Resting in a meander on the River Wansbeck, Morpeth is a historic market town that grew up around two Medieval castles built to defend the crossing.
Morpeth will be right up your street if you like towns with a bit of personality and healthy local businesses like the independent food shops, boutiques, cafes and design stores that await on Newgate Street.
On the river crossing is one of only a handful of surviving Medieval chantry bridge chapels in the UK, while the refined Carlisle Park has a riverside path and a Tudor-style garden for the influential 16th-century herbalist William Turner, a Morpeth native.
In a matter of minutes you can get out to family attractions like the Northumberland Country Zoo, as well as the wild beaches and dunescapes of the Northumberland coast.
1. Wallington Hall
In 1942 the Labour Party MP Sir Charles Trevelyan donated his ancestral home to the National Trust.
In the donation was the William and Mary-style hall house from 1688, as well as its gardens and more than 13,000 acres of farmland on the west side of Morpeth Borough.
Wallington Hall is an essential visit, with opulent 18th-century interiors enriched with stucco-work by the Italian Pietro Lafrancini.
The central living hall was redesigned on the orders of the botanist and natural historian Sir Walter Calverley Trevelyan (1797-1879), who was friends with the artist, writer and art critic John Ruskin.
Crowned with a coved ceiling and balustrade this hall is painted with floral patterns and eight scenes from Northumbrian history, some by Ruskin himself.
Wallington Hall has a superb collection of antique dolls’ houses, while the wider estate is large enough for lengthy signposted hikes of up to six miles in rolling terrain.
2. Church of St Mary
The parish church’s forerunners fell victim to attacks by Vikings, while the current Church of St Mary suffered at the hands of the Scots and Parliamentarian forces.
St Mary’s is mostly 14th century, with some Early English Gothic flourishes from the century before.
The nave and aisle roofs have Medieval timber, while there are Gothic capitals with foliate motifs on the south arcade.
Check out the 14th-century Tree of Jesse on the east window, and there’s more 14th-century glass on the south aisle.
But maybe the most compelling of all is the grave of Emily Davison (1872-1913). This suffragette, whose parents were from Morpeth, was killed when she was struck by King George V’s horse at the 1913 Derby.
It is thought that she took the risk of walking onto the course in an attempt to pin a women’s rights banner onto the horse.
Her grave carries the Women’s Social and Political Union slogan, “Deeds not words”.
3. Morpeth Chantry
A neat companion to the historic stone bridge over the River Wansbeck, the Morpeth Chantry on the north bank dates from the end of the 13th century.
It is one of only five bridge chantries in the UK and also served as a toll-house for the bridge.
Chantries, set up for almsmen to pray for the soul of a wealthy individual, were banned during the Reformation, when the Morpeth Chantry was deconsecrated and turned into a school, which it remained until 1859. This venerable Gothic building now houses Morpeth’s tourist information office, as well as a craft centre and a bagpipe museum, which we’ll talk about next.
4. Morpeth Chantry Bagpipe Museum
Bagpipes have an important place in Northumberland culture, and the region even has its own kind of bellows-blown bagpipe, known as the Northumbrian smallpipes.
The museum is based on the collection of one William Alfred Cocks (1892-1971), a master clockmaker from Ryton who spent years assembling a hoard of bagpipes, music manuscripts and books.
The bagpipes came to Morpeth in 1987, and along with many Border pipes and Northumbrian smallpipes comprises bagpipe music (manuscripts and printed) and Cock’s own extensive photography collection.
If you want to hear these instruments live there are performances every month by the Northumbrian Pipers’ Society and the Chantry Lasses, while the museum is prominent during the Northumbrian Gathering festival in April.
5. Carlisle Park
On the south bank of the River Wansbeck, Morpeth’s blissful town park holds a Green Flag Award and was voted “best park” for Northumbria in Bloom in 2018. Carlisle Park opened in 1929 and is constantly being improved.
In 1999 The Tudor-style William Turner Garden was laid out in honour of the 16th-century Morpeth-born herbalist, while the park’s working floral clock, one of only four in the UK, was restored in 2018. Another new addition is the touching statue for suffragette Emily Davison.
On the park’s east side is Ha’ Hill, the earthwork mound of a Norman motte-and-bailey castle built in 1095, while there’s a paddling pool for toddlers and small children, open in summer.
6. Whitehouse Farm Centre
Families with smaller children need look no further than the Whitehouse Farm Centre for an easy day out.
Along with all kinds of domestic animals, including rare breeds, the farm keeps birds of prey, reptiles, small animals for cuddling, creepy-crawlies like scorpions, and exotic animals like meerkats, emus, wallabies and marmoset monkeys.
A day on the farm is a whir of new experiences like bottle feeding lambs, handling cuddly animals, grooming goats and finding out about the cheeky meerkats and owls at “meet and greets”. Added to all that are tractor rides, go-karts and indoor and outdoor play, as well as a kitchen using local ingredients and a gift shop.
7. Northumberland Coast Path
Cresswell in Morpeth is the southern trailhead for a 62-mile walking path taking in some of the most beautiful and most remote coastal scenery in Europe.
The landscapes on the Northumberland Coast Path are always changing and always magnificent, along wide open beaches tracked by dunes and interspersed with dramatic rocky outcrops.
At Amble the trail enters the Northumberland Coast Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
There are 7,000 years of history on the walk, manifested in ruins like the 14th-century Dunstanburgh Castle or Lindisfarne Monastery on the namesake tidal island.
8. Druridge Bay Country Park
At the very start of the trail you’ll be in this country park, which is seven miles of sandy beaches and a grassy-banked lake between Cresswell and Amble.
There are almost no signs of civilisation in Druridge Bay, save for the faint traces of 19th-century coalmines in woodland, as well as pillboxes and anti-tank blocks to stop a possible invasion in the Second World War.
For company you’ll have the occasional walker or surfer, as well as bevies of swans and rare wading birds pecking around at low tide.
The country park has a cafe and play area for little ones, along with a visitor centre for information about the bay’s nature and walks.
9. Northumberland Country Zoo
There’s more animal fun at this recently established zoo in 17 acres of Northumbrian countryside.
This is a growing attraction, but already keeps more than 50 animal species.
These are smaller mammals like Asian short-clawed otters, Canadian lynxes, skunks, porcupines, capybaras, llamas, ring-tailed lemurs and wallabies.
The zoo has a hot house for exotic invertebrates and reptiles, as well as aviaries for birds of prey and farm animals like donkeys, Shetland ponies, goats, pigs, sheep and cattle in paddocks.
Like the best zoos, the Northumberland Country Zoo schedules feeding times all day long, as well as a “mini beast show” in the hot house.
10. Sanderson Arcade
Morpeth is the kind of town that may awaken to the spendthrift in you, especially on Newgate Street and Oldgate, full of one-off fashion boutiques, sewing shops, design stores, bakeries, greengrocers, galleries, specialty food shops and cafes full of character.
Slightly east on Bridge Street is the opulent Sanderson Arcade, dating to 1939 and housing a mix of well-known chains and shops that you can only find in Morpeth.
So while Clarks, Marks & Spencer, Hobbs, Paperchase and Laura Ashley are all here, you can also discover the Morpeth Larder, a delicatessen and coffee shop baking pies, quiches and tarts.
11. Stanton Hall Gardens
Open during the growing season from April to September, these gardens are attached to a nursery and garden centre and free to visit.
Stanton Hall started out as a market garden more than 40 years ago, and slowly evolved into a nursery for perennials, trees and shrubs.
In a serene location, this place couldn’t be further removed from a commercial garden centre, and is designed to kindle some inspiration, showing off what can be done with the plants sold at the nursery.
There are lots of quirky features made from recycled materials, and you can pick up a cup of tea or coffee from the small cafe.
12. Morpeth Clock Tower
Among the independent shops on Oldgate is a historic landmark just off the Market Place.
The Morpeth Clock Tower is a little under 20 metres high and was erected in the first decades of the 17th century, using recycled Medieval stone most likely from the nearby Newminster Abbey, which explains the tower’s rustic appearance.
The building has been put to all sorts of uses, and was a gaol up to 1802 as well as a storehouse for meat.
The Clock Tower’s six bells were cast in 1706 by the famous founder Richard Phelps, and are rung by a group of volunteer bell-ringers established in 1706. You can hear them on Remembrance Sunday and Armistice Day in November, at New Year, during the Northumbrian Gathering festival in April and on the Morpeth Summer Fair Day in early June.
13. Belsay Hall and Gardens
A bit further out, Belsay Hall is an English Heritage site ten miles south-west of Morpeth.
Belsay Hall was built in the 1810s for Sir Charles Monck, who lived at the Medieval Belsay Castle, still on the same estate.
Monck’s new residence was designed in the fashionable Greek Revival style, and was the first British country house to completely adopt this design.
It is composed of sandstone quarried on the estate, and that quarry was turned into an enchanting garden.
The house was never finished, as you’ll tell from the pillar hall, where the light-flooded atrium is enclosed by Ionic columns.
There are original fireplace grates in the family bedrooms, which also have floral printed wallpaper from the early 1800s.
The gardens are Grade I listed, with one of the largest collections of rhododendrons in the UK, including winter flowering varieties in the Quarry Garden, which has its own microclimate.
The Magnolia Terrace and Yew Garden are also obligatory.
14. Bothal Castle
This fairytale castle and stately home is not open to the public, but is worth taking a detour to see from outside.
A couple of miles from Morpeth the castle will hove into view on its riverside roost as you enter the village of Bothal by road.
Home to the Caventish-Bentinck family since 1591, Bothal Castle is older than the Norman Conquest and started to gain its current appearance in 1343 when the curtain wall and gatehouse were constructed.
The stately home has a Gothic Revival style to complement the Medieval walls, and was built in the 1840s.
15. Farmers’ Market
If you happen to be in Morpeth on the first Saturday of the month you’ll catch the farmers’ market, trading from 09:00 ’til 15:00. Anyone into food provenance you’ll be pleased to learn that nothing at the market has travelled more than 50 miles to be here (except for, at a maximum, two speciality food stalls), and this comes with the added satisfaction of knowing that you’re supporting local businesses.
Just some of the products available are locally roasted coffee, sausages, venison, ginger wine, freshly baked pies and quiches, honey, fresh fish and shellfish, plants from a specialist nursery and luxury seasonal sauces.