10 things you might not know about Northumberland

Posted on 25th October 2021

The picturesque county of Northumberland is located in the North East of England, on the border of cosmopolitan Newcastle-upon-Tyne and home to bustling market towns Berwick-upon-Tweed and Morpeth.

Perhaps most well-known for its scenic coastline and breath-taking countryside such as the Northumberland Coast Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, the 405 square mile Northumberland National Park and the nearby North Pennines Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, Northumberland also has a rich cultural history with some of the finest historic monuments the UK has to offer, great local amenities, leisure facilities and useful transport links across England and Scotland.

Want to learn more about this stunning beauty spot? Read on to find out 10 things you may not know about Northumberland, one of the UK’s most impressive counties.

1. Northumberland was once the largest Kingdom in England.

Fans of popular ninth century epic The Last Kingdom and the Saxon Stories book series by Bernard Cornwell (on which the TV show is based) may recognise Bamburgh in Northumberland as the inspiration for the famous Bebbanburg.

What is perhaps less well known, is that Northumberland has a rich heritage dating back to prehistoric times and the name originates from the Anglo Saxon “norð hẏmbra land” in reference to the county’s location north of the Humber estuary. As the former Saxon Kingdom of Northumbria, it was also the largest and most influential Kingdom in England in 700AD and covered the area from the Firth of Forth in Scotland down to the River Humber.

2. Northumberland is also home to the most castles in England of any other county.

 Northumberland’s location at the English and Scottish border has made it the site of various battles for territory between the two nations over the years too. This tumultuous history is well preserved through the likes of Roman Emperor Hadrian’s impressive feat of engineering, UNESCO World Heritage Site Hadrian’s Wall, which dates back to AD 122, and the Holy Island of Lindisfarne.

However, nowhere is this heritage more apparent than the impressive number of castles still present in Northumberland (over 70 in all). From coastal stronghold and the oldest castle in Northumbria, Bamburgh Castle, to the second largest inhabited castle in England (trumped only by Windsor Castle), bewitching Alnwick Castle, these fortresses still tell the impressive tales of Northumberland’s past.

3. And will be familiar to viewers of many popular film and TV shows.

Northumberland’s epic surroundings and historic buildings have indeed played host to a wide range of films and TV shows over the years.

Harry Potter fans will of course recognise majestic Alnwick Castle as the setting for Hogwarts in the first two films about the young wizard, although the castle has also been the setting for popular TV shows such as Downton Abbey and historic epic Elizabeth.

But who could forget the iconic Sycamore Gap Tree in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves or the traditional stone villages and cobbled streets explored by the main character of ITV’s popular crime drama Vera, which were filmed on Hadrian’s Wall and in villages like Blanchland, Alnmouth and Rothbury respectively.

4. The county is the official home of earl grey tea.

Whilst Charles Grey, 2nd Earl Grey (1764 –1845), may be best known as the British Prime Minister from 1830 to 1834, he is also the namesake for the popular perfumed tea. However, it is actually his wife, Lady Grey, who created the blend when she asked for bergamot oil to be added to their tea to compensate for the strong lime flavour prevalent in the local drinking water.

Their former Northumberland home, the impressive Howick Hall Gardens & Arboretum is now open to the public.

5. Northumberland does not feature in the Doomsday book.

Despite its ancient pedigree, both Northumberland and nearby County Durham do not feature in the 11th century Doomsday Book, the earliest public record in Britain. These areas had not suddenly been abandoned by their inhabitants in 1085, their omission is simply because both counties resisted Norman control until after the Doomsday Book surveys had been completed.

 6. Northumbrians are not Geordies

Whilst those from outside the area may mistake the well-known “Geordie” accent as being shared by everyone living in the North East of England, only the inhabitants of the city of Newcastle upon Tyne and the surrounding Tyneside area can officially be called “Geordies” and they are quite protective of the heritage! There are distinct differences in speech patterns in nearby Sunderland, County Durham and the more northern Northumberland, although all show similarities with the dialect of Anglo-Saxon settlers.

7. The county is privy to the largest protected area of night skies in Europe

As of 2013, the sky above the Northumberland National Park and Kielder Water & Forest Park was officially recognised as the largest area of protected night skies in Europe and received Gold-tier International Dark Sky status.

Thanks to this accolade and the resultant conservation work and restrictions on light pollution, this stretch of skies offers some of the most exceptional stargazing opportunities in England with the Milky Way often visible. The impressive Northern Lights also make a regular appearance over the Northumberland Coast AONB.

8. Northumberland is home to England’s most northerly town.

Given its location, it may not come as a great surprise that England’s most northerly town – Berwick-upon-Tweed – is located in Northumberland. Although technically Marshall Meadows Bay which is 2.5 miles north of Berwick-upon-Tweed is the northernmost point in England (and also located in Northumberland).

9. The area is surprisingly accessible.

Despite its rural surroundings and north easterly location, Northumberland is actually very accessible from the rest of the UK. The A1 from London to Edinburgh travels north and south bound through the county as does the A697, A696, A68 and A189/A1068 with the A69 heading westbound towards Carlisle.

There are also frequent rail services from Berwick upon Tweed and nearby Newcastle-upon-Tyne on the East Coast Main Line from London to Edinburgh and services on the Hadrian’s Wall Line from Newcastle to Carlisle. Nearby Newcastle Airport has plenty of domestic and international flights available too.

10. The county has some very competitive house prices.

Prospective homebuyers will be pleased to know that Northumberland is also competitively priced when it comes to house prices. In the last year, properties in Northumberland sold for an average price of £232,182. Whilst this is slightly more expensive than the Tyne and Wear and County Durham areas of the North East overall – thanks to sought after areas like Bamburgh, Darras Hall and Dunstan – Northumberland is still more affordable than the average house price for the UK. In fact, there are still plenty of towns and villages in Northumberland like Cambois, Newbiggin-By-The-Sea and Ashington where you can pick up a 3-bedroom terraced property for less than £90,000.

Property prices in Northumberland have risen an impressive 13% since 2019 and 16% since 2018 though, so if you are after a good deal, don’t wait too long!

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