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County-landscape

. Richly dramatic scenery is to be found here in England's north country, from an open coast to a wild interior. Northumberland is England's northernmost county. Its border butts against the Scottish Lowlands, and the land can be empty and lonely, even bleak, much of it heathery heights and stony hills..

. Against the northern barrier the land softens suddenly and gives way to the undulating Borders of Scotland. Although largely rural the open fields of the county here give a romantic, soft quality and there is a dramatic ending as you cross the high divide of the River Tweed at Berwick.

. it may be little populated and savage in its rural heart, yet the county possesses wonderful scenery such as the Cheviots, as well as little oases of sheltered beauty. Small fields and farms cluster round towns like Morpeth and the castled Alnwick.

. Along the jagged and stony shore castles finger the air and stand out against the sullen North Sea. This is the land the wild men from Scandinavia invaded, pouring in on their dreaded longships to plunder abbeys and towns, making the name of Viking feared through the land. Fishing ports and resorts are now found on the bays and wide sand beaches of the coast.

County-facts

Origin of name: Comes from the Anglo-Saxon meaning "the place of those north of the Huimber".

Name first recorded: 895 as Norohymbraland.

COUNTY TOWN

NEWCASTLE-UPON-TYNE Situated in the centre of the once-great collieries which supplied London and elsewhere with its coal, Newcastle once also exported lead, salt, salmon, butter, and tallow. Today it has undergone a renaissance as its restaurants, clubs and nightspots (and thousands of bright young things partying) testify and is cited as one of the Top 10 fashionable European cities.

Other Towns

ALNWICK Once the county town, it sits on the little river Aine with a fine market square surrounded by piazzas. This is a good centre for exploring the north of the county. Nearby the ancient Alnwick Castle.

BERWICK ON TWEED: see Berwickshire

HALTWHISTLE Fine for seeing some of the best preserved parts of Hadrian's Wall. Nearby Housesteads has the finest stretch of the Roman wall for 72 miles between the Tyne and the Solway Firth built to keep back the barbarians from about AD 124. HEXHAM Beautifully set on the Tyne. The market square has an 18th-century colonnaded shelter.

NEWBIGGIN-BY-THE-SEA Has the world's oldest

surviving Methodist chapel dating back to the mid 18th- century. There is also a display of the history of local methodism which many miners here followed.

SEATON DELAVAL Delightful hall built in 1720 by architect Sir John Vanbrugh. The nearby little port of Seaton Sluice is also worth a visit.

TWEEDMOUTH Attached to Berwick by a 15-arched 17th-century bridge. Famous castle founded by King John, sacked by Scots King William in 1202.

TYNEMOUTH Pleasantly perched on the promontory between the North Sea and Tyne river, there are arresting Benedictine priory ruins here and a local maritime museum.

WALLSEND The last outpost of Hadrian's famous wall. There are excavations here amid the shipyards.

WHIT-LEY BAY Nearby to Newcastle this seaside resort has fine wide sands and amusements.

. Ashington . Blyth . Gosforth . North Shields . Prudhoe .Spittal

COUNTY RIVERS

Nene, Welland, Avon, Swift.

HIGHEST POINT

in the Cheviots at 2,676 feet.

county-calendar

. Castles vie with each other for events in the county. Prudhoe Castle has events of all sorts from beekeeping to archery, Etal Castle presents music, Belsay Castle has flower shows, Chester's Roman Fort has performances.

. May: Northumberland County Show at Corbridge.

. October: the Newcastle Festival.

. Spring; Northumbrian Festival at Morpeth.

. Sheepdog trials take place in summer in the fells.

. New Year's Day: Allendale Town is alight with fires as blazing tubs are carried to mark the end of the year with the

Baal Fire Festival.

. September: Great North Run half-marathon from the central motorway at Newcastle to South Shields over the Tyne in County Durham.

. Autumn: sea angling festival at Whitley Bay and fishing and boating events at Kielder Water.

famous-names

. The powerful Percy family became Dukes of Northumberland and built castles here, notably Alnwick. The present duke resides mostly at Syon Park in Middlesex.

. George Stephenson, railway pioneer, was married not once but twice at Newburn's ancient parish church. His first steam locomotive. Puffing 8if(y, was built here.

. Catherine Cookson has portrayed Northumberland frequently in her prolific novels, for example The Mallen Trilogy.

. Newcastle provided the gritty backdrop for two classic crime movies: Get Carter, starring Michael Caine, and Stormy Monday by Mike Figgis.

. Police frontman Sting is a native of Newcastle.

. Goal-scorer extraordinaire Alan Shearer was born in Newcastle-upon-Tyne.

local government

Most of the County of Northumberland is governed by a two-tier system - Northumberland County Council and the six Districts of Alnwick, Berwick upon Tweed, Blyth Valley, Castle Morpeth, Tynedale and Wansbeck. The most populous part of the County is administered by the two single-tiered metropolitan boroughs of Newcastle upon Tyne and North Tyneside.

intro

LIKE SO MANY of our real counties this most northerlyEnglish shire also displays its sharp contrast with the southeast industrial patch harbouring its great shipbuilding towns based around magnificent Newcastle- upon-Tyne and popular seaside 'workers' playground' resorts such as Whitley Bay, Blyth, Amble by the Sea; and then the glorious huntin'-shootin'-fishin' country based around Hexham, Haltwhistle and the Cheviots. To the north lie the mystical Holy and Fame islands and then there is Berwick! I can never think of Berwick as being part of Northumberland. The Tweed is the natural boundary between Northumberland and Berwickshire, so for me Berwick-on-Tweed is in Berwickshire. Berwick Rangers play in the Scottish Football League after all; I rest my case!

towns-and-villages

There's no mistaking your arrival in the city of Newcastle- upon- Tyne. It's a vital, friendly place and the commercial hub of the northeast, a well-planned centre with spreading suburbs and a good deal of local pride. Several bridges stride across the deep ravine of the Tyne River and carry trains and cars into the central city Crossing the Tyne Bridge by train you enter the station, a notable building in its own right. Opened by Queen Victoria its grandiose portico was part of Newcastle's new town of the early 19th century. Until then Newcastle was a medieval city, and it preserves some ancient buildings, notably remnants of its city wall and a fine castle which dates from the 12th century and has a stone keep. Here the 13th-century Black Gate is approached by steep flights of steps dividing old wooden warehouses. A large parish church until 1882, the city's cathedral, with its distinctive open stonework Scottish style crown spire, St Nicholas is a decorative landmark. Newcastle has a tight centre, best discovered on foot. Surprisingly much good Georgian architecture survives in the central city from visionary redevelopment. I am especially fond of the Theatre Royal which reminds me of London's Drury Lane Theatre. Down by the river along the old quays Victorian warehouses are being recycled into various uses such as restaurants, museums and ship chandlers' shops. The Guildhall is here, and by Castle Stairs and the Norman South Postern are the Moot Hall and County Hall. Grey and Grainger Streets are handsome late-Georgian thoroughfares, planned as a town centre in the 1830s. Newer developments include a civic centre and university, a library and a number of galleries. What is left of Newcastle's once vital shipping industry can be seen on a ferry trip from the Old Quayside. Newcastle has plenty of parks and open spaces.

At the end of the estuary after Wallsend and North Shields comes Tynemouth, with fine old houses and views over the river. Fed by several tributaries the Tyne Valley to the west attracts fishermen. By the Tyne is Hexham with its square towered Norman abbey. This market town has a comfortable sense of security - due to its age perhaps, for St Wilfrid built his first abbey in 674AD and his Chair is one of the oldest things in this ancient, atmospheric place. Stock markets are held here and on the Market Place before the abbey is a 14th-century towered Moot Hall, with its near neighbour the Manor Office, built of Roman stone. (It's now a local museum.) The town has many Georgian houses.

In the nearby country are a maze of little lanes and rural cut de sacs leading to hamlets, in the Derwent Valley is Blanchlands, with one-time miners' stone cottages around a green and pub. The parish church was once part of an Augustinian abbey. South is Allendale. The dales are quiet places now that lead is no longer mined here and this former mining village has become a centre for skiing and pony trekking. Corbridge has historic houses, many using Roman stones, and there's a complete gateway in the church tower. When the Tyne river is low the foundations of a Roman bridge can be seen.

North from Newcastle the views are a mixture of industrial sites and mining villages, interspersed with green spaces. Inland Ponteland has a fortified manor, now an inn. Morpeth is a market town, surrounded by farms yet within easy reach of the moors and coast. The town hall dates from 1718 and was designed by Vanbrugh. Nearby Mitford gave its name to the Mitford girls whose family began here - unusually it possesses a castle, manor house and mmansion, showing the upward progress of the family. Beyond the pastureland of the coastal plain Cambo with Wallington Hall (its park has stone heads of fabulous beasts from a medieval London gate) and Rothbury are in the open 'forests' before the Cheviot Hills. Here the Coquet river runs down via Coquetdale to the sea by Amble, a sandy beach resort, where seals visit and eider ducks neston Coquet Island.

Along the shore notable castles include towered Bamburgh, near Holy Island, and Dunstanburgh, and Castle Warkworth. Medieval monasteries on the mainland and the islands close to the shore such as Lindisfarne were easy pickings: having given the area fame and a holy aura they were also known to be very wealthy. From one of the islands the monks carried the body of St Cuthbert to his resting place at Durham.

Fish is landed and prepared at Craster's smokehouses where you can sample the famous kippers. Another local dish is Pan Haggerty, a layered pie of potato, onion and grated cheese, fried on both sides, or browned 'before the fire' (or under the grill!)

local-history

Northumberland is part of the old kingdom of Northumbria which stretched between Edinburgh right the way down to the Tees. The county's historical roots run deep with many ancient sites. They range from early Iron Age forts (a large example is at Yeavering, where the capital of an Anglo- Saxon king has been discovered, and at

Doddington) and Roman occupation (Chew Green Roman camp, the town of Corstopitum at Corbridge, while Hadrian's Wall starts its western progress from Wallsend and marches through Denton in Newcastle) to pele towers (at Staward, Corbridge and Ancroft) and religious foundations along the islands off its coast.

In Newcastle, which started its life as a Roman frontier town, are museums with examples of local antiquities going back to 6000BC, models of Hadrian's Wall, a geological gallery and local natural history exhibits.

In the border lands of the Cheviots where the distinctive breed of sheep with white faces quietly graze, the Scots and English fought for centuries. Norham's great 12th- century keep guarded approaches from the Tweed, and near Branxton is the bloody battle site of Flodden Field. The scene of this border clash in 1513 is in the village of Branxton and a granite cross is supposed to mark the spot on which Scottish King James IV was slain. His body was taken to Berwick where it was embalmed, encased in local lead and then transported to London. This northern part of the county was also reputedly the home to a number of minstrels who attached themselves to different marauding barons and told stories of raids and forays in hauntingmelodic verses - which were passed on by word of mouth.

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