Travel review: Warkworth, Northumberland

Brinkburn Priory
Brinkburn Priory

Never have my two young children shown such an interest in taking a bath. And if that wasn’t enough to raise a cheer – their follow up line had me hanging the bunting out!

“We’ve decided we are going to join the Army,’’ said a serious faced Flora (aged 5) “And our first mission is to march the entire length of Hadrian’s Wall,’’ added an equally earnest Ruaridh (8).

Roman bathhouse

Roman bathhouse

So that’s summer 2016 sorted out then for the Hay family! And we have the wonderful people at English Heritage to thank for these latest relevations.

When I announced to my young charges that we were going to spend a week at Uncle Jeremy’s caravan by the beach in the picturesque town of Warkworth, Northumberland, they imagined lots of sandcastles and ice creams. But with so much history in this part of Britain, it would have been a wasted holiday if we hadn’t visited the ancient wonders on offer.

There was the usual huffing and puffing as we made the short journey to Warkworth Castle, which sits so majestically at the top of the town.

But then Ruaridh and Flora heard the mighty roar as battle commenced and before I had time to ask if anyone needed the toilet, the deadly duo were through the gates and watching a medieval combat and the moaning ceased!.

Built more than 600 years ago by the first Earl of Northumberland, it was besieged by the Scots in 1327 and played a key role in the long-running war between England and Scotland. The Percy family also owned Alnwick Castle and were a real force in this part of the world.

The castle today is part ruin, part intact, with the great tower at its centrepiece. It was commissioned by Henry Percy in 1377 and is in the shape of a Greek cross, with four polygonal wings coming out of the central block, with a viewing tower above, which is wonderful to look out of, particularly on a sunny day.

After a tour of the castle, we joined in the special events which are laid on by English Heritage in the summer to try to encourage children to learn through play. Ruaridh tried his arm at long bow and we all watched a hilarious combat which saw much armour being chinked and mock deaths happening all over the place. This rounded off by an impressive display of medieval dancing completed a perfect start to the historical holiday.

From Warkworth we headed to Corbridge, another example of the pretty Northumberland villages and towns on offer. Corbridge is renowned for its Roman town and is on the Hadrian’s Wall trail. Not all the sites on the wall were so heavily guarded and right up to the end of Roman Britain in the early years of the 5th century, it remained a vibrant community.

Today you can walk through the streets and imagine yourself as a local going about your daily business. Inside is a museum with lots of artefacts on offer, including the famous Corbridge Hord, which is one of the most significant finds in Roman history and provides a fascinating insight into the life of a Roman soldier.

Hadrian’s Wall is now a world heritage site and there are plenty of places where you can still see fine stretches of the wall. Near to Corbridge is Chesters Roman Fort and Museum and Ruaridh and Flora’s favourite place, not just because the cream teas in the café were scrumptious, but because they had a great time taking part in children’s activities including an archaeological dig and dressing up as Roman soldiers.

Once I had managed to prise them away from the activities, they had a wonderful time exploring, what is, the most complete Roman calvary fort in Britain. A lovely walk takes you down to the river and the bath house, where the children spent their time imagining jumping from a cold bath to a warm one to a hot one. The Romans loved their baths and steam room and no doubt spent as much time as Ruaridh and Flora did, relaxing and cleansing, just probably not as noisily!

We rounded off our English Heritage tour at my favourite spot, Brinkburn Priory, a beautiful 12th century church of the Augustinian priory, inside is spectacular and often the venue for weddings. Close by is the manor house, now a shell of what it once was, but the big windows and high ceilings give you an idea of what a lovely home it once was.

The priory is in a really secluded spot, with a river flowing by it, just the place to plonk those weary feet once we have walked the 73 miles across Hadrian’s Wall next summer!

Factfile:

Northumberland not only has stunning scenery, it is also home to some fantastic monuments and properties which are cared for by English Heritage (www.english-heritage.org.uk) and the summer is the time to visit them! Hadrian’s Wall is one of the county’s most famous icons and September sees a whole host of events for all the family during the Hadrian’s Wall Live Festival on Saturday and Sunday, September 5th and 6th:

Events include:

The Big Roman Soldier day from 11 a.m. until 5 p.m. at Birdoswald Roman Fort. Visitors to the fort will meet Legio I Italica, the 80 strong Imperial Roman Army, all the way from Italy.

During the Hadrian’s Wall Live blockbuster event, witness the colourful and well-armed Roman soldiers as they practise their combat skills, battle tactics and artillery firepower that made the Roman army a formidable fighting force before they take on the Barbarians in a never to be forgotten skirmish. During the day,also see the life of the Roman soldier and Barbarians in the living history camp on site.

Tales from the wall at Housesteads Roman Fort from 11 a.m. until 5 p.m. will see costumed Romans helping you to explore this stunning hill top fort with stories of Roman Britain. The charismatic characters will regale you with tales of times gone by. How was life on the edge of the Roman Frontier? How did the gigantic 73 mile long wall impact the landscape and people living within its shadow? All these questions and more will be revealed.

And night time patrol from 5-30 until 8 p.m. at Housesteads will offer you a unique opportunity to see the legionary guard of Legio Italica patrol Housesteads Roman Fort and Hadrian’s Wall by torchlight. With preparations for battle being made, listen to the songs of the legion and immerse yourself in this Roman fort with the sights and sounds of an Italian legion at dusk.

Meanwhile at Chesters Roman Fort and Museum from 11 a.m. until 5 p.m., English Heritage will reveal more about the Chesters’ story from the air, during performances, talks, lectures and via a costumed character.

A state-of-the-art drone will present images of the Roman Fort from the sky on to an outdoor screen, giving you a view of our historic Roman ruins like you’ve never seen before. The experts will bring to life these images, giving you an in-depth insight into Chesters’ archaeological makeup. Inside the dome, English Heritage has invited a number of guest speakers to reveal more about the archaeology and history of Chesters Roman Fort, the home to the best preserved Roman bathhouse in Britain. If it wasn’t for John Clayton, Hadrian’s Wall wouldn’t exist as it does today. The costumed actor will depict the ‘saviour of the wall’ and you’ll learn more about his fascinating finds, which are displayed in the site’s Victorian Museum.

And finally at Corbridge Roman Town from 11 a.m. until 5 p.m. the spectacular remains will form the backdrop to a weekend of gladiatorial combat. Watch and learn how this armed combatant entertained audiences in the Roman Empire. You’ll also be able to experience Roman History as you walk down the ancient high street and meet the Living History team. They will present Roman cookery, pottery and textiles to you along with ancient Roman games.

Theatrical performances throughout the day will transport you back 2000 years and help you imagine life at this important supply base.