As one of the country’s largest inhabited castles, Bamburgh Castle is living history. This seat of the former Kings of Northumbria tells a spellbinding tale from its awe-inspiring position on the edge of Northumberland’s coast. It’s one of England’s most iconic landmarks, dominating a wild stretch of sand dunes, and the site has been occupied since prehistoric times, witnessing bloody battles, royal rebellion and secret negotiations.
Your Northern England heritage itinerary
Days 1-2: Northumberland
Bordering Cumbria and Scotland, this wild northern edge of England has endured a turbulent past of Viking raids, royal rebellions and skirmishes between Rome and the ancient tribes of Britain. This history has forged a fascinating landscape dotted with romantic ruins, imposing castles and the Roman Hadrian’s Wall. Walk along endless beaches, go wildlife watching and stargazing, and indulge in afternoon tea at the birthplace of Earl Grey at Howick Hall.
Alnwick Castle, the second-largest inhabited castle in England, has been home to the Duke of Northumberland’s family for more than 700 years. Within its walls, uncover stories of drama, intrigue and extraordinary people. Learn about a gunpowder plotter, visionary collectors and medieval England’s most celebrated knight, Harry Hotspur. Ogle the lavish Italianate state rooms, decked with a private art collection including Canaletto, Titian, Van Dyck and JMW Turner.
A visit to the history-rich and beautiful Holy Island of Lindisfarne, cut off twice daily from the rest of the world by fast-moving tides, is an adventure not to miss. Start at Lindisfarne Priory, the epicentre of Christianity in Anglo Saxon times, and the birthplace of the Lindisfarne Gospels, one of the world’s most precious books. Be sure to explore the small but commanding castle too.
Day 3: Leeds
From Northumberland head south to Leeds (approximately 1 hour 50 minutes by road or 1 hour 25 minutes by train), a northern powerhouse city with a fascinating heritage. Browse the luxury shops in the Victoria Quarter, a collection of beautifully restored Victorian shopping arcades; be blown away by powerful performances from Opera North and Northern Ballet in atmospheric venues; and explore the magnificent ruins of Kirkstall Abbey.
If only the walls of Harewood House could speak! Since it was built in 1771 it has mirrored the views, tastes and lifestyles of its inhabitants, from its original use as an 18th-century gentleman’s country house to a Victorian family home, a royal household and a wartime convalescent home. Explore the immaculately preserved state rooms and servant’s quarters, learn about the property’s royal connections and admire the extensive art collection.
More than 8,500 wondrous objects are on display in Britain’s national museum of arms and armour, from the royal armours of the Tudor and Stuart kings – including Henry VIII – to the only existing suit of armour built for an elephant. Coincide your visit with one of the jousting or sword-fighting enactments, follow the evolution of hunting, and don’t miss the Hall of Steel, a steel-and-glass tower lined with glinting swords.
Even if you arrived in Britain just yesterday, you’re probably already familiar with Marks and Spencer; these days there’s a ‘Marks & Sparks’ (as Brits affectionately call it) food store in nearly every town, but it all started in 1884 when Michael Marks opened his very first stall in Leeds’s Kirkgate Market. Marks in Time offers a quirky perspective on the everyday lives of British people as it charts the remarkable brand’s development.
Days 4-5: York
It’s a 20-minute train ride or 40-minute drive from Leeds to the heritage city of York, reputedly Europe’s most haunted city. But don’t let that scare you off. In York, you can dip in and out of the shops and cafes that line The Shambles, one of Europe’s best-preserved medieval shopping streets, take afternoon tea vintage-style in Bettys Cafe Tea Rooms, and smell the pong of a bygone York at York Castle Museum.
England’s biggest cathedral and one of the world’s loveliest gothic cathedrals, York Minster dominates the skyline of the city. It houses the world’s largest medieval stained glass window, and the views from the parapet are sensational, but head down to the undercroft to Revealing York Minster, which tells the story of the site’s 2,000-year-old history. You’ll see a Viking lord’s carved elephant tusk, the excavated barracks of Roman soldiers, and ancient manuscripts.
Set aside 2 hours to walk the full circuit of York’s ancient city walls; these 13th-century fortifications are the longest and most complete city walls in England. The original Roman structure was replaced by medieval stone, and now gives amazing views across the city’s cathedral, maze-like medieval streets and historic gardens. You’ll pass five gatehouses and 45 towers. Watch out for Micklegate, where traitors’ severed heads were skewered on pikes.
York’s not just about Romans, Vikings and Saxons. It’s also had a long relationship with the cocoa bean; 2 of England’s best-loved confectionery manufacturers, Rowntree’s and Terry’s of York, started life in this city. Many favourite chocolate bars, jelly sweets and wafer biscuit brands were also born here, including the world-famous KitKat. Visit York’s Chocolate Story to learn local chocolate-making secrets and try your hand at chocolate lolly-making.