Alnwick is a charming and very interesting place which is a rich combination of ever-present history as a background to a bustling small town very much in the 21st century. It was founded in the 7th century, but with technological progress being what it is, nowadays you can almost get there by train. You need to get off the train at Alnmouth, which is on the main London to Edinburgh line, and almost exactly four hours from Kings Cross. From Alnmouth station you can see the sea which on a calm sunny day looks idyllic especially when yachts are sailing on it.
From Alnmouth you will have to take a three or four mile bus ride away from the coast through open countryside. As you do so, you will be able to see the bluish tops of the Cheviot Hills in the background, which are part of theNorthumberland National Park and which contribute to the beauty of this part of the country.
Alnwick is only 32 miles from the Scottish border, very close to the A1. and in centuries gone by it was on the main coaching route from London to Scotland.
Along the side of the road, you will see many ruins of past battles, reflecting the turbulent history of this part of the country. There have been many battles and intrigues, many of which have involved the Percy family, who originated in Percy in Normandy and which has had a line of nobility going right back to approximately 1300. The Percy family are still in residence today at Alnwick castle. Their emblem, a lion, is to be found on many of the bridges and buildings in the region.
The Percy family originally had estates inYorkshire but bought land and the castle from a local bishop in the fourteenth century. They fought the Scots and were on the Lancastrian side in the Wars of the Roses.
One of their number is forever famous in Shakespeare’s Henry IV as Harry Hotspur. He was killed at Shrewsbury at the age of 39 and his father then lost his estates for rebelling against Henry IV. Then his son regained them from Henry V. Other members of the family were also famous, notably John Smithson who made a bequest allowing the founding of the Smithsonian Institution in the United States of America in the nineteenth century which today is a large chain of museums and scientific institutions.
One of the most striking buildings is the Castle, which is most interesting to visit, with its impressive libraries, views, furniture and rooms of paintings. As well as being the main defence throughout the centuries, the books and photographs on display show its connection to modern events and personalities, giving a strong feeling of historical continuity.
Its imposing structure and views across the countryside has made it very popular with film makers, one of its most famous being the location for the making of the Harry Potter films as Hogwart’s School Of Wizardry and Witchcraft. It certainly has the atmosphere of both space and solidity with passages within the thick walls which are just as anybody would imagine such a building. There is enough flat grassy space within the walls to make a very effective playing field area and enough twists and turns inside the building to create the atmosphere.
The town itself maintains this idiom of modernity built into an unavoidable atmosphere of long history. It used to have its own station on a branch line, but this was a victim of the Beeching railway cuts in the 1960’s. The station building is still very recognisable as a station in the style built in this part of the country and quite different from those you will find in the south. It is now occupied by Barter Books.
The town within what were the walls (one gate, the Bondgate tower, still stands) is modern shops built into the old stone buildings. Some are branches of chains you will find elsewhere in theUK, but some of them maintain an air of northern homeliness with a strong dash of humour.
You can visit the castle, and the accompanying garden complex and taking the vintage open-top bus tour to see the sights is well worthwhile. It so happened that the vintage bus was of a model run by the local private bus company in the place in which I grew up, and that added a dash of nostalgia to my visit.
Alnwick is certainly a charming and interesting place and I look forward to the next time I am able to visit it.