A confession from the Retirement Ramblers, we haven’t been doing much rambling. In our defence it isn’t our fault, there’s been too much cycle road racing to watch on TV. But best of all was the Northumberland stage of the Tour of Britain. What a day that was, the atmosphere and thrill of seeing the riders on our roads. The TV coverage did us proud, the helicopter shots were great, those of Bamburgh Castle being our favourite, and showed the world the places we love.
Don’t get us wrong, we’ve not been totally ‘square eyed’, or should that now be ‘rectangular eyed’ with the shape of modern television sets? We have visited some of our favourite places: The Alnwick Garden to see things at this time of year, Hauxley Wildlife Discovery Centre to see what birds were there (and to eat the lovely scones in the café), Newbiggin because we love the sea, and various other places.
Our main recent visit was to somewhere we’ve driven past on several occasions, but had never stopped - Warkworth Castle. On driving past, it just appears to be a magnificent keep-like building, but park in the English Heritage car park and the full extent of the castle is becomes clear.
However, before we visited the castle, we walked down into the village for a look around. Warkworth is well worth a visit in its own right, parts of it dating back to when the castle was protecting the area. The medieval burgage plots are still in evidence and demonstrate the antiquity of Warkworth. Fortified with food from one of the little cafes in the village (there isn’t one at the castle) we walked back up the hill to the castle.
Warkworth Castle is situated on a spur of land around which the River Coquet loops, this is a naturally defensive position. The castle as laid out today probably dates back to around 1200 and was developed over time by the Percy family and Dukes of Northumberland. The castle is an example of a motte and bailey with the Great Tower being prominent on the artificial motte. Apart from the Great Tower, the rest of the castle is in ruin, but with the help of an audio guide, or the excellent £4 English Heritage booklet, it is easy to visualise how it would have looked when all the buildings were intact.
The Great Tower is very interesting and worth spending time to fully appreciate. Commenced by Henry Percy, First Earl of Northumberland in 1377, it is built in the shape of a Greek Cross radiating from a central block. The layout as it can be seen and walked, shows the great planning in its construction with all rooms and levels interconnecting to make it a practical building for nobles and servants alike. The Duke’s Rooms can be visited at certain days/times, but our visit did not coincide with these.
A visit to Warkworth Castle should also include seeing The Hermitage. This unusual feature is a chapel cut into a crag a short distance from the castle on the River Coquet, probably dating back to 1400. Access is by a ferryboat which operates at certain days and times. Unfortunately, we visited on a day when the ferry wasn’t operating, ‘fail to plan, plan to fail’, describes this part of our visit. However, it’s always good to have an excuse to revisit a great site and we will indeed return to see The Hermitage. We will also re-visit Warkworth Castle having fully read the English Heritage booklet so as to appreciate the castle even more than on our first visit.