Northumberland is a place truly steeped in incredible history. There are so many amazing things to see and you really could spend weeks before even scratching the surface. The North-East of Northumberland arguably offers some of the very best things to see. In this one, I’ve put a mix of paid and free things to keep you busy during your visit.
- Lindisfarne – Holy Island
One of the most popular attractions of the area, Holy Island is a place of pilgrimage best avoided during the busier months through summer. Instead, wait for the rain and head in early to dodge the crowds.
The castle is worth a visit but be prepared to pay as it’s a National Trust property. Despite being a 16th-century building, much of what can be seen today is actually a glorious renovation turned holiday home and place of luxurious parties.
For folks seeking more history, the remains of Lindisfarne Priory (English Heritage) might be worth a stop. After being granted permission to set up a monastery in 635AD, the arrival of St Cuthbert in the 670s is perhaps the reason you’ve heard of the place. In the Middle Ages, St Cuthbert was arguably the most important saint but more recently TV shows such as Vikings and The Last Kingdom have ignited a renewed interest in Viking raids which were the eventual downfall of Lindisfarne Priory.
Of course, check the tide times before your visit as the road to the tidal island is inaccessible at certain times. You’ll also need to get back off the island unless you’re planning on staying in one of the island’s b&bs.
2. Dunstaburgh Castle
Truly stunning, and my favourite on this list, Dunstanburgh is a must if you’re visiting the coast in Northumberland. There are walks from either the north or the south of the castle but I’d recommend parking at Craster (a nearby village famous for its smoked kippers) and heading along the cliff-top on the footpath for just over a mile.
The castle is enormous and even though the busy footpath might suggest it’ll be overrun with people it’s not the case. We visited in the height of summer and found that loads of people walked the route without really visiting the castle. Jointly owned and maintained by National Trust and English Heritage a membership with either will grant you access instead of paying the £6 entrance fee. Either way, it’s well worth the money.
Inside, take the time to climb the steps into the gatehouse for an incredible view of the surrounding landscape. Perched right on the cliffs, the northern part also offers great birdwatching opportunities for those interested. Keep your eyes open on the walk to and from the castle too – you might just see grey seals in the waters.
3. Norham Castle
English Heritage generally seems to allow free access to their smaller properties but Norham certainly books the trend. Norham castle sits right on the edge of the River Tweed, near Berwick. Its location has meant it’s been exchanged between Scots and English into the double figures following sieges and attacks.
The wide space inside the walls gives a sheltered view of the keep, complete with moat and bridge access. There’s also plenty of space to find a patch to yourself and enjoy a picnic. Closer to the keep, you can see why the castle’s location would’ve been advantageous – a great view of the River Tweed can be seen from high on the hill.
4. Duddo Standing Stones
Moving away from castles briefly, Duddo Standing Stones really is a magical place. Save this one for a summer visit and you’ll be treated to a fairytale walk through fields leading towards the stones. They remain hidden, just out of sight, for about two-thirds of the walk until they seem to suddenly appear on the top of the hill.
The area doesn’t seem to be particularly well advertised so we were lucky enough to have the place to ourselves for a good half an hour before the next group of people appeared in the field below. The stones are weathered from the rain in interesting patterns and the views from the top of the hill are stunning in their own right.
5. Ford Castle
Unless you’re a school child, you can’t actually get into Ford Castle: the site now operates as a place for residential school trips. Don’t let that put you off though! Instead, visit expecting a short, but enjoyable, circular walk around the grounds.
Heading from the entrance of the castle, which can be seen through the gate, follow the track round to the woodland at the rear. This continues in a loop, through part of the village, and brings you back to the car park. Whilst it’s not a long one, it’s lovely to be able to catch glimpses of the castle, which is a Victorian restoration (although there’s been a castle at this site dating back to Anglo-Saxon times).
Time your visit to Ford with a trip to Etal Castle too since they’re next to one another.
6. Etal Castle
We managed to time our trip to Etal Castle to coincide with a closed shop and exhibition. This had perks as it meant entry to the grounds was free. It’s worth checking before visiting.
The castle remains are small but still worth seeing whilst in the area. The outer wall, gatehouse, and keep are all somewhat intact and seeing this 14th-century remain helps to paint the picture of the importance of the location.
7. Twizell Castle
We’re a big fan of hidden things – places that aren’t packed with people and aren’t really advertised. Time a visit to Twizell with a walk at Duddo and you’ll have dodged the crowds for the most part.
You’ll find this castle almost randomly dropped in a farmer’s field, alongside a footpath. Of course, the history of the area doesn’t lend to this particular farmer’s field. Instead, the remains of a medieval village are lost somewhere near this very castle and the stonework building is what remains of Twizell itself.
The late 1500s remains are what is left of the castle and they’re very ornate following the restoration project and rebuild from the 1770s onwards. Unfortunately, you can’t walk inside but it’s a pleasure to see all the same.
8. St. Cuthbert’s Cave
Coming full circle, St. Cuthbert gets another mention. This time, it’s after his passing on Lindisfarne, although also related. During the Viking raids which lead to the abandonment of Holy Island’s monastery, it is said that the body of St. Cuthbert was carried for seven years around the countryside of Northumberland. The story goes that St. Cuthbert, and the monks carrying his body, rested here for some time in these very caves.
Whether visiting for spiritual purposes or not, the area is stunning. The woodland and views from the area make for an enjoyable walk along St. Cuthbert’s Way footpath.