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Travel & Holidays in later life


Alnwick Castle is often used as a film set, including for Harry PotterIn a magazine poll to find the most scenic train journey in Britain, the section of the East Coast mainline between Durham and Berwick topped the vote.

The line follows the old Flying Scotsman route from London to Edinburgh and Glasgow.

Running parallel is the A1 highway. Whether you're travelling to or from Scotland and England, like Reg Butler, you can explore the highlights of Northumberland in a 2- or 3-day stopover.

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Tourist Information Centre, 106 Marygate, Berwick-upon-Tweed TD15 1BN. Tel: 01289-330733.


English Heritage operates six sites along the northeast coast: Berwick Barracks, Holy Island Priory and four castles - Norham, Etal, Dunstanburgh and Warkworth. 

Alnwick Castle itself is open Easter-Oct, daily 11-17 hrs.    Gardens open year-round.


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We stayed in the most northerly hotel in England - Marshall Meadows Hotel, just a few hundred yards from the present-day Scottish border, outside Berwick-on-Tweed. 

This beautiful walled town has endured rather more than a fair share of history. Between 1296 and 1482 this border outpost changed hands 13 times between Scots and English. In early Middle Ages, Berwick was the largest town in Scotland and its greatest seaport.

The present walls date from Elizabethan times, based on Italian ideas on how to build ramparts fortified by artillery. They are the best preserved in Europe.

Berwick remained a garrison town until the 1960s. The Barracks now house the Scottish Borderers Regimental Museum and a Gymnasium Gallery of contemporary works by artists in the region. 

But quite unexpected is part of the Burrell collection - mostly housed in Glasgow, but with 300 pieces donated to Berwick. It includes paintings by Degas, Japanese pottery and Ming vases.

Don't miss going to gaol! From behind the bars you get great views of Berwick's pantile rooftops, thanks to its location on top floor of the Town Hall. 

There was separate lodging for debtors who did their own self- catering, sloping platforms for drunks, and cells where chained criminals had zero chances of escape.

Remains of the Priory at Holy Island For something quite different, visit Holy Island - also known as Lindisfarne.

But first consult the tide tables. At low tide, there's a causeway across Holy Island Sands. Then the sea comes back, walkers become waders and cars are trapped. A priory was founded in 635 AD and became one of the earliest centres of Christianity in Anglo-Saxon England. 

A pilgrimage tradition was based on the miracle-working shrine of St Cuthbert, the 7th-century hermit who became bishop. The monastery then became very rich until it was looted and devastated by Vikings. 

Finally the site was rebuilt by Benedictine monks who came from Durham in the 12th century. But they kept Cuthbert's bones in Durham, where they still remain. 

At the Lindisfarne Heritage Centre you can learn more about monastic life, and view an electronic version of the Lindisfarne Gospels. The 258 pages were produced by a scribe around 700 AD. 

The surrounding mud-flats, salt marshes and dunes make a protected Nature Reserve with rich birdlife. Regular visitors are brent and greylag geese, plovers and redshanks.

The restored Babuurgh Castle, dominating the Heritage coastline Further down this Heritage Coast - an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty - is the 11th-century Bamburgh Castle, built by the Normans. 

Lord Armstrong, the great 19th-century Newcastle industrialist, totally restored the castle and filled it with art and museum pieces. 

Bamburgh village was home to Grace Darling, the national heroine of Victorian times for her part in a lifeboat rescue of survivors from a shipwreck. A Grace Darling museum tells the full story.

The biggest attraction of the region is Alnwick Castle, the home since 1309 to the Dukes of Northumberland. It's the second largest inhabited castle in England. 

But now all visitors are welcomed as paying customers. Stately Home devotees admire the carved and gilded ceilings, marble fireplaces and artwork by Canaletto, Van Dyck and Titian. 

The Castle is hugely popular for children. Young Harry Potter fams arrive ready equipped with broomsticks, hoping for flying lessons at the film location for Hogwarts School of Witchcraft.

The latest attraction is that kids and their dads can now learn all about medieval jousting, and what it takes to be a knight. 

In recent years, millions of garden-lovers have come to see the adjoining 40-acre Alnwick Garden project. The aim is to recreate the former grandeur of the 18th and 19th century gardens, including a Grand Cascade which is the largest water feature of its kind in Britain.

Warning on the entrance to the Poison Garden at Alnwick The whole concept is still taking shape. Newly opened is a bamboo maze and - my personal favourite - a Poison Garden, where many of the plants are deadly, including tobacco. Admission to the Poison Garden is by guided group only, with the knowledgeable expert keeping a sharp eye alert for anyone taking cuttings.

The great highlight is the Treehouse. Really it's more of a Tree Mansion, covering 6,000 sq ft with cafe and restaurant seating for 300 people among the treetops. Unbelievably, cooking halfway up the trees is done on an open log fire. 

Part of the Tree House at Alnwick Gardens It's all linked into a 20,000 sq ft adventure play area with rope bridges, platforms and aerial walkways. 

Finally we visited a unique branch-line railway station at Alnwick, purpose built for the Victorian royalty and aristocracy who came to visit the Duke.

Made redundant by Beeching, it now houses Barter Books, one of Britain's largest second hand bookshops with a quarter-million stock. 


Where else to visit in the North East

LEEDS - Soap trail around Emmerdale

NEWCASTLE - Cultural capital of the North

NEWCASTLE - Down memory lane at Beamish open-air museum

TEES VALLEY - Exploring Captain Cook Country

WEARDALE - Explore Weardale and the North Pennines

YORK - follow the Vikings and the ghosts

"Books to read - click on cover pictures" or click on the links below

Painted Labyrinth: The World of the Lindisfarne Gospels  by Michelle P. Brown - Looking at the Anglo-Saxon world and the encounters with Faith.

Northumbria and Hadrian's Wall (Ordnance Survey/AA Leisure Guides) - Full guidance for anyone wanting to explore the region by car for a few days.

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