Hugging the Scottish Borders, covering around a quarter of the entire county of Northumberland, and enclosing within its boundaries one of the best-preserved sections of Hadrian’s Wall, Northumberland National Park is one of the least-populated, and least-visited national parks in the country. Thanks to its seclusion, the park has been designated ‘Dark Sky Park’ status, meaning that light-pollution is controlled and restricted, and the park is an excellent spot for star-, and even galaxy-gazing.
To the north, Northumberland (meaning ‘country north of the River Humber’) National Park boasts the Cheviot Hills, adjoining the Southern Uplands of Scotland. To the west, the park encloses a large section of Kielder Forest (the largest man-made forest in the UK, surrounding Kielder Water), as well as bordering Cumbria, home of the Lake District National Park. In the southern reaches of the park, one can find perhaps Northumberland’s main attraction: the central section of Hadrian’s Wall – a stone boundary built south of the Antonine Wall by Emperor Hadrian in the 2nd century CE, used as a show of the Roman Empire’s wealth and strength, an ancient tollgate, and a defensive barrier (though there were almost certainly countless other motivations behind its construction). From the park’s Sill Visitor Centre, Castle Nick (or Milecastle 39 – forts were built along the Wall at intervals of approximately one Roman mile) can be easily viewed, whilst beyond it the wall unfurls over magnificent hilly terrain.
The Romans were not, however, the first to leave their mark in this most historic of English counties. During the course of Northumberland’s ten-thousand-year history of human habitation, the land now comprising the park has seen ancient settlers, Roman occupiers, Viking marauders, and, of course, the countless raids of the Border reivers, against whom pele-towers were erected (many of which still stand, and stand better-preserved than their northern counterparts; perhaps a sign of the economic disparity between Scotland’s and England’s borderlands at that time, and since). Within the park one can, for example, find the the remains of Bronze-Age burial sites at Turf Knowe in the Breamish Valley. Atop the 1,182-foot Yeavering Bell, so too sits one one of the largest Iron-Age forts in the area, a tribal centre for the Votadini. Nearby, the palace of Edwin and other Northumbrian Kings once stood (presumably the palace of kings to which Hawick would have paid fealty in the town’s formative years), until abandoned about 670AD. There also stand around one-hundred-and-seventy-five pele-towers in the park, a stark reminder of the threat posed to locals by their Scottish neighbours during the 16th and 17th centuries.