Yer a Wizard, Harry: Adventures at Alnwick Castle

Part of the inspiration behind #8 on my 2016 New Year Resolutions list was the fact that I visited several of the places where the movies were filmed. One of those was Alnwick Castle (pronounced “An-ick”), a large estate in Northumberland.

Remember this scene?

Yep, totes Alnwick Castle. Downton Abbey has also been filmed there—it’s the setting for the 2014 Christmas special at Brancaster Castle.

It was an absolutely gorgeous day when I met my friends Charlotte, Liz, and Sam at Haymarket Bus Depot in Newcastle. We boarded a double-decker bus piloted by a very, very cranky bus driver, and made the hour-and-a-half-long journey north to the town of Alnwick.

Apparently, there has been a castle on this site for 1,000 years. And for the last 700 years, that castle has been owned by the Percy family.

Any Shakespeare nuts among you? Remember Prince Henry AKA Hotspur? Yeah. His real name was Henry Percy and yes, they are related. In fact, Prince Henry was either born at Alnwick Castle or Warkworth Castle. (I went there, too! But that’s a post for another day…) Today, Ralph Percy, the 12th Duke of Northumberland, lives there with his wife and their children.

We took a tour of the State Rooms, but weren’t allowed to take photos inside. You can see a few on their website (AlnwickCastle.com) or by doing a Google search. And as you can see, the grounds were plenty photogenic in and of themselves.

We spent the most time in “Knight’s Quest,” a fun play area where we got to act like five-year-olds. There were costumes for us to wear, a tourney field for sword fighting, stocks, and a soap making station. After practicing how to be good little knights and ladies, we tested our bravery in “Dragon Quest,” a maze through halls of mirrors, spinning walkways, and dungeons full of skeletons and terrifying beasts. I am pleased to say we all made it out alive—although it was touch and go there for a few minutes.

But the best part of the day was the Jester’s show. I knew it was going to be good when their sign said, “Danger! Fire! More danger and fire!” Not only were they talented jugglers and masters of fire, but they were also hilarious. I haven’t laughed so hard in a long time. Those jesters alone were worth the price of admission.

And then, because we were in Alnwick, we also made a visit to Barter Books, an amazing used bookstore. A model train track ran along the tops of the bookshelves, with a pair of little locomotives tooting as us as they rushed around their eternal circle above our heads. There were rows and rows and rows of books—and more antique books than I’ve ever seen in one place in my entire life.

Let’s just say that it’s a good thing I remembered I was going to have to ship stuff back to the US and couldn’t afford the extra weight, because my bank account was positively begging to be emptied.

It was a great day. As we rode our double-decker steed back to Newcastle, I was grateful for good friends, sunshine, and countries where 1,000-year-old castles are only a bus ride away.

Check out the video I made about our day. (Email subscribers, you may have to click through to view the video on the blog.) Prepare yourself for lots more videos now that I have a camera that shoots decent footage!

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