The North East is a fascinating area, with its history entrenched in ancient border struggles with Scotland. The area houses castles and stately homes, and even offered inspiration for the hit TV series Game of Thrones in the shape of Hadrian’s Wall. Naomi MacKay details some additional options for groups

View along Hadrian's Wall towards sunrise near Housesteads Fort in Northumberland

View along Hadrian's Wall towards sunrise near Housesteads Fort in Northumberland

The North East is home to three of England’s well-known rivers and also has a rich industrial heritage. The North East includes the counties of Durham and Northumberland, taking you to the Scottish Borders and the Tees Valley, which boasts the birthplace of the steam railway.


Hadrian’s Wall

This UNESCO World Heritage site is the best-preserved frontier of the Roman Empire and the finest example of Roman works in the UK. Writer George RR Martin used it as inspiration for ‘The Wall’ in the Game of Thrones books.

The best place for groups to visit is Vindolanda. Live excavations take place here throughout the summer and it has the most extensive remains of any fort on the Wall. A museum displays many finds, including the famous Vindolanda Writing Tablets.

A couple of miles away is Housesteads, which offers stunning views of the surrounding countryside, but has a smaller Visitor Centre and smaller capacity for refreshments.  Hadrian’s Wall is also the venue for a thrilling event – Hadrian’s Wall Live (September 5-6, 2015) - where visitors will get the chance to witness a Roman army descending on England or join a legionary guard conducting a nighttime patrol.

W: www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/hadrians-wall/hadrianswalllive

Groups: For more on group visits to Hadrian’s Wall contact: www.english-heritage.org.uk/about-us/contact-us/group-visits/help-for-groups


Crossing the causeway to the island of Lindisfarne will see groups follow in the footsteps of the ancient monks who lived there almost 1,400 years ago.

Lindisfarne Castle is a 16th century building with spectacular views

Lindisfarne Castle is a 16th century building with spectacular views

The Holy Island, in addition to its wild coastal beauty, offers the visitor both a Castle and Priory. The museum tells the story of a grisly Viking raid, the cult of St Cuthbert and the Lindisfarne Gospels – a beautiful medieval manuscript.

Groups: A 15% discount for prepaid groups of 15 or more is available. Call 01289 389 244 or lindisfarne@nationaltrust.org.uk. It is best to divide large groups and spread your visit. Check tide times before organizing a trip.

Lindisfarne Castle is a 16th century building with spectacular views. It was renovated by architect Edwin Lutyens and overlooks the Gertrude Jekyll's walled garden.

Groups: A 15% discount for groups of 11 or more, plus free entry for coach drivers and tour leaders. Contact the site for a Group Booking Form. For more on group visits see www.english-heritage.org.uk/about-us/contact-us/group-visits/help-for-groups


Warkworth Castle

This Northumbrian fortress sits above the River Coquet and was home to Harry Hotspur, immortalized as a rebel lord by William Shakespeare and the bane of Scottish raiders. Find out how the Percy family lived and take a trip down river to the Hermitage.

W: www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/warkworth-castle-and-hermitage

Groups: A 15% discount for groups of 11 or more visitors paying together, with free entry awarded to the coach driver and tour leader. Coach drop off is available outside the Castle. Hermitage not suitable for group visits.

Group Travel in Northumberland

Northumberland Tourism’s Group Travel Team has put together a helpful selection of itinerary suggestions, including group-friendly accommodation available for 10 rooms or more. Contact Northumberland Tourism’s Group Travel Department: natalie.wood@northumberlandtourism.co.uk


Thirlestane Castle

This magnificent 16th century Castle sits among quiet meadows on the Scottish borders. Family home of the Duke of Lauderdale, it is one of the oldest and finest castles in Scotland and remains a family home to the Maitland family. Thirlestane Castle is open over the summer for visitors and touring groups. It is located near the pretty town of Lauder, known for its stylish shops and art gallery.

W: www.thirlestanecastle.co.uk

Groups: Local, experienced and entertaining guides conduct specially tailored tours for groups. Allow an hour and a half. High tea, fine dining in the State Dining Room and additional refreshments can be arranged to accompany your visit. Group tours can also be organised when the Castle is closed. Email enquiries@thirlestanecastle.co.uk or call 01578 722430.


Durham Castle and Cathedral

Durham claims one of the first designated UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The Castle and Cathedral sit adjacent on a hilltop above the wooded slopes of the River Wear. The city itself dates from medieval times and has a number of narrow streets to explore. Occupied continuously since the 11th century, the Castle is now home to students of University College, which remains part of Durham University. The Castle runs specialist tours, family tours, free flow days and tea and tours. There are also concerts, talks and exhibitions, plus activities for families and schools.

W: www.dur.ac.uk/durham.castle

Groups: 10 people or more are offered a discounted rate of entry.

Call 0191 334 2932 or email castle.tours@durham.ac.uk

Durham Castle, Durham City

Durham Castle, Durham City

Durham Cathedral

Author Bill Bryson called Durham Cathedral “the best Cathedral on planet Earth.” The building was introduced in 1093 and completed 40 years later. It was a Benedictine Cathedral Priory until the dissolution of the monasteries in 1539 when it was designated as a Church of England Cathedral. In addition to its tiny Lego doppelganger, the Cathedral is home to the Shrine of St Cuthbert and the Tomb of the Venerable Bede.

W: www.durhamcathedral.co.uk

Groups: Pre-booked groups of 12 or more people receive a range of exclusive benefits, including a discounted rate of £5 each. Refreshment packages are available and served in the medieval Prior's Hall (for groups of 15 or more). Free entry for the organiser, free coach parking (Cathedral Bus Shuttle Service) and refreshment voucher is awarded to the coach driver. Exclusive behind the scenes tours and talks on specialist subjects can be arranged.

[i] T: 03000 262626

E: tradeinfo@discoverdurham.co.uk

W: www.discoverdurham.co.uk

Beamish Museum

Take a trip back in time and discover what life would have been like first hand at the Beamish Museum, where the early 1800s and 1900s is recreated. Climb aboard a real tram and meet some of the people who lived in past North East England. Costumed staff and volunteers in a living and working museum retell the story of Georgian, Victorian and Edwardian life. Most of the houses, shops and other buildings have been dismantled, brought to Beamish and rebuilt there.

Groups: Special rates are available for groups of 15 or more, with daytime special events at no extra charge and free coach parking.

W: www.beamish.org.uk


Raby Castle

Raby Castle is one of England's most impressive and best-preserved medieval castles, featuring fine furniture, impressive artworks and elaborate architecture. Explore the rooms of the Castle and take a trip through 600 years of history. Take a walk in the picturesque walled gardens, search for wildlife in the 200acre deer park, browse the horse-drawn carriage collection and let the children frolic in the woodland play area.

Groups: Pre-booked groups of 12 or more benefit from discounted admission, coach parking, free admission for the coach driver and organizer and a refreshment voucher for the coach driver. Familiarisation visits can be arranged for group organisers and members of the trade. Call 01833 660202 for more information.


Tees Valley

Head of Steam - Darlington Railway Centre and Museum

One of the most important historical events in Darlington and Stockton is the birth of the British railway industry. The best place to find out more is the Head of Steam, situated on the 1825 route of the first steam-hauled public railway. Devoted entirely to the North Eastern Railway, one of the highlights is George Stephenson’s Locomotion No. 1, built for the opening of the Stockton & Darlington Railway, along with Derwent, which is the earliest surviving Darlington built locomotive.

W: www.darlington.gov.uk/leisure-and-culture/head-of-steam

Groups: One free pass is awarded for every 10 paying visitors. For groups of 30, the organizer goes free. Entry is free for students on pre-booked school visits.

Railway enthusiasts could combine their visit to Head of Steam with a stop-off at George Stephenson's Birthplace in Wylam, situated eight miles from Newcastle. See the tiny room in the pretty cottage next to the River Tyne, where the railway pioneer was born and lived with his family, and listen to the costumed guide explain how mining families lived and what challenges they faced.

Groups: Group discounts available.


Tynemouth Castle and Priory

Tynemouth Castle and Priory was once one of the largest fortified areas in England and looks out over the North Sea and the River Tyne. Visitors can enjoy the Life in the Stronghold exhibition, which covers Tynemouth Castle and Priory’s story from an Anglo-Saxon settlement through to an Anglican monastery, royal castle, artillery fort and coastal defence. The newly refurbished battery gun was designed to defend the Tyne in the First and Second World Wars and can be explored here.

W: www.englishheritage.org.uk/visit/places/tynemouth-priory-and-castle

Groups: A 15% discount for groups of 11 or more visitors paying together, with free entry awarded to the accompanying coach driver and tour leader.


Auckland Castle

Auckland Castle is home to the Bishop of Durham, boasting the main country residence of the Prince Bishops since 1190. In addition to its rich architectural history, visitors can observe various treasures in the Staterooms, 17th century Spanish paintings by Francisco de Zurbaran and portraits of past Bishops. St Peter’s Chapel is one of the largest private chapels in Europe.

W: www.aucklandcastle.org

Auckland Castle, Vale of Durham, Bishop Auckland,Barnard Castle

Auckland Castle, Vale of Durham, Bishop Auckland,Barnard Castle

Next month, GTW explores the opposite side of the North of England, as we take a look at the historical sites, stately homes and prominent castles of the North West.

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