Northumberland is famous for its castles, there’s no doubt about that. The ones on or near the coast are all too well known to mention, but who can name all 46 of our castles?

It’s a great little project to get around and photograph them and you get a real feel for the turbulent past of the county. Take Harbottle Castle, which is well worth a wander up to see. Built by the Umfravilles around 1160, on a mound thought to have been the site of a Saxon fortification, it commands a strong position and gives great views of the surrounding countryside. The seat of the Umfravilles was Prudhoe Castle, another place worth a visit. Harbottle changed hands between the Scots and the English a number of times and in 1296 was besieged by an army allegedly of 40,000 men under the command of Robert de Ros. It fell into disrepair in the 17th century and all that remains now is the earthworks and some of the original stonework. It’s easy to get to it, just a short walk from the car park at the west end of Harbottle village.

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Harbottle Castle

Another castle seldom mentioned is Twizell Castle, also easy to access. Situated overlooking the river Till not far from Norham, Twizell is the site where, in 1513, James IV held his council of war before besieging the nearby Norham castle. A few miles away is Etal Castle, a 14th century stronghold captured by the Scots just before the Battle of Flodden. A day spent in this area gives you a real insight into the Anglo/Scottish strife of the early 16th century. There is so much to see in a small area – you could easily spend several days just taking it all in.

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Flodden Memorial

Flodden – the most famous battle to take place in Northumberland, where the cream of Scottish nobility was wiped out. At least 12,000 Scots and 1,500 English were slain in a matter of a few hours, although some accounts put the numbers much higher. Whatever the true count, it is a slaughter comparable to the losses involved in the D Day landings. A short drive to Branxton gives access to the Flodden memorial and eco-museum, with a signposted walk and information boards to tell you who was where and how the battle progressed.

The Battle of Otterburn is not so well known, but the site is marked just to the north of the village. There’s not much to see but at least there’s a car park. This is where Harry Hotspur and Lord Neville took on Earl Douglas and got a good thrashing for their pains.

With the amount of aggravation between the Scots and English, it’s no wonder that the Bastle house or Pele tower became a common fixture in the borders. Northumberland is home to numerous examples in various states of disrepair.

Woodhouses Bastle
Woodhouses Bastle

A one that is seldom visited is Woodhouses Bastle near Holystone. Although you can’t go inside it, there is permissive access from a nearby car park. Don’t go wandering around the rest of the farmland, though, as it’s privately owned. This one was built in its current state in the early 1600’s, but was the site of an earlier fortification mentioned in the border survey of 1415. It is well preserved, with a vaulted cellar where the animals were kept, the living space being above that. Whilst in the area there are Bastles at The Craig, Iron House, High Shaw and The Raw. Most people know that the gibbet at Elsdon was where William Winter was hung in chains, but the murder he committed was at the Raw farm, when he killed Margaret Crozier. These are all close to each other on Otterburn Ranges, but check the firing times and don’t go through any barriers or walk off road. The ranges are closed for live firing from mid-April to mid-May.

So why not take time out and have a look at some of the castles, bastles and battle sites where there are no tee shirts, key rings or mugs for sale and where the only other people you are likely to encounter are shepherds and the occasional walker.

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