This year’s selection included Bamburgh (the most dramatic), Lindisfarne (the most beautiful), Dunstanborough (the most ruined), Chillingham (the most eccentric), and Alnwick (the most Hogwarted).
Alnwick castle is the home of the Duke of Northumberland (and his forebears for 700 years). Alongside the fabulous State Rooms – I thought one woman was going to faint when we were told in the dining room that the Queen had recently lunched here with the Duke and Duchess – visitors have the opportunity to watch a video explaining the Duke’s views on Inheritance Tax. He doesn’t think much of it. But I think his progeny will survive on the post-tax pickings of “a growing international commercial property portfolio which is centred on the North East, including over 100,000 acres of land and more than 100 let farms, a large residential portfolio, a number of historical assets including Syon House in London and the Albury Estate in Surrey as well as fine art and treasures, mineral rights, sporting and leisure interests” as the Northumberland Estate website explains it.
An alternative view of Northumbrian life can be found at the fantastic Woodhorn Museum just outside Ashington. In addition to its exhibitions on coal mining and working class history, the museum is home to the permanent picture collection of the Ashington Group, known as the Pitmen Painters, who captured every aspect of life above and below ground, depicting living as well as working conditions.
The exhibition of union banners is fascinating, although we were struck by the banner of the Ellington Branch of the Northumberland Area of the National Union of Mineworkers. On one side is a picture of crowded slum pit housing with the slogan ‘Close The Door On Past Dreariness’. And on the other is a picture of a modern housing development, houses with gardens on a tree-lined street, with the slogan ‘Open It to Future Brightness’. That just about sums it all up.
Alnwick Castle followed by Woodhorn Colliery Museum offers such stark contrasts it really makes you wonder why the class war never caught on.
Image from a picture by Norman Cornish, included in an article by Martin Wainwright, Guardian website, October 2006.