This week on Countryfile, Julia Bradbury explores the history of Northumberland and its dialect, Matt Baker visits a house built by the Victorian pioneer Lord William Armstrong and Ellie Harrison finds out how willow spiling helps to prevent river bank erosion out in the Northumberland countryside. You too can discover this enchanting county with our guide of things to do in Northumberland.
Emperor Hadrian began the construction of his famous wall in 122AD. It stretches an impressive 120km (74.5 miles) long across the northern border of England. There are many theories as to why the Romans built the wall, ranging from defence of the empire from ‘barbarians’ in the north to being a spectacle and statement of the power of Rome. Hadrian’s wall is now considered one of the most important Roman monuments in the UK. UNESCO declared the wall a world heritage site in 1987 and it is now the most famous attraction in the north of England. Boasting spectacular views, numerous archaeological sites and a wealth of Roman forts, milecastles and temples, visiting Hadrian’s wall is a must.
Cragside House, Gardens and Estate
Built by Lord William Armstrong, a Victorian inventor and industrialist, Cragside was the first house in the world to be lit using hydro-electric power. Armstrong was ahead of his time in advocating the use of renewable energy, claiming that the way forward was in using hydro-electric and solar power. The house is filled with ingenious gadgets invented by Lord Armstrong himself, most of which still work today. In addition to the main building, there are beautiful gardens, an adventure play area for kids to explore as well as a rhododendron labyrinth.
500th Anniversary of the Battle of Flodden
This year marks the 500th anniversary of the Battle of Flodden, where over 15,000 British men died in just one afternoon, including King James IV of Scotland. The number of casualties exceeded that of the Battle of the Somme, and is considered to have been one of our worst national tragedies on record. A memorial was erected in 1910 to commemorate those who lost their lives. Illustrated boards have recently been put in place to allow visitors to visualise the battle on the site, which has barely changed since the battle itself in 1513. St Paul’s church and ecomuseum in Branxton holds records and notes taken from the battle, and large scale burial pits were dug nearby. The battle took place on the 9th September, and there are a range of educational events around the date can be accessed by clicking here.
Kielder Water and Forest Park has the darkest night skies in England, perfect for the astronomy enthusiast. Whether gazing with the naked eye, or bringing a high powered telescope into the equation, you cannot fail to be impressed by the views the night sky can offer. Kielder also has its own observatory, which holds various events throughout the year, a timetable of which can be accessed by clicking here. Should the sky be overcast during your visit, do not worry, as Kielder Water and Forest Park offers a plethora of activities and sights to comfort your disappointment. Home to 50% of England’s red squirrel population, it offers fantastic opportunities to spot one of our most charismatic and iconic creatures. In 2009, a pair of ospreys became the first to breed in Northumberland for approximately 200 years. These majestic birds are a must-see. To maximise your stargazing enjoyment, it is best to visit around the time of the new moon, and it may be best to check the weather forecast!
Bamburgh castle has a unique and flavoursome history. Whilst there is evidence of prehistoric settlements, the castle has been home to ancient kings of Northumberland, it was destroyed by Edward IV during the Wars of the Roses and then rescued by the famous Lord Armstrong. Such a varied history has rendered it an archaeological hotspot, and is often occupied by archaeologists throughout the summer. A small museum showcasing some of Lord Armstrong’s inventions and products is located in the castle’s laundry rooms. There are opportunities to get involved with archaeological digs both for families on the day, or the more serious archaeology enthusiast can book a place on the Bamburgh Research Project.
Why not treat yourself to the white sandy beaches of the coast? At 100 miles long you can be sure to find a spot perfect for you. The Northumberland coast is a designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, and it is not hard to see why. With crystal clear water and golden sand, much of the coastline is completely unpopulated and offers a fantastic escape from the stresses of daily life. There is even the option to walk the entire coast over a six-day period, with a baggage transfer service to lighten your load. For those of you who prefer things to be a little more extreme, give kitesurfing lessons a try, offered all year round. Of course, don’t forget to bring your canine companion! The majority of the Northumberland coast is dog-friendly, and perfect for exercising man’s best friend.
Northumberland has been named as a hotspot for bird watching, and here are a couple of fantastic locations to spy some of our more unusual avian species.
Boat trips from Seahouses to the Farne Islands
Why not spend the day visiting the fantastic Farne islands, which play host to an astounding 100,000 pairs of breeding birds, including puffins, razorbills, guillemots and eider ducks? The Farne islands are also home to a colony of grey seals, a beautiful medieval pele tower and a spectacular victorian Lighthouse. Historically, the islands have links with Celtic Christianity and were home to St. Cuthbert, who supposedly protected the eider duck (known locally as the cuddy duck, after the saint) in the 7th Century. The Farne islands can only be accessed from late March to the end of October.
Rambling on the heather moorlands
The heather moorlands of Northumberland offer a truly stunning backdrop to your walk. The moorlands play host to a wealth of rare or uncommon animal and plant species; there is the chance for birders to spot black and red grouse, merlin or even a curlew and budding entomologists can hope to catch a glimpse of the spectacular emperor moth and mountain bumblebee. As well as diverse wildlife, you might come across one of the 1,000 known Neolithic and Bronze Age rock carvings scattered across Northumberland, relics of some of the first people to settle in Britain.
Visit the Alnwick Garden
Ten years ago, the Duchess of Northumberland took a derelict space and turned it into one of the most spectacular and unusual gardens in the UK. With fantastic fountains and beautiful blooms, everyone from the serious horticulturalist to young children cannot fail to enjoy a day out here. There are opportunities to visit one of the largest tree houses in the world, play in the water sculptures and meander through a tranquil cherry orchard. Over 4,000 plant varieties call Alnwick Garden their home, some of which include poisonous plants housed behind imposing iron gates in the poison garden.
Words by Lauren Duffield