46.50.

The Garden

Re-developped in 2001 by the the Duchess of Northumberland, Alnwick Garden has become a major attraction of its own, sporting for example a bamboo labyrith, a poison garden, and one of the largest treehouses in the world. But the garden's most marvelous element is the 80-metre-long stepped water Grand Cascade with its 120 water jets. It is noted as being one of the most children friendly garden in Britain.

Originally laid down in 1750 by Capability Brown under the patronage of the 1st Duke of Northumberland, Alnwick Garden experienced a first "golden age" under the 3rd and 4th Dukes in the 19th century, when it was used to grow exotic plant species from all over the world (including pineapples in greenhouses, among the first to be grown in Europe).

During the hardships of WWII, the garden was used to grow vegetables, then fell into disrepair. Jane Percy, the current and 12th Duchess, initiated the restoration project in 1997. She commissioned the celebarted Belgian landscape designers Jacques and Peter Wirtz to create the new garden, spreading on 4.8 hectares (12 acres). This came at a startling cost of 42 million. In 2005, Alnwick Garden had become the third most visited paid entry garden in the UK.

Opening Hours & Admission

The garden is open all year round daily from 10:00 am to 6:00 pm (till 4:00 pm from November to March). Admission is 9.50 for adults, 7.20 for students and retirees, and is free for children under 16 years old. See above for combined tickets with the casle.


How to get there

Alnwick is located on the A1 motorway that runs between London and Edinburgh. The town is 55 km (35 mi.) north of Newcastle-upon-Tyne and 500 km (315 mi.) north of London.

There is no railway station in Alnwick. The nearest station is Alnmouth in Bilton, 6.5 km (4 mi.) to the east. Almouth is a 25 min ride from Newcastle (5.80). There are buses for Alnwick leaving from the train station.

National Express operates one daily coach from Newcastle (1 hour, 10) and two from London (7h to 7h30min, 35.30).

The nearest international airport is Newcastle Airport.

               

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