Pocket Britain

A border town dominated by its castle

Alnwick had a high status in medieval times, as a stopping-off point on the road from London to Edinburgh, and also as the home of Northumberland's most important Dukes and Earls. It was a popular market town, selling goods to both locals and travellers. The town has grown since then - but it hasn't changed as much as you might think. The central square still retains its cross, a raised stone structure that was used in the olden days to identify where markets took place.
Other old buildings in Alnwick include Hotspur Tower, which used to form part of the town walls. There's not much left of this ancient barrier, but even in its heyday, it wasn't the most impressive of defences. Halfway through its construction, the money ran out, and it was never finished. There's also Brizlee Tower, a Grade I listed building that was erected in the 18th century. It stands in Hulne Park, an area of a few thousand acres which is owned by the Duke of Northumberland. The public are allowed to enter, and although it has no official visitor facilities, its woods and moors make for pleasant exploring.
The duke himself lives in Alnwick's most obvious landmark, the castle. It stands on a hill in the northern side of town, overlooking the houses like a sentry. Although it has since been rebuilt several times, the castle played its part in many different conflicts, including the War of the Roses. In more recent years, the building has been used by schools and universities, but despite this, much of it is open to the public. The various different rooms and towers hold historical exhibitions, children's activities, and art displays. There are also brass rubbing events, and even archery lessons!

Alnwick Castle
Photo Dalekwidow
If the castle looks familiar to you, then you've probably seen in on television. It's a popular location for filming, and has appeared in such productions as Blackadder, and Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. Most famously, it was used in several of the Harry Potter films, representing the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.

Exploring Alnwick Castle
Photo Dark Dwarf
If you're planning to visit the castle, then don't leave without visiting its gardens, which are just next door. There have always been gardens here, but up until the turn of the millennium, they were abandoned and forgotten. In 2001, the Duchess of Northumberland spearheaded an extensive redevelopment project which cost around £42 million!

Part of the formal gardens
Photo Eugene Regis
The result is a spectacular and imaginative place, which like its plants, is still growing. It's centred around a cascading fountain, featuring jets that shoot out water in all directions. The most breathtaking sight on show is probably the garden restaurant, which is situated inside one of the biggest treehouses in the world. But this is a place where every new sight seems to be just as impressive as the last. There's a bamboo maze, a cherry orchard, and even a poison garden, featuring a range of deadly and dangerous organisms. These include plants like cannabis, which are locked away in cages. The garden itself is hidden behind secure gates, which bear the words: "These plants can kill"!
Another of Alnwick's famous places is Barter Books, which is the largest second-hand bookshop in the UK. The shop is set within an old railway station building, which is relatively large and grandiose, especially when compared to the stations of similarly sized towns. This is because aristocrats in Alnwick Castle used to receive a high volume of terribly important visitors.
As you can probably tell, there's plenty to see in town. So if you're planning to stay here for a few days, then an interesting place to investigate is the White Swan Hotel. It's kitted out with the old fixtures and furnishings from the RMS Olympic, an early 20th-century cruise liner that was the sister ship of the Titanic and almost identical at that!
Visitor Information
Alnwick Castle is open daily, April to October, 10am to 6pm. Entry costs around £12 for adults, £5 children. Alnwick Castle, NE66 1NQ. Tel: 01665 510777
The Alnwick Garden is open daily, April to October, 10am to 6pm (plus weekend winter openings). Entry costs around £10 for adults. Denwick Lane, Alnwick, NE66 1YU. Tel: 01665 511350

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