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North East England
Alnwick Castle dates from the 11th century and has been in the hands of the Percy family, the Dukes of Northumberland, since 14th century. The family still lives there. Their castle is one of the most visited in England, steeped in Percy history with gruesome discoveries to be made as well as magnificent state rooms. Alnwick is often used for filming and has starred in Harry Potter and Downton Abbey (to mention just two). The castle also houses a number of special exhibitions, including the Regimental Museum of the Royal Northumberland Fusiliers. Adjacent to the castle is the Alnwick Garden, a formal garden built around a huge cascading fountain.
Arbeia Roman Fort stood guard on the south bank of the Tyne, guarding the sea route to Hadrian's Wall. The fort is situated in what is now a residential area, with a primary school opposite. It was originally built in the 2nd century AD and, with variations and rebuilding (the fort was destroyed in the late 3rd/early 4th century, for example), was occupied until the Anglo-Saxon period. There is a good museum, reconstructed gateway and living quarters (which are a bit tatty) and the excavated outline of the fort.
Bamburgh Castle is one of the dramatic icons of Northumberland's coast. There has been a fortress on the rocky crag poking out into the North Sea since before the Anglo-Saxons invaded. The Normans built a new castle, and its bloody history continued. But the present building owes much to Victorian restoration and idealism. And thanks for that goes to wealthy arms manufacturer and dealer William Armstrong, whose family still live there. Bamburgh is a popular visitor attraction, is 'bursting with history and has also featured in several film/TV productions.
Barnard Castle was founded by Bernard de Balliol in the 12th century and the ruins of this once mighty fortress dominate both the town named for it and the river Tees. Balliol College, Oxford, was named after Bernard's ancestor, John, and John's son (another John) was briefly King of Scotland. Afterwards, the castle came into the possession of the powerful Earls of Warwick - the Neville family - and subsequently, through marriage to Anne Neville, it then came into the hands of the Duke of Gloucester - Richard III. Later, it fell into disrepair and is now a spectacular ruin in an impressive setting.
The remains of a Temple of Mithras, the Persian god of light and truth, stands near what is left of the Roman fort of Brocolitia, or Carrawburgh, on the route of Hadrian's Wall. It was built in the 3rd century and subsequently desecrated, probably by Christians. There was once another temple nearby, dedicated to Coventina, a local water goddess, and a nymphaeum – a monument dedicated to nymphs - but nothing is to be seen of these now.
Monument celebrating the life of Vice-Admiral Cuthbert Collingwood, born in Newcastle in 1748. An able officer who served in the American War of Independence and Napoleonic Wars, Collingwood was Nelson's 2IC at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805 and took command when Nelson was fatally wounded. His statue looks out across the mouth of the Tyne. Four cannon flanking the steps of the monument were taken from his flagship, HMS Royal Sovereign.
Cragside was the home and creation of William George Armstrong, 1st Baron Armstrong, arms manufacturer and international arms dealer. The house is full of over-the-top Victorian opulence and also illustrates Armstrong's ingenuity and progressive thinking. Cragside was the first house in the world to be lit by hydroelectricity - and a new Archimedes screw has been installed to demonstrate this. The grounds are extensive - there are several walks of varying length and rigour - and the gardens are a delight.
The dramatic ruined castle of Thomas of Lancaster, executed for treason in 1322, stands on a rocky headland jutting into the North Sea. The castle went on to witness fierce fighting during the Wars of the Roses, but now the predominant sound is the shrieking of seabirds. A short, sometimes bracing, walk from either Craster or Embleton.
Durham Cathedral's official name is 'the Cathedral Church of Christ, Blessed Mary the Virgin and St Cuthbert of Durham'. It is the home of the shrine of St Cuthbert and burial place of the Venerable (aka 'Venomous') Bede. The cathedral, along with Durham Castle, occupies a rocky promontory high above the river Wear - originally an excellent defensive position, now dramatic and picturesque. It was founded in 1093 and the outstanding architectural feature (probably) are the massive, soaring, Romanesque/Norman arches in the nave. There's a wonderful simplicity about Durham Cathedral.
The Bishops of Durham - 'the Prince Bishops' used to wield temporal, as well as spiritual, power and effectively ruled the diocese for 850 years. That did not stop Oliver Cromwell using the Cathedral to hold 3,000 Scots prisoner after the Battle of Dunbar in 1650; many of them died within the Cathedral.
Durham Cathedral, along with the adjacent Castle, is a World Heritage Site.