Alnwick is at the heart of Northumberland. It is home to Alnwick Castle; Alnwick Gardens; Barter Books (where the “Keep Calm and Carry On” poster was found); and now the Challenging Learning head offices! The surrounding countryside is famous for its unspoilt beauty and is one of the most picturesque areas in England (though we might be a bit biased). Typical of Northumberland are the long sandy beaches, well preserved medieval castles, border villages, Hadrian's wall (marking the edge of the Roman Empire) and Lindisfarne, the Holy Island where the Vikings first landed in Britain.
There has been a castle recorded on this site for 1,000 years. For the last 700 years, Alnwick Castle has been home to the Percy family - it remains today one of the largest inhabited castles in the UK and welcomes over 800,000 visitors per year. Ralph Percy (born 1956) the 12th Duke, has been Duke of Northumberland since 1995. He and the Duchess, Jane Percy, still live at Alnwick Castle with their four children and use it as their family home, opening it to the public for seven months of the year. Despite this long history, many visitors are more excited by the fact that it was used for many of the Hogwarts scenes in the Harry Potter films and for settings used in Downtown Abbey, Transformers, The Blackadder, Elizabeth and Robin Hood Prince of Thieves.
The Alnwick Garden opened to the public in 2001 and is one of the world’s most ambitious gardens. The Duchess of Northumberland’s vision for a forgotten plot is now a truly 21st century experience full of imagination, inspiration and fun. Designed by Jacques and Peter Wirtz, The Garden is a wonderful combination of spaces, themes, quirkiness and play. The Treehouse is similarly magnificent and now there is a high level ropes course with many school holiday and weekend activities for all the family. Most importantly, Challenging Learning often run workshops in the Garden rooms, making attendance even more inspiring!
The historic capital of the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Northumbria, Bamburgh Castle is often referred to as “The King of Castles.” Believed to have been occupied for over 1000 years the castle has evolved from a wooden palisade to the formidable fortress it is today. One of the most iconic images in the British Isles, the castle is impressive whether approached from the quintessentially-English cricket ground in front of it or the magnificent Bamburgh Beach that has been used countless times in TV and film to portray rugged, wild British beauty at its best.
The Holy Island of Lindisfarne is a stunning part of the Northumberland coastline. It was the landing site for the first Viking invasion of Britain in AD 793. Despite the lack of a fair fight (Viking hoard versus local monks drunk on home-brewed honey mead), we’ve not only forgiven and forgotten but we’ve actually borrowed many of the local dialect words directly from the Norse language (I’m gan hjem o’er the beck to see the bairns). And of course Challenging Learning is making the journey in the opposite direction every single week. Though we come in peace …
40 minutes south of us is Hadrian's Wall, a spectacular World Heritage Site. Hadrian’s Wall was the north-west frontier of the Roman empire for nearly 300 years. It was built by the Roman army on the orders of the emperor Hadrian following his visit to Britain in AD 122. At 73 miles (80 Roman miles) long, it crossed northern Britain from Wallsend on the River Tyne in the east to Bowness-on-Solway in the west. The most famous of all the frontiers of the Roman empire, Hadrian’s Wall was made a World Heritage Site in 1987.
A few miles south of Alnwick is the magnificent Warkworth Castle, built on a rocky spur encircled by a loop of the River Coquet. The castle developed around two main elements – a high artificial mound, or motte, and a fortified enclosure, or bailey. A hermitage for a priest lies nearby in the surrounding park.
One hour north of Alnwick by train is Edinburgh, Scotland's compact, hilly capital. It has a medieval Old Town and elegant Georgian New Town with gardens and neoclassical buildings. Looming over the city is Edinburgh Castle, home to Scotland’s crown jewels and the Stone of Destiny, used in the coronation of Scottish rulers. Arthur’s Seat is an imposing peak in Holyrood Park with sweeping views, and Calton Hill is topped with monuments and memorials.