Castle, dunes and huge sandy beach
The sea is chilly
Pretty and historical!
Bamburgh Castle stands on a massive outcrop of rock and towers over the sands below. Unlike many castles on this coast, it is still a family home, and thus far more complete than the ruins elsewhere. It is truly an impressive sight.
There has been a castle at Bamburgh since the sixth century, when the site was chosen as the Royal capital by the kings of Northumbria. And it is easy to see why this site would be chosen. It has commanding views over the coast – a coast that was vulnerable to attack from Vikings and others. And the basalt outcrop on which the successive castles have stood is one of the most prominent landmarks along that coast.
Talking though of the Vikings, in 993 they succeeded in destroying the original fort. The Normans built a new castle on the same site, which forms the core of the present one. It was a royal possession for centuries, and an important element in the defence of England against the Scots, with the border just a few miles to the north. In 1464, during the Wars of the Roses, it was the first castle in England to be defeated by artillery, at the end of a nine-month siege by the Earl of Warwick.
For 400 years the castle remained in royal hands, with the local Forster family serving as governors. Eventually the castle was made over to them. But in 1700 the then owner, Sir William Forster, died bankrupt and the castle, along with all his other possessions, was handed over to the Bishop of Durham as settlement of his debts. The castle fell into disrepair but was restored by various owners during the following centuries, and was finally bought by the Victorian industrialist William Armstrong, who completed the restoration. It still belongs to the Armstrong family, who maintain it and open it for the public to view. Its grandeur makes it much in demand as a film location, and it has featured in films such as Ivanhoe (1952), El Cid (1961), Mary, Queen of Scots (1972), and Elizabeth (1998).
If you like your castles to be romantically ruined, this is maybe not the one for you. But if you like to see a building largely intact and strong, still standing proudly above the coast it once defended so effectively, Bamburgh is indeed an impressive sight.
This has to be one of the most glorious beaches in England! A wide expanse of sand over which the castle watches protectively as it has done for centuries. There are dunes to provide shelter from the sometimes chilly winds off the North Sea, a few rock pools to explore, great views of distant Holy Island and the slightly nearer Farne Islands, and enough sand to build sandcastles to rival the “real” stone one!
And it is never crowded. When we visited most recently on a warm August weekday, there was a sprinkling of families in the area nearest to the castle, but even here there was more than enough space for everyone. And if you’re prepared to walk along the sands a little, you could easily find a large section to call your own. Off-season, the beach is popular with walkers, but again, by popular I mean that there will always be a handful here, whatever the weather, and maybe on a bright sunny day you will encounter a dozen or more on your walk across the sand.
South of the village is another fine stretch of sand, with (I think) the two connected at low tide. Here there is a reasonably priced car park (£2 for the day when we were here recently, though we only paused for photos and didn’t go in) so the beach gets a little busier, but is still quiet compared with other parts of the country. The reason? The North Sea is very chilly, and only the braver beach-goers will swim there, though small children seem happy to ignore the chill and splash happily in the shallows. And a cold plunge is perhaps a small price to pay for a day on such a glorious beach!
The wide beach is must thing to experience while in Bamburgh. You can even see Lindisfarne from here!
Front St, Bamburgh, NE69 7BP, United Kingdom
Satisfaction: Very Good
Good for: Solo
Front Street, Bamburgh, NE69 7BL, United Kingdom
Satisfaction: Very Good
Good for: Business
Lucker Road, Bamburgh, NE69 7BS, United Kingdom
Satisfaction: Very Good
Good for: Business
Bamburgh, NE69 7AJ, United Kingdom
Good for: Families
21 - 23 Lucker Rd, Bamburgh, NE69 7BS, United Kingdom
Good for: Business
Belford, NE70 7EE b1342, Bamburgh, NE70 7EE, United Kingdom
Satisfaction: Very Good
Good for: Couples
5 Front Street, Bamburgh, NE69 7BW, United Kingdom
When we used to come regularly to Bamburgh with Chris’s parents, a cup of tea or coffee at the Copper Kettle was a must. So on our recent visit to the village, Chris and I made sure to revive the family tradition!
The Copper Kettle is a typical English tearoom, located in one of Bamburgh’s oldest cottages. The menu tells the story of the cottage, which was one of a row of six built in the early 1700s as accommodation for workers at the castle. Having fallen into dereliction, it was bought in 1956 by two spinster sisters and opened as a tearoom and antiques shop. The sisters ran these businesses until the early 1970s, when they sold them as two separate concerns, and the Copper Kettle has continued to operate since then under a number of different owners. But while each has made small changes, the traditional ambiance remains intact – a visit here is like a step back in time.
Favorite Dish: The menu however does reflect modern trends, and Chris and I were able to have a good cappuccino each – something that would have been unheard of in the past! You can also choose from a wide range of speciality teas (herbal and fruit) in addition to the traditional English Breakfast tea. Of course there are scones and cakes galore, but also light meals such as salads, jacket potatoes, baguettes and toasted sandwiches. On this occasion we only had the coffees, but I have to say that the cakes looked very tempting indeed so I have a feeling we may not leave quite so long this time before paying another visit!
A busy and popular pub in the village of Bamburgh. The service was good, the food was tasty and the portions were pretty generous.
There's a pleasant garden out the back and children were welcome, although sadly for them, no play equipment!
Favorite Dish: I had scampi and chips and it was lovely.
148 Reviews and Opinions
Bamburgh is a lovely place, with great scenery and things to do, However you must avoid The Victoria Hotel at all costs. My family and I stayed their and had an awful time. The staff were rude, immature and unprofessional. I brought some issues up with the Manager and he dissmissed my concerns with a wave of his hand and he told me get off his premises. I also had the missfortune of seeing the kitchens first hand and they were far from clean. They were storing chips to be used in a large, dirty black bin full of water, outside open to the air. Any thing could have fallen or gotten in - especially as they were having major building work done at the time. I managed to take a quick photo of the outside store room. It was disgustingly dirty and messy. Please, for your own sake, Avoid this hotel/restaurant and show them that these standards of service are unacceptable!
If you have time for only one day trip while visiting Bamburgh, this should be it! Holy Island, or Lindisfarne, is, in my view, one of the most magical places in England. A small “semi-island” (that is, an island only at high tide), it has been a centre of spirituality since St Aidan founded a monastery here in the seventh century AD. Whatever your religion, or none, you will surely be captivated by the unique charm of a place that seems largely untouched by the modern age. Yes, there are cars, and phones, and even wifi – but there are no chain coffee shops, no bank or ATM, no supermarket. And with the exception of the small stone-built village clustered around the ruins of the priory, the island is undeveloped. No roads serve its northern shore, and the dune-fringed beaches are visited mainly by birds, not people.
But to experience Holy Island at its best, you must see it as the locals see it – without the hoards of visitors that descend at low tide. So plan to stay overnight, and as the cars stream away over the causeway and the sea closes above it, the island will become a different place – one of peace and tranquillity, the haven it has been for centuries.
So, why “Holy” Island? You will also hear it referred to as Lindisfarne, the name given to its small castle. But locally the island is rarely referred to by this old Anglo-Saxon name. Following the murderous and bloodthirsty attack on the monastery by the Vikings in 793AD, it obtained its local name from the observations made by the Durham monks: “Lindisfarne - baptised in the blood of so many good men - truly a 'Holy Island'”.
The main sights here are the ruins of the old priory, and the castle. The former is best seen first thing in the morning, or when high tide has caused most visitors to have left. Then you can wander among the ruins and really imagine how the various buildings would have looked when the monastery was rich and thriving, and monks here went about their daily work while devoting their lives to God.
The first monastery here was founded by St Aidan in 635 AD, and his statue stands among the ruins as a memorial to the Irish missionary who restored Christianity to Northumberland after the Anglo-Saxons had driven Roman Christian beliefs from the land. But it is St Cuthbert, who became its bishop about fifty years later, for whom the priory is perhaps most known. When he died in 687 he was buried here and as a result the priory became something of a place of pilgrimage. On transferring his remains to a pilgrim shrine 11 years later, the monks found them still undecayed, which was regarded as a sure sign of sanctity. Sainthood increased believers’ devotion to his memory, and more pilgrims followed.
But the rich monastery on an isolated island was a prime target for Viking raiders who pillaged this cost over the succeeding centuries. Indeed, it was one of these raids that gave the island its epithet, “Holy”. The Anglo-Saxons had called it Lindisfarne, but following a particularly murderous and bloodthirsty attack on the monastery by Vikings in 793, Durham monks observed: “Lindisfarne – baptised in the blood of so many good men - truly a “Holy Island”.
The castle is about a mile’s walk from the village (or take the shuttle bus), along the fishermen’s beach known as the Ouse. The views are wonderful and for me are more of an attraction than the castle itself, which was turned into a family home in the 19th century.
Elsewhere on the island you can enjoy long walks on deserted beaches, go bird-watching and enjoy the local delicacies of crab sandwiches and Lindisfarne Mead (though perhaps not together!). It’s a magical place indeed! See my separate Holy Island page for much more information.
If you decide to take a trip here from Bamburgh, it’s important to first check the tide tables. The island is connected to the mainland by a causeway several miles in length. This is covered for about five or six hours each high tide, i.e. twice a day. As the tides vary, so do the safe crossing times. And don’t trust your eyes – the causeway may look clear but if you are already past the advertised safe crossing time, don’t start to cross – the tides here are unpredictable and can sweep in very suddenly indeed. It is not for nothing that a small refuge is provided halfway across the causeway – many drivers have been caught out in the past and forced to abandon their vehicles and seek safety here while the waters inundate their car!