Newest Review: ... of the cascade as you go down the steps is also all paved. In front of the cascade on this paved area were a large number of ride on toys ... more
From Battleaxe to Broomsticks and some poison thrown in as well
Alnwick Castle (Alnwick)
Member Name: catsholiday
Alnwick Castle (Alnwick)
Advantages: So much to see and do that it fills an entire day
Disadvantages: The price initially
Alnwick Castle, Northumberland
When we booked our few days up in Rothbury we had a list of several places we wanted to visit and Alnwick Castle was top of my list because I always enjoy visiting places used as locations in films I have enjoyed. Alnwick castle has been used in many films but its most recent claim to fame as a film location is for the Harry Potter films. We hadn't done my research that carefully and imagined that this place would be a bit like other stately homes and a morning visit would probably be all we would need. How wrong we were, the place is huge and there is so much to see that a full day visit still probably isn't really enough.
Alnwick Castle is in Northumberland in the town of Alnwick just off the A1. It is sort of half way between Newcastle and Edinburgh to give you an idea. I would suggest that you would need a car to get there as public transport would involve local buses as there is no train station in the town and the nearest one is Alnmouth which is 15 minutes away by car .
PRICES AND ADMISSION TIMES
We were quite shocked when we saw the price of tickets. I believe we paid $14 each for the Castle and £12 each for the garden. This ticket does however allow us to go back as often as we like for one year from date of purchase however the castle is not open all year and I understand they are closing early this year for some renovation work at the end of September. This price is fine if you live locally but not quite so handy for us as we live too far away to make this a day visit so chances are we won't take advantage of this! The opening season is from the 31st March through till the 30th September when the family return to the castle to live in the winter months. My husband did get a slight reduction as he is over 60 but it was only a pound or so. I also discovered that the tickets are cheaper if you buy in line which is useful to know and once again we didn't check this before we went. The times of admission are from 10 am until 6pm but they don't let anyone actually come in to start their visit after 4.15pm
We weren't going to bother with the gardens but then we were told that the cherry blossoms were out so decided to go and look.
The most impressive feature is an enormous cascade with comes down through several pools through the centre of the garden. It rivals the cascade at Chatsworth in that it may not be a long but all the side pools also have fountains and features. The fountains change with different parts performing at any time you look; you cannot fail to be impressed by these displays which take place every half hour. This cascade dates back to the 1850s and is quite a feat of engineering as 7260 gallons of water come down through the various pools and 21 weirs every single minute. I presume they capture this water and send it back up again rather than let it go to waste.
As you enter the garden gates this is the first thing that you see. Around the entrance area is a cafe and posh restaurant and shops. You get a great view of the gardens from both the cafe and the restaurant. We didn't visit either as we went to the garden as we arrived so didn't need refreshment at that stage.
Around the shop and cafe area is all tiled and in front of the cascade as you go down the steps is also all paved. In front of the cascade on this paved area were a large number of ride on toys for young children. If you lived locally this would be a lovely place to bring young children to have a good run around and play.
We made our way to the right in order to see the Japanese garden with the cherry blossoms. I must admit I was a little disappointed as the trees are still very small and although there are quite a large number going up a big hill which you walk up by a very long zigzagging path the display was not that impressive. I think once the trees grow a bit more then they might look a bit more colourful but that could take a few more years. Under the trees were lots of tulips but sadly these were also not quite out and had we been a week later the display might have been better but still you can't have everything and the huge black cloud did only sprinkle us and it could have drenched us.
We walked across the top of the garden to the ornamental garden which was again a bit underwhelming as the roses were not in bloom, the bulbs were not out and none of the summer plants were blooming either. We them made our way down through the sides of the cascade to the serpent garden.
The serpent garden had a number of different water features which were very nice but you were firmly warned NOT to play in the water features despite the poster near the entrance which showed children playing in a water feature which I thought was a little stupid if they didn't want people to do just that.
The next garden we went into was actually a bamboo maze which looked good but we didn't feel like trying to find our way through a labyrinth so we moved on and across to the poison garden. We could have gone on to explore the rose garden but as no roses were in bloom we thought it wasn't really worth bothering with on this visit.
This was very well done as it has a locked gate so you could only enter with a guide at specific times. Just outside the gate was a small hut with a log fire inside which looked a bit like Hagred's hut only far smaller. Our guide explained this was not a medicinal garden but that all plants in the garden were poisonous in some way or other.
We followed her down a corridor or covered walkway of ivy which all added to the sense of darkness as you went into the garden. The guide was excellent and explained which parts of the plants were poisonous and what happened if you did eat or even touch certain parts. Many of the plants were not at their best as it was early in the season but it was a very interesting tour froma knowledgable and entertaining guide. We finished the tour by walking through a second corridor or tunnel of ivy and out through the gates. Interestingly this garden has a special license to grow both cannabis and coca behind bars in giant cages! Strangely also many of the plants with poisonous parts I have in my garden as do many others in our country, some I knew were poisonous like Laburnum but others I was not aware of and will now treat with caution.
This is quite a short walk from the garden and is easily accessible by wheel chair through someone with difficulty walking might find the amount of walking need to be beyond them. On the way to the castle with is on a slight hill with a dry moat around it we were greeted with a 'host of golden daffodils', crocuses and blue bells all perfectly in bloom in the forefront and then castle in the background which was a pretty stunning sight.
Not only is this an impressive stately home but the family who own the place have made the most of the place by organising tours and setting up a number of displays and activities in the castle and grounds. There was plenty to do for children as well as some extremely sumptuous state rooms which in my view rivalled those we saw in Buckingham Palace.
BATTLE AXE AND BROOMSTICKS - The tale of Two Harrys
We chose to do the 'Battle axe and Broomsticks' tour which was a sort of fun tour of the grounds showing the main places that were used in the Harry Potter films. The guide was dressed in costume and was obviously a frustrated actor as he was really into his role, leaping around and being far too energetic and requiring us to shout out with enthusiasm as part of the tour!
We learned that the gardener's store shed had had bits added to it to become Hagred's hovel and the little patch of tress near the hut became the dark forest in the films. The guide described how fog machines had filled the moat area to create the atmosphere but even so you needed a good imagination to see how they had achieved the effect in the film.
It was easier to see how different parts of the main buildings had been used. The broomstick training ground and doors to Hogwarts were easy to recognise but the guide explained how the flying car had been shown to fly over the castle walls and crash into a huge tree. There was no tree there and it had in fact been CGI and a model tree stump.
Apart from the Harry Potter filming element we also visited various other parts of the castle grounds ending up at Harry Hotspur's statue at the furthest end of the inner grounds. We were asked to guess how old we thought this was and it turned out to actually be moulded plastic and only a few years old but still an interesting story which the guide told with enthusiasm about how Harry Hotspur was possible the youngest person to earn his knighthood at only about 12 if I remember the story correctly.
During the season Alnwick offer so many different experiences daily from this tour of the two Harrys - Potter and Hotspur through to Broomstick training, archery and a more general tour of the grounds and more specifically for children there is a Knight's quest area and finally the latest tour of the 'Lost Cellars'. They also offer more specific events such as craft days and this year they are welcoming the Olympic torch and celebrating the Queen's Jubilee as well. If you want to know more about these specific events and the days they take place then check the Alnwick Castle website.
THE LOST CELLARS
His was the second of the free optional tours we booked ourselves on to. This was a very clever way of using the cellars which were not actually that remarkable but were cleverly enhanced with the use of props and two very captivating actors to tell a story of those who had been locked up in the cellars. It took about twenty minutes and was quite entertaining but not necessarily something you couldn't miss experiencing when visiting Alnwick. No-one under the age of thirteen is allowed to take part in this adventure and you are warned that this is 'Not for the faint of heart or timorous souls who fear shadows of the eternal night....'
THE KNIGHT'S QUEST
This area had a range of activities for children to take part in with mini problems to solve, clothes for dressing up in and finally a sort of 'Chamber of Horrors' type of experience called the 'Dragon Quest' with a hall of mirrors and skeletons dropping on you and so forth which again was well done and pretty darn scary for young children I would think.
A BIT ABOUT THIS CASTLE
This is not your usual Stately home with an air of dust and unlivedness about it, this is a family home and the Percy family live here from October through to the end of March each year. I am not sure where they go in the 'open season' of Alnwick but as you walk around inside the castle there are family photos of the children sitting on the piano and other places so it feels like somewhere lived in. Personally I am not sure I would put photos of my children around as there are so many odd bods around it might jeopardise their safety. This place has been the home of the Percy family, The Duke of Northumberland, for around 700 years and by cleverly creating a place where people want to visit and keeping up with the times hopefully they should manage to keep it in the family for several hundred more years.
Inside the State rooms you will find opulence in the extreme with fabulous antique furniture, paintings by Canaletto, Titian and Van Dyck amongst others. The crockery display was something that had to be seen to be believed with Crown Derby, Meissen and Paris porcelain in such quantity beautifully displayed. I am not sure if any of the pieces are ever used!!
WHERE TO SPEND YOUR MONEY AND EAT
There are a number of options from a small cafe, a restaurant, a number of medieval tents which open in busier times selling ice creams and other snacks. A shop selling souvenirs, lots of Harry Potter souvenirs, castle souvenirs and books as well as china, and smaller novelty items.
WOULD I RECOMMEND?
Indeed this is a wonderful place to visit. There is so much to see and do and every age group is catered for. You can just walk around the grounds designed by the famous Capability Brown, climb the ramparts and view these from above. You might meet falconers, actors in costume, explore further by taking part in one of the tours or just explore the State rooms and imagine you are one of the wealthy guests of the Percy family.
Although the castle is closed during the winter months but the garden stays open daily from November 1st through till 8th January and various events are organised from lantern making workshops through to Christmas Wreath making and Christmas Carols.
I really hope we can go back and visit this wonderful family home within the year our ticket is valid for. This is a beautiful castle and so much has been done to make your visit both interesting and enjoyable for all age groups.
Thanks for reading and I trust this has been useful and interesting for you. This review may be posted on other sites under my same username.
Summary: A lovely garden and stately home that offers a range of entertainment for all ages
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