Alnwick Castle is one of England’s most visited stately homes, and has a history dating back over nine hundred years. In recent years there has been a reurgence in visitor numbers visiting Alnwick Castle, with the castle being used in the filming of the Harry Potter films; Alnwick Castle becoming Hogwarts on film.
Alnwick Castle is situated in Alnwick in Northumberland and is home to the Duke and Duchess of Northumberland. It also has a long and illustrious history dating back to 1096 when the first stones were laid. This history makes it one of the oldest in the country, and its condition also makes it one of the best preserved.
Northumberland is the border county between England and Scotland and for long parts of its history it has acted as a defensive county against potential attacks from Scotland. It was for this reason that Yves de Vescy, the then baron of Alnwick started the construction of the castle. It was soon put to use and in the next hundred years it was twice besieged. In the fourteenth century the castle passed into the hands of the Percy family, the family that still owns it today. The Percy family strengthened and modernised the castle through into the fifteenth century, although the Percy family was often at odds with the monarch of the day, and had to hold of a number of other sieges, including those during the War of the Roses. The Percy family managed to hold onto their land and titles, and by the sixteenth century the country had settled down into one of relative peace, and further improvements to the castle were undertaken, especially as undertaken by the 6th Earl of Northumberland.
It is now difficult to distinguish between original features of the castle and subsequent improvements and alterations. A visitor today will see two rings of buildings, the inner ring being the inner sanctum of the castle, within a large bailey. This inner ring though couldn’t accommodate all of the necessary buildings and rooms needed to house all of the family and staff, and so further buildings were built in the outer ring. The remaining towers and walls are impressive, although some of the walls are much reduced in size in order to allow the Dukes of Northumberland to be able to view their extensive grounds.
The grounds themselves are in many ways as impressive as the castle building, and are made up of two distinct parks. A small park to the north of the main castle was planned and landscaped by Lancelot “Capability” Brown, whilst a much larger park, Hulne Park, is also to be found adjacent to the castle.
Today Alnwick Castle is best known for being Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, although it the Harry Potter films do use computers to make it look different. It is though more than just a film setting and the castle and gardens are open to the public from the end of March until the end of October. The castle itself is open from 11am until 5pm, with the grounds open from 10am until 6pm, it should be remembered though that the grounds are not the same as the famous Alnwick Gardens which are a separate entity to the castle and involve an additional entrance charge. The cost of entry to the castle and grounds is about par for the course in this day and age, with up to date prices displayed on the castle’s webpage.
Alnwick Castle is a working castle and residence, although there is plenty for the casual visitor to look at and enjoy. The castle houses a number of exhibitions, including three shown off in three of the castle’s towers. There are exhibits dedicated to archaeology with special focus placed on Roman and Egyptian history. There are also displays dedicated to history of the Royal Northumberland Fusiliers, and Northumberland volunteer regiments.
The Library is also an interesting area of Alnwick Castle to look around, with books to be seen from floor to ceiling. Many of the state rooms are also interesting to those interested in architecture and history, with the Drawing Room in particular decorated in a style reminiscent of the Italian Renaissance. Away fro the state rooms there is also the Coach House that displays some of the grandest coaches to be found anywhere in England.
For those looking for a more interactive experience there are also other exhibits including the Knights Quest, where you learn about becoming a young knight, and Dragon’s Quest, described as one of the scariest interactive challenges to be found at any of England’s castles. On some weekends there are also historical re-enactments put on showing the life and workings of a medieval castle.
Many people though just enjoy a relaxing stroll around the grounds, or indeed decide to take the weight off of their feet by eating at the castle’s restaurant, The Sanctuary. For those people interested in the history of England, then Alnwick Castle is certainly worth a day out, and there is plenty to do for your money. Visitors are well catered for and from the youngest to the oldest of visitors there is something to keep everyone interested.