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Visiting Bamburgh and its Castle, Northumberland, England: an archetypically bleak fortress facing North Sea winds

Updated on November 13, 2015
Flag of England
Flag of England | Source
Bamburgh Castle seen from from Seahouses
Bamburgh Castle seen from from Seahouses | Source
Bamburgh Castle, Northumberland
Bamburgh Castle, Northumberland | Source
Bamburgh Main Street
Bamburgh Main Street | Source

Weather-beaten for many centuries

The village of Bamburgh in Northumberland in the North-East of England, with memories of the ancient kings of Northumbria, attracts many visitors. However, it needs to be pointed out that Bamburgh is probably not thought of as the most popular of winter vacation destinations: the North Sea winter winds here are often strong and even forbidding.

The Bamburgh Dunes are a Site of Special Scientific Interest. The pyramidal orchid and the petalwort are among its flora; its fauna include varieties of warbler, the reed bunting and the short-haired owl.

St Aidan's parish church in Bamburgh dates from the 12th century. Opposite the church building is the Grace Darling Museum, commemorating the daughter of the lighthouse keeper from nearby Longstone Island in the Farne Islands, who in 1838 heroically assisted in the rescuse of some of the survivors of the wrecked Forfarshire.

It is the Castle, executed in sandstone, which is the most visible presence in Bamburgh. First recorded mention of the Castle dates from 547AD. After the Viking destroyed an existing structure, the Normans built a substantial part of the Castle. The keep is 12th century; its strongly square features dominated the structure.

For centuries the Castle was the property of the Crown, with the Foster family the hereditary governors for 400 years. After the Bishop of Durham acquired ownership in the 18th century, the condition of the Castle became degraded.

So why would a bishop need such a huge castle? A good question, maybe, if posed today, but going back some centuries the Bishop of Durham was regarded as a most splendid personage, with the See of Durham ranking highly among the English Bishops. All the splendour of the Bishop of Durham, however, was not able to stop the castle, under ecclesiastical administration, becoming rather dilapidated.

Enter William Armstrong in the 19th century. The Armstrong and Aviation Artefacts Museum is housed in the Castle, named for William, 1st Baron Armstrong (1810-1900)(1), who bought the Castle and restored it and whose company Armstrong Whitworth was later a significant aircraft manufacturer.

November 13, 2015


(1) The Armstrong family continue to own the Castle.

Note on spelling: The spelling 'Bamborough Caslte' is sometimes seen, although today 'Bamburgh Castle' is usually preferred. In World War Two the HMS Bamborough Castle used the old spelling.

Some sourcing: Wikipedia.

Map location of Northumberland
Map location of Northumberland | Source

Also worth seeing

From Seahouses (distance: 6 kilometres) boat tours of the nearby Farne Islands are avaiblable, weather permitting.

Lindisfarne (distance: 31 kilometres): island linked to the mainland by a causeway, with a 16th century castle and a recorded religious history going back to the 6th century.

In Newcastle-upon-Tyne, (distance: 78 kilometres) sights include: the Tyne Bridge; Grey's Monument commemorating Prime Minister Earl Grey; Newcastle Castle Keep, dating from the 12th century; St NIcholas' Cathedral, built between the 11th and 16th centuries, with its distinctive lantern tower feature; and many others. Newcastle is a university city; the Armstrong Building at Newcastle University is particularly distinctive.

Hadrian's Wall, dating from Roman times, is one of the great, historical sights of the North of England. Heddon-on-the-Wall (distance: 87 kilometres) is a popular place for visitors to see the Wall.


How to get there: British Airways flies from London Heathrow Airport to Newcastle International Airport, where car rental is available; the nearest railroad station to Bamburgh is Chathill (distance 10 kilometres) Please note that some facilities may be withdrawn without notice. You are advised to check with the airline or your travel agent for up to date information.

MJFenn is an independent travel writer based in Ontario, Canada.


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