The Magnificent Ancient Bamburgh Castle
PHOTO: Incredible Bamburgh Castle (Courtesy Flickr)
Near the northernmost part of England sits Northumberland, a rugged bit of landscape known for its sweeping moors, sparsely populated landscape and as the site of numerous battles. There, on the coast, sits Bamburgh Castle, which was once the historic capital of the region and today represents one of the most important Anglo-Saxon archeological sites on record. In fact, the castle sits on rock that has seen more than 6,000 years of human history, and the grounds have been continuously occupied for more than 20 centuries.
And it is on the itinerary for CIE Tours International.
Dating back to prehistoric times, nomadic hunters and gatherers combed the land following wild animals and foraging from whatever they could find. It wasn’t settled until 800 BC when the Votadini tribe, one of the first organized tribes in Britain, made Bamburgh their home. Thanks to its position atop a rocky crag, those who inhabit Bamburgh have a view stretching miles in several directions, a fact that was not overlooked by people in the centuries to follow.
Centuries later, the Romans took up residence and Bamburgh served as an important military spot through the Roman Conquest. Its recorded history didn’t begin until well into the 6th century, however, when Bamburgh, then named “Din Guayrdi” (Din meaning fortress), was chosen as the Royal capital of Northumbria. It was also then that Ida the Flambearer, first of the Anglo-Saxon kings of Bernicia, laid the first timbers of a stockade that would eventually become Bamburgh Castle.
Upon Ida’s passing, the fortress was handed down to his son, King Aethelfrith, who wasn’t known for his benevolence. Quite the opposite in fact, and his trail of destruction earned him the moniker “the ravening wolf.” Despite his less than charitable acts, he named the fortress Bebbanburgh, after his wife Bebba, and it is from this that the castle’s name Bamburgh first took root.
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His sons Oswald and Oswi fled to safety upon his death, but it was Oswald, who had since converted to Christianity, that returned in 634 AD. Being a very different man than his father, he ruled with a gentle hand. Unfortunately, this period of relative calm wasn’t to last and the region experienced upheaval and invasions through the Vikings and William the Conqueror.
Construction (or reconstruction) of the fortress began in earnest in 1131 and over the coming centuries, like all royal houses, it saw the good, the bad and the ugly. Henry III saw fit to install glass windows and chimneys rather than holes in the roof, but poor Henry VI saw its walls come crashing down during the War of the Roses.
The castle would go on to play home to a hospital, a free school for underprivileged children, a Coast Guard station, and was on its way to becoming a convalescent home for retired gentlemen when the then-owner Lord Armstrong passed away in 1900. By this point, this industrialist and self-made millionaire had outfitted the castle with central heat and air, paving the way for his great nephew, the second Lord Armstrong, to convert the castle to a family home, which it remains to this day.
Today, people can tour the castle and its grounds, exploring 14 public areas with an experienced guide, and view an archaeological dig to boot. Visitors can even sample Northumbrian specialties with a meal in the Clock Tower Tea Rooms. The castle also makes for a fairy-tale setting for weddings and receptions. Here, a bride and groom can be a king and queen, if only for a day.
More by Kristina Rundquist
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