Sunday, August 31, 2008

Bamburgh Castle, Seahouses & Self Catering - Northumberland

There are many medieval castles built near or on the coast of Great Britain, many of them purposely built as coastal fortresses to defend against possible invasion. Therefore when you visit a British coastal town or port, seeing a medieval castle there or nearby is a common occurrence. Take for example Scarborough Castle which we visited and photographed on a misty, rainy (but very atmospheric day). Slap bang in the middle of Scarborough, high up on the hill straddling the two bays stands the castle and you simply cannot miss it once you enter the town.

One of the most striking views of a medieval castle from a British coastal town has to be that of Bamburgh Castle when viewed standing in the centre of Seahouses, a delightful little place on the Northumberland coast. When we last visited Seahouses we were fortunate enough to enjoy lovely, sunny weather. We were ravenously hungry when we arrived so headed straight for the main fish and chip restaurant (I think it's called the Neptune on Seafield Road and regarded by many as the finest fish and chip restaurant in Northumberland).

Only when we came out of the restaurant, suitably refreshed, did we take in the magnificent view looking northwards down the coast - high up on its rocky crag about 3 miles away stood Bamburgh Castle. You can imagine just how imposing it must have looked back in medieval times to anyone approaching from towns and villages in the area - let alone how it would have frightened anyone if they had dared to attempt an attack from the sea!

We came away that day promising ourselves to revisit Seahouses and perhaps even stay a few days in a Seahouses self catering cottage or a Bamburgh holiday cottage, which I understand from a friend can be high quality and very good value for money as a holiday option. (See his Seahouses blog: http://seahouses1.blogspot.com/ for more ideas). There is so much to see on the Northumberland Coast that, whether you are interested in medieval history or not, it's a fantastic place for a holiday. If you stay in a self catering cottage in Bamburgh or Seahouses you can come and go as you please, make your own timetable, enjoy fantastic visits to a wide range of castles including:
  • Alnwick Castle - remember the famous lawn there where Harry Potter was filmed taking his first broomstick flight. Visit the link and see the actual lawn I photographed. Well worth a visit!

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Monday, August 4, 2008

Castle Ruins On The Coast: Scarborough Castle

We took this photograph on a cold and misty day during a weekend trip to the North Yorkshire coast of England. Only ruins exist of Scarborough Castle today but they are some of the most interesting ones we have ever seen. The location of the castle itself is tremendously impressive high up on a promentary looking out to sea. In fact, it's believed that the site was used more than 2,000 years ago such are its obvious benefits as a vantage point.

Scarborough Castle was built in the 12th century, a fine example of medieval fortress construction. It later figured in the English Civil War and in 1648, under siege from the Roundheads, its great Keep was damaged almost to the point of destruction.

A castle keep was one of the most important areas for defence.

Out of the picture but only a matter of a few hundred metres away is a beautiful, small church in whose graveyard is buried the famous writer Anne Bronte. Read more about Anne Bronte's grave in Scarborough.

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Friday, May 23, 2008

Kings & Saints In A Coastal Fortress - Tynemouth Priory & Castle

As you read the notice board by the railings that surround Tynemouth Priory & Castle, one line leaps out and grabs the attention:

"Burial place for kings and saints"

Quite a statement! How many places in a lifetime does anyone get to visit such a place? Normally one would associate places such as Westminster Abbey and St. Paul's Cathedral in London with such a claim. So to find a medieval priory/castle on the Northumberland coast not far from the city of Newcastle with event a hint of a similar 'provenance' was a wonderful discovery.

Set high up on a headland overlooking the North Sea, the ruins were once home to both a military fortress (playing a role against Napoleon and in both World Wars) as well as a religious site - and for many, many centuries; as a religious site, its history goes back as far as the 7th century.

So who is buried here? The answer ... 3 sainted kings. I must admit to never having heard of any of them before visiting Tynemouth but having read more, I can begin to appreciate why there were 'sainted'. Their names were Oswin, Osred and Malcolm.

Oswin (died AD 651) King of Northumbria
Osred (died AD 792) King of Northumbria
Malcolm (died AD 1093) King of Scotland

There is also a legend that another Northumbrian king, Ceolwolf, had caves carved out of the great rock on which the Priory stands and that he spent his last days there. The caves have become known locally as Jingling Geordie's Hotel.

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Saturday, April 19, 2008

Ghostly Dunstanburgh - Haunted Medieval Castle

Dunstanburgh Castle is not an easy castle to reach. Its location on the Northumberland coast of England is fairly remote, beautiful though somehow eerie and desolate.

It was whilst driving back from a visit to Bamburgh Castle that we had the opportunity to see this magnificent medieval ruin for ourselves. As soon as it came into view in the distance, it seemed to loom with a striking, almost ghostly silhouette against the skyline. The 'ghostly' part of that description is very apt: Dunstanburgh Castle is reputed to be haunted - and by more than one ghost!

Once the largest castle in Northumberland, Dunstanburgh Castle was built in the 14th century by Thomas, Earl of Lancaster, nephew to the then King Edward II. Having led a rebellion against his king, Thomas was executed for treason in 1322. His execution, however, was not quick and he died an agonising death because of the executioner's inexperience. It's because of this that his ghost is said to haunt the castle that he built - Dunstanburgh.

Another ghost reported to haunt the castle's grounds is that of Sir Guy, a knight who sheltered nearby during a storm. His legend tells of a wizard and Sir Guy's attempt to rescue a young woman from the castle to no avail only to become a ghost without a shadow, searching throughout the centuries for the lady he sought to rescue.

There's more on haunted Dunstanburgh Castle in our haunted English castles section for anyone interested in reading further.

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Monday, March 10, 2008

Stunning Bamburgh Castle

I don’t think there’s a more stunning location in Britain for a castle than that enjoyed by Bamburgh Castle. If you have been there you know what I mean. If you haven’t, then you should! Indeed many people believe that Bamburgh Castle is the finest in all England.

It sits high up on a rock cliff overlooking the North Sea with views towards Holy Island and the Farne Islands and the drive approaching it is very special for the castle simply dominates the horizon. I’ve been to Bamburgh Castle several times and on every occasion I never cease to be amazed at how magnificent it looks. You cannot fail to be in awe of the people who actually built it; the sheer effort and planning involved in its construction must have been mammoth.

Having parked our car at the foot of the castle (left is a photo we took of Bamburgh Castle from the car park below), we walked up the fairly steep drive to approach it. As it was a beautiful, sunny day we decided not to go straight up to the castle but to venture a few hundred yards beyond, down through the sand dunes and onto the beach. I can close my eyes even now as I write this and feel that sea breeze on my face and recapture the panoramic, open views. What a setting for a medieval castle! It’s the kind of place you just can’t imagine existing – until you go there. We had 2 cameras with us that day and I can honestly say the shutters didn’t stop clicking for quite some time.

For those interested in haunted castles, Bamburgh has its own, striking ghost story. Read about ‘The Pink Lady’ on our page about haunted Bamburgh Castle.

For those interested in medieval architecture, the oldest, surviving part of the castle is its Keep, believed to have been constructed in the mid 12th century. Today the Keep houses an armoury as well as firearms and crossbows. If you’re interested in what is open to the public at Bamburgh Castle, just follow the link to the official website.

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