Northumberland is the northernmost region of England. At the mouths of the rivers Tweed, Tyne and Tees there arose over the centuries major centers of trade and commerce such as Berwick, Newcastle and Stockton. The Romans landed on the Northumberland coast, followed by the Vikings, while a thousand years later, in the 19th century, great steamships departed from here, delivering the industrial products of Great Britain to the entire world. The interior, on the other hand, is dominated by untouched landscapes, such as the Cheviots, where the Border Forest Park and the Northumberland National Park have been set up. South of the Tyne, the Pennines also offer impressive landscapes.
Newcastle-upon-Tyne: The county town of Newcastle-uponTyne is the largest of a complex of industrial and commercial towns along the river, but was in fact founded as the easternmost end of Hadrian’s Wall; the wall itself ran down what is now Westgate. The south bank of the Tyne is dominated by industrial and modern residential districts; it’s on the north bank that you find the old town and all of the sights.
The best place to start a tour is at the Quayside with a view of three of the six bridges that cross the river: the Tyne Bridge (1928), the Swing Bridge (1878) and the High Level Bridge. This last is the best-known, designed in the 19th century by Robert Stephenson, son of the railway pioneer George Stephenson, as a double-decker railway and road bridge, and opened by Queen Victoria in 1849. The neighboring rehabilitated quay district is enchanting with its historical houses, small shops and restaurants. On Sunday there is a colorful flea market. At Sandhill are the Guildhall (17th century, rebuilt in the 19th century), the Custom House, and the restored halftimbered Bessie Surtees House, dating back to the 16th/17th centuries and with rotating exhibitions recalling the days of the merchant adventurers.
A favorite place to meet is the 137-foot (42 m) Earl Grey Monument at the center of tpwn; its viewing platform offers a fantastic panorama of the city. Grainger Street, one of Newcastle’s busiest shopping streets, starts at the monument. Only a few steps away from the popular shopping mall at Eldon Square begins Newcastle’s Chinatown. Newcastle also boasts a number of museums, such as the Museum of Antiquities, which also has a model of Hadrian’s Wall, or the Museum of Science and Engineering, which presents a look at the city’s industrial heyday.
Along the Coast: Alnwick Castle has been in the possession of the Percy family, the Dukes of Northumberland, since the 12th century. It contains French period furniture, Meissen porcelain, and works by Turner, Titian, Tintoretto and van Dyck.
Not far from Alnwick, an extremely beautiful section of coast with some beaches begins at Lesbury. Via the stark ruins of Dunstanburgh Castle, destroyed in the Wars of the Roses, past the huge Norman fortress of Bamburgh Castle, the road leads on across a causeway to Holy Island and the priory and castle of Lindisfarne. Here was the first great stronghold of Christianity in the north, and the magic survives despite the crowds. The island is cut off twice a day by the tides; be sure to pick up a listing of safe times to cross before heading out over the 3-mile (5 km) sand bar.
Irish monks arrived here in the 7th century from the island of Iona in the Irish Sea in order to convert the pagan Saxons. The monastery which they built developed quickly into a spiritual center, and the monks’ skill with their hands was soon renowned: costly gospels, filigree work and reliquaries issued from their workshops.
These treasures attracted the Vikings, too, and in 955 the monks fled with the bones of St. Cuthbert to Durham. Only ruins remain of the Benedictine abbey on Lindisfarne which was founded 100 years later.
All along the border with Scotland stand the castles and fortified towers, or pele towers, that speak of the long years of conflict between English and Scot. The A 1 crosses the border river Tweed to the last outpost of England, Berwickupon-Tweed. Once, Berwick was an important Scottish port; it changed hands 13 times before finally being incorporated into England in 1482. You can stroll along Berwick’s city walls, which date back to Elizabethan times.
The A697 leads to Wooler, a fine center for exploring the hills, after passing close to Flodden, a name that invokes memory of Henry VIII’s defeat of the Scots in 1513, though the battlefield is further north, close to the village of Branxton. Further south take the B6348 to Chillingham Castle (14th century), an absolute must. In the castle park roam a herd of extremely rare white cattle of an archaic type which may well be the direct descendants of a herd kept by the ancient Celts for sacrificial purposes, white cattle being sacred to the sun.