“Well, I am glad that so many of you are here. I did worry, what with the Dementors sweating down on us from the sky like they’re doing… I thought that nobody might come!” The crowd of damp tourists in the far corner of The Knight’s Quest at Alnwick Castle sat wide eyed and open mouthed. The enormous figure of Hagrid had emerged from behind a suitably heavy and creaking wooden door to gasps of amazement. Dressed in a long caramel coloured overcoat and tunic and with giant size leather shoes Hagrid was soon joined by a very convincing Dumbledore dressed in jewel coloured robes and a very long pointy hat. The two men entertained the crowds for over half an hour with hilarious tales of Ginny Weasley, Severus Snape and, of course, Harry Potter.
It is a testament to the enduring popularity of J.K. Rowling’s books throughout the world that this castle in a Northumberland town was filled with tourists, even on a cold, drizzly August afternoon. Out on the lawns children lined up to learn to fly a broomstick on the very spot where Harry took his instructions from Madam Rolanda Hooch in the film ‘Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone’. Spanish and German voices mixed in with American accents as the castle staff arranged a session of ‘Broomstick Training’ for the trainee international witches and wizards. This was the scene in the film where Neville Longbottom failed to heed Madam Hooch’s directions to “Kick off from the ground hard, keep your broom steady, hover for a moment then lean forward slightly and touch back down”. Instead Neville went on a whirlwind tour of the castle’s many towers and turrets before ending up suspended high above the grounds on a knight’s jousting stick.
Inside the castle walls queues of children stretched around the inner courtyard of the Dragon’s Quest to choose between “phoenix feathers, vine wood and dragon heartstrings” to make their own wizard’s wands. Castle staff handed out lengths of coloured wool, feathers, beads and glitter and got stickier and stickier as they helped with the multi-coloured creations. “We make between 700 and 900 wands on a normal day”, one staff member explained, “But that goes up to 1,200 whenever Dumbledore and his gang pop in.” That’s a lot of glitter!
It’s over 700 years since the Percy family become owners of the Castle and the Barony of Alnwick. A specially created tour, ‘Battleaxe to Broomsticks’, is available to guide visitors in the footsteps of the castle’s previous owners including Harry ‘Hotspur’ Percy (1364-1403). The bravery of this young knight, who went into battle against the fearsome Scots whilst still a teenager, is celebrated in Shakespeare’s play Henry IV and he features in a larger than life statue in the castle, riding atop his heavily armoured horse in the Knight’s Quest courtyard.
Inside the castle several rooms are open to visitors. Paintings by Turner and Canaletto cause quite a stir among the crowds who file quietly through the ornate rooms with their stunning fireplace and ceiling high mirrors. One very thoughtful touch by the staff at the castle are the small toy owls that have been placed as a treasure hunt throughout the castle to keep children occupied. These little white balls of fluff, like lots of baby Hedwigs, with their orange eyes and speckled chests, give older visitors a chance to appreciate the artefacts on display. The library has added benefits too with stuffed pet dogs lounging on velvet chaise-longues and rogue red squirrels climbing up the book cases.
The current duke and his family live in the castle, and their family photographs give the rooms a friendly air. Since the Second World War parts of the castle have been used by different organisations, including the Newcastle Church High School for Girls. The walls along the corridor as you leave the castle are lined with photographs and memories of the schoolgirls saying that it was a very happy place to stay in the midst of a war. The feeling of happiness is still there. The attention to detail and the celebration of the castle’s long distant and recent past combines to make it a fascinating and wonderful place to visit.
by Katherine Wildman © 2011
If you need the words for your new website, a new company brochure or a regular SEO blog to increase your online presence please get in touch with her on 07186 763393 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.