This is Medieval England, with it's rich tapestry of history, right here. Alnwick Castle guards a road crossing the River Aln. Yves de Vescy, Baron of Alnwick, erected the first parts of the castle in about 1096. The castle was first mentioned in 1136 when it was captured by King David I of Scotland. At this point it was described as "very strong" (not that strong if it was captured). 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. Eustace de Vesci, lord of Alnwick, was accused of plotting with Robert Fitzwalter against King John in 1212. In response, John ordered the demolition of Alnwick Castle and Baynard's Castle (the latter was Fitzwalter's stronghold); however, his instructions were not carried out at Alnwick, thankfully. When the Vescy family became extinct, Alnwick Castle and the surrounding manor were bequeathed to Antony Bek the Bishop of Durham. The Percy family benefited from England's wars with Scotland; through his military accomplishments Henry Percy, 1st Baron Percy (1273–1314), enhanced his family's status in northern England. In 1309 he purchased the barony of Alnwick from Bek, and it has been owned by the Percy family, the Earls and later Dukes of Northumberland since. The stone castle Henry Percy bought was a modest affair, but he immediately began rebuilding. Though he did not live to see its completion, the building programme turned Alnwick into a major fortress along the Anglo-Scottish border. His son, also called Henry (1299–1352), continued the building. The Abbot's Tower, the Middle Gateway and the Constable's Tower survive from this period. The work at Alnwick Castle balanced military requirements with the family's residential needs. It set the template for castle renovations in the 14th century in northern England; several palace-fortresses, considered "extensive, opulent [and] theatrical" date from this period in the region. In 1345 the Percys acquired Warkworth Castle, also in Northumberland. Though Alnwick was considered more prestigious, Warkworth became the family's preferred residence. The Percy family were powerful lords in northern England. Henry Percy, 1st Earl of Northumberland (1341–1408), rebelled against King Richard II and helped dethrone him. The earl later rebelled against King Henry IV and after defeating the earl in the Battle of Shrewsbury, the king chased him north to Alnwick. The castle surrendered under the threat of bombardment in 1403.
Believed to have been born c.1364 in one of the castle's octagonal towers which flanked the old gatehouse (right), Henry 'Hotspur' Percy soon earned his name for being an impetuous and courageous warrior - leading 900 men into battle at the age of 12 or 14. Indeed, so impetuous and courageous that one of Tottenham's footbal club founders named the club after him (tit also helped that the Percy's owned land in Tottenham). In addition to the dour grandeur of the castle and the splendour of the rooms there are a number of exhibitions. There is a Downton Abbey Exhibition - Alnwick Castle features in the programme extensively. There is a World War One Exhibition. The castle's Abbot's Tower is the home of the Fusiliers Museum of Northumberland, founded to celebrate the history of the Royal Northumberland Fusiliers as part of the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers. In the Coach House, discover a new exhibition telling the story of the family's luxurious state coach which once carried the 3rd Duke of Northumberland as George IV's personal representative to the coronation of Charles X in France in 1825. The Castle Museum, opened to the public in 1826, played a significant part in the 3rd Duke's scheme of restoration. It was the Duke's intention to promote the serious study of archaeology of the North and he surrounded himself with the keenest and best informed minds for that purpose. Under the Duke's patronage, important investigations and digs were undertaken; the number of artefacts increased through his own enthusiastic collecting and purchasing, and the process of cataloguing the collection was begun. Today, the Postern Tower houses an important collection of British and Irish archaeology, including swords and a buckler (small shield) recovered from the Battle of Shrewsbury, where Hotspur was killed in 1403.
In June 1815, the Duke of Wellington was victorious at the Battle of Waterloo, and Major Henry Percy was chosen to deliver news of the victory to the Prince Regent. You can discover the story of Percy's journey from Waterloo to London in this new exhibition to mark the 200th anniversary of the battle. Descend into the darkness beneath the castle walls and discover what awaits you in The Lost Cellars. The Keeper of the Lost Souls invites you on a journey down deep into the mysteries of the cellars of Alnwick Castle, where the air is thick with forgotten centuries and the sounds of the past linger on. But beware, "this is not for the faint of heart or those timorous souls who fear the shadows of the eternal night..." Locked and undisturbed for decades, this abandoned space has been transformed into a brand new attraction, The Lost Cellars – unique to the North of England - full of tales of terrible fates and grisly folklore, combined with character holograms, hair-raising lighting and the very latest audio technology. Adjacent to the castle, Jane Percy, Duchess of Northumberland, has initiated the establishment of The Alnwick Garden, a formal garden set around a cascading fountain. It cost £42 million. The first phase of development, opened in October 2001, involved the creation of the fountain and initial planting of the gardens. In 2004 a large 6,000 sq ft (560 m2) 'tree house' complex, including a cafe, was opened. It is deemed one of the largest tree houses in the world. In February 2005, a poison garden, growing plants such as cannabis and opium poppy, was added.
Location : Alnwick Castle, Alnwick, Northumberland NE66 1NQ
Transport: Alnmouth (National Rail) then bus. Bus routes X15 and X18.
Opening Times: Daily 10:00 to 17:30
Tickets: Adults £14.00 Concesssion £11.40 Children £7.20
Tel: 01665 511 100