Stuart Forster outlines things to do in Warkworth, Northumberland.
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In The Companion Guide to Northumbria Edward Grierson describes Warkworth as “one of the most exciting small towns in Britain”. With about 1,500 residents, most people would name Warkworth a village rather than a town. Strolling through Warkworth the words ‘picturesque’ and ‘relaxing’ strike me as far more appropriate than ‘exciting.’
Yet if you flick through history books you’ll soon learn why Grierson, a local author, deems Warkworth exciting. Few places of this size can claim so many tales of pillage, murder, rebellion and war.
Vikings wreaked havoc in 875.
In 1174 King William the Lion of Scotland’s army slaughtered 300 people while heading south.
In 1715 supporters of James Stuart, the Old Pretender, proclaimed him King James III of England by Warkworth’s market cross.
Locals like to tell visitors that Rumour, scene setting in Shakespeare’s Henry IV, Part II, refers to Warkworth’s castle as a “worm-eaten hold of ragged stone.” The Bard, it seems, was employing a healthy dose of poetic license. The keep, now under the management of English Heritage, looks to be in decent shape even today. Opening times vary, according to the season, so it’s worth calling +44 (0) 1665 711423 to check when the castle opens to the public
Warkworth is 29 miles north of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, whose Theatre Royal has hosted many performances by the Royal Shakespeare Company. That opens possibilities for weekends featuring an afternoon or evening at the theatre plus walks along the region’s desolate, beautiful beaches or up in the greenery of the Northumberland National Park.
Harry Hotspur and Warkworth
For Shakespeare, Warkworth was the stronghold of Harry Hotspur. His character was based on Henry Percy, who plotted to overthrow King Henry IV and died in 1403 at the Battle of Shrewsbury. The castle was of strategic value during the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, a period in which the Scots and English frequently clashed.
Exploring on foot, I discovered another couple of other fascinating remnants from the medieval period in Warkworth. One is a rare, fourteenth century fortified bridge, which once controlled entry to the town over the river Coquet. A road bridge built in 1961 allowing drivers to catch a glimpse as they sweep past on the A1068.
Into the riverside Hermitage
Far fewer people lay eyes on the riverside Hermitage. Local legend suggests the Hermitage, which hosts a chapel hewn into rocks, was established by a penitent knight. Lord Berthram de Bothal is said to have killed the woman he was betrothed to and his brother. You’ll see a Latin inscription reading Fuerent mihi lacrymae peres nocte et die which translates as ‘tears have been my portion day and night’. Wooden rowing boats provide transport to the medieval site, across the swirling Coquet.
Likewise, the Church of St Lawrence also has a long history. The original Anglo-Saxon building was rebuilt in stone after the Norman invasion and is notable for its twelfth century vaulted chancel dedicated to St Waleric. For me, the most fascinating part of this church is the well-maintained stone effigy of a crusading knight. The life-sized sculpture, dressed in armour, lies in silent prayer to the left of the church door.
The Old Pretender in Warkworth
James Stuart, the Old Pretender, attended a service at the church in 1715 as he pushed south into England while attempting to claim the crown. At the market cross, on the town square, he was proclaimed King James III of England. The commander of the Jacobite army, the third Earl of Derwentwater, dined in the Mason’s Arms while in Warkworth.
Hearty, home-cooked food and hand pulled beers are the signatures of the pub. You’ll be able to choose from dishes such as chicken breast wrapped in bacon and a hefty mixed grill, including steak, lamb chops, sausage, black pudding, mushrooms, chips, tomatoes and onion rings. The desserts include sticky toffee pudding and spotted dick, should you still have the appetite.
After hours of fresh air and oodles of history, a pint of real ale seemed as good a way as any to round off a pleasant day out in Warkworth.
Pubs in Warkworth
Warkworth’s pubs present choices regarding where to enjoy a pint or pub meal.
The Mason’s Arms is a traditional British pub with a good range of beers. It serves outstanding pub food, including an impressive steak and ale pie. I’ve visited several times, including during the summer of 2020 when hygiene measures to counter the spread of COVID-19 impressed me among the best in the region.
The Hermitage Inn stands opposite The Mason’s Arms. I’ve visited for Sunday lunch featuring roast beef and all the usual trimmings.
On sunny days sitting outside The Castle Brew House, next to The Sun Hotel, means being able to enjoy a drink with views of Alnwick Castle.
Morwick Dairy Ice Cream
If you appreciate good ice cream take a trip to the Morwick Dairy, a couple of miles south-west of Warkworth. It’s gelatos count among the best in North East England.
The dairy’s ice cream parlour sells a range of ice creams made with milk from its herd of Ayrshire, Jersey and Holstein cows. You can also buy raw milk from the dairy.
This is a popular place so expect to wait a few minutes if you visit at popular times, such as weekend afternoons in summertime.
Books about Northumberland
The following books about Warkworth and Northumberland may be of intertest to you:
The Bradt Guide to Slow Travel: Northumberland:
You can also purchase a 1,000-piece jigsaw of Warkworth Castle.
Accommodation in Warkworth
Looking for accommodation in Northumberland? You can find and book Warkworth hotels via Booking.com:
The Sun Hotel Warkworth has rooms overlooking the castle. Formerly a coaching inn, this nine-room property dates from the 17th century. I have stayed in the spacious premier en-suite room, which has a freestanding bathtub and chandelier. Onsite parking is available.
Map of Warkworth
The map below shows the location on Warkworth in Northumberland. Zoom into the map to view details:
Getting to Warkworth
Warkworth is approximately 31 miles north of Newcastle upon Tyne. It’s a 45 minutes’ drive. Enjoy scenic drives? Join the A1068 and drive along Northumberland’s coastline.
Arrive into the region at Newcastle International Airport. The DFDS Amsterdam – Newcastle ferry service docks at the Port of Tyne.
Considering travel to Warkworth using public transport? X18 and X20 buses run between Newcastle and Warkworth. The journey takes approximately 90 minutes.
Trains running on the East Coast Main Line between London King’s Cross and Edinburgh stop at nearby Alnmouth. Alnmouth is less than 4.5 miles north of Warkworth.
See the Warkworth Village and Visit Northumberland websites for more information about things to do in Warkworth and the surrounding region. The Visit England website has information about Northumberland and elsewhere in the country.
Photos illustrating this post are by Why Eye Photography.
Stuart Forster, the author of this post, is a native of North East England and an award-winning travel writer. Stuart has written about destinations in the county for the publications including Love Exploring and National Geographic Traveller.
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