Alnwick Garden

Keep calm and carry on in Alnwick

A magical garden, castle, books, food & beer – what’s not to love about Alnwick, Northumberland? This historic town is much more than the castle (beloved as Hogwarts) and The Alnwick Garden.

The garden is a must-see, even for the non-gardener. It’s next to the castle and was the brainchild of Jane Percy, Duchess of Northumberland.

It was intended to be a garden for all seasons and last time I visited was on Halloween – there was still plenty to see. Everything has a twist – this is not your standard stately home garden.

I took my kids when it first opened on a hot (well, hot for Northumberland) summer’s day and they loved it – there are lots of chances to get wet – take spare clothes.

There’s a Bamboo Labyrinth, a Poison Garden, Serpent Garden and one of the world’s biggest tree houses.

The 42-acre site is set around a cascading fountain, designed by Jacques and Peter Wirtz.

The garden belongs to a charitable trust which is separate from the Northumberland Estates, but the Duke of Northumberland donated the 42-acre (17 ha) site and £9 million towards its £42million cost.

The first phase opened in 2001, with the creation of the fountain and initial planting. By 2004, the huge tree house complex, including a restaurant, was opened.

In February 2005, the Poison Garden, growing plants such as cannabis and opium poppy, was added – you need a guide around this one.


Book lover’s delight

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Barter Books, housed in the old railway station. In the background, a memorial built to a former Duke of Northumberland after he cut tenants’ rents. When he saw how much it cost, he raised them again

Next stop is Barter Books, in the old railway station. With the model train whizzing by overhead and a cafe in the old waiting rooms, it’s a delight for all.

It’s the home of one of the surviving ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’ posters from the war, where it was found in an old box of books.

Bartering is the fun. You take unwanted books (two carrier bags maximum), where staff will give you a price and return any they can’t sell. You then get the cash off as credit against any purchases.

There’s many good restaurants and pubs in town, including The Plough, on Bondgate Without (near Barter Books and the Northumberland Gazette offices). it serves an excellent pint and great lunches.

To walk off our meal, we visited most of the independent shops in the centre, ideal places to go for unusual presents.

However, most of my money went in the delicatessens and the Fairtrade shop – organic produce, potato and beetroot bread and some Selkirk Bannock for breakfast.

To find out more about the town, log on to www.visitalnwick.org.uk.


Market days

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Alnwick Market Place

Alnwick’s well known throughout Northumberland and the Borders for its markets – what’s on and when.

Regular market, Saturdays  9am-4pm: Fruit and veg, plants and flowers,  jewellery, cakes, sweets, cards and toys, scarves and bags, clothes, continental foods, photography, arts, and crafts.

Thursday market, 9am-4pm from April to October: Sweets, flowers, plants, clothing, continental foods, scarves, and bags.

Farmers’ and crafts market, last Friday of the month,  9am-3pm (except December when it is the Friday before Christmas, December 22): Local specialities including hill lamb (August to March), cheese, home-baked cakes and pies, fresh local kiln baked bread, vegetables, fish, pork, beef, preserves and pickles, mussels (September to April), fudge, ginger wine, soft fruits and plants in season. Crafts including soaps, gifts, and jewellery.

For more information or to hire a stall, contact the Alnwick Markets manager on 07783 557 116 or visit www.alnwickmarkets.co.uk.