The appealing market town of ALNWICK (pronounced “Annick”), thirty miles north of Newcastle and four miles inland from Alnmouth, is renowned for its castle and gardens – seat of the dukes of Northumberland – which overlook the River Aln. It’s worth spending a couple of days here, exploring the medieval maze of streets, the elegant gatehouses on Pottergatea and Bondgate and the best bookshop in the north.
The Percys – who were raised to the dukedom of Northumberland in 1750 – have owned Alnwick Castle since 1309. In the eighteenth century, the first duke had the interior refurbished by Robert Adam in an extravagant Gothic style – which in turn was supplanted by the gaudy Italianate decoration preferred by the fourth duke in the 1850s. There’s plenty to see inside, though the interior can be crowded at times – not least with families on the Harry Potter trail, since the castle doubled as Hogwarts School in the first two films.
The grounds of the castle are taken up by the huge and beautiful Alnwick Garden, designed by an innovative Belgian team and full of quirky features such as a bamboo labyrinth maze, a serpent garden involving topiary snakes, and the popular Poison Garden, filled with the world’s deadliest plants. The heart of the garden is the computerized Grand Cascade, which shoots water jets in a regular synchronized display, while to the west is Europe’s largest treehouse with a restaurant within.