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Two days in Alnwick

20th May 2016

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“I don’t care what we do, but we’re going to Hogwarts,” is not the kind of demand that every holiday starts with, but as an answer to ‘What are we going to in Northumberland, then?’ this seemed pretty conclusive.Alnwick

In this case, it meant we were visiting Alnwick, a town right in the heart of England’s least populated - and arguably most stunning - county. It is a town that on paper simply oozes rural charm and fairytale wonderment, so it made sense to make it a first port of call for a Northumberland adventure.

Our stint in the town took in a comfortable stay at The Hogs Head Inn (see there were Harry Potter references from the off), which is well situated to both the town and the A1 for heading off to further explore the natural beauty of the county.

The evening meal there set the tone for the meals throughout the trip, which provided top quality food in a pub setting, and at pub prices. They even accommodated for the gluten-allergies of our party, without any issues.

Stepping out into Alnwick itself, whilst being a very lovely medieval town, it doesn’t immediately standout from similar towns around the UK. It has the cobbled streets, the old buildings and has maintained the local charm - it is not a place weighed down by chains, and has opted for independent local shops, cafes and pubs.

Delving further is where the town offers its gems.

One must-visit is Barter Books, which as one of the UK’s largest second hand book shops is a treasure trove for avid readers. Housed in the town’s old railway station it opens up a quaint world of literature to visitors.

Alnwick Castle

Our second day’s activities really put Alnwick on the map as a ‘special’ place to visit. There can be few views as breathtaking as the walk up to Alnwick Castle (even out of season, I can only imagine what it is like in the blazing sunshine). Dubbed the Windsor of the North, and still home to the Percy family (the Duke’s and Duchesses of Northumberland) and is the embodiment of the image conjured up when you think of a ‘castle’.

Of course, these days, it is most recognisable as Hogwarts in the first few Harry Potter films and the site a Downton Abbey Christmas special, but it has also been the location across many other classic pieces of TV and film – including acting as Nottingham Castle in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves and the home of Blackadder in the first series of the classic comedy.

The ‘On Location’ Tour points out the bits captured on film with some brilliant anecdotes that unravels the role the castle played in our favourites films.

But it’s not just a bloody good castle that’s been in films and stuff, there’s also some serious fun to be had for everyone.

Keeping with the Potter-theme, the ‘Broomstick Training’ is ridiculous fun. There's a high ridicule factor involved – in the process of learning to fly, I personally had to adopt the name Marjorie and perform a “flight” in front of guffawing children (and parents).

If you let yourself get involved it’s the most fun you can have with a bit of wood between your legs.

Broomstick Training

Also, the Dragon’s Quest is for kids but brilliant fun – the hall of mirrors is truly freaky. I got out (eventually).

Definitely not for kids (or anyone easily scared), under the castle the ‘Lost Cellars’ performance was definitely enough to unease even the hardest person. Basically cellars are bloody scary, especially when there are faces rotting in a mirror in front of you, some guy in a costume telling you about people that have died, screaming at you in the dark!

All these activities are free as part of your entry ticket. If all this fun is not for you, there’s always the history of the place that is accommodated for with tours and the State Rooms, which give you the chance to glance at the Percy’s opulent lifestyle and the history of the family.

On our visit there was a great exhibition in the servants quarters looking at the people of the estate that had died in the First World War – interesting stuff.

Moving on, despite the heavens having opened, the Alnwick Gardens showed us some of their delights. We were there at the wrong time, but it must be spectacular in spring and summer. The tour of the Poison Garden took us on a intriguing tour of deadly fauna.

The day was done, and the trip took us to Lindisfarne Inn for the evening’s stay but Alnwick drew us back for a real highlight.

The Treehouse restaurant is exactly what you’d expect - a restaurant in a giant treehouse, pulled straight from the pages of a children’s story book.

Treehouse Treehouse
The magical setting is completed with a roaring fire and large selection of cocktails. Our first beverages were served in the quaint smaller bar, The Potting Shed, in a little green watering can and a plant pot. The food is renowned for its quality, and did not disappoint.

To be in such a setting, and for two people to get three courses and drinks for a price in the region of £70, makes this a must visit, especially for an out-of-town Londoner like myself.

All in all a short stay in Alnwich was a feast for the mind, imagination, eyes and stomach, providing history, fantasy and excellent food.

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