The castle was originally a monastery in the late 12th century; today it is a superbly maintained castle with magnificent gardens. In 1298, King Edward I stayed at the castle on his way to Scotland to battle a Scottish army led by William Wallace; Wallace had raided the previous year, burning the women and children to death in the local abbey. A glazed window in a frame was specially installed for the king, a rarity in such buildings at the time. The castle occupied a strategically important location in medieval times: it was located on the border between two feuding nations. It was used as a staging post for English armies entering Scotland, but was also repeatedly attacked and besieged by Scottish armies and raiding parties heading south. The site contained a moat, and in some locations the fortifications were 12 feet thick. The building underwent a harsh series of enhancements, and in 1344 a Licence to crenellate was issued by King Edward III to allow battlements to be built, effectively upgrading the stronghold to a fully fortified castle, of quadrangular form. In 1617, James I, the first king of both England and Scotland, stayed at the castle on a journey between his two kingdoms. As relations between the two countries became peaceful following the union of the crowns, the need for a military stronghold in the area declined. The castle was gradually transformed; the moat was filled, and battlements were converted into residential wings. A banquet hall and a library were built. In the 18th and 19th century the grounds underwent landscaping, including work carried out by Sir Jeffry Wyattville,, fresh from his triumphs at Windsor Castle, on grounds originally planned by Capability Brown in 1752. The once extensive park, now under a separate ownership from the castle, is home to the famous Chillingham Wild Cattle.
It is said to be the most haunted castle in Britain. The most famous ghost of the castle is the "blue (or radiant) boy", who according to the owners used to haunt the Pink Room in the castle. Guests supposedly reported seeing blue flashes and a blue "halo" of light above their beds after a loud wail. It is claimed that the hauntings ceased after renovation work revealed a man and a young boy inside a 10-foot-thick wall. Documents dating back to the Spanish Armada were also found within the wall. A visit to the Torture Chamber is not for the faint hearted. It displays interesting and gruesome implements of punishment including a stretching rack, cages, a bed of nails, nailed barrel and spiked chair. The serene face of the Iron Maiden is supported by a horrible, larger than life size hinged and spiked casing to hold a live body. The thumb screws, chains, leg irons, cages, man traps and branding irons remind of a world long past. The Castle Dungeon is lit by one small arrow slit in the thick wall, the chamber is marked with the crudely-cut letters carved by sad prisoners. A trap-door in the floor reveals the very genuine bones of a child in the vault below. Early inmates have scratched their ‘diary’ with incised lines, one for each day. The Minstrel's Hall is Medieval in form with the balustraded gallery above for singers. The hall is decorated with spears, banners, tapestries and a cloth captured at the battle of Omdurman, the site of the last cavalry charge. The inscription reads “Allah Akbar” or “God is Great”. Amongst the heads on the wall are the world record antlers for a giant prehistoric elk which may be half a million years old! High up with the antlers is the world smallest deer amongst the heads of large red deer, which mark out the massive size of the giant elk. There are two huge fireplaces one with original fire irons and a carved over mantel above the other. The great log fires make a romantic setting for a banquet or any gathering.
The James 1st Room, named after the King’s Royal visit to Chillingham in 1603, is one of a suite of three rooms (James 1, Plaque, New Dining Room) built specially for the future King. It is famous for its Elizabethan ceiling with the gilded ribbing and very finely moulded pendants. This room is brilliantly furnished with Sir Humphry's extraordinary copies of antique originals and lined with patterned silk, originally made for Chatsworth House. The paintings and tapestries are not important but relate to the Wakefield family and so of interest to the room. The Italian Garden, a most rare survival from 1828, is the work of Royal garden designer Sir Jeffrey Wyatville, fresh from his royal triumphs at Windsor. The urns and statues are inexpensive modern composite copies but give an atmosphere of originality. The famous herbaceous border is the longest in Northern England. The far wall, fifteen feet thick, was a jousting “grandstand” in ancient days and it once extended around the castle grounds. Regretfully there is limited disabled access. The castle may not be suitable for anyone with mobility difficulties, due to uneven floors and steep spiral staircases. To access the toilets and tearoom, spiral stone steps with a rope handrail also need to be negotiated. Dogs are not allowed in the castle or grounds, with the exception of Guide and Assistance Dogs.
Location : Chillingham, Alnwick NE66 5NJ
Transport: Chathill (National Rail) then buses. Bus routes 470 and 473 stop nearby.
Opening Times: Daily 12:00 to 17:00
Tickets: Adults £9.50 Concesssions £8.50 Children (5 - 15) £5.50
Tel: 01668 215359