The boy wizard Harry Potter learned the basics of magic at one, the ghost of a headless nobleman haunts another and you can get married in a third.
We’re talking castles here, the splendid and richly varied castles of Northumberland, England’s northernmost county. Rebellion, battles and bloodshed have been played out on Northumberland’s soil for hundreds of years.
The days of warfare against the invading hordes of Scots, Vikings and countless others are thankfully long gone, but the legacy is a glorious network of castles, with secrets and tales for tourists to discover behind almost every stone.
In the market town of Alnwick you’ll find a castle that may seem strangely familiar. It had a starring role in two of the Harry Potter movies as Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry and has also featured in TV shows, including Blackadder, and the historical movie, Elizabeth.
Alnwick Castle has been home to the Percys, the Earls and Dukes of Northumberland, since 1309 and the current Duke and Duchess still live there. Younger visitors get the chance to dress up as medieval knights, while older guests may prefer one of the regular Shakespeare performances staged in the castle grounds on summer evenings.
Nine miles east of Alnwick, beside the North Sea, lie the eerie ruins of Dunstanburgh Castle. It’s a 600-year-old fortress built by Earl Thomas of Lancaster, a cousin of King Edward II. Thomas was executed in 1322 for leading a rebellion against the King and it took his executioner 11 blows to chop off his head with an axe. Thomas’s tortured ghost is said to haunt the ruins carrying his mutilated head in his arms.
If you miss seeing the headless Thomas as you hike through the ruins, make sure you don’t miss out on the fabulous crab soup and sandwiches served up at the Jolly Fisherman pub in the nearby village of Craster.
Those who like their castles with a touch of romance won’t want to miss a visit to the hugely atmospheric Lindisfarne Castle.
An Elizabethan fort built in 1550, it's set on Holy Island, a rocky crag three miles off the coast of Northumberland that is only accessible twice a day when the North Sea is at low tide. Ignore the tide times at your peril as you’ll have to face the embarrassment of being rescued by the lifeboat crew from the nearby village of Seahouses.
At low tide, couples happy to splash out the £750 ($1,224) fee can get married in Lindisfarne Castle’s beautiful barrel vaulted drawing room, known as the “Ship Room.”