A former teacher and charity worker from the North East of England, I love people and places and like to try out new experiences wherever possible. Capturing that 'perfect pic' is all part of the pleasure. Access issues are a particular interest.
Published August 30th 2015
From Tales of Hotspur to Modern Day Royal Connections
Margaret inside the grounds of Warkworth Castle
How often do you explore the countryside around where you live? If the answer is 'not much' then you are missing a treat virtually on your doorstep. And in North East England its incredible history and emerald green countryside means you can find places where there's a castle at the end of a street and places where aristocratic families who once vied for the King's favour have now resided for centuries. Places where it's still possible to fish in a local river and places with no high rise buildings or the conformity of high street chain stores and get away from the hustle and bustle of city life.
So whether you live locally or are just visiting and you fancy a day out, the wilds of Northumberland are just the ticket.
We live to the south of the River Tyne and are non-drivers so the first part of the journey for my son and I was to get to Newcastle. Luckily we have good transport links to the city, known affectionately to the locals as 'The Toon'. From there we took a bus from the city's Haymarket bus station and it wasn't long before we were out into green countryside and big skies.
Warkworth lies about an hour's bus journey north from Newcastle and the sensational green scenery was worth the ride.
Warkworth Castle sits on a slight hill overlooking the village of the same name, where there has been a settlement since Anglo-Saxon times around the 8th Cenury A.D. The advent of the Norman Conquest of England in 1066 was to change the life of ordinary citizens forever and the north of the country held out against the foreign forces of Normandy in France, in what became known as the 'Nothern Rebellion' well into the 12th Century.
As the Norman style of rule known as the Feudal System took hold – whereby the monarch gave favours in the form of wealth and territory to his barons, who had the power to rule over sometimes vast areas of land in return for their loyalty to the crown.
With the use of the Motte and Bailey castle built on a mound of earth or hill (the motte) and a wooden fortress (the bailey) the appointed lord could house his family and a small garrison which could act swiftly quell any local unrest.
Warkworth was once such a place and was a one-time the home of the Dukes of Northumberland. As time progressed, high stone walls and a gatehouse with the defensive features of the day replaced the wooden structure, and it is the remains of this medieval structure that is still there today.
Warkworth Castle Overlooks the Surrounding Courntryside
In essence the building was more of a fortified manor house in comparison with castles of the later medieval period, which grew in size and stature as the threat from the Scots across the disputed border country grew and weapons became more sophisticated.
A few hundred metres from Warkworth Castle you will find the Hermitage, which has it's own interesting history. Often living a life of austerity and deep religious commitment, hermits were not uncommon in medieval Christendom in Europe.. Wealthy families would often engage with such pious individuals, urging them to pray for them (or do their penance for them) in return for food and shelter and the chantry chapel built within the extensive grounds of the castle was one such dwelling place.
The remains of Warkworth Castle and Hermitage are today managed by English Heritage A government backed organisation that protects and manages around 400 historic buildings throughout the land.
The family name of the Dukes of Northumberland is Percy and by the 13th Century they moved to Alnwick, about 20 miles north of this location.
If you're looking for knights in shining armour, they don't come any better than 'Harry Hotspur' or Sir Henry Percy – eldest son of the 1st Earl of of Northumberland to give his formal title. Harry Hotspur was one of the most valiant of knights of his day and gained his nickname, so one story goes, from his battles with the Scots under the command of the Earl of Douglas in the once disputed territory between England and Scotland – exactly where the lands of the Percy family still lie today.
When it came to fight, legend has it, Sir Harry was always ready to 'get stuck in'. He was born of noble birth in 1364 in Alnwick and was killed at the Battle of Shrewsbury in 1403 fighting the forces of King Henry IV. During his relative short lifetime he was staunchly loyal to the throne of England and was honoured by no less than two Plantagenet and a Lancastrian king.
Hotspur held diplomatic and military offices for successive monarchs in Britain, Cyprus, Ireland and Bordeaux, often leading forces into battle and governing large tracts of territory on behalf of the king – so how come he was killed fighting for the other side?
Well, in a nutshell, it seems the Percy's were pretty hacked off with Henry IV, in part due to lack of payment for services rendered, and when Harry and his father were rallied to fight against a Welsh rebellion led by Owain Glyn Dwr, they took up arms against the Welsh attackers but soon became increasingly disenchanted with their ally the king and more in tune with the grievances of their would be enemies - and switched sides.
Hotspur was killed in single combat with Prince Hal – the future Henry V in 1403 at the Battle of Shrewsbury.
Harry Hotspur was immortalised by William Shakespeare, who wrote about the battles between noblemen and the king in his play 'Henry IV part 1' and excerpts from the play could be heard on the audio equipment we were provided with as part of the tour of the castle.
Hotspur's Coat of Arms is shown below with the distinct red and yellow colours of the Percy family as the Dukes of Northumberland. The heraldic emblem has transcended the centuries and forms the basis of the county flag and other insignia on public view throughout the region – including the Nortumbria Emergency Services.
Harry Hotspur - Henry Percy Coat of Arms - Wikipedia image
Our visit to Warkworth Castle was very refreshing on a number of levels. Not only did it reconnect us with our northern heritage and political history, it gave great perspective on the enduring attraction of the landscape and a way of life that seems a thousand miles from the city.
On arriving at the castle we were greeted at the drawbridge by a lady from 'English Heritage'. If you enjoy visiting historic buildings regularly, you can pay an annual fee to join English Heritage – which allows you entrance into their properties all over the country either free of further charge or at a reduced rate, depending on the venue you choose to visit.
The guide was very helpful and, apart from talking a little about the history of Warkworth Castle, she also pointed out accessible stairways and various features of the building. As I'm visually impaired this was very useful.
As you might expect, a thick stone wall encircled the inner area of the mound where the castle was perched and where there once was stables, a great hall and a 'murder hole' near the entrance to the castle. Inside it was possible to climb up a staircase to where the family had their private quarters in the main tower.
The Percy family remained at Warkworth for several generations more until they moved further north to Alwick Castle – a place now more synonymous with the filming of the 'Harry Potter' stories than its medieval lineage and a Dukedom that still survives today.
There was no doubting that the Royal connections are still prevalent when, a few years ago, the North East had its own 'royal wedding' when Princes William and Harry attended the marriage of Melissa, the daughter of the current Duke and Duchess of Northumberland, in a fairytale wedding that brought thousands of well-wishers out into the streets around their current residence in Alnwick Castke. From their point of view they were just inviting old school friends.
The visit to Warkworth took us through beautiful countryside and the market town of Morpeth. On arriving we stopped for lunch at a pub call 'The Hermitage Inn where the fayre was very delicious and reasonably priced. The thing that caught our attention was that there were no high street stores that all look the same after a while and I loved the idea of 'the castle at the end of the street'.
After leaving Warkworth Castle we decided to walk to the next village of Amble, which sits at the mouth of the River Coquet on the Northumberland coast.
The River Coquet meanders through the Northumbrian Countryside
From the top of the castle you can see the river and the sea and it all looked too tempting to ignore, especially as our day's mission was to get some fresh air away from the city.
We weren't totally sure of the way but one thing is for sure, don't rely on your mobile 'phone or tablet to give you directions or a map. As we found out, we couldn't get a signal so that was not such a bright idea. But we weren't that far from civilisation, after all we had come here on the bus. And following the road signs and the river just made for a little adventure.
Margaret down by the River Coquet on the way to Amble
We walked along the main road which ran close to the river bank and spotted seabirds and cormorants fishing on the same patch. Wading birds and swans also inhabited the river and it was simply breathtaking for us town-dwellers to witness.
Robson Green kayaks down River Coquet - images from ITV.com
Local actor and television presenter Robson Green, who, amongst other things, hosts a very successful networked television series called 'Extreme Fishing with Robson Green' says in 'My North East by its Famous Sons and Daughters – a book produced by the BBC, that he caught his first fish in the River Coquet on one of his boyhood fishing expeditions with his dad.
In his most recent TV series 'Tales from Northumberland' he is seen kayaking down the River Coquet as part of an adventure that takes us all around the county.
As for our walkabout, my son Phil and I, walked on to Amble over wide open fields where wild rabbits burrowed and the sense of a slower pace of life just washed over us as we approached the marina at Amble, which was a myriad of colourful small and medium sized fishing boats.
The area is also popular with surfers and it's not so long since footage of a grey seal riding on a surfboard in coastal waters nearby, went viral on YouTube in 2014.
You never know what you're going to see on a visit to Northumberland.
We took the bus back to Newcastle Haymarket from Amble using the X18 service operated hourly by Arriva buses.
My concessionary pass means I travel free. The adult return fare was just under £6.
Entry into Warkworth Castle costs £5.20
Carers go free.
Family ticket - 2 Adults/3 children £13.50
For more information click here.
Annual membership of English Heritage (which you could sign up for on the day) £59. Concession £41.