Northumberland Castles Challenge #8
The 29th March was an important date in our Northumberland Castles Challenge…the date that all the English Heritage Castles in Northumberland opened. Armed with all the time in the world (thank you Easter Holidays) we celebrated by visiting 3 of our closest castles in a week! Today I bring you our visit to Belsay Hall and Castle. It’s 14 miles North West of Newcastle and a blinking lovely day out!
Belsay Hall and Castle – 1st April 2015
It’s a Wednesday morning, and despite a suspect forecast, the sun has bravely put his hat on. Gabby is dragging my friend Jenny around on an Alice in Wonderland themed treasure hunt. I can hear them but they have left the large open garden in front of the grand Grecian Hall.
Reuben is crying at the Cheshire Cat’s feet. He doesn’t want to walk.
“Bye Reuben” I call as I enter the gate to the walled garden, in the hope of encouraging him to come too. I know it isn’t going to work. Plan B is in order. “Would you like a little snack?”
Mike caves and carries Reuben to a bench so he can have some rice cakes.
“Did someone say snack?” Calls Gabby from a hidden spot behind a hydrangea, “I’m hungry too”. She appears already taking the snack pots she had prepared from her bag. She sits next to Reuben to munch on some olives.
We have been in Belsay castle for all of 15 minutes. Jenny looks cold as I apologise and hope she doesn’t think Reuben is completely obnoxious.
Snacks finished, Mike asks, “Are you going to walk now Reuben?”
Oh the joys of parenting a toddler. At least Mike has taken the day off to join us, I don’t fancy the idea of carrying Reuben the half a mile to Belsay Castle!
I take the first stint carrying Reuben as we continue through the Grade 1 listed gardens to the stunning Quarry garden. It is a gorgeous walk through rocks and ravines, and even in the early spring temperatures there are exotic flowers starting to bloom.
And with the added excitement of Alice in Wonderland characters to find, at least one of the kids is running off ahead.
Upon reaching a small water pool Reuben decides he will walk after all. What is it with toddlers, water and small stones?!
We loiter by the pool a moment to take in the cool, fresh air and sunlight glittering through the branches high above. Then we walk further into this maze of beautiful greenery. Thankfully there are arrows!
The Quarry Garden starts to open out and then it appears on the horizon through the trees, the spectacular Belsay Castle. Built in the 13th Century it was home to the Middleton family for over 7 centuries. You can see how this ‘Pele tower’ may have been a refuge during turbulent times, but it was also built to impress!
We explore the castle first and I smile at a flash back from our visit last year – my 15-year-old Brother is showing off and does a summersault out of one of the windows. He miss judges it and lands flat on his back, winding himself. Priceless for any sibling and I haven’t laughed that long or hard since I don’t think!
This time around I feel as though I can appreciate the castle so much more. Reuben and I have seen many a castle now and many are literally humps in the ground. Belsay Castle is so well preserved and grand, and who doesn’t love a spiral staircase? I’d say no one…unless they are carrying a toddler. Then they are terrifying.
We arrive at the top of the castle to breathtaking views of Northumberland. Reuben seems to pick up a ‘vibe’, danger perhaps, and hurtles from one corner to another scaring me half to death!
Once we are safely back down the spiral staircase, we find a still damp picnic bench in a sunny spot and take in the view from behind the castle. It’s barely midday but we all seem to be hungry.
When we have filled our boots and let the sun warm us through (whilst getting a soggy bottom), even Reuben does a little big of walking. I run ahead and hide behind a tree. That seems to mobilise him. Well for a short while anyway! The walk back to Belsay Hall takes a different, shorter root and Mike carries him again.
We have one more Alice in Wonderland Character to find for Gabriella’s treasure hunt so we hunt high and low in Belsay Hall. Surely it’s here?
But, wow, the Hall is eerily quiet and cool and empty and spectacular!
Built in the 1800s, the Grecian Hall became the Middleton Family home from Christmas Day in 1817. What a crazy place to build and move to! Wandering around the now unfurnished rooms I can almost feel their presence, as I take in the original fireplaces and peeling wallpaper. There are so many family rooms we’ve lost Reuben – we can hear him but where has he gone? We track him down to the farthest room while he busies himself with slamming doors. Meanwhile Gabby is picking her bedroom and encouraging Jenny and I to do the same.
“I like this corner room with the amazing double windows.” I call whilst trying to prevent Reuben climbing into a fireplace. “Look at the views over the garden!”
Visiting Belsay Hall and Castle
Belsay Hall and Castle is a wonderful day out – I loved it last year and I loved it even more this time! It’s English Heritage run, so it’s free for members and ticket prices for non-members are £8.50 for adults, £5 for 5-15s, or £21.60 for a family (2 adults, 3 kids). They also put a lot of thought into their events program, so do check it out in advance.
You can easily spend a day there and there is also a lovely Victoria Tearoom, with yet more epic architecture, which you can access without going into the grounds.
It’s open 10am – 6pm daily until 30th September.
Have you ever visited Belsay Hall and Castle? How much of it did your toddler walk?!
I’d love to hear your thoughts and stories from your visit! What did I miss? Do leave me a comment below, I’d love to hear from you!