1. Ogle England’s second-largest inhabited castle
Alnwick Castle, England’s second-largest inhabited castle after Windsor, has been home to the Duke of Northumberland’s family, the Percys, for over 700 years. Hidden within its forbidding walls are remarkable stories of drama, intrigue and extraordinary people. Learn about a gunpowder plotter, visionary collectors and medieval England’s most celebrated knight, Harry Hotspur. Gawp at the lavish Italianate State Rooms, filled with one of the country’s finest private art collections including works by Canaletto, Titian, Van Dyck and JMW Turner. And while you’re here, don’t miss The Alnwick Garden, where you can explore the tranquil Cherry Orchard, exciting Grand Cascade and intriguing Poison Garden.
Find out more Alnwick Castle
2. Come over all Austenian at palatial Chatsworth House
Chatsworth in the Peak District has been enchanting visitors for centuries. Home to the Cavendish family since 1549, its ornate rooms and diverse gardens burst forth with rich history. There are over 30 rooms to explore, from the magnificent Painted Hall to the regal state rooms and atmospheric Sculpture Gallery, while private art haul the Devonshire Collection is one of Europe’s finest. Surrounding the house is a mesmerising horticultural tapestry of sweeping vistas, cascading water features and finely crafted shrubberies. Writer Jane Austen was so taken with it all that Chatsworth is believed to have inspired Mr Darcy’s residence Pemberley in her novel Pride & Prejudice.
Find out more about Chatsworth
3. Visit the castle that kept a queen captive
Sieges, a royal prisoner and home to the King's Own Royal Border Regiment: this castle has some incredible secrets to reveal. Carlisle Castle stands proudly in the centre of the Cumbrian city it has dominated for nine centuries. The well-preserved Roman fortress has some spine-tingling stories to tell, from the mysterious stone carvings adorning the castle keep’s walls to the royal bedrooms in the Captain's Tower, one of the best-preserved gatehouses in the country. Explore medieval castle rooms and 19th century military buildings, and visit the turret in which Mary, Queen of Scots was held captive.
Find out more about Carlisle Castle
4. Raise a pinky to where Earl Grey was first brewed
Earl Grey tea is enjoyed – usually at around 4pm – all over the world, but few know it was invented at the splendid Howick Hall in Northumberland for Charles, 2nd Earl Grey. Bergamot, which gives Earl Grey tea its distinctive taste, was used to offset the taste of lime in the water from Howick Hall’s well and there’s no better place in the world to enjoy a pot of Earl Grey than Howick Hall’s Tea House. After quenching your thirst, and perhaps nibbling a homemade cake, explore the gardens created by Charles, 5th Earl Grey, with his wife and daughter. They have an informal and natural style and are delightful in any season.
Find out more Howick Hall
5. Be shocked by the colourful stories about one of England’s oldest families
Steeped in history, yet timeless, Ripley Castle in Harrogate, Yorkshire, has belonged to the Ingilby family since 1308 and is still their family home today. Throughout the ages, this ancient family has played a vivid part in English history. Hear how the family was split by rebellion, and how it welcomed one king and saved the life of another. It was here too, that a family member plotted to blow up the Houses of Parliament in 1605, and another held Oliver Cromwell, leader of the English Civil War, at gunpoint overnight. Uncover these and more jaw-dropping tales as you tour the medieval gatehouse, the Tudor tower and the elegant Georgian rooms.
Find out more Ripley Castle
6. Explore the Queen’s only castle in Northern England
The 12th century Lancaster Castle is the Queen’s only castle in the North of England. Its courtrooms have witnessed famous and infamous trials over the centuries, including those of the Lancashire witches, convicted and sentenced to death in 1612. Lancaster Castle was also one of the longest running operational prisons in Europe, until its closure in 2011. Guided tours delve into the stories of the thousands of convicts deported to the Colonies during the 17th and 18th centuries and take you inside the chilling cells where prisoners were held.
Find out more Lancaster Castle
7. See what life was like above and below stairs
Tatton Park in Cheshire is a grand estate set amid manicured landscaped gardens and seemingly endless rolling parkland. The richly furnished mansion reveals centuries of colourful history and unravels the realities of Downton Abbey-style life above and below stairs. Wander at leisure through undulating countryside and Tatton’s glorious gardens, which include a working kitchen garden and spectacular Japanese gardens, and meet special rare breed animals down at the working farm. Every July, Tatton Park hosts the Royal Horticultural Society Garden Show, and unique events such as concerts under the stars and historical reconstructions take place throughout the year.
Find out more Tatton Park
8. Discover a castle fit for a prince
Explore treasures inside Auckland Castle, home of the Prince Bishops of Durham for 900 years, and set to host a spectacular new night show from 2016. The Prince Bishops of Durham were men of great power, wealth, faith and passion, who for centuries were equal in power to the kings of England. Admire the spectacular ceiling and stained-glass windows at Europe's largest private chapel, venture out to the grounds – which retain elements of the Medieval Park – and don't miss the artworks. And from July 2016, Eleven Arches will bring to life 2,000 years of Britain’s History through the eyes of the North East, from Roman times to post World War II, in an open-air night spectacular.
Find out more Auckland Castle