Have a broom-ball at Alnwick castle, the jewel of Northumberland

Alnwick Castle is the films' Hogwarts

‘Harry Potter land was a great day out’
‘Harry Potter land?’, asked the boy's mother amused.
‘Yeah it was really good’

Amongst non Potterheads, aka Dursleys, Alnwick - pronounced ‘Annick’ - Castle is known as ‘The Windsor of the North’.

Alnwick Castle Keep from the inner Bailey at sunset
Alnwick is the largest inhabited castle in Britain after Windsor Castle

Buying Tickets

I’m no fan of Harry Potter but apparently ‘Evanesco’ is a disappearing spell. Someone must have uttered that phrase and pointed at my wallet as I entered the grounds of Alnwick Castle as the cash inside it vanished.
Tripadvisor. Muggles eh? They’re so funny.

True witches and wizards can just Confund the admission staff and stroll in - of course I would never do such a thing.

I enjoyed the Castle as much as the wonderful Warner Brothers Studio tour, Alnwick filled me up and cost considerably less.

Alnwick Castle for Muggles

But for many Muggles the castle isn’t cheap. Alnwick hosts a skilled pantomime performer guild, in addition to their inexpensive historical tour brethren. If you are Weasley stretched, your attitude needs to be ‘how much can I get out of this?’ and run at everything back to back.

I did 2 tours back to back but left activities on the table, there’s a clutch of museums military history, house staff, the sad stories of lost men described in Alnwicks’ contribution to WWI, the archaeological museum hosts the most important collection of Meissen porcelain in Britain.

So for those looking for something other than Potter, there is ample to amuse if you get organised. However it is best to visit outside Potter week, or you risk feeling it’s all for wannabe Quidditch Internationals.

Tickets are 10% cheaper online in advance.
If you buy Garden tickets at the same time there’s a discount and it makes it a full day out. Although you might regret buying Gardens tickets in advance if it turn out it’s bucketing with rain.

Free return visits

If you get the Castle tickets validated by the desk to the side of the payment desk or on their website, they'll allow you to return as many times as you wish within the year. You have to validate the ticket within 2 weeks of purchase.

With trains to worry about there were a few things I missed, and with varied themed weeks it’s worth the bother.

If you want the option of enjoying 2 August ‘Potter weeks’, then it might be best to go towards the end of Potter week, so your year of free visits probably includes the beginning of Potter week next year.

Potter Week?

Blimey, there was so much excitement it’s was like the Quidditch world cup.

Potter week, with Harry Potter inspired events, occurs the week before Autumn term starts, and includes quite a number of additional wizardry activities. However there is a good number all year around and the Staterooms tours run outwidth the fevered masses of Potter week.

Alnwick Castle may raise it’s drawbridge on you Alnwick castle is fully open from April till the end of October. Then it shuts.

From February to April it’s only open for selected dates. Closing gives the Percy family some peace and prevents the grounds being churned to mud.

Alnwick Castle broomstick lessons with Harry Potter's Madam Hooch flying on a broom
How Potter...

Broomstick flying lessons - 25 mins

FREE but ticketed. Alnwick Castle is infamous and beloved by Potter-heads for its tongue in cheek broomstick flying lessons. I can attest they are epic fun.

Alnwick magical professors perform with energy and brio. It’s a wonderful satire on Professor Hooches blunt on-with-business manner. In the movies Hooch’s down-to-earth (up in the sky) class marks a neat contrast with Professor Flitwick’s Charms class where the class go to great great exertions to levitate a simple feather while Hooch just says “UP!” at her broom.

You will be issued with a T.W.I.G.S (Trainee Wizards Intermediate Glider and Swooper).

You will then learn how to:
summon your broom and make it levitate turn corners - broomsticks are for getting from A to B but sometimes there’s a mountain in the way. Discover your broom’s unique purr and the noise a broomstick should never, ever make. How to tread air without flailing into freefall.

No foolish wand waving nor fancy ancient languages are required for broom mastery under Harry & Hooch. However, like all broomstick classes it is very very dangerous, which is probably why the Castle is so beloved by Potterheads, so few visitors survive, it is a cherished accomplishment. It may also be why so many parents are drawn into purchasing their children brooms (£4) as a momento in the castle shop.

All of the skills learned are tested in a perilous final exam - Accio Death. It is marvellous and Alnwick castle is the Duke of Castellian-Instagram.

You need to book upon arrival because they book out, during Potter-week by as early as 11am. If you’re a self-conscious adult you can always book and flake later and somebody will be bouncing on their toes to take your spot. Alnwick Castle is the land where us Kidults can fly, foolishness creates memories.

Alnwick Castle tickets allow you to revisit for free
The booked-out Broomstick class dismay is, I suspect, the reason the Castle tickets allow you to revisit within the year, so if you weren’t shrewd enough to arrive at opening time and book a broomstick lesson immediately, you can return a bit more McGonagall.

Alnwick Castle's professor Albus Dumbledore from the Harry Potter magic show
Gillette, the best a man can get. Wizards, ah, dunno

Harry Potter & Dumbledore magic show

There were 2 magic tricks, a large audience this is a bit of pantomime magic and the duo were excellent at managing the crowd, with some charming Potter-verse presentation, every sitting child who reacted to them was acknowledged and their reaction included.

One of My favourite bits, that doesn't spoil anything, is when they played Dursley detection, luring them into unmasking themselves they instructed the po-faced to go to the cafe for a cup of coffee, 'you'll enjoy it more', and so mean spirits were conquered.

Headmaster Dumbledore is trying to teach a class of eager students to slice a banana without peeling it, same principle can be applied to Deatheaters. But Master Potter is present & mischief afoot...

It’s not always on, check their events for what's coming up.

Dragon’s Quest - all year round

A walk through experience with a mind bending challenge, the combination of innocent church choir singing and disco-ball skull extravaganza is truly spine tingling.

A Dragon at Alnwick Castle's Dragon Quest
Goblins & Dragons eh? We know how that ends

The dragon has changed recently, apparently the ministry of magic took an interest, the old one had eaten too many children and it was released in the Alps, where the local witches get a bit singed trying to make Dragon's cheese. Dragon’s cheese, wth?

Alnwick Castle Wizard Trail

This was available during Potter week and the map for it was dispensed at Artisans court, besides the queue for Dragon’s Quest.

The challenge is to find magical items scattered around the castle, then locate Wizard Gideon Gisbright, and ask him the amusing question on the reverse of the map. Gideon is hilarious. It’ll keep kids amused and kidults energised as the trail takes them to visit the State rooms, the Postern & Constable towers, all about the castle. And of course, you’ll develop boldness asking every staff member where the heck Professor Gideon is hiding.

There is no prize, apparently the prize is knowledge. Yay.

The Castle has it’s own performer guild and this is a fruit.

Alnwick Castle ‘Harry Potter tour’

45 minutes FREE, aka The film tour. We saw Hagrid’s first hut from and it really is nestled hard up against the ‘Forbidden forest’. We were told how nutty Michael Bay was when he was filming Transformers around the castle. We learned director Christopher Columbus strategy to suitable terrify the kids for a Hogwarts night shoot during the filming of the Philosopher’s Stone.

Harry Potter's David Bradley aka Filch in front of Alnwick Castle
Actor David 'Filch' Bradley was involved in the plot

How the Alnwick landscape added a meter to Hagrid’s height during close ups. Little 12 year old Matthew Lewis had a fear of flying, so of course we followed his aerial passages about the walls of Alnwick castle, atop his broomstick which was really made to fly over them; it was easy to picture - watch out Neville! We traced the passage of Ron’s failing blue car to being Whomped by the angry tree. All of this was accompanied by charming stories I shalt not betray. Well OK, here’s one, but you better buy me a Butter Beer…

If you just shouted at the screen ‘It was Arthur’s flying car’, what are you? A nut? You should come on my Potter tour.

To give you a taste…

Alnwick Castle Keep sits on a mound called Winstone Hill after Ray Winstone
The Keep's grass verge is called 'Winstone Hill'

During the filming of Robin of Sherwood, Ray Winstone took a nap here during a break in him being required. He napped with his feet up the hill head down. When he woke an hour later, the blood wasn’t where it should be and he could no longer walk.

Winstone played a knight and had stipped down to his chainmail. He’d snoozed in pleasant summer’s sunshine and got burnt red. Through his chainmail. His faced was spattered with red marks like he had the pox; the makeup staff weren’t pleased as they had to fix this every single day during the several weeks of shooting still left.

Full details of the Alnwick Castle Harry Potter filming locations.

Alnwick Castle Keep with a crest of the Gryffindor lion holding a flag of the Hogwarts houses
Left: the Percy’s family lion holding a flag is in the movies just long enough to make you think it’s a Gryffindor lion holding a flag of the Hogwarts’ houses

The historical tour - 45 minutes FREE

Well there was at least one secret passage snaking around the castle, in which people whistled. Maybe they’ll excavate it and open it someday but for the moment the story is exciting.

Then there was the Duke who in the 1600s who allegedly plotting against the King and was imprisoned in the Tower of London for nearly the whole rest of his life. And this was a great relief because the Duke really couldn’t abide his wife.

Although Alnwick town was raided and ravaged by the Scots on several occasions, the gates of Alnwick castle, with it’s many layered defences in the bartizan have never been breached.

The picturesque keep, in front of which Professor Hooch held her flying lesson, has a moat, but sadly it has never seen water. In defensive times the whole Outer Bailey courtyard would have been mud, including the moat, but the moat was lined with metal spikes which would have considerably slowed any massed advance on the Keep’s walls and bought archers time to cut them down.

Apparently a few years ago this clock tower - a giant stone water butt in disguise, exploded, flooding the grounds and the Castle's Keep finally got a water filled moat. They could do tours on lilos and kayaks.

State room tours 45 minutes

These only run outside July & August, so outside the summer holidays when there are so many visitors tours would lengthen queues to the state rooms.

There’s also 10 minute historical talks in the Staterooms during term time, using features of the rooms as a jumping off point to tell larger stories.

Archery - charged

The English can be proud of their longbows, their use helped the English conquer bits of France in the 1300s during the hundred years war. The advantage they gave us is where 2 finger swearing salute comes from.

The French hated the formidable English archers, or so the English aristocracy put about. They said any archer who was caught would have their Index and middle fingers chopped off.

So legend has it the English archers, especially in sieges, would taunt the French enemy by raising those two fingers in the ‘Two-Fingered Salute’ meaning “You haven’t cut off my fingers!”

Have a crack at our ancient skill, inside the atmospheric Outer Bailey.

Gamekeeper Hagrid used a crossbow, which I suspect is a far easier weapon to handle, with it’s trigger release it’s gun like.

The battle of the barbican

Hilariously - I’m living up here in Scotland - they run school classes where kids dressed as Scots in Saltire crosses under the Earl of Douglas are armed with foam swords and ‘safety arrows’ and attempt to breach the Castle’s fortified barbican entrance, while Duke Percy’s knights defend. Apparently the losers go to the dungeons. You may take my life, but you will never take my ........!

Alnwick Castles’ iconic feature

Even when everyone is asleep, the Castle is guarded by stone men guarding the battlements. In the winter’s gloam sneaky Scot’s scouts might mistake the ramparts as heavily manned around the clock. Call them 14th century Scots-crows.

The bulk of them are younger, 250 years, from the first Duchess. Whatever was she to do with this vast income she raised from her serf farmers? Improve their accomodation? Build baths for them? Places of education or entertainment? What rot that would be.

She bought little men wherever she went to decorate the walls of her castle, upto 100 linning the walls, about the size of a Goblin. Ready for McGonagall to motivate them for one last stand against the Dark Lord.

An Alnwick Castle Gnome hiding behind a wall
This Gnome is hiding behind the walls - coward

The Duke & Duchess are now fugitives from Dumbledore’s Army

As Harry Potter tourism took off they were imprisoned inside the 150 room keep and walls. The Duke couldn't leave the house without fording crowds and with no private Keep garden the kids just stayed inside playing X-box. So every summer they decamp to the Scottish borders.

In their absence their castle earns a great deal of money, over £10 million from admissions alone, because the Castle does a fantastic job running the castle for everyones’ enjoyment.

One of the few things the family has which the public cannot see, is the Robert Adam interiors. He remodelled the castle in the 1800s after a stretch of it being uninhabited. Robert Adam is one of Scotland’s most famous architects responsible for much of neo-classical Britain.

JK Rowling chose Robert Adam’s majestic Hopetoun house for her 40th birthday bash and on most of my tours we visit his fabulous Old College. We also start outside his impressive General Register house, sitting incomplete for a stretch it was once hailed as the "largest pigeon loft in Europe".

Artisans' courtyard, what’s all that then?

Magical Beasts

To the right of the entrance to Artisan's courtyard is a menagerie of magical beasts, including:

In Harry’s second year, during Transfiguration with professor McGonagall, Hufflepuff Hannah Abbott transfigured an Armadillo into a goblet of water. Vera Verto!

Ron had to transfigure a rat. His hopeless goblet was furry with a tail.
Hannah was more successful.

She married Neville Longbottom and became landlady of the Leaky Cauldron. The tricky spell would come in handy for Hannah keeping the Cauldron stocked, given the place looks like it enjoys a healthy rodent population.

Hotspur

Sir Henry Percy was born in 1364 at Alnwick Castle. A late medieval nobleman he was knighted in 1377. In 1385 he accompanied King Richard II on a mounted expedition to Scotland. The Scot’s Borderers nicknamed him ‘hotspur’ - “a tribute to his speed in advance and readiness to attack”.

Sir Henry 'Hotspur' Percy on his horse at Alnwick Castle
The most dynamic and magnificent statue of Hotspur, but there is another...

Acquitting himself well, the crown entrusted him with military missions to France even being put in command of a naval force. He was made Knight of the garter.

He went on a diplomatic mission to Cyprus then was appointed governor of Bordeaux. He galloped home, briefly, to join Richard II expedition to Ireland.

Naturally he was beloved by the King who showered in honours, favours and grants.

Tiring of this, Percy sided with the future Henry IV joining a rebellion against Richard II. Installing him as the new King. It worked, and he was lavishly rewarded with jobs and lands.

After some time at his new duties defending the realm, Henry was in Percy’s opinion, a bit of an amateurly antagonistic king. So the Percys rebelled, taking up arms against Henry.

As described by Shakespeare Percy died at the battle of Shrewsbury in 1403 against the King, when the Percy army failed to unite in time for battle. Although Percy's’ forces were vastly outnumbered by the King’s army, the battle was intense; legend says Hotspur was cut down by an arrow when he opened his visor for a better view it sliced straight through his eye into his brain. Upon his death the Percy forces routed.

King Henry being brought his noble knights body after the battle is said to have wept. Hotspur was buried with honour. However rumours circulated that the Legendary Hotspur was alive, the King had his body dug up and displayed. Propped upright between two millstones in Shrewsbury market.

A few days late his head was chopped off and sent to York where it was impaled on a city gate, Micklegate bar. His four quarters were sent to London, Bristol, Newcastle upon Tyne and Chester for display, and then sent to his widow. Heavy parcels for the poor Percy owl.

Hotspur’s legacy

Tottenham Hotspur, the London premiere league football club, takes it’s name from Henry Percy. The club’s first ground was on Tottenham Marshes and was neighbour to land owned by Henry’s descendants.

Just beyond the Castle gates the Duke and town council have funded another statue to celebrate the Scot bashing knight to celebrate 700 years of the Percy family at Alnwick. So detailed is the statue it was finished a year late, with the sculptor craving each individual link in the chain mail.

Hotspur is cast in bronze and cost £60,000, he stand 4.3m high, so massive is the bronze sculpture it had to be made in four parts and welded together, an amusing twist given the real man was quartered by the King following his death.

Sir Henry 'Hotspur' Percy statue in Alnwick town
Henry Percy, visor open, awaiting an arrow or beer can

The present Duke, Ralph Percy, spends his holidays with his family, an exile from his busy Castle living in the Scottish borders his descendant once terrorised.

Capability Brown finished what God started

He took a day off when there was still work to do. What a bum.

The grounds were designed by Capability Brown, who came from nearby, but that’s his 007 name, his true name was Lancelot. He is a famous landscape designer to aristocracy in the 1700s who rode to the rescue of aristocrat’s landscape dreams. Today he is hailed England's greatest gardener, but don’t fall asleep just yet.

Repeatedly doing a good job he would be recommended and rich folk would meet with him for a brief, they would paint their fancies out, likely often borrowing from Ancient Greece who they thought had achieved the height of civilisation and sophistication, the only thing comparable to our own glorious empire. Then Lancelot would respond, ‘I believe the landscape has Great Capability for that’, he said this so frequently he was nicknamed Capability Brown.

He designed the view the Keep enjoys of the river Aln, which was actually itself widened and slowed by a Weir to create a reflective surface for the castle newly restored by Robert Adam.

Alnwick
According to our history guide, it was the pleasure of the Duchess Percy 1st to sail genteely and this was not altogether overlooked in these amendments

Alnwick Castle is a school!

Alnwick Castle's Alchemist brews some potions in Artisans Courtyard
A special school

There are dorms and classrooms used by students on exchange from St Cloud State University Minnesota. This began in 1981 when the Duke’s father met the headmaster of the school at a conference, the headmaster of St Cloud’s said he’d really like his students to get an immersion in British culture and the Duke said ‘Why that’s so strange! I just so happen to have an empty wing in my Castle’. And so the friendship began.

I had someone on my Potter Tour who was part of the St Cloud's first year to visit, she and some friends ventured down into the basement, which was supposed to be beyond limits to the visiting students, and she found a toilet much like Moaning Myrtle’s. An underground passage to the dining hall at the Keep was discovered nearby so it was all very Chamber of Secrets.

St Cloud’s students got a touch irate though during filming for Harry Potter when they were commanded to stay away from and duck beneath the windows. They were imprisoned.

In April they dared crack open a window for a taste of the Northumberland Spring air, mushy paper snow, from the film’s snow cannon, came drifting in from the filming, wedging itself behind radiators, cupboards, shelves. It was being prised out for months and months after.

The Alnwick Vampire

There was one, it was dug up. Watch Tony Robinson's 45 minute documentary Gods and Monsters. Or around Halloween Alnwick Castle has a splendid array of spooky events many touching upon the vampire legend, and other activities like potion making which you cannae enjoy during Potter week.

Entrance to the Staterooms, the arches were used by the golden trio betwixt lessons at Hogwarts

Alnwick's Italianate state rooms

Sadly I wasn’t allowed to take photos, but here’s some anyway!

Suitably opulent it was chosen by Downton Abbey for their Christmas Special and it was a dash ridiculous, the character’s introduce their visitors to the rooms of their home, while the camera drinks it all in, you can almost feel the producers hugging themselves at their discovery.

The roof of the dining room decided to leak during a feast scene which wasn’t so great. But it was a blessing for the producers.

As an adult used to museum castle and palaces what grabbed me was the family photos littered around, you can see it is lived in outside summer.

Alnwick Castle has the greatest collection of Italian paintings in Northern Britain and the priceless Cucci cabinets, originally the possession of Louis XIV of France at the Palace of Versailles. For the kids they hide toy lions around for them to count to keep them occupied.

Walking sticks in Alnwick's Staterooms, animals are carved into the crook
The craftsmanship of the canes is astonishing

Apart from the eye popping shiny opulence of the marbled entrance hall, what struck me most was this...

Alnwick Castle chapel in the Staterooms
Alnwick Castle chapel

It feels like it’s been untouched for centuries, with gauzy flags disintegrating to dust in fingers of sun. Maybe the Percy family decided to follow the Dark Lord. They wear long sleeves in their family photos.

Alniwck castle car parking

To make a day of it, outside Potter week, it’s best to buy a ticket to Alnwick Gardens. However the preferred car park is the classic Alnwick castle one, as the remote ‘Alnwick Gardens’ car park will involve more walking.


    Alnwick Castle LNER railway poster

Trains to Alnmouth

Alnmouth station, 6.6km from Alnwick Castle, is on the East Coast mainline from London to Edinburgh, it has service about once an hour.

Buses from Alnmouth station to Alnwick

The X18 and X20 travel from Alnmouth station to Alnwick.

Set your arrival date and time at Alnmouth station in google maps.

If you buy plusbus when booking your rail tickets you will get discounted all day bus travel. The bus journey is about 11 minutes to Alnwick bus station (should be obvious), then another 8 minutes walk to the castle.

If like me you worry ask the driver for the Castle and to tell you went to get off.

Taxis

They loiter outside the station during train arrivals.

The one way cost from Alnmouth to Alnwick should be about £10.

The taxi drivers will encourage you to book a return trip, claiming the taxi rank in Alnwick is unreliable. But there are several taxi firms around Alnwick, you could enjoy security and flexibility by phoning for one when you decide to head off, and that would give them some notice. Googles' list of Alnwick taxis.

The Alnwick taxi rank is on the shop layby around here.

Cycling from Alnmouth to Alnwick Castle

Robust bicycles with a pannier rack can be rented at Alnmouth station. How good is the world?

Or you can phone LNER and ask to take them on the train. They have limited space so do this early and try and phone in the morning or be prepared for a 30 minute wait on the phone. If they don’t have space on your scheduled train ask to be moved to the next available train, and they’re obliged to do this.

The blue route zipping amongst country fields and along an abandoned railway is very pleasant, I did it on a skinny tyred road bike.

Alnwick Castle coach tours from Edinburgh

If you're booking last minute these maybe the best bet. Last minute trains can cost a lot and a good tour company will give you some historical chat enroute. I would.

Here's Tripadvisors round up - scroll down to "Ways to Experience Alnwick Castle". Rabbies is the largest minibus operator in Edinburgh and I've heard happy stories but some of the others visit Lindsfarne island which looks cool. Some of them put more effort into their tour description which might speak to the effort they put into their tour.

Please click through and book on their website or they loose 20% too Tripadvisor. Multinationals are great but help locals benefit from tourism too.

Is Alnwick Castle worth the Dragons & Galleons?

You can buy hoodies in the Castle shop proclaiming ‘Alnwick Castle, probably the best Castle in Britain’, only £15. Alnwick eats boredom and sh--s Instagram. It probably is.

Thank you so much to @alnwickcastle for sending out a little owl to replace the one that flew the nest on our way to France. Very happy little girl, and fantastic customer care. pic.twitter.com/9UEmCHldp4

— Ben Taylor (@brtdesigncouk) 8 August 2018

If this blog helps you I'd love to have you along on my Potter tour in Edinburgh, tracing the inspirations of JK Rowling's rich fantasy epic.

Consider a loving Potter Tour

Nearby

If it's summer & you're spending the whole day here, not on a coach tour, then fabulous Alnwick Gardens is not to be missed.
Alnwick's Treehouse restaurant is like a fantasy, or the Burrow.

If it rains here's some other stuff to do in Alnwick.
Fancy staying in the Hogshead? You can, accomodation in Alnwick, from the fabulous to the Weasley ready.

Credits

Alnwick Castle's website  for photos mine cannae match.
Alnwick Castle's Instagram, because every blog needs some rainbow vomit. Sorry love, rainbow-love.

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