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Fun For Kids... Dull For Adults
Alnwick Castle (Alnwick)
Member Name: nilo0901
Alnwick Castle (Alnwick)
Advantages: Lots to entertain children, state rooms were interesting in places
Disadvantages: Expensive, not enough to see for your money, museums were poor
On a typically drizzly August bank holiday we decided to drive an hour and half to visit Alnwick Castle as friends of ours had said it was an unmissable experience. This is a phrase I had heard before and it often accompanied very missable subsequent excursions, but regardless, we took them on their word and head off.
Alnwick (pronounced Anik) Castle is a grade 1 listed building having been built after the Norman Conquest and resided in by the Duke of Northumberland aka the Percy family, whose presence is felt and seen at every turn from video conversations to a littering of family photographs everywhere.
The castle is steeped in a rich history ranging from it's building to keep the Scots from invading through to the Wars Of The Roses and more recently hosting battles and scenes from iconic cultural icons as Harry Potters Hogwarts and Robin Hood Prince of Thieves.
The castle lies within acres and acres of sprawling and beautiful gardens that can also be seen with the purchase of an additional ticket. It was pouring with rain so we opted to see the castle only. It seems the only way to get into the castle is via a stream of gift shops: one at the entrance of the whole complex and then another in the grounds itself (although arguably for the latter we may have taken the wrong entrance). The first noticeable thing I found upon setting eyes on the castle for the first time was thinking it was actually quite small and low lying. Once inside you appreciate that this initial view is deceptive and the gradiose becomes apparent. The castle mainly consists of the yards where events are held, the main house with stately rooms and some out buildings hosting 'museums' and the cellar dungeons.
My over-riding opinion was that for all it's grandeur, as an adult, there isn't actually that much to see. Event after event is piled on to entertain children from broom stick riding (to mirror quidditch I imagine), soap making, hitting things and making a racket and dressing up and prancing in mock medieval clothing. Great if you have them as I imagine they can be easily entertained all day. However, we were a group with age ranges 30-70 and found interest slightly more difficult to find, or limited in scope and number at the least.
The most interesting part was the state rooms but these were frustratingly few. Given the size of the place we expected access to more than a dozen or so rooms for the £14 entry fee (house only, it's a further £12 if you want to visit the gardens too). These were largely magnificent and fascinating, especially to see the evidence of everyday use by the residing family.
The chapel was ornate and opulent although a lack of good natural light meant it was a bit gloomy. This was a theme that seemed to run throughout. Despite the fact that all rooms had large widows the rooms generally had a dark and gloomy feel, largely due to the furnishings and decor that were far from bright.
Most interestingly for me was the library which seemed to be the room the family spent most time in. This was a curious mix of antique, regal furnishings, floor to ceiling cases of dusty, and I imagine seldom leafed if at all, books. I looked for Fifty Shades Of Grey but alas, not to be found amongst the journals. Most bizarre amongst the regal splendour was the 50" flat screen TV I assumed would have been wheeled away during public hours to maintain appearance, and the drinks trolley, home to an inordinate number of Red Bull cans. It was a peculiar site and I would expect was there to show that the modern family actually use the house.
Elsewhere, other than an abundance of modern family photos including those of the recent daughters wedding, there was little evidence of modernity. The dining room is also still apparently used by the family for meal times but there was no sign of use. The dining table must have been 20 foot long and I could only imagine the amount of 'pass the salt' gags that must frequent dinner times.
The overall feel, library aside, was that of a stuffy, regal and archaic lifestyle and house that differed minimally to other similar places I have been to. The tour ends with a very windy and laborious talk with the Duke about the history, restoration and current use of the house. You really needed to sit for it and there were surprisingly few available and all taken, so i wasn't going to wait around for too long. In the Dukes defence, he did come across as personable but from what I heard, nothing was particularly enlightening, nor information not available elsewhere in the building.
So what of the other things on show? We went to see 2 of the 'museums'. These each consisted of one tightly packed room smaller than an average sized bedroom with minimal displays... Probably the most Intersting of which involved items found on the castles grounds. The displays appeared cheaply and shabbily put together (and that includes the 'talking' dummies) and information was fairly limited. It's a shame because they could have done so much more but they felt a bit like an afterthought rather than displays of excellence and value in their own right. If I were to be honest, it felt as though the owners or developers thought 'we need to give them a bit more for their money' and hastily put these together to try and appease people like me.
Another problem with Alnwick is that there is very little to see that has step free access so can be tricky if elderly, disabled or not fully mobile. Most thing to see require access by step including the main house itself. These are manageable large staircases but the museums require a steep climb up narrow, winding, dark stone stairs only wide enough for one person. This makes seeing some of the attractions impossible for many people.
As for unmissable? I think you probably know my thoughts on that.... I found that value for money was awful given what was available to see for adults. We didn't get involved in any of the children's activities but am sure they would be very entertaining but visiting as adults alone, there is little to recommend for the very steep entry fee. We expected to be there the best part of the day but were done in an hour and a half.
Summary: Lots on offer for kids but adult only groups beware... there ain't much to see!