From the vast open expanses of Mid Wales, to the peaks of the North Yorks Moors, it's amazing what you can find behind the wheel of any European Roadtrip. Whether you love the chocolate box beauty of French Villages or the undulating alpine passes of the Austrian Tyrol, you'll not find many better places than the amazing route alongside Northumberland's coastline to Alnwick! But could Alnwick Castle offer the perfect day out with your kids too?
Adults and children alike are understandably spellbound by Alnwick Castle from the moment you enter past the gigantic treehouse and series of books that offer useful information for the day ahead. Each day spent here feels both educational and fun with plentiful guided tours to enhance your experience.
Closer to Scotland than Newcastle (30miles), Britain's second largest inhabited castle is set in a charming wooded river valley within the pretty Northumberland village of Alnwick. It attracts almost a million visitors each year and the building is so large that the roof is measured in acres! Yet the motte and bailey design still reflects its Norman ancestry dating back to the times of William de Percy in 1066.
Alnwick Castle is now best known for its prominent role in the series of Harry Potter films (hence its Harry Potter themed week from 27 August to 2 September). But perhaps it should also be remembered for its importance across the centuries of ownership by the Percy family who still inhabit the magnificent inner castle. As an example, the castle played a pivotal role in the War of the Roses (on the red side!) and is still the seat of the Duke of Northumberland...
As a family who enjoy the creative genius of JK Rowling, we've been lucky enough to see Porto's book shop that inspired Dumbledore's study, walked in the footsteps of Harry Potter and explored the wonders of the wizarding world at the Warner Bros Studio Tour in London. So the chance of spending a Roadschooling day at Alnwick Castle's Harry Potter week was just too good an opportunity to miss!
The magical experience begins as soon as you walk under the castle's imposing gates at Lion Yard. All around the inner bailey are canvases with various Harry Potter themes, as well as props and other cool medieval and Harry Potter artifacts lying around the grounds... Just imagine finding self levitating broomsticks as an 11yr old...? Or having one of Harry Potter's nutty professors offer your 9yr old a chance for some broomstick training...?
Given free reign to explore within the castle, you can jump in and get involved with Broomstick Training, Archery Practice, Wand Making or Dragon Quests! Highlights for us included the brilliantly funny broomstick training which had our girls in fits of giggles as they sought to achieve 'take off'. Or the amusing Dumbledore/Harry Potter show that attracted a large audience all enjoying the late August sunshine!
When visiting Alnwick Castle, getting your timings right is crucial to enjoying a family day out. So we'd arrive early to the well located car park (10.30am) and leave a few hours for the Harry Potter events first. But just make sure you get booked into activities as soon as possible as they soon become 'fully booked'....
But try to also leave enough time to enjoy the amazing State Rooms within the inner castle. Be prepared to be amazed by the lavishly decorated and furnished Drawing Room, Dining Room or Library before heading through the excellent Percy Family History & WW1/WW2 exhibitions that brought back memories of our Roadschooling trips to the Somme, Ypres and the Normandy D-Day Landing Beaches.
Cafes/Restaurants are easy to find in the Courtyard Cafe close to the Knights Quest to the western end of the castle. There's hot and cold food at very reasonable prices and plenty of space to sit and eat... but before long you'll be itching to head out and explore more of this slick, well organised castle. Maybe try to navigate your way through the animated Knights Quest, experience medieval games or walk the castle walls. However by 2.30pm, you'll be needing to head towards the gardens especially if you've bought a joint ticket (see here) as these interactive gardens can easily take 3-4hrs to explore.
HAVE YOU SEEN ANY OF THESE CASTLES FROM EUROPE?
Alnwick's Gardens were created in 1750 by the famous gardener Capability Brown, improved considerably by Jane Percy in 1997 and now overseen by a charitable trust that has further redeveloped the gardens... even adding a 'Poison Garden' in 2005.
For those who've been lucky enough to have seen the gardens at Chateau Villandry in the Loire Valley or the Savill Gardens in Great Windsor Park near London... you'll know just how interactive these 'senses' gardens can be for young children.
Long gone are the days of unending rows of flowers and immaculately mown grass... the future of gardens allow children the freedom to explore and interact with the garden... and Alnwick manages this perfectly! From the family friendly water garden within the Serpent Garden to the Bamboo Labyrinth... the gardens seem to offer something for all ages to enjoy
So whilst you stroll the easily marked pathways, you can stop and enjoy the rose gardens and find your favourite specimen (ours is the Charlotte variant) or stare down the symmetrically aligned cascading fountains... or even grab your camera and find some of the abundant wildlife that also enjoy the ornamental garden (like Lottie's butterfly picture below)
For those with slightly more daring children, they'll love the bouncy treetop walkways that allow access to the awe-inspiring treehouse that sits outside the main gates.... Or you can even take one of the Poison Garden Tours (every 30mins)... Delving into closely supervised gardens to find Hemlock or Bella Donna. Just keep your fingers to yourself!!! Whilst others will love the Fairy Tale Trails through the gladed woods to the lake where you'll find the imaginatively created 'Owl and the Pussy Cat' scene.
Well, they were royally entertained by the resident garden musicians/artists but loved the fun and games they found in the serpents garden (just remember to bring a change of clothes!) But if pushed, they'd tell you that it was a combination of it all that just seemed to work!
Just imagine a day full of laughter with engaged children learning about the history of castles, the world wars and even some botanical learning... and you'll get a flavour for a day at Alnwick Castle. But don't take our word for it, it's worth every second of the journey along the Northumberland Coastline to get there too...
..There's plenty of scenic routes along the coast, where you can grab a fantastic choice of campsites (see here for more info). Not mentioning the great parking options in Alnwick itself. But we'd favour overnight accommodation near Bamburgh Castle or Beadnell Bay or in one of the smaller CL options nearby (like this one below). Try Rashercap Farm, Fowberry Farm or Low Hedgeley Farm....
As for driving routes, we'd agree that the best route is possibly from Alnmouth to Lindisfarne, others would argue the section from Berwick to Blyth is better. But if you love castles and epic coastlines, this area of NE England is perfect for you.... Alongside Alnwick Castle, there's other favourite like the two above (Warkworth & Bamburgh) and the iconic Lindisfarne to enjoy along the 30 miles of coastline.... it's no surprise that Countryfile recently awarded it the title 'Best Holiday Destination 2017'.... (See full details here including coastal maps)
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