A visit to Etal Castle

March 6, 2018
Etal Castle

Etal Castle is a medieval fortification in the village of Etal in Northumberland. The castle was built as a defence against Scottish border raiders and the ruins remain as a reminder of these times. A visit takes you back into the past and allows you to discover the history of the region. Read on to find out more.

Etal Castle is an English Heritage property which is found in the village of Etal. This pretty Northumberland village consists of whitewashed cottages with thatched and slate roofs. The centre of the village is home to the Black Bull, the only thatched pub in Northumberland. The pub is currently closed for refurbishment but is due to reopen in June 2018. If you want refreshment you can try the Lavender tearoom opposite which serves refreshment daily.

At the far end of the village, you will find the remains of Etal Castle which stands as a reminder of the turbulent history of the border region. The 14th Century castle was captured by James IV just before his defeat at the Battle of Flodden. The battle was one of the bloodiest battles in English history and a devastating defeat for the Scots. The Flodden Battlefields are nearby if you want to visit.

Etal Castle Gatehouse

Etal Castle

Originally a manor house in the 13th Century, Etal Castle became fortified in the 14th Century by the Manners family. As it is near to the Scottish border it will have been a target for the border reivers of the time. Both the Scottish and the English would cross the border in order to raid each others livestock. The border regions were a lawless place to live.

The castle has a turbulent history. For many years the family were involved in a feud with the Heron family of the nearby Ford Castle. The feud was bitter and many other border families got involved. It finally came to an end with the murder of John Manners and his eldest son in 1438.

In 1515 the castle was attacked by the invading Scottish army under James IV. The castle surrendered and came under Scottish control. The castle came back under English control after the Battle of Flodden where the Scots were defeated.  Walking into the castle is like walking back into years of history.

Read more: A visit to Lanercost Priory

A visit to Etal Castle

Not long ago we found ourselves in the Ford and Etal estates in North Northumberland. The estate centres on the two villages of Ford and Etal in the vallye of the River Till. It is between the Scottish border and the Cheviot hills and not far from Holy Island and Bamburgh. There are a few things to do in the area but as we are English Heritage members we went to visit Etal Castle.

Etal Castle Museum

The approach to the castle is though the village, passing the gatehouse and along a lane leading to a carpark. To enter Etal Castle you go through reception into  Etal Castle Museum. This area was previously a Presbyterian chapel.

The museum provides a fascinating look at the history of the Battle of Flodden. It chronicles in detail the antagonism between the Scots and the English, showing what led up to the battle. There is plenty of information and lots to see in the way of weaponry, suits of armour and illustrations. It is easy to spend quite a bit of time in the award winning museum.

Visiting peaceful rural Northumberland today it is easy to forget what a fiercely contested part of the world this was in the past. The museum brings the past vividly to life and is well worth a visit on its own.

Inside Etal Castle Museum

Inside Etal Castle Museum

Inside Etal Castle

Leaving the museum we found ourselves inside Etal Castle. These days there is not much of the castle left, just the shell of the keep and the gatehouse. The ruins are imposing and give a feel of the grandeur of the castle before it got ruined.

When you first enter the castle it appears to consists of a tower standing in the middle of a large grassy area. If you look some more you realise that this is in fact the corner of the castle. On the opposite side you will see the imposing gatehouse and another smaller tower stands in the south west. Some of the wall from the gatehouse to the tower still remains.

If you enter the tower house you can see evidence that there were once three floors. This contains the hall and living quarters for the family. From the gatehouse you get a good view of the village and canons stand outside. You get a sense of the grandeur that the castle must have had before it was ruined.

There is plenty of room to run about in the grassy areas and picnic tables allow you to sit and enjoy the tranquillity. It would be lovely to visit on a sunny day with a picnic.

Etal Castle

Etal Castle

Etal Castle

Etal Castle

Etal Castle

Need to Know

Parking at Etal Castle

There is free parking for around 40 cars near to the entrance of Etal Castle.  Toilets and baby changing facilities are also available in the car park.

Etal Castle Prices and Opening times

If you are an English Heritage member Etal Castle is free to visit.

Food and drink

Light snacks are available in the shop. There is a picnic area on site and you can bring your own picnic. The village of Etal has a tearoom and a pub.


Dogs are allowed into Etal Castle provided they are on leads.

What else can you do in the area?

Take the Heatherslaw Steam Railway

The hamlet of Heatherslaw is in between the villages of Ford and Etal. A 15 inch gauge steam railway connects Etal to Heatherslaw. The return journey is 50 minutes. It is a mini train rather than a full blown steam train but it still a delightful way to travel. Dogs are welcome on the train.

Visit Heatherslaw

Heatherslaw village is a small hamlet beside the river Till. It is a charming place to spend a little time. Leaving the railway an iron footbridge leads you to Heatherslaw Corn Mill. This is a fully working water mill which produces stone-ground flour. You have the opportunity to see how the river powers the original Victorian machinery and how flour is made using traditional methods. The gift shop sells fresh mill produce and there is also a tea room. We didn’t have time to pop inside but would like to go back and explore another day.

Also in Heatherslaw you will find a vistitor centre where you can pick up information about the Ford and Etal Estate, North Northumberland and the Scottish borders. Cycle hire is also available.

Read more: A visit to Northumberland National Park

The village of Heatherslaw

Heatherslaw mill stone

Heatherslaw corn mill

See the Northumberland Flag

Whilst visiting Heatherslaw we saw the Northumberland flag flying proudly over the houses. On one of the houses we found a placard that told us more about the flag. Northumberland is one of the few counties in England that has its own flag and it is probably the oldest known flag design in Britain.

In ancient times the Angle kingdom of Bernica had a flag of eight stripes with alternating red and gold. This kingdom stretched from the Tees to the Forth. Northumberland came into existance when Bernica and Deria, a kingdom from the Humber to the Tees came together in the 7th Century. The flag of Bernica is now the flag of Northumberland.

Northumberland Flag

Visit the standing stones at Duddo

 If it is a nice day then the standing stones at Duddo are worth a visit. It is a little bit of a walk to get to them but the scenery is lovely and the stones have a calm serenity about them.

Standing stones at Duddo

Have you ever been to Etal Castle? What did you think? Let me know below.

10 responses to “A visit to Etal Castle”

  1. Galina V says:

    Fascinating history, Alison! A relic of turbulent times. If only those walls could talk, they’d tell many a scary story. Hope you didn’t encounter any ghosts. 🙂

  2. I love visiting places like this that are as they were without being made too touristy – the standing stones look great. They always fascinate me 🙂

  3. Indeed, it’s small but how fascinating. Medieval at its best. I miss Northumberland. I hope to visit again one day, it’s such a gorgeous area

  4. Sounds a great day out. I didn’t know Northumberland had its own flag

  5. Jayne Townson says:

    We went a few years ago and really enjoy it.

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