“ Address: Corbridge / Northumberland / England „
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
A fortified manor house.