Banner

Back to the English Counties Page
Facts

NORTHUMBERLAND

Owlbut

Owlbut

Break
FUN FACTS

Northumberland is the 6th largest county or metropolitan borough in England.
Northumberland has the 44th highest population in England.
Northumberland is in 51st and last place for density of population.

  1. The Royal Connection
  2. I suppose it's only natural that many of our royal connections involve castles. After all, that is where royalty used to live and still do. Alnwick castle (pronounced Annick) is the second largest inhabited castle in England. Windsor castle is the biggest. It is the home of the 12th Duke of Northumberland who, together with his family, live in a part of the castle, which was first built in Norman times but has been renovated many times since then. It is a Grade 1 listed building. You young people may know more about it than you think, but more later.

    The castle was held by Lancastrian forces for a time during the Wars of the Roses. The Earl of Warwick, the well-known kingmaker, received the surrender of the castle in 1464 on behalf of Edward IV.

    The castle is open to the public in summer and, in 2006, was the tenth most-visited stately home in England. However since then numbers have increased because, and this is where you young people may recognise the castle, it was used as the exterior and interior of Hogwarts in the Harry Potter films. The Outer Bailey was where Harry and friends learned to fly broomsticks and also the rules of Quidditch. It was in the Inner Bailey that Harry and Ron crashed the Weasley family's flying car and the Lion Arch was the way in and out of Hogwarts.

    Many other film and TV programmes have been filmed in and around the castle including Downton Abbey, Alnwick Castle was Brancaster Castle, Transformers The Last Knight, Flog It and the Antiques Road Show. The gardens within the castle are also well worth a visit.

  3. Northumberland Eats
  4. Craster is a small village on the coast of Northumberland. I've been there three times in my life. The first thing you notice when you reach the village is the smell of smoke and you can see plumes of white smoke coming out of one of the buildings. No, they haven't elected a new pope, Craster is the home of the world famous Craster kipper.

    A kipper is a herring that has been split open, cleaned, salted and then hung over smouldering wood chips to cure in a smokehouse. To be a Craster kipper, rather obviously, the smokehouse must be in Craster and, as far as I can find out, there is only one such place remaining. That is the 100-year-old smokehouses of L Robson and Sons.

    The smoking takes place for sixteen hours and the wood chips are usually oak or white wood. A kipper still looks like a fish and its tan colour comes from the oak smoke. People say that comparing a Craster kipper with any other kipper is like comparing a fillet steak with a burger. Craster kippers are often described as the best although, taste being like beauty but in the mouth of the beholder, some disagree.

    Craster kippers are usually grilled and often served for breakfast, sometimes with a poached egg on top. They can also be eaten for tea. It is said they are a particular favourite of our Royal family. I enjoyed mine each time I visited the village.

  5. Northumberland VIPs
  6. Seven random people who were born in Northumberland in the last 100 years:-
    Sir Bobby Charlton (Footballer - hero of mine), Tom Graveney (Cricketer - hero of mine), Hermione Hammond (Artist), Robson Green, (Actor/Presenter), Alexander Armstrong (Actor/Singer/Comedian/TV Presenter), Vanessa Raw (Triathlete) and the late Jack Charlton (Footballer).

  7. Now That's Weird
  8. I never really associated monks and monasteries with the production of alcohol. I would have put that down as being a bit weird. I know that in olden days water from rivers was so polluted that even young children would drink wine, ale or beer when they felt thirsty. Lindisfarne, that holiest of islands, is partly famous for making mead. Mead is an alcoholic drink and the only time I have ever tasted it, was on the island, way back in 1985. I liked it.

    To make beer you need hops, to make wine you need grapes but to make mead you need something which you can't grow. You need bees, or to be more precise you need honey.

    Right in the centre of Holy Island village is St Aidan's winery, the home of Lindisfarne Mead. The mead is made from grapes, herbs, the pure natural water from the island's artesian well, fine spirits as well as that bee produced honey. For those of you that don't know, an artesian well does not require a pump to bring water to the surface. Instead, the pressure underground forces the water to rise to the surface without any help. Weird within weird.

  9. It Happened Here
  10. The rocks around the northern most end of the Northumberland coast were dangerous to shipping in olden times. This was especially so around the Farne Islands, a group of some 28 islands between one and four miles off the coast. However at high tide only 14 islands can be seen. Lighthouses were an important means of warning ships about the rocks.

    William Darling was a lighthouse keeper. Originally he ran a lighthouse on Brownsman Island and lived, with his wife and nine children, in the small cottage attached to the lighthouse. He was paid seventy pounds a year, in today's money about six thousand three hundred pounds. In 1826 the family moved to a newly constructed lighthouse, with bigger accommodation, on Longstone Island. Although the accommodation was better, William would still row back and forth to Brownsman Island to collect vegetables from their former garden and feed the animals. The family lived in the ground floor room of the lighthouse, one room serving as kitchen, dining room and living room, while the second floor had three bedrooms and the next floor housed the light at the top of the tower.

    Early in the morning of 7 September 1838, Grace Darling, one of his daughters, then aged 22, looked out the upstairs window of the ligthhouse and saw half a wrecked ship. The Forfarshire had hit the rocks in the night and the other half had broken off and sunk. She spotted some survivors on Big Harcar, a nearby rocky island. Her father decided that the weather was too rough for a lifeboat to launch from the mainland, at Seahouses, so he and his daughter rowed their small rowing boat, just over 6 metres (about 20 foot) long, a mile or so out to the survivors. While Grace kept the boat steady, William helped four men and the lone surviving woman into the boat. William and three of the men rowed the boat back to the lighthouse. Grace stayed at the lighthouse with the woman, Sarah Dawson, while her father and the men rowed back and collected the remaining four survivors.

    Meanwhile the lifeboat had set out but all they found on arrival at Big Harcar were the bodies of Mrs Dawson's two children, aged 5 and 7, and that of a clergyman. However the sea was so rough that the lifeboat could not return to Seahouses and it too rowed to the lighthouse for shelter. Grace's brother, also William, was one of the lifeboat crew. The weather got so bad that everyone had to stay at the lighthouse for 3 more days.

    The Forfarshire had been carrying 62 people. Nine other passengers and crew had managed to launch a lifeboat from the stern section before it sank and were picked up in the night by a passing boat.

    Grace and her father were awarded the Silver Medal for Bravery by the Royal National Institution for the Preservation of Life from Shipwreck, later named the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (the RNLI as we know it today.). When the public learned of her bravery over sixty thousand pounds in today's money was given in donations and gifts, including fifty pounds from Queen Victoria. Painters came out to the Farne Islands to paint Grace's portrait and she even had some marriage proposals.

    Sadly, in 1642, when visiting the mainland, Grace was taken ill with tuberculosis and, despite the Duchess of Northumberland giving the use of her private physician, Grace Darling died on 20 October 1842, aged 26. She is buried in the churchyard of St Aidan's Church, Bamburgh, close to where she was born. There is a monument to her in the churchyard.

  11. Richard Remembers
  12. Here we go again and this is the third, if you are following this in order, stretch of coastline that is in my top ten in the world. When we reach the last one in England, I will give you the full list. Look out for it; it won't be for a few more months.

    This stretch is littered with castles, a causeway and even islands. Initially there's not much to excite but once past the coal-dust covered beach of Lynemouth, you come to the magnificent sandy beach at Druridge Bay, all 5 miles of it. You turn the northern headland and find Warkworth Castle on the land side and Coquet Island, uninhabited, out to sea. Next up is Alnmouth and from there to Dunstanburgh Castle it is mainly a rocky shore, with little harbours like the one at Craster, famous for those kippers.

    Embleton Bay and Beadnell Bay, where I'm assuming I accompanied my parents a few weeks before I was born, are sandy and then you arrive at Seahouses. It was from here, on all my trips, that we took a boat out across to the Farne Islands, mentioned in the story of Grace Darling. The boat trip, only undertaken in calm weather I'm pleased to say, takes about an hour. You can visit the Longstone Lighthouse and, if you are lucky like we were, meet, from a distance some of the Farne Islands grey seals, either lumbering about on some rocks or elegantly gliding through the water. Sadly, on one trip, we saw a seal entangled in a fisherman's net but our guide, driving the boat, said it would be impossible for anyone but a trained expert to approach the seal as they can be very vicious. I hope they managed to contact someone who could go out and help but it is an example of mankind, without thought, causing pain to one of nature's creatures.

    Next you reach Bamburgh with the amazing imposing castle built on a high rock and the superb beach below. We visited the castle and the view down to that beach is still with me today, some 36 years later. We also walked all around the castle, up on the battlements on the roof and through some of the rooms.

    I understand it is now, once lock-down ends, possible to stay in accommodation within the castle. Expect to see me this summer. I love it there so much.

    The sand continues north past the virtually enclosed Budle Bay, along Ross Back Sands and then you spy the little island of Lindisfarne with its castle high up on a hill. To get to the island, the monastery of which was the scene of the first Viking raid on our shores back in 793AD, you need to drive across a causeway. First though you check the tide times because for 12 hours of each day the causeway is flooded and your vehicle will be too if you don't check.

    The island, also known as Holy Island, has always had religious connections from that monastery built in 634AD by Aidan through the priory built in 1093 to St Aidan's Roman Catholic Church and the Anglican Parish Church of St Mary the Virgin which is said to stand on the site of the original monastery founded by Aidan.

    Driving carefully back across the causeway you head north to the town of Berwick-upon-Tweed, a confused town if ever there was. Berwick is just about 6 kms or 4 miles from the Scottish border and, over the years, has changed hands between the Scots and the English many times. There was a story, still around on my second trip, that Berwick was still at war with Russia because when England signed a peace treaty Berwick was part of Scotland and when Scotland signed a peace treaty Berwick was part of England. I believe that story has since been disproved.....maybe. The other confusing thing for the English town of Berwick is that they play their football in the Scottish League. The thing I most remember about Berwick is a selection of cute, tiny bookshops and the three bridges , all next to each other, over the Tweed.



  13. Owlbut's Birdwatch
  14. The cormorant is a large waterbird. It has a long neck which almost makes it look like a primitive reptile. Just like the one in my picture, the cormorant can often be seen standing with its wings held out to dry. They eat fish and are, in fact, wonderful at catching their prey. There are about 10,000 breeding pairs in the UK and over 40,000 cormorants winter here. The cormorant has black, brown and white feathers, brown legs and a long, hooked, black and yellow, powerful beak of medium thickness. Young birds have brown, grey and white feathers.

    The cormorant can be between 80 and 100 cms in length, has a wingspan of between 130 and 160 cms and weighs between 2 and 2.5 kg. The cormorant can be found around the coast on rocky shores and estuaries but it is also now being seen inland at reservoirs, lakes and gravel pits.

    It is sometimes difficult to tell the cormorant from its near relative, the shag, but not for you because I am going to tell you the differences. The cormorant has a thicker beak and it has more yellow around its face. Shags sometimes come inland but usually only on their own while cormorants are often seen in groups inland. The cormorant also has a less steep angle of its forehead where it joins the beak. Now you know.

We have asked the local Tourist Board(s) for a small contribution (50 pounds) to the cost of running this project and, in anticipation of their agreement, we are providing a link to their site(s) for the next five years. I can assure you we won't see anywhere near everything when we are there, so, if you fancy taking a trip into Northumberland check it (them) out for some great information. Apart from anything else it will get you out in the fresh air, walking around and one day you might be over 70 and still enthusiastically mobile.

All figures the latest available as at July 2020