The ruins dominate the hilltop as the owners, the powerful Percy family, land barons of Northumberland, once did. Warkworth Castle, situated by the town of Warkworth on the River Coquet in view of Northumberland’s eastern coastline, started its life in 1150 as an earth mound enclosure. The stone castle took shape over the centuries, and in 1332 it ended up in the hands of the influential Percys, becoming one of their chief baronial castles.
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Stepping through the 13th century gatehouse is a journey through a time portal. The ravaged ruins speak of the now invisible and silent inhabitants and their way of life—guardrooms with no fireplaces, an outer bailey surrounded by towers, the domestic quarters standing at the heart of the castle.
Imagine the chapel with its silver candlesticks, the solar with its fire burning, the stables full of horses, the hall hung with tapestries, the bakery and the brewery with their distinctive and pungent scents. Keep an eye out for the worn and weathered symbol of power, the carved-in-stone Percy lion on the Lion Tower arch.
But it is the largely intact three-storey keep that provides the most fascinating part of the journey. This magnificent eight-towered edifice was built to withstand the mightiest of enemies. Once, within its forbidding walls, treason against King Henry IV was plotted.
The basement houses the dungeon along with storerooms large enough for food and drink to withstand a siege. An early skylight serves as a channel for rainwater flowing either into a large tank at the foot of the lightwell or into a pipe to flush out the latrine shafts. Up the worn stone staircase the great hall, laid with trestle tables, awaits the dinner hour. Nearby the kitchens with their iron cauldron and huge fireplace brim with activity, while the chapel is a place of quiet prayer. The great chamber, laid with rushes on the floor, is bright with candlelight. Here family members seek privacy and comfort.
In the past Warkworth Castle was a fortified residence, a great castle, and a centre of authority. Today, that power is gone, but the majestic ruins still rule the countryside.
Warkworth Castle is located on the A1068 north of Newcastle on England’s east coast. It is under the care of English Heritage.
Open: April 1-Sep 30, daily 10am-5pm; Oct 1-31, daily 10am-4pm; Nov-end March, weekends 10am-4pm, closed 24-26 Dec and 1 Jan