Travel Review: Northumberland, England

LET BATTLE COMMENCE: The re-enactment at the Flodden and 16th century discovery weekend, by EFL students Theo and Nathan
LET BATTLE COMMENCE: The re-enactment at the Flodden and 16th century discovery weekend, by EFL students Theo and Nathan

It was so peaceful when we first drove through the lovely village of Warkworth in Northumberland. But that didn’t last long.

Before we knew it, Ruaridh (6), Flora (3) and I heard screams and shouts of “murder coming from the medieval Warkworth Castle.

And so our adventure began! The weekend we decided to visit my brother Jeremy’s caravan by the sea co-incided with English Heritage’s anniversary to mark the Battle of Flodden in 1513, which saw the English taking on the French and the Scots supporting the soldiers from across the channel.

Five hundred years ago English soldiers making ready for battle, camped in the walls of the castle, which had once been taken by the Scots. They frequented the taverns and alehouses and all appeared to be peaceful until screams are head and shouts of “murder’’.

And as we entered the castle, the scene had been re-enacted and we as visitors had the job of working out who the murderer was.

What fun we had! the actors turned soldiers and villagers, really had it worked out. Everything had been perfectly thought out to re-live 500 years ago. Tents had been set up and we were given the chance to look at weapons, food cooked on open fires and old style games. Question and answer sessions gave us the opportunity to work out the murderer and enjoy demonstrations of how soldiers lived.

More key moments from the battle were also re-enacted a few days later at the Ford and Etal estates, on the border with Scotland. This amazing place was scene to a discovery weekend with displays of steel weapons, archery, dressing for battle and fire power including cannons. Expert archaeologists were on hand to explain what life was like in 1513 and with kind weather too, the day was a huge success.

English Heritage has lots of important sites around Northumberland and Belsay Hall, castle and gardens is one of them. The hall is an elegant classical Greek revival villa, now displayed without furnishings to reveal the fine craftsmanship of its construction. Designed by Sir Charles Monck, a man inspired by ancient Greece, it’s a lovely spot surrounded by magnificent gardens, including the romantic Quarry Garden, created where stone was cut for Monck’s hall.

The castle was built before the hall and dates back to the 14th century at a time of Anglo-Scottish warfare. During our visit we enjoyed festivities from the regency period, with a camera obscura, soldiers camp and a drill and firing display from the Redcoat soldiers of the 68th Durham Light Infantry. For the youngsters, there were lots of pirate workshops run by the Time Travellers team, which Ruaridh and Flora loved.

After all that history it was time for a lighter option. And so to the Whitehouse Farm Centre near Morpeth. This working farm with more amusements than animals is well run and set out and the children loved it!

Staff were friendly and allowed Ruaridh and Flora to hold and pet chicks, rabbits, guinea pigs and rats and there was lots of old-fashioned fun, from tractor rides to bouncy castles, go-karts and soft play.

We spent five days in Northumberland, not long enough to appreciate this beautiful part of the country. And not only is it a lovely spot, it serves up a mean rum too! The Alnwick Rum Company produces a legendary rum using a recipe over 90 years old. It’s made from a mix of Guyanaand Jamican rum and according to director David Ainsley, following television coverage of the history of rum, there was a flurry of interest from Lancastrians keen to taste the tipple.

Having had a wee dram, I can confirm it is one of the best I have tried and is another reason why I’ll be back to Northumberland as soon as I can!

Factfile:

English Heritage has a wealth of historic buildings to discover and they have exciting events on for all the family. Visit www.english-heritage.org.uk

Whitehouse Farm Centre near Morpeth provides a fun day out with plenty of animals and attractions to keep you entertained. Check out www.whitehousefarmcentre.co.uk

Alnwick Rum is a fine old blend of Guyana and Jamaica rum and hits the right spot. See www.alnwickrum.com for special offers.