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Last year, Mrs SWSt and I joined English Heritage, since the North East has a lot of sites which belong to them. In order to make the most of our membership, we spent 12 months visiting as many of them as possible, with Aydon Castle near Corbridge being one of the first.
Good luck with this one! In theory, it should be straightforward; in reality, it was a little tricky. Initial signs were promising, since it was signed from the centre of Corbridge and we made good progress... until the point where you have to head off the main road and down a minor road. Unfortunately, the sign telling us this was pretty poorly placed and not very visible as you approach it. End result? We whizzed straight past, only spotting the sign when it was too late to turn. Fortunately, a small lay-by just a little further provided somewhere to turn round with relative ease and approaching from the other angle, the sign is much more visible (and, of course, we knew roughly where it was second time around.
This will take you off down a narrow country lane for about a mile (better hope you don't meet any cars coming the other way, as passing points are limited!) and when you reach a junction at the bottom, you will see the car park straight ahead, although the entrance is not terribly obvious (and in our case wasn't helped by the fact a bin lorry was obscuring the sign!). On the plus side, the car park is free and fairly big, so you shouldn't have any problems parking.
Even when we thought we'd arrived our adventures in getting lost were not over. Although a brown sign points the way to the castle on foot, this has got twisted round when we visited, so we merrily headed off in completely the wrong direction! We walked about a quarter of a mile in the wrong direction before we decided that we had clearly gone wrong and were starting to feel as though someone was trying to stop us getting there! As it turned out, the actual entrance was less than 200 meters from the car park, just hidden around a bend - had the sign been pointed in the right direction, we would have found it easily. Thankfully, when we did eventually get there, it was worth the effort.
Quick History Lesson
Despite its name, Aydon Castle is not, in fact a castle in the traditional sense. Rather it is a 13th century manor house, to which various fortifications have been added over the years. Although dating from the 1200s, the house was still occupied and operating as a farmhouse until the mid-1960s, giving it almost 700 years of continuous occupation - an impressive record.
The Castle Today
What strikes you most as you wander around the castle is how well preserved it still is. Since it was still a fully working building until relatively recently, it has been very well looked after. Unlike most castles, which are mostly ruins, Aydon is actually still structurally very sound. It has been altered very little over the course of its history, so you can still see its original layout. Obviously, rooms have been adapted over the years, but the original design is preserved far better than anywhere else I have been. it genuinely does feel like you are stepping back in time. Wandering around also gives you are real sense of how bleak and isolated the castle must have been at times. Visit on a good day and it's surrounded by beautiful countryside and offers stunning views, but it must have been cold and inhospitable at times!
Although the building is still structurally sound, English Heritage have done little in terms of furnishing the rooms in this way you might expect of (say) a stately home. Most of the rooms are simply bare, with only the occasional piece of furniture. Personally, I prefer this approach, as it makes it easier to appreciate the wonderful design of the building and to understand how big a feat of engineering it was for the time.
One disappointing aspect (common to may English Heritage properties) is that information boards are fairly limited in number. On average, there is just one short-ish board per room. They are interesting and well-written, but I couldn't help feel that with a building this old, they could have told visitors so much more.
Of course, one of the reasons for this paucity of information is that they want you to buy the guide book which is for sale in the shop. When we went in, we were advised that this gave us much more information about all the various inhabitants of the castle over the years. At £2.99, this was not badly priced and I understand that such books provide much-needed additional income, but I still think the balance between "free" and "paid-for" information wasn't quite right.
The small size of the site, together with the relatively low levels of information mean that Aydon Castle will not take you that long to walk around. Mrs SWSt and I strolled around at a fairly leisurely pace reading all the information provided and it still only took around 45 minutes to do the whole property. What we saw, however, was very interesting and well worth looking at.
Much of the building is accessible to anyone, although there are a few upper levels which the elderly or infirm might struggle to reach. However, there isn't too much walking involved to see the whole site and the pathways around the properly are level and well-maintained.
You need to be careful when you visit Aydon Castle. Due to its remote location, it is only open between April and September, and even then only on Thursdays-Mondays (from 10am-5pm)
Since Aydon Castle is relatively isolated and not a major tourist hotspot, facilities are limited. Toilets and a very small shop selling English Heritage items are pretty much your limit. For anything else, you'll need to head back into Corbridge.
2011 prices are: Adults £3.80, Concessions £3.40 and Children £.30. Overall, I think this is pretty reasonable value for money - and probably offers better value for money than some English Heritage properties, which can be a little over-priced. There might not be a huge amount to see, but the building and its history are very interesting. It's somewhere you're only ever likely to visit once, but it's a bit different from the castles and stately homes that you normally see and well worth a visit if you are in the area.
© Copyright SWSt 2011
I really enjoy visiting ancient buildings and it was for this reason I took out a family membership to English heritage a few years ago. Aydon in Northumberland is one of my favourite places to visit. It is set in stunning countryside and gives me a real sense of history.
Where is it?
Aydon castle is situated 1 mile to the north east of Corbridge just of the B 6321. I suggest you use the AA route finder for the exact location. It is very well sign posted from all directions so is easy to find.
There are trains to Corbridge from Newcastle. The station is about 4 miles from Aydon castle. There are busses to Corbridge too although not to Aydon castle and you will have to walk the mile to the castle itself.
A potted history.
I am going to give you a quick history as I think it helps to get more from any visit. Aydon castle is not actually a castle but a fortified manor house dating from the 13th century. It was built by Robert De Reymes a wealthy Suffolk merchant in 1296.
When the manor was first built relations between England and Scotland were peaceful so the house was not fortified. The manor is situated next to the steep banks of the Cor burn on three sides and so was only really unprotected on one side.
Peace with Scotland did not last and by 1305 De Reymes began to fortify his home against the Scots. Battlements were added in addition to an outer curtain bailey wall.
Despite his best efforts to protect his home Aydon castle was captured and burnt by the Scots in 1315. The English won the castle back in 1317, but it again fell victim of Scottish raids in 1346. The raids and resulting damage bankrupted the De Reymes family and by the end of the 14th century the castle was being rented out. The castle was finally sold in 1541 to Sir Reynold Carnaby.The castle underwent a programme of improvements including new roofs, windows and fireplaces.
From the 17th century the castle became a peaceful farmhouse and it remained this way until 1966 when it was given to the ministry of works. Aydon castle is now owned by English heritage.
Aydon enjoys a beautiful setting surrounded by woods and stunning countryside. If you visit during the week you will probably have the place to yourself. There is a large grassy car park to the side of the castle. Parking is free. The castle entrance is just a very short walk from the car park.
The entrance is through an archway into the outer courtyard. Here you will find the small pay kiosk. The pay kiosk also doubles as a shop selling a very small selection of gifts and snacks. In the summer they sell delicious locally made ice cream.
In the outer courtyard you can see the remains of agricultural buildings. The curtain wall has holes visible from where the original wooden scaffolding would have been placed when the wall was being added. There are portaloos situated to the side of the outer courtyard. There is a large orchard to the side of the castle where you can pic nic.
In the middle courtyard you will notice the blocked up windows along the curtain wall. This is where guests would have been accommodated. It is also where the men at arms would have been lodged.
The inner courtyard contains the main building. There are battlements all around the roof with arrow slits. The large hall is reached via steep stone steps. The hall has stone window seats where you can enjoy the views!
There is a large kitchen with some original medieval fittings including a stone sink. Down the stairs is the lower hall with narrow arrow slits. There is a wonderful large fireplace with a rare 12th century chimney. There is great chamber also with a large fireplace. The latrine chamber has a chute and cupboards to see.
I suggest you walk around the path that's circles most of the building as this gives you different views of the castle.
Aydon castle is largely in tact and it is fascinating to see how the house has been altered and added to over the centuries. Although the castle is not large it is largely intact and has been restored to its original medieval appearance. There are lots of interesting features to explore at Aydon castle. My children seem to find something new every time we visit. I recommend you allow at least an hour to look around the castle.
I have tried to give you a taste of what's on offer but suggest you talk to the English Heritage staff to get the most out of you visit.
Although there is a shop it only sells a limited range of refreshments. I suggest you bring a pic nic and eat in the lovely orchard. I always pack a rug, as the grass can be damp.
Dogs are permitted here but must be kept on a lead. Aydon castle is only partly accessible to anyone using a wheelchair.
Aydon castle is open from April the 1st until September 30th.It is open from 10am until 5 pm on mondys, thursays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays.
Adults pay £3.50 and children pay £ 1.80. There are concessions available, just ask!
Entry is free for English heritage members.
In the summer there are often re-enactments here, check the English heritage web site for details. Last summer we enjoyed an excellent day at Aydon. There was an archery demonstration with the opportunity for children to participate. The castle was occupied by a medieval lord and his household really making history come alive!
In addition to visiting Aydon I recommend you spend some time looking round the small town of Corbridge including the Roman town. Corbridge has some lovely cafes and a good selection of interesting small shops to explore.
Overall I really recommend you take time to visit Aydon if you have the chance, it is not listed as one of the best medieval manor houses in the country for nothing!
A fortified manor house.