Standing proud on top of a south-facing hill, Warkworth Castle dominates the town of the same name, wedged in between the fortress and a long loop of the River Coquet.
At the beginning of the 14th century, the castle was acquired by the Percy family, who played a major part in Northumbrian history for the next 500 years.
This politically turbulent period started with the Anglo-Scottish wars and continued through the Wars of the Roses. Henry Percy, First Earl of Northumberland, and his son, Harry Hotspur, were instrumental in deposing Richard II and installing Henry IV to the throne.
These events provide the action of Shakespeare’s Henry IV, Part I, which has scenes set in Warkworth Castle. During the Wars of the Roses, Warkworth became a Lancastrian stronghold, though it fell into the hands of the Yorkists, and was, temporarily, lost to the Percys.
This is a place for children’s imaginations to run wild. Entering the castle by means of a bridge over a deep ditch, they can easily visualise attacking across a drawbridge. The bailey is an extensive grassy space in which the foundations of the buildings are laid out like a map.
A variety of towers and sections of the curtain wall are riddled with stairwells and hidden tunnels that demand to be explored. Meanwhile, at a more leisurely pace, adults can learn the fascinating history of Warkworth from an audio device supplied at the entrance.
A man’s home is his castle
The keep is one of the best preserved of any English castle, and contains a maze-like system of stairs, passages and cellars linking the Great Hall with a chapel, kitchens, store rooms and bed chambers. On the top floor are the Duke’s Rooms, which contain items of carved oak furniture. From its many windows, you can look out over the town and surrounding countryside as far as the coast.
If you explore the castle on Sunday or Monday, follow this with a half-mile stroll upstream. Cross the river by boat to reach The Hermitage, a riverside crag hollowed out like a cave into an ornately designed, and still consecrated, chapel and inner chamber. Constructed around 1400AD, its origins are now lost to legend.
A shorter walk around the river loop to the north brings you to the 12th-century St Lawrence’s Church, which retains its Norman pillars and windows and medieval oak roof beams.
Cross one of two bridges in the town, then follow a minor road and bridleway for a quarter mile, past a golf course and through dunes to reach a long stretch of sandy beach on which to relax for the next few hours.
HOW TO GET THERE
By car, leave the A1 at Felton and follow the B6345 to Acklington, then a minor road to Warkworth. Alternatively, follow the A1068 from Alnwick. There are bus services from Alnwick and Newcastle.
FIND OUT MORE
Open daily (Hermitage open weekends only). Adults £5, children £3.
23 Castle Street
Warkworth NE65 0UL
Home-cooked hearty dishes in a cosy, traditional pub.
Warkworth Old Post
32 Castle Street,
Warkworth NE65 0UL
or 07752 861914
Follow the Coquet estuary for 1½ miles to Amble, a bustling small town with a harbour – from here, jump on a boat trip around the RSPB reserve of Coquet Island.