If you would describe yourself as a bit of a “castle enthusiast”, then all we can say is that you’ve come to the right place, as today we are going to be looking at Alnwick Castle. Alnwick Castle has a rich and fascinating history, beautiful stately rooms, and even multiple claims to fame, all within easy reach of Edinburgh when you travel with us at Scottish Tours. To find out more, you’ll have to read on…
Where is Alnwick castle located?
Situated in Alnwick, Northumberland in the north east of England, around two-thirds of the way from Edinburgh to Newcastle-upon-Tyne.
Alnwick Castle is notable for a few reasons. The first is that it is a castle still lived in, to this day – in fact, it’s the second largest inhabited castle in the UK.
Although a castle by name, it hasn’t always been a castle by nature, with previous roles including aiding with the military, acting as a college and even used as a place to host evacuees... although now it’s most commonly used as a (rather grand!) family home, and as a backdrop for some well-known films – more on this coming later.
Who owns Alnwick Castle?
The Percy family has been lucky enough to call Alnwick Castle home for the last several hundred years, with some family members being just as interesting (if not more so) as the castle itself.
There’s the 4th Earl, Henry Percy, who, back in the 15th century, was partly responsible for getting none other than Henry VII onto the throne – although it was this act that also resulted in his rather grisly demise.
We also have the 1st Duchess, Elizabeth Percy, who in the early 1700s was instrumental in helping to make Alnwick Castle more than just a castle, but instead, a home, via restoration works that were carried out.
The Duke and Duchess of Northumberland
There have been 12 Dukes of Northumberland.
Fast forwarding to the present day, Alnwick Castle is under the ownership of Ralph Percy, the 12th Duke and his wife, Duchess Jane, who became the keyholders in 1995, almost three decades ago.
Ralph has worked to ensure that the castle continues to be used as it always has whilst also increasing and keeping castle projects up to date.
Duchess Jane has also created The Alnwick Garden, where you’ll have the chance to experience the Cherry Orchard, Bamboo Labyrinth and even the Poison Garden…
Alnwick Castle History
When it comes to history, you can’t fail to be impressed by Alnwick Castle. As the saying goes, if the walls could talk, we imagine they would have some interesting (and perhaps shocking) tales to tell. Just a wander around the State Rooms is enough for you to truly appreciate what this castle has to offer.
There are two Guard Chambers in the castle – the Upper Guard Chamber and the Lower Guard Chamber, the latter of which will allow you to see artefacts that date back to the 18th century.
The Library also proudly boasts several thousand books (almost 15,000 according to their website) and takes up a complete floor of one of the towers.
Duke of Northumberland collection
We also had to mention the Duke of Northumberland collection, where you can see paintings by well-known artists, including Titian, Guido Reni, and Sir Anthony Van Dyck, to name a few.
It’s not just paintings though, as the collection also includes some furniture and certain pieces, including a Meissen dinner service. We had to mention this specifically as we were fascinated by the theory behind how this dinner service from the 18th century came to be in Alnwick Castle in the first place - it is thought it was won in a raffle no less by the 1st Duke of Northumberland!
Of course, as with any historic building, some of the history associated with Alnwick Castle is altogether more disturbing. For example, one of the individuals involved in the infamous “Gunpowder Plot” with Guy Fawkes was a member of the Percy family itself! Thomas Percy ended up being killed for his role in the attempt to blow up the House of Lords, which ultimately resulted in the dissection of his body. What a punishment!
Movies filmed at Alnwick Castle
It’s about time we added a bit of glitz and glamour to proceedings by exploring some of the times Alnwick Castle is a popular filming location - and as a result, taken on some other aliases too!
Harry Potter at Alnwick Castle
Arguably one of the most popular roles Alnwick Castle played was as a Harry Potter filming location. In the first two films of the Harry Potter franchise it played the backrop of Hogwarts School.
Who could forget the iconic moment when the boy wizard learnt to fly his broomstick in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone?
The filming took place in none other than the Outer Bailey of the castle.
This magnificent building was the perfect place to introduce us all to the world of witchcraft and wizardry, giving us Muggles the chance to embrace our inner magic even to this day.
Then there’s Downton Abbey, filmed at Alnwick Castle over two years for the Christmas specials in both 2015 and 2016. Transformed into Brancaster Castle, if you’ve watched the show for yourself, you may have spotted some of the State Rooms used during filming. The 2016 special was also the last ever episode of Downton Abbey, making the role of Alnwick Castle in this programme particularly special.
Of course, there are other films and shows where Alnwick Castle has played a starring role, including Transformers: The Last Knight, Star Trek: The Next Generation and even The Ellen DeGeneres Show!
Places to visit near Alnwick Castle
Finally, there’s just about enough time to mention some nearby locations that you may also want to visit when you go to Alnwick Castle.
There are so many places to mention that we couldn’t fit them all in here, but we would highly recommend you go to see Hadrian’s Wall to step back into the Roman era. This ancient treasure is one of 33 UNESCO World Heritage sites in Britain.
The Northumberland National Park will let you get back to nature and take in some of the stunning English landscapes on offer.
If you’re in the mood for even more castles, Bamburgh Castle sitting atop the coast of Northumberland is a good shout.
How to visit Alnwick Castle
You’ve decided you want to visit (and after all, why wouldn’t you?), so the next thing you need to work out is how you’re going to make the trip. Luckily, getting to Alnwick Castle is easy, especially as there are so many options to choose from.
Close to the A1, if you’re visiting by car, you are advised to put the postcode NE66 1YU into your satellite navigation system.
If you wish to visit the castle by train, the nearest station is called Alnmouth, just a few miles from Alnwick itself, before the journey can be continued by public transport or via taxi. The trains that operate on this line are operated by LNER and Cross Country.
Alnwick Castle tour from Edinburgh
However, although we know we may be biased, we think the best way to travel to and visit Alnwick Castle is by booking yourself on a day tour. That way, there’s no need to worry about how you’re going to get there, and you can rest assured that our tour guides will ensure you make the most out of your visit.
We’ve got three great tours for you to choose from, all leaving from Edinburgh, and visiting Northumberland so you can experience sights you may not have considered otherwise.
To find out more about either our Alnwick Castle and The Border Country tour, the Holy Island, Alnwick Castle and the Northumberland Coast tour or our Alnwick Castle and the Scottish Borders tour, click on the name of the tour itself, or why not get in touch with one of our experienced travel advisers who will help you to book the trip that’s just right for you? We’re here to help you at Scottish Tours.
Explore great castles with Scottish Tours
If you’re in the mood to discover historic castles and magnificent stately homes, hop aboard a tour with Scottish Tours.
We offer convenient departures from Edinburgh, Glasgow, Inverness and London.
Book your Scotland Tour today.
Picture credits: Duke of Northumberland, VisitBritain and Canva.