Travel with GTW on a journey of exploration up through Durham and along the coast into England’s most northerly corner.

Starting in the heart of the Durham Dales, Raby Castle in County Durham makes a spectacular starting point for our expedition. One of England’s finest medieval castles, this beauty is still lived in by its owner Lord Barnard – the castle has been in his family’s possession for over 380 years. Groups are welcomed at the castle between April and the end of September each year, and bookings are now being taken for visits in 2014.

Raby Castle has been meticulously preserved as a grand medieval home, where rooms display fine furniture, impressive artworks and elaborate architecture from the Victorian, Georgian and Regency eras. Highlights include the vast Baron’s Hall, where it is reputed 700 knights gathered to plot the doomed Rising of the North rebellion against Elizabeth I, and the stunning interior of the Victorian Octagon Drawing Room. Groups are offered private guided tours of the castle by knowledgeable guides if booked in advance, or there is the option to be able to walk around at your own pace on a free-flow day.

Prices for a private guided tour for groups of 20 or more start from £8.50 per person, and additional extras such as tea and coffee on arrival, or a souvenir guidebook can be added to a group package for an additional cost. Free-flow visits cost as little as £7.50 for groups of 12 or more. Other group benefits include free and ample coach parking, free familiarisation visits, refreshment vouchers for coach drivers, free “meet and greet” on arrival and free admission for the coach driver and group organiser.

Also included in a visit to Raby Castle is the chance to explore the 18th century walled gardens, see the wildlife in the 200 acre deer park, and admire the collection of horse-drawn carriages in the coach houses. Part of the stables has been converted into an atmospheric tearoom, which can accommodate groups for lunch and light snacks, and there is also an adjoining gift shop.

Heading up north-east to the county’s capital, Durham city is an extraordinary place, full of ancient history round every corner. Durham World Heritage Site was inscribed by UNESCO in 1986 (among the first UK sites to be listed) and comprises Durham Cathedral, Durham Castle and the buildings between them.

Durham Cathedral has had a role in many of the key historical events which have shaped Britain today, including the Reformation and the Civil War, and is the spiritual home of several key saints including St Cuthbert, St Aidan, St Hild, St Margaret and the Venerable Bede, many with royal associations and royal blood. It has been a place of prayer and pilgrimage for a more than a millennium; the stunning Norman cathedral was built in 1093 to replace a Saxon monastic church. It houses the shrine of St Cuthbert who was the seventh century Bishop of Lindisfarne and the tomb of the Venerable Bede, author of the early eighth century The Ecclesiastical History of the English People – Bede is known as the ‘Father of English History’.

Durham Cathedral is one of the finest examples of Norman architecture in Europe. The stone vaulting in the nave marks a turning point in the history of architecture, as pointed arches were used successfully for the first time instead of Romanesque semi-circular arches. This allowed the building to reach a greater height, paving the way for the Gothic style.

The cathedral attracts visitors from all over the world as well as local communities. Highlights for 2013 include ‘Lindisfarne Gospels Durham’, in which the world-famous Anglo Saxon gospel is the centrepiece, on display in Durham on loan from the British Library until 30th September. Guided tours of the cathedral are available, along with specialist tours and talks. The Undercroft Restaurant serves homemade refreshments and a new shop stocks a range of books and gifts. The cathedral is open to groups from 9.30am to 5.00pm with extended hours in the summer, and pre-booking is required to make the most of a visit.

Heading north again, halfway between Durham and Newcastle is the award-winning open air museum at Beamish. Beamish: The Living Museum of the North is no ordinary museum; there are no glass cases and no ‘do not touch’ signs, but instead opportunities to touch, taste, see, hear and smell the past. Running since 1970, millions of visitors from all over the world have now visited.

The museum’s guiding principle is to preserve an example of everyday life in urban and rural north-east England at the climax of industrialisation in the early 20th century; much of the restoration and interpretation is specific to the late Victorian and Edwardian eras. On the 300 acre estate, the museum uses a mixture of translocated, original and replica buildings; a huge collection of artefacts, working vehicles and equipment, and livestock and costumed interpreters.

The museum has received a number of prestigious awards since it opened its present site, and has been influential on other ‘living museums’. It is a significant educational resource and also helps to preserve some traditional north-country and rare livestock breeds.

There are two new fascinating exhibits at Beamish this year.  The 101-year-old Hetton Silver Band Hall has been rebuilt and once again welcomes bands though its doors. This month, a wonderful new bakery is opening in the Edwardian Town. Visitors will be able to follow the delicious aroma along the cobbled street to see bread, cakes and pies being baked from traditional recipes, then buy the delicious goods to take home with them. If anyone is hungry right there and then, the Dainty Dinah Tea Rooms offers a tasty seasonal menu, including fish and chips cooked on a real coal-fired range.

Throughout the year, Beamish hosts an exciting programme of special events, all at no extra charge. Visitors should look out for Christmas celebrations each weekend in November and December, with carol singing, ice-skating, Father Christmas’s grotto and tasty festive food.  Coming up in 2014, there will be a Georgian Fair, the Great North Festival of Transport, the Great North Festival of Agriculture and much more besides.

The Living Museum at Beamish offers excellent rates for groups of 15 or more, free admission for group travel organisers and coach drivers and ample free coach parking,

On up past Newcastle, heading ever further north and east, the next stop is at Alnwick. The Alnwick Garden is one of the world’s most extraordinary contemporary gardens, described by the Duchess of Northumberland as ‘an inspiring landscape with beautiful gardens and unique features all brought to life with water’. Designed by Wirtz International, the garden is a remarkable combination of spaces, themes, quirkiness and play. As well as being home to one of the world’s largest treehouses, The Alnwick Garden boasts the beauty of the Ornamental Garden, the excitement of the Grand Cascade, the mysteries of the Bamboo Labyrinth, the spell-binding water sculptures of the Serpent Garden and the intrigue of the Poison Garden.

The Alnwick Garden prides itself on offering one of the best group travel experiences in the North East. Groups can relax and enjoy the best possible experience of the gardens, safe in the knowledge that everything is taken care of thanks to a wide range of flexible packages. Whether groups are looking for a refreshment break, or an all-day visit including a guided tour and behind-the-scenes access, the group bookings department can offer bespoke packages to meet every need. The garden aims to be accessible for all, with a range of mobility options available for hire, allowing everyone to enjoy its splendour.

Less than a mile away, the next visit on our journey is to the highly impressive Alnwick Castle, one of the largest inhabited castles in the country. Home to the Duke of Northumberland’s family – the Percys – for over 700 years, it has witnessed drama, intrigue, tragedy and romance, and its sumptuous State Rooms are filled with a stunning array of art and furniture.

 

Specialist tours can be arranged, including of the castle’s opulent State Rooms, filled with one of the country’s finest private art and furniture collections – including work by Canaletto, Titian and Van Dyck – as well as a gallery of beautiful Meissen, Chelsea and Paris porcelain. Other highlights include the cabinets of curiosities in the 1st Duchess Collection, an exhibition of unusual items meticulously collected by the first Duchess of Northumberland, including a pair of gloves which belonged to Queen Elizabeth I. Also called Elizabeth, the first duchess was an extensive and witty writer, and also on display at Alnwick Castle are a number of her personal diaries, which give fascinating and often entertaining insights into her life. The exhibition is accompanied by a film from eminent art historian, Adriano Aymonino.

 

The castle also has well-informed guides who can give tours of the grounds, where visitors can enjoy stunning views of the castle’s architecture and the surrounding Capability Brown landscape. Guides are also full of knowledge about the castle’s long history: its origins, uses, and restorations, and the fascinating families that have lived there over the past 900 years. Alnwick Castle has lots of more recent fascinating history as well, as it has had starring roles in many films. Guides can regale visitors with behind-the-scenes tales of film sets, especially regarding the castle’s role as Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry in the first two Harry Potter films.

 

The final stop on our journey into north-east England is right on the coast, not many miles from the Scottish border. The huge and gorgeous Bamburgh Castle spans nine acres of land on a rocky plateau high above the Northumberland coastline and is also one of the largest inhabited castles in the country. There are 14 public areas for groups to explore, guided tours and a new audio tour. Visitors can also have the excitement of watching history being uncovered during live archaeological excavations. Refreshments are available in the Clock Tower Tea Rooms, which specialise in Northumberland produce and offer a range of delicious home-cooked meals and light snacks.

Bamburgh Castle is expecting a busy year in 2014 as its profile is raised through several television appearances. This year, it has already featured in a BBC4 series on pilgrimages and BBC1’s ‘Great British Wildlife Revival’. The crowning glory will be an extended appearance as part of Robson Green’s ‘Northumberland’. An eight part series highlighting destinations around the county, the programmes will showcase Northumberland’s best, and Bamburgh Castle is expecting a resultant rise in interest. The castle will remain open all year, with weekend opening in November, December and January, but they have stated that they are willing to open up as much as possible for groups during the week as well – please get in touch in order to book. The castle has free coach parking and free guided tours or introductory talks, depending on time of arrival.

 

Info: 01833 660202   admin@rabycastle.com        www.rabycastle.com

0191 374 4051         visits@durhamcatheral.co.uk      www.durhamcathedral.co.uk

0191 370 4026     bookings@beamish.org.uk     www.beamish.org.uk

01665 511350    info@alnwickgarden.com       www.alnwickgarden.com

01665 511 100     info@alnwickcastle.com       www.alnwickcastle.com/groups

01668 214208    administrator@bamburghcastle.com  www.bamburghcastle.com