Tuesday, 6 October 2015

Belsay Castle (NZ084785)

© Copyright Brian Norman and licensed for 

The grounds of Belsay estate a few miles NW of Ponteland present one of the region’s most attractive and curious touristy days out. Firstly there is the classical hall, built by actual Grecian builders who were dancing to the tune of landowner, Sir Charles Monck, in the 1810s; then there is the unusual quarry garden, developed in and around the hole left in the ground following the construction of the Hall; and finally there is the best of the lot – the medieval castle-cum-tower house, which now lies beautifully abandoned, superseded, as it was, by the 19th century hall.

Belsay Castle has been described as the “finest English tower-house in the north”, and even this is surely an understatement. On a fine, summer’s day it presents as handsome a prospect as any in the land. For centuries in the possession of the Middletons, the castle began as a three-storey pele tower built in the late 14th century (though this may have replaced an earlier effort). In 1614, the family added a Jacobean range, which can still be seen today. Another wing, added in 1711, has since been demolished.

When, in the early 19th century, the new hall was built nearby, the old place was gutted and left, deliberately, as a folly. It was later renovated by the family, but still left largely unused. Since its take-up by English Heritage, the castle and its Jacobean annex has continued to receive the appropriate care and attention to maintain its stunning demeanour.

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