Wednesday, 30 December 2009


Across the border to Alnwick, site of Alnwick Castle. Today it is famous as a film location, for it stood in as Hogwarts in the first Harry Potter film. It is the stronghold of the Percy clan - don't be fooled by the soft-sounding name, for the Percys were Dukes of Northumberland, chief of the English clans on the Border, formidable foes to the Scots and, when occasion demanded, the English king.

Alnwick Castle:

In the past, the castle was the rock against which a Scots king dashed himself. During the rule of David I between 1124 and 1153, Northumbria as far as the Tees briefly became part of the Scottish kingdom. It was subsequently lost, and William the Lion invaded in an 1174 attempt to regain it, taking advantage of the chaos caused by the rebellion of Henry II's sons. He allowed his army to dissipte in multiple seiges around the county, and on the appearance of a small force of English knights, impetuously charged them shouting "now we will see who is the greater knight!" Like a numpty he was unhorsed, captured, and ransomed for the promise that Scotland belonged to England.

This promise stayed in place until 1189, when Richard Lionheart needed to raise funds for a crusade: and for a large sum of money, it was annulled. Richard and William stayed on good terms: when Richard was captured on crusade, William, who knew how it felt to be a captive, helped raise money for his ransom. In gratitude, Richard offered Northumbria to the Scottish king. William refused, as Richard wanted to keep control of all the castles.

Bamburgh Castle:

Had Northumberland become Scottish, it would have made a considerable difference to the complexion of the country today. It would be a far more Lowland country, with a greater heritage of mining and heavy industry than even today. Northumberland, after all, contains England's most deprived areas, as well as being the loveliest. Anyone who doubts either of these claims has never been to the post-industrial apocalypse of Ashington, nor walked the beautiful coast from Bamburgh to Alnmouth.

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