Dominating a ridge about 150 feet above the Northumbrian shoreline, majestic Bamburgh Castle has capably served kings and commoners for almost two millenia. King Ida first established a foothold in 547 AD after the departure of the Romans. The Anglo-Saxons had already transformed Northumbria into a cultural and religious center by the 7th century, according to accounts by the Venerable Bede's "History of Northumbria". The Vikings destroyed the early castle in 993. When the Normans took over after 1066, they valued Bamburgh for its clear view of the tidal sands that separated the mainland from Holy Island and they restored the early fortifications and made significant additions. Having Iron Age and Roman roots and legendary associations with the Arthurian knights Sir Lancelot and Sir Galahad, Bamburgh's heritage extends back at least to the first century BC.
Commanded by a powerful great tower and enclosed by a masonry wall that traces the perimeter of the crag upon which it stands, Bamburgh is a classic example of a stone-enclosure castle. The layout of the medieval castle, its baileys and rectangular keep still survive. Structurally, the four-storey turreted tower represents a typical Norman rectangular keep and it is likely that it dates back to the 12th century.Historians differ on who actually built the self-sufficient castle-within-a-castle. Most believe that Henry I or Henry II that erected the Great Tower and that David I of Scotland and his son finished the project.
Whoever actually built the imposing tower, it remains the medieval castle's most impressive - and lasting - feature. The castle was last used by the military as a Headquarters during WW II.Since the late 1960s, archaeologists have routinely excavated the grounds and surrounding landscape.
Discoveries have been numerous. Within the west bailey (courtyard), pottery shards and traces of foodstuffs, including fish bones and cereal grains, have been discovered which date back to the Iron Age and the Roman era. Evidence has also been found of a pot-Roman beacon that was used to warn of raids from the sea, most likely by the marauding Vikings.Then, in 1971, Dr.
Brian Hope-Taylor found the tiny "Bamburgh Beast", which is arguably the most enchanting archaeological find from the castle. Reminiscent of the artwork that adorns the famous Lindisfarne Gospels, the small, hand-crafted gold plaque features a stylized creature and clearly ties the site to the early Anglo-Saxons. Further proof of Anglo-Saxon occupancy was found in the coins and sword that were found.In recent years, the Bamburgh Research Project has employed standard excavation practices, used ground-penetrating radar and conducted geophysical surveys to locate the long-hidden remains of medieval structures, medieval glass, bone implements and other artefacts.
They have also pinpointed the site of an Anglo-Saxon burial site, known as the "Bowl Hole" which dates back to the 7th century.Bamburgh Castle truly is one of England's grandest and most historic monuments. Its riches not only include the great keep and grand interiors, but also a vast archaeological heritage, much which is yet to be discovered in full.
Since 1894 when the first Lord Armstrong took over, Bamburgh Castle has been under the care of the Armstrong family. They have restored the impressive armoury that features items dating as far back as the 15th century, as well as muskets and pikes readied for use during the Napoleonic Wars. What is probably one of the finest castles in England is open during the spring and summer months for an entrance fee.
.Michael Russell Your Independent guide to Tourism.
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By: Michael Russell