Sat at the top of a hill in Northumberland, overlooking a village near the coastline, is Warkworth Castle.
Home to the Percy family of Northumberland, Warkworth Castle was built as a fortress for one of the most powerful families in England during the whole Medieval Period. Valiant knights such as Henry Percy (known as Sir Harry Hotspur) fought and died in wars between England and Scotland. The ninth Earl of Northumberland was imprisoned in the Tower of London for having links to a conspirator of the famous Gunpowder Plot in 1605.
Within the family and in Warkworth itself there were murders, rebellion against the Monarch, land taken away and given back and Warkworth Castle and grounds left in disrepair over the centuries. I think it’s safe to say if these ruins could talk, they would tell an incredible story.
Walking through the Gate Tower, I can imagine how safe being inside of this stronghold would feel and how terrifying attacking would be for the enemy. It is so well preserved. The perfect entrance to transport you back to a rich and tempestuous time in history.
I was then in a wide open space surrounded by ruins, with a distinctive Castle Keep towering above at the far end of the site. To my left hand side were the remains of once majestic towers. This was my first place to explore.
Not far from this is another much more distinctive tower. The Lion Tower brandishes the famous lion of the Percy crest of arms. This is the proud mark of the family living on until today. I find it amazing to stand where people have been for hundreds of years looking at the same (if slightly worn) sights. Looking at the lion crest on this tower gave me that same feeling.
Going past the towers, you can stand in what once was the Great Hall. A huge room with a kitchen down towards the Castle Keep side. Dukes and Earls would sit and eat at the far end and then people would be placed down the room in rank, with the lowest ranked near the kitchen.
We walked around the Outer Ward (wide space near the Gate Tower) and up into the battlements. You can see chimney breasts where fires would have been lit, stairs and narrow slits where arrows would have been fired during war.
The thing that struck me was the impressive architecture of the time. I think of Medieval buildings as low and simple but these were a real show of the wealth and power of this family.
At the back of the tower with the spire, you can see the structure of the building work. The curved stones and evidence of a spiral staircase were fascinating for me.
There were so many passages and stairs to explore. I never knew what to expect around each corner.
The whole site was abundant with different views through arches and from above when you were higher. Photographs were framed by ruins and the mist we had at the beginning of our tour added to the atmosphere.
The huge walls that are now exposed show how deeply defensive this site was and indicate its existence as a fortification.
Between the Gate Tower/Outer Ward and the Castle Keep, there once stood a church. Thought to have been built at the request of the fourth Earl, you can see the cruciform shape from the Castle Keep. You are able to walk through the underground passage, which was the only direct access.
As you enter the Castle Keep, you will find a map on the wall at the right hand side (see below) This shows how the Keep is constructed. It is a warren of rooms and passages.
There were several service room areas such as wine cellars and the tank room inside of the Castle Keep and we wandered around looking in each room. I’ve included a few of my favourite areas below.
First is the Great Hall. I can imagine the celebrations and entertainment that would have taken place as well as sombre times during many wars. I learnt when I was researching that Shakespeare used Warkworth Castle as the setting for many scenes of his Henry IV plays. This is very exciting for an English graduate!
The spaces inside were much bigger than I thought, as shown by the huge fire above. Everything was dominant and built to last. Its amazing to walk into rooms that have been there for over 600 years.
Next, the Chapel. This was my favourite place due to the ornate windows and some decorations that remain. This period chronicles a deeply religious time and often conflicts regarding religion in the country.
Lastly, I loved going into the private chambers of the Percy family. It is only a space with no roof, but standing where knights and nobility once lived and made history is what I love about English heritage.
The views from the Great Tower are stunning and on a good day you can frame photographs of the coastline through the window openings.
A photo of me at Warkworth Castle braving some rain in a waterproof. Still smiling and having a great time
Wrap up warm and be ready for some rain. It is coastal and based in the North East of England, plus you are entering ruins and spaces with little cover.
Some of the site (Duke’s Rooms) and a boat trip down the river to the Hermitage, are not open all of the time. These two places are open Sundays, Mondays and Bank Holidays. I went on a Friday and didn’t see the rest. I will definitely go back and incorporate them next time.
I drove along the A1 motorway then across towards Amble. There is also a Coastal Route which is lovely. It is very quick using the motorway and there are also public transport options. More information on directions can be found at this link.
I would recommend this English Heritage site to anyone for its history, architecture and stunning location. It is a must for a trip through the North East of England.
Have you been to Warkworth Castle? What was your favourite part?