Visitors' Historic Britain: Northumberland
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Northumberland…to the Romans it was Ad Fines, the limit of the Empire, the end of the Roman World. It was here in 122 AD that the Emperor Hadrian decided to build a wall stretching from coast-to-coast to provide protection, to show the might of the Empire, and as a statement of his grandeur. Visitors to Northumberland can walk the Wall visiting milecastles, Roman frontier forts and settlements such as Housesteads (where you can see the oldest toilets you’ll ever see) or Vindolanda (where you can take part in an archaeological dig) where wooden tablets detailing life on this frontier (the oldest example of written language in Britain) were discovered, or the remains of Roman temples and shrines (such as the Mithraeum at Carrawburgh). After the Romans left, Northumberland became the heart of one of the greatest kingdoms of Anglo-Saxon Britain, Northumbria. The home of Saints, scholars and warrior kings. Visitors can see the ancient seat of this kingdom at the medieval Bamburgh Castle, visit Hexham Abbey (built in 674 AD), or tour the magnificent remains of the 7th century Priory at Tynemouth (where three kings are buried – Oswin (d. 651), Osred (d. 790), and the Scottish King Malcolm III (d. 1093).
No other county in Britain has as many medieval remains as Northumberland. From the most grand such as Alnwick Castle (known as the Windsor of the North, the home of the Dukes of Northumberland, the capital of Northumberland, and, to many, Hogwarts!) to humble remains such as the Chantry at Morpeth. At Warkworth visitors can tour the medieval church (scene of a 12th century Scottish massacre), Warkworth Castle (another Percy possession and the setting for a scene in Shakespeare’s Henry IV), a medieval hermitage, and the fortified bridge gatehouse (one of the only surviving examples in Britain).
Northumberland was ravaged during the Anglo-Scottish Wars and this led to the development of family clans of Border Reivers who were active during the 16th and early 17th centuries. Raiders, looters, blackmailers and courageous cavalrymen the Reivers have left many surviving remnants of their harsh time. Peel Towers dot the landscape alongside Bastle Houses. The active can even walk in the footsteps of the Reivers by following the Reivers Way long distance path.
Victorian Northumberland was dominated by both farming and, increasingly, by the industrial genius of some of its entrepreneurs. The greatest of these, Lord Armstrong (known as the Magician of the North), has left behind one of the most magnificent tourist sites in Britain; his home at Cragside. Carved from a bare hillside and transplanted with millions of trees and shrubs and crowned with the beautiful Cragside House visitors can walk the grounds taking advantage of various trails and spotting wildlife such as red squirrels before visiting the first house in the world to be lit by electricity!
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