The History And the Experience

Warkworth Castle – the product of around 500 years of Northumbrian history – sits perched atop a naturally defensible spur of land in the form of a tight meander on the River Coquet, which bypasses the castle on three of its side and floods into the North Sea about two miles east at Amble. The grand facade of the motte and bailey castle – marked by a sturdy stone bridge and a brawny metal gate opens out onto flat land to the south that belittles the houses opposite it. A showpiece of the Percy family – one of the most powerful families in Northern England during the medieval period – Warkworth has served as an architectural show of prowess, a favoured family residence, and a fully garrisoned wartime defence.

Probably built around 1150 by the first earl of Northumberland – Henry – the original incarnations of the castle were described as ‘feeble’ and quickly abandoned upon invasion. The 13th century saw the build up of Warkworth castle and after Henry I ignited the long running Angle-Scottish wars along the border country, Warkworth became an increasingly important deterrent to Scottish invaders. Used as a Yorkist headquarters during the War of the Roses and also surrendered by the King during the English Civil War, Warkworth Castle always remained in the possession of the Percy household (apart from a couple of short repossessions by the crown as a result of war and disgrace) who preferred it as a residence to the nearby – and much more reverent – Alnwick Castle. Falling into disrepair in the 17th century and unable to be rescued by later Earls of Northumberland, the castle passed to English Heritage in 1984 and 1987, who have maintained the castle since and created one of Northumberland’s most atmospheric visitor attractions.

Entrance to the castle costs £7 for adults and around £10 for a joint ticket that also allows you to access the Hermitage – a 15th-century chapel cut into crag by the river and accessible by boat. Audio tours – which I didn’t have time to complete – are provided at the reception, where a selection of gifts, including detailed guidebooks for £3.50, are available.

What’s truly breathtaking about Warkworth Castle is that it is conserved, not restored, with no large scale displays and little human interference. A place where one can get in touch with centuries past, and also see the power of time as they gaze at the eroding structures. The town itself is also sympathetic to the design of the castle and offers a pleasant destination for a stroll, or for lunch.

One of the first English Heritage sites I’ve been to for a long time, the visitor centre opened my eyes to the vast number of sites I’ve walked by and not looked twice. Memberships start from £45 per year, with various payment options and discounts available here, opening the gates to over a thousand years of English history.