When it comes to castles in Northumberland you are truly spoilt for choice. Son’s vote went to Alnwick Castle – all because of a certain wizard by the name of Potter (the first two Harry Potter movies were filmed here). There seemed to be a lot more besides boy wizards to recommend it, so the decision was made and off we went.
This is the second largest inhabited castle in England, home to dukes and earls since 1309. We found a parking spot on the main road just beyond the castle and wandered down a little hill to admire it from afar. It is a beauty for sure. One of Europe’s great fortress castles, it is old, magnificent and easy to see why they call it “the Windsor of the North.” The setting is gorgeous too – rising from the banks of the River Aln and surrounded by rolling green countryside. Son was a big fan of the keeps, towers and crenallations and we all loved those figures on top – sometimes referred to as the Duchess’s garden gnomes.
Entrance was fairly pricey but we had booked online in advance and saved a little that way. They have an awful lot going on throughout the day, it’s worth spending time picking and choosing when you get inside and planning your day accordingly. First stop for us was Knight’s Quest – lots of hands-on things for children, from dressing up to being knighted you could even “meet” a dragon. Son played a couple of medieval games and we pelted him with furry rats in the stocks.
Close by was Dragon’s Quest, a labyrinth designed to teach a bit of medieval history. You walk through a dark area, complete a couple of challenges but we found it all a bit of an anti-climax.
A stroll through the inner bailey took us to the main part of the castle. Walls to walk around, cannons to clamber over and glorious countryside – it was fantastic. It’s a great place for kids – oodles of space to run around and let off steam, nooks and crannies and interesting places to explore, steep steps to climb plus any amount of hills to roll down. Son tried all this out and more.
Steam well and truly blown off and one (moderately) tired child later we decided it was time to visit the state rooms – one of my highlights of the day. You walk around at your leisure on a self-guided tour, no photos allowed unfortunately. It is opulent and grand, the suites of apartments and state rooms reflect the changing tastes of the Percy family who have lived here since 1309. There are treasures to blow your mind – paintings by the likes of Titian, Canaletto and Van Dyke and that’s just for starters. They also have apparently some of England’s rarest masterpieces of furniture and porcelain. The dining room was amazing – table all set as if guests were due to arrive any minute. I lusted after the library – thousands of books in floor to ceiling cases – sheer heaven. As you walked around past all the grandeur and splendour it was so obvious that the whole building is a family home. The Percys (the Dukes of Northumberland) have personal knick-knacks and photos everywhere in all the rooms. I loved this, clearly this is a home rather than a museum. It makes the whole place just a bit more special.