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Alnwickalnwickcastle.jpg (17672 bytes)

This still looks like a stronghold of the Earls and Dukes of Northumberland. You may enter from the S through a narrow medieval arch of Hotspur Tower and confront the great barbican guarding the gateway to Alnwick Castle. From the Lion Bridge to the N the castle appears all powerful and brooding. Within the old town are narrow streets, cobblestones, passageways, sturdy grey buildings and monuments. Alnwick (pronounced 'Annick') is 4m from the coast and just off the A1 almost half way between Newcastle-upon-Tyne and Berwick-upon-Tweed, a conveniant centre for touring and a destination in its own right. It grew up on the river Aln beside the great border castle whose walls enclose 7 acres. Below and round the castle are grounds landscaped in 1765 by Capability Brown, forming a beautiful park. The Pastures, the riverside section of the castle grounds, has a footpath leading from the 18th-c Lion Bridge to the Craster road, with views of the castle along the way.

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Alnwick Castles


Photo by Colin Thompson

The castle was begun by the de Vesci family in the early 12th-c. The last of the legitimate line died in 1297 leaving the castle in trust for a natural son. The Trustee was the Bishop of Durham, who sold the castle to Henry Percy in 1309 and, it is said, pocketed the money. The castle was elaborated and strengthened during the years of border warfare, then stood a ruin for nearly 200 years.  The 1st Duke of Northumberland restored it in the 18th c, with James Paine and Robert Adam.   In the mid-19th c, the 4th Duke employed Anthony Salvin to make extensive changes to the interior.  Most of the Adam work was removed and an Italian Renaissance style adopted.  Outwardly, however, the castle has not altered much since the 14th c.   The great walls, huge keep and flanking towers make it one of the more spectacular sights in the country.  The exceptionally fine barbican, topped with figures which look as if they had just raced there to take up their guard duties, now leads into the present ducal residence and a museum.  Visitors are admitted to advertised times to such apartments as the armoury in Constable's Tower, the museum of British and Roman antiquities in Postern Tower, the keep, and many splendidly furnished rooms including the library, the largest room in the castle, and grand staircase.

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Jousting at Alnwick Castle



Photo by Colin Thompson

In the town, a broad main street, with sloping, tree-shaded cobblestone parking space alongside, passes near a market square.  A freestanding 18th-c hall has an arcade for shops on the ground floor and assembly rooms upstairs.  A week-long fair, dating from 1291, fills the streets with costumed inhabitants, stalls, games and other mock medieval jollity, annually at the end of June.

The first object to greet the traveller arriving from the south is the Percy Tenantry Column, an 83 ft fluted monument erected in 1816 by grateful tenants because thier rents had been reduced during a period of agricultural depression. A Percy lion with straight, stiff tail stands majestically on the top. The column is sometimes known as 'The Farmers Folly' because, so the story goes, the Duke was surprised to find that his tenants were rich enough  to afford such a tribute, and raised thier rents again.

On the other side of Alnwick is St Michael's Church, said to be the most important 15th-c work in Northumberland. It stands on a hillside overlooking the river. The battlemented tower is stoutly buttresed in steps and the church is wide, with aisles running the full length of nave and  chancel. Among the interesting contents are two 14th-c tombs with figures of a man in a tunic and a lady, a third medieval figure which appears to be a cleric, and a handsome 14th-c Flemish carved chest.

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