Outside of the West Country, Northumberland is without doubt, one of my favourite parts of England.
This is a land of Romans, kings, monks and reivers, set amongst rolling hills and a wonderfully hypnotic coastline.
Standing on the border with Scotland, the county has seen more than its fair share of conflict, which is probably why it has more castles than any other county in England, but it was the Romans who were the first to make their mark here.
Hadrian built his famous wall between the River Tyne and the Solway Firth to keep the Picts from encroaching on Roman Britannia, but contrary to what many people think, Hadrian’s Wall doesn’t separate modern England from Scotland – in fact, most of Northumberland lies north of it.
The void left by the Roman departure was filled by two Anglian Kingdoms – Bernicia and Deira – which between them consisted of an area covering modern day South -East Scotland and Northern England.
In the 7th century the two kingdoms united to form the Kingdom of Northumbria with Bamburgh as its capital.
During this time, the island of Lindisfarne became known as the ‘Cradle of Christianity’ in England when King Oswald, a convert to Christianity invited the Celtic monk, St. Aidan, to come to Northumbria to set up a Christian mission.
Lindisfarne is an exceptionally spiritual place and Bamburgh has an exceptional castle, but they are not the only exceptional things along this wonderful coastline.
The Farne Islands, a short distance offshore, are a haven for wildlife, especially seals and seabirds, and there’s also the incredible story of Grace Darling who helped save the lives of nine seamen when the ‘Forfarshire’ came to grief on rocks near the Longstone Lighthouse.
The coastline may be relatively flat, but inland the Cheviot Hills rise up high enough and remote enough for the authorities to warrant awarding the area National Park status. In fact, it’s so remote that it helps Northumberland claim the title as the least densely populated county in England.
This border country was the scene of so many battles between England and Scotland that the families who lived here (on both sides of the border) had no allegiance to either England or Scotland, and eventually became a law unto themselves. These outlaws, known as Reivers, enjoyed a fearsome reputation for hundreds of years until the union of the two countries made their way of life obsolete.
With an incredible history, and landscape and coastline to match, Northumberland should be near the top of everyone’s list of English counties to visit. It’s certainly near the top of mine.