A spellbinding break in Alnwick
Experience magic in the far north of England where an enchanting landscape and activities await. Visitors will find a castle used as the location of Hogwarts, instantly recognizable to Harry Potter fans. There’s also a magical play village that celebrates Christmas every day and ancient clans of elven folk, goblins, fairies, and enchanting beings live. Furthermore, guests can explore a world-famous Poison Garden which contains the deadliest plants in Britain. With all these spellbinding ingredients there is no more magical place in England than Alnwick.
The home of Hogwarts
Alnwick, close to the Northumbria coast is a fairytale cobbled town that ignites the imagination. As visitors roam the grounds of Alnwick Castle, they can envisage Madame Hooch teaching a flying lesson and even take part in their very own broomstick training sessions just like Harry, Ron and Hermione. Guests can also explore the castle courtyard and Lion arch where iconic scenes were filmed. Alnwick Castle stretches back 950 years, and its walls tell a colourful history. Built by the Normans in 1309. It was owned by the Percy family and has since been the home of many generations of dukes. Today is the second-largest inhabited castle in the UK. Alnwick has served as a military outpost, a teaching college, a refuge for evacuees, a film set, and a family home. Yet many who step inside the castle walls may recognise it as the set of Hogwarts, Harry Potter’s magical school, and the backdrop for Quidditch matches. The castle has also been used as the set for Downtown Abbey as well. Meanwhile, the Alnwick Gardens has a series of mazes, a wonderful dancing waterfall and water features.
The gardens also play host to Lilidorei a themed attraction playpark built on the grounds of Alnwick Gardens. Costing £15.5 million project it was developed by the Duchess of Northumberland, as a place where guests can let their imaginations run wild and it has been casting a spell on youngsters and adults alike. It is a magical, mysterious village full of play and home to nine clans who worship Christmas. As you walk through the gates the chants of the clansmen ring in your ears, ramping up the excitement of the festive season and then you see the magical spires of the play equipment, said to be the largest play structure in Europe. You are immersed in a magical world of strange sounds, storytelling, and myths. Reindeer graze on the grass as hundreds of fir trees sparkle. As guests explore, they can discover the homeland of these mystical creatures knocking on their curious little houses, peering through the windows, and all the while they can hear the clansmen going about their festive preparations, chanting and singing yuletide songs. They are ruled by Lord Elfwin, King of Lilidorei who lives in Elfwin Drin, the biggest play structure in the world. If you are visiting during the months of November and December, you can also book a visit to Santa Claus. This is the most magical way to meet the main man himself who has his special grotto amongst the Christmas trees. If you have small people, then this is up there on your Christmas wish list.
Where to stay?
If you are visiting Alnwick for the weekend, you’ll want to stay at The Hoggs Head, named after the tavern in the Harry Potter books and films. Owned by the Inn Collection, this is a family-friendly pub that was built in 2012. As soon as you walk in, you’ll be welcomed by the friendly staff and sit down by the fire for a drink while you wait for your key. If you are staying more than one night you can swap your room service for a free drink, which is a novel idea. The Alnwick rum is particularly moreish. They have a variety of cask ales including Caffrey’s on tap, mixed in with a generous dose of Northern hospitality. The family rooms are spacious with two double beds, a flat-screen TV, large wardrobes, a bathroom with a bath and shower, a desk and tea and coffee-making facilities. The décor is very rustic with browns and creams which evoke a homey feel complete with comfortable king-sized beds to aid a good night’s sleep.
The food at The Hoggs Head is delicious with an emphasis on the flavours of the countryside. Guests can enjoy pheasant goujons coated in Cumberland sauce for a starter, followed by Venison medallions. You can also enjoy a succulent rump steak, while favourites like scampi and chips are on the menu for younger visitors. Guests can also enjoy a wide selection of warming desserts such as sticky toffee pudding.
However, you might also want to dine out one night and if you wish to enjoy a meal at the historic White Swan Hotel, a 300-year-old coaching inn, which has links to the famous White Star Line’s Titanic. Guests can step inside the Olympic Suite, the dining room of the White Swan Hotel, and travel back in time to the lavish Edwardian era. Here they will experience the grandeur of the RMS Olympic, the nearly identical sister ship of the world’s most infamous ship The Titanic, which has been lovingly restored for guests. As you enjoy a meal in the hotel’s dining room you can marvel at the original panelling, mirrors, ceiling, and stained glass salvaged from the ship.
Down in the town or toon as they like to call it in these parts, there are fabulous bars to explore, such as the Dirty Bottles which serves fabulous food and drink. Further down the road is Harry’s Bar, which is wonderfully welcoming with beams and a small seating area out the back. You can also browse the quaint shops for gifts. At Christmas the town is decorated with lights and in summer you can wander down the winding cobbled streets. Continue past the archway of Bondgate Tower, the only remaining chunk of the town walls, which will take you to Barter Books where you can settle into an armchair by the open fire with a coffee and immerse yourself in a literary world as toy trains chug above you.
Adventurous souls can also use Alnwick as their base to visit the Holy Island of Lindisfarne, which can only be visited when the tide is low. You are also well placed to visit Bamburgh Castle, a grade II listed fortress, or Newcastle Upon Tyne.
Alnwick is a fabulous place to visit at any time of the year, but summer is the best time for Potter fans who will be able to explore the castle. The magic of Christmas however, lures visitors in the run-up to the festive season, although since the magic is celebrated all year, you can visit whatever the season. Choose Alnwick for your next visit up north.
About The Author
Donna Richardson is a travel journalist