Alnwick Castle, Alnwick, England

After spending all our free time working on the house, we decided to take a much-needed break Easter weekend. Our new friends, Peter & Sarah, suggested spending the day at Alnwick Castle. Alnwick has been the backdrop for quite a number of movies including two of the Harry Potter films, Elizabeth, Mary Queen of Scots, Dracula, and Robin Hood - Prince of Thieves as well as the setting of The Antiques Road Show.

In 1309, Henry Percy, 8th Baron de Percy acquired Alnwick Castle, making the Percy's one of the most powerful families in England. However, Percy family records date back as far as 1067 to William de Percy who came to England with William the Conquer. Throughout the centuries, the Percy family has been closely tied to the English Royal family. As the monarchy changed hands, the Percy's gained and lost favor with the royals and in a span of two hundred years, only two earls died in their beds - three were killed in battle, two were executed, and two were murdered (Henry, 8th Earl of Northumberland, 1572-1585, was found dead in the Tower of London where he was imprisoned). One of the most notorious earls was Henry 'Hotspur' Percy who fought many battles for England against the Scots.

During the English Civil War (1642-1650), the Percy family resided in the south and didn't visit Alnwick very often if at all. Therefore, the castle fell into disrepair until 1750 when Elizabeth Seymour brought the family back to Alnwick. Elizabeth and her husband Hugh Smithson, Earl and First Duke of Northumberland, restored the castle and parkland. Today the 12th Duke and Duchess of Northumberland reside in the castle with their four children.

The castle was opened to the public in 1950. The interior of the castle is spectacular, and worth the admission price, although only a few rooms are open to the public and photos are not allowed. The gardens and parkland are gorgeous and merit a visit anytime since the landscape changes with the season. When Elizabeth Seymour came back to Alnwick, she started a century of development in the garden. The head gardener had a staff of 20. There were hothouses on the property where pineapples as well as fresh produce were grown. Some of this fresh produce followed the Duke as he traveled abroad to London, Paris, and Dublin. In the 19th century, the Third Duchess transformed Alnwick into a garden of flowers and in 1860 an Italianate garden was constructed by William Andrews Nesfield. At the end of the 19th century, the gardens were the grandest ever, then the First World War came, and gardening on this scale had to end. Finally, after WWII, the gardens were turned over to a forestry nursery. Today the 12-acre walled garden is making a come back with the help of Jane, the 12th Duchess of Northumberland and the Belgian designer Jacques Wirtz. To date, the magnificent waterfall, called The Grand Cascade, has been her major contribution to the garden but there are plans for more projects such as a Poison Garden, a large tree house, a Bamboo Labyrinth, Woodland Walk, Serpent Garden, as well as fascinating water displays scattered throughout the garden. For more information on the Gardens, click here.

The gardens and castle make for a lovely day out, especially with friends!

Sarah walking from the garden to the castle entrance:

Walking toward the castle through the daffodils:

Entering the castle walls:

Gabi posing with the Harry Potter characters:

Walking around inside the castle walls:

Gabi & Mike in front of the Grand Cascade before entering the flower garden:

The Grand Cascade in all its glory:

The Grand Cascade as you enter the park with miniature John Deere tractors for the kids to play on!:

Gabi & Mike with a "Big Bird" sort of creature:

Gabi walking through the garden:

Mike & Gabi with the famous English bluebells in the background:

Early Spring in the flower garden:

More daffodils...:

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