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Northumbria Illuminated OverviewComprehensive introduction to a beautiful part of England. Visits to a wide range of properties from Roman settlements to contemporary gardens. Private visits to houses & gardens rarely open. Comfortable family owned country house hotel with golf and spa facilities.
Northern Lights: Northumbria Illuminated
Tour Lecturer; Tom Duncan, Co-Founder of CICERONI Travel
Northumberland conjures up many and varied images: Roman soldiers toiling to construct the great wall ordered by the Emperor Hadrian; Irish monks bringing Christianity to Lindisfarne and elsewhere in Northumbria; ancient families such as the Percys defending the realm against the threat of marauding Scots; fine houses built on the profits of the area’s abundant natural resources; and spectacular gardens created in the teeth of all that nature can throw at the unsuspecting. These are all aspects of a marvellous part of England which we shall spend the best part of a week exploring in leisurely detail.
If you have not seen Hadrian’s Wall and the military settlements associated with its garrisons, our selection of Roman sites will come as a revelation: Vindolanda, scene of the ongoing excavations from where the famous letters emerged; the great fort at Housesteads looking out across windswept moorland; and the fort at Chesters, set in a quiet valley by the River Tyne. Following in the footsteps of those early Irish missionaries, we shall visit the great monastic island of Lindisfarne. Here St Aidan founded his monastery and from where the Gospel was spread far and wide. Although that original monastery has long gone, there is an impressive later church on site and an excellent museum run by English Heritage. St Cuthbert was at one time Bishop of Lindisfarne and we shall follow him to Durham, paying tribute at his shrine while marvelling at the magnificence of the vast Norman cathedral which now acts as his enfolding tomb.
Amongst the country houses to be included we shall visit privately Alnwick Castle, seat of the Dukes of Northumberland, before it opens to the public - it contains the best art collection in the north of England. Wallington is renowned for its decorative plasterwork and remarkable contents and again, we shall have a private tour. The chaste beauty of ‘Greek Revival’ Belsay Hall, abandoned to the elements and now the subject of a remarkable rescue, will amaze. The Browne-Swinburne family have been seated at Capheaton for many centuries and we shall be their guests for a private visit and dinner in what Pevsner described as “one of the most interesting houses of its date and character in England”.
Horticulturally, the remarkable transformation of Alnwick Castle Gardens by the present Duchess of Northumberland is a dominant presence. However, there are smaller, more sophisticated gardens to be discovered: Whalton Manor is a gem; the quarry garden at Bide-a-Wee inspirational; the walled garden at Wallington and the nearby Herterton are essays in remarkable levels of creativity crafted from different ends of the design spectrum.
Our base will be Matfen Hall Hotel. This is a fine Victorian country house built for one of the prominent local families, the Blacketts. Sir Hugh, the present Baronet, and his wife have converted the house into a very comfortable hotel, with excellent food, complete with a spa, indoor heated swimming pool and a fine golf course. Situated in rolling countryside 20 miles west of Newcastle, it will be the ideal base for our explorations.