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Visiting Norham Castle, Northumberland, England: Medieval Bishops fighting Scots; English fighting English; complex!

Updated on February 18, 2016
Flag of England
Flag of England | Source
Norham Castle viewed from the River Tweed.
Norham Castle viewed from the River Tweed. | Source
Norham Castle southeast
Norham Castle southeast | Source
Norham Castle at Sunrise, detail, by J M Turner, 1835-1840. The Yorck Project: 10.000 Meisterwerke der Malerei. DVD-ROM, 2002. ISBN 3936122202. Distributed by DIRECTMEDIA Publishing GmbH.
Norham Castle at Sunrise, detail, by J M Turner, 1835-1840. The Yorck Project: 10.000 Meisterwerke der Malerei. DVD-ROM, 2002. ISBN 3936122202. Distributed by DIRECTMEDIA Publishing GmbH. | Source

Of interest for your visit

Damp, isolated and complicated

So is the history of this Medieval Castle in Northumberland (1) overlooking the Tweed River all about English kings fighting Scottish kings along the border between England and Scotland?

Well, the truth is a whole lot more complex than this. Built in the 12th century by Ranulf Flambard, Bishop of Durham, chances are, in this part of England at least, if someone wanted to disembowel you with cannon balls, it would likely be by courtesy of the Lord Bishop. Intermittently over the subsequent years and centuries, there were indeed repeated incursions, often led by Scottish kings, not least by Robert the Bruce (1274-1329) in 1318.

But despite the proximity of Scotland over the Tweed, which Norham Castle overlooks, at times in the Castle's history when armies arrived geared up to fight, it was actually English fighting English. During the Wars of the Roses in the 15th century, Norham Castle was a Yorkist stronghold, besieged by Lancastrians. Later the keepers of the Castle changed sides voluntarily, but surrendered to the Lancastrians again.

(And so it goes...)

The keep of the Castle is ruined, but still a huge, monumental structure. The Castle's architect is thought to have been Richard of Wolviston in the 12th century.

In 1513, during one of the Castle's sieges, the keep remained in English control while King James IV of Scotland's troops held the outer walls. When the English in the keep capitulated to James IV, his proved to be pyrrhic because shortly afterwards he perished at the Battle of Flodden Field, not far from Norham.

On a rainy day, I recall sheltering in a dingy room in an intact part of the keep. The damp, dark conditions were evocative of Medieval times.

In more peaceful times, the Castle was painted — a number of times, in fact —by the artist J. M. Turner (1775-1851). Turner's somewhat 'mystical' style and the Castle's location at a northern extremity of England, still combine to give a sense of isolation.

The Castle is now in the care of English Heritage. The Castle is situated in the aptly named Castle Street, Norham, in Northumberland.

February 18, 2016


(1) The history of the names 'Northumberland' and the older form 'Northumbria' reveals an exercise in politicans' indecision. While the historic name is 'Northumbria', for centuries the county name was 'Northumberland', but changed back by politicians in the 20th century to 'Northumbria'. This, however, proved not to be so popular locally and so the name was changed back again to 'Northumberland'!

Some sourcing: Wikipedia.

Also worth seeing

In Norham itself, a Norman church was predated by a stone building erected in 830; this itself was predated, according to tradition, by a wooden building brought from Lindisfarne in the 7th century. The Ladykirk and Norham Bridge, completed in stone in 1887, crosses the Tweed River.

Coldstream, Scotland (distance: approx. 12 kilometres); this interesting Scottish Borders town has much of interest to the visitor, including the 18th century Coldstream Bridge, the Kirk, also 18th century, and a museum strong in material about the Coldstream Guards.


How to get there: United Airlines flies from New York Newark to Edinburgh Airport (distance to Norham: 96.3 kilometres), where car rental is available. Please note that some facilities mentioned may be withdrawn without notice. Please 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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