Keys to the Past

Medieval Sites in County Durham and Northumberland

Many medieval remains can be seen across the region. The castles that stood up to attacks by raiding Scottish army have also often survived the ravages of towns. Meanwhile, the many churches built in this period have often survived to become the focal point of their local village or town. 

County Durham

Auckland Castle

Eight hundred years ago the See of Durham, the most powerful Diocese in the North, established Auckland Castle as a hunting lodge for the Prince Bishop. Then virtually monarchs in their own kingdom, the Prince Bishops held military, economic and political power, in additional to their ecclesiastical authority.

Auckland Castle, placed above the Rivers Wear and Gaunless and some ten miles south west of Durham, was no mere country residence. Not for nothing did the town that grew around it take its name from the resident of the Castle. Over hundreds of years, the Castle was expanded until, in 1832, it became the official residence of the Bishop.

Barnard Castle

Perched high on the edge of a steep bank overlooking the River Tees, Barnard Castle remains an imposing sight. It was damaged when, in 1630, Sir Henry Vane bought and dismantled it! Sir Henry used its stone to rebuild his preferred residence, Raby Castle. More information about visiting Barnard Castle can be found at the English Heritage website.

Bowes Castle

Massive ruins of Henry II's tower keep, three storeys high, set within the earthworks of a Roman fort and overlooking the valley of the River Greta. More information about visiting Bowes Castle can be found at the English Heritage website.

Crook Hall and Gardens

Crook Hall is a beautiful Grade I listed Medieval Manor House with a banquetting hall & 17th century Jacobean room. The hall is at least 13th century, maybe older, and the timbers supporting it were in place 100 years before Drake sailed against the Armada in 1588.

Croxdale Hall

was home to the Salvin family since 1402, Croxdale is now seen as an 18th Century re-casing of an earlier Tudor building. Mid-Georgian rooms with Rococo ceilings, private chapel and fine gardens.

Durham Heritage Centre and Museum

The Durham Heritage Centre is Durham City's only local history museum telling the story of Durham from Mediaeval times to the Twentieth Century. It offers much of interest to tourists and Durham residents alike with displays about Durham as a centre of pilgrimage to the shrine of St. Cuthbert, the City's old theatres only one of which survives in use, Durham people, the world renowned Harrison organ makers, lost industries, mining life and railways. Particular items of interest include models of the Mediaeval city and 19th Century Market Place, the Chancery Court bench, reconstructions of cells from the Victorian prison and the notorious Northgate gaol and Durham School's "Death Chair".

Durham Cathedral

The present Durham Cathedral has stood on this spot as a place of prayer and pilgrimage for over 900 years. It contains the remains of Cuthbert, the saintly seventh-century Bishop of Lindisfarne; it also holds the tomb of Bede, the chronicler of Cuthbert's life and the first English historian. It is one of the most beautiful buildings in England, and part of a World Heritage Site.

Egglestone Abbey

The scant, but charming, remains of a small medieval monastery. The picturesque ruins of Egglestone are located above a bend in the River Tees, a mile south of Barnard Castle. More information about visiting Egglestone Abbey can be found at the English Heritage website.

Raby Castle

Every room in Raby Castle, from the magnificent Barons' Hall, where 700 knights gathered to plot the 'Rising of the North', to the Mediaeval Kitchen which was used until 1954, gives an insight to life throughout the ages. Despite its powerful exterior of towers and fortifications, Raby houses a fabulous art collection and splendid interiors. Treasures include an important collection of Meissen porcelain, tapestries, furnishings and paintings by leading artists such as Munnings, De Hooch, Teniers, Van Dyck and Reynolds.

St Andrew's Church

Ancient ecclesiastical centre with Saxon origins. Points of special interest include the early Norman font, Jacobean pews and pulpit and Mediaeval windows.

St Helen's, West Auckland

Dating from the 12th century, St Helen's features the original door, a 13th Century font, 15th Century civilian brasses and memorials to the Eden family.

St Mary's Church

The cathedral church and shrine of St. Cuthbert from 883AD to 995AD. While at Chester-le-Street Aldred added the Saxon Gloss to the Lindisfarne Gospels.

Northumberland

Alnwick Castle

Alnwick Castle is the home of the Dukes of the Northumberland; a foreboding medieval castle in Northumberland with stunning State Rooms which contain fine furniture and paintings by Canaletto, Van Dyck and Titian.

Belsay Castle

A medieval tower, a house like a Greek temple and stunning gardens. The magnificent 30-acre garden at Belsay Hall, listed Grade I in the Register of Parks and Gardens, is largely the work of two men. Sir Charles Monck created the dramatic Quarry Garden: a series of ravines, corridors and pinnacles. His grandson, Sir Arthur Middleton, enriched it with all manner of rare and exotic plants. More information about visiting Belsay Castle can be found at the English Heritage website.

Brinkburn Priory

Brinkburn Priory was founded around 1135 as a house for the Augustinian canons. The scenic 10-minute walk down from the car park passes some gnarled and ancient trees, which frame the first and finest view of the church.

More information about visiting Brinkburn Priory can be found at the English Heritage website.

Chillingham Castle

The remarkable Chillingham Castle, with its alarming dungeons and torture chamber, has, since the twelve-hundreds, been continuously owned by the family of the Earls Grey and their relations.

Dunstanburgh Castle

A magnificent fourteenth-century castle with a dramatic past. Outlined against the sky, on a basalt crag more than 30 metres (100ft) high, stands the jagged silhouette of this magnificent fourteenth-century castle. The stormy seas that surround the rocky shoreline beneath the walls and the screaming of the sea birds echoing under its cliffs lend the area a distinctly dramatic feel.

More information about visiting Dunstanburgh Castle can be found at the English Heritage website.

Edlingham Castle

Set in a beautiful valley, this complex ruin has defensive features spanning the thirteenth and fifteenth centuries.

More information about visiting Edlingham Castle can be found at the English Heritage website.

Etal Castle

In 1341 Robert Manners was granted a licence to fortify his home to protect against the threat of attack from Scottish raiders. In 1513, when an army of 30,000 Scots led by James IV invaded England, Etal Castle fell to the Scots but the invaders were defeated in the bloody battle which ensued on Flodden Hill.

More information about visiting Etal Castle can be found at the English Heritage website.

Lindisfarne Castle

Perched atop a rocky crag and accessible over a causeway at low tide only, the castle presents an exciting and alluring aspect. Originally a Tudor fort, it was converted into a private house in 1903 by the young Edwin Lutyens. The small rooms are full of intimate decoration and design, the windows looking down upon the charming walled garden planned by Gertrude Jekyll.

For further information about visiting Lindisfarne Priory visit the National Trust website.

Lindisfarne Priory

A holy site since AD635, Lindisfarne remains a place of pilgrimage today. Lindisfarne Priory was the site of one of the most important early centres of Christianity in Anglo-Saxon England.

More information about visiting Lindisfarne Priory can be found at the English Heritage website.

Norham Castle

Norham was one of the strongest of the border castles. Built in the latter half of the twelfth century, it came under siege several times during its 400-year history as a military stronghold. Norham's massive walls proved impenetrable during many of these attacks, but when James IV stormed it in 1513, it fell and was largely destroyed.

More information about visiting Norham Castle can be found at the English Heritage website.

Prudhoe Castle

On a wooded hillside overlooking the River Tyne stands the remains of this formidable castle. Archaeological evidence reveals that a defended enclosure existed on the site as early as the mid-11th century. Today, inside its defensive ditches and ramparts the Georgian manor house is a dominating feature.

More information about visiting Prudhoe Castle can be found at the English Heritage website.

Warkworth Castle

A hillside stronghold and home to the Percy family of Shakespearean fame. The magnificent eight-towered keep of Warkworth Castle stands on a hill high above the River Coquet, dominating all around it.

More information about visiting Warkworth Castle can be found at the English Heritage website.