Brought to you by… A Song of Fire and Ice
It was within about ten minutes of finishing the sixth (and thus far most recent) book in George R. R. Martin’s stellar A Song of Fire & Iceseries that I found myself perched at my computer and poring through countless forums and discussion boards looking for word on when the next volume could be expected.
While reading with increasing frustration that Martin had yet to confirm a publication date more specific than ‘in a few years time’, I stumbled across an interview where the author discussed his inspiration behind the books and how a visit to Hadrian’s Wall in England’s north had lead to the creation of one of the most popular and critically acclaimed titles in modern fantasy.
While I’ll leave in depth analysis of the saga to my new pet project over at Multiple Nerdgasms, I will say that reading about Martin’s sense of isolation and wonder while standing at the former border of the Roman empire inspired me. What follows is the fruit of that inspiration. I hope you enjoy it.
6 Beautiful Places to Visit in Northern England
England’s biggest tourist draws may lie in the south with London, but there’s no shortage of places to visit in northern England by any stretch. Hell, my initial knowledge of British geography came from following the English Super League – so names like Wigan, Leeds, and Bradford are the names I most commonly associated with England before developing a passion for travel.
While it was Hadrian’s Wall that initially put the bug in my brain, my own research and discussions with others have helped me form an enchanting image of northern England. Between chats with my Newcastle raised co-worker and an abundance of suggestions over on the Aussie on the Road Facebook page, I’ve come up with what I think are six of the most beautiful places to visit in northern England.
The location that inspired this piece, Hadrian’s Wall once marked the boundary of the Roman frontier and, as such, also marked the boundary of ‘civilization’. It was standing at the wall and realizing this that inspired ‘The Wall’ in George R.R. Martin’s epic, and it’s easy to imagine just how small a man must have felt standing at that wall and looking out into a world full of questions and dangers.
At almost 2,000 years of age and with walking trails stretching for 86 miles through ‘rolling hills, rugged moors, and a dynamic urban landscape’ along which are countless archaeological sites, museums, and tributes to the long dead Roman empire.
For an eager student of history, the Roman empire and all it touched fascinates me – so the opportunity to walk the boundaries of one of history’s most influential empires is one I’m eager to someday take.
St James’ Park
It might seem a bit odd to list a football stadium as one of my beautiful places to visit in northern England, but rarely are form and function meshed as well as they have been at the home of legendary Premier League club, Newcastle United. Immortalized by movies such as Goal! and famous almost as much for their eccentric (and often hard to understand) supporters as for their achievements on the field, there are few more quintessentially northern pastimes than attending a game and seeing the black and white battle the best in world football.
If the lure of seeing football played in one of the oldest stadiums in the country isn’t enough – let’s not forget that Newcastle isn’t a city without its own charms. There’s an abundance of shopping, dining, and cultural options to be found as well as the natural beauty of the stark British coastline.
Islands of Northern England
I’ve always been drawn to the ocean, and while the beaches of northern England aren’t much to write home about – there are an abundance of beautiful islands as well as stark stretches of coastline. If seeing animals in the wild is of appeal, the historic Farne Islands play host to both puffins and seals every summer. With the chain of rocky islands also boasting a number of picturesque lighthouses, there’s a real haunting beauty to be found.
If history has drawn you to England, look no farther than Lindisfarne with its rich history as a key location in the introduction of Christianity to the British Isles. With churches and other structures dating back as early as the 7th century, the island is known as the ‘jewel in the crown of Northumbria’ and is a must for anybody with an interest in medieval history. While there, don’t forget to grab a mead and rock it old school.
Described as ‘the finest castle in the country’, historic Bamburgh Castle spans nine acres and is one of the largest still inhabited castles in the United Kingdom. With its lofty view of the rocky coast and the churning seas, it’s easy to transport yourself from the hustle and bustle of modern life and back in time to feudal England for a few moments as you stand on the battlements and soak in the view.
While the entirety of the castle isn’t yours to explore, there’s still enough to give you a glimpse into English history. If history doesn’t get you as metaphorically hard as it gets me – there’s the option of tasting some of the local flavor on site. Not a bad way to take your high tea and scones, eh?
York & Leeds
I wouldn’t have considered the primarily industrial cities of northern England to be considered attractions, but more than one person recommended that both of these cities deserve a visit when considering places to visit in northern England. York, in particular, grabbed my eye with the grim and grisly City of York Dungeons. Maybe it’s the inner nerd conjuring up images of Orc infested warrens and hordes of treasure, but exploring these supposedly haunted dungeons sounds like a fun (albeit tacky) little adventure.
Not into the grim? York Minster is the oldest cathedral in all of northern Europe and there’s no shortage of fine dining or boutique shopping to be found in the city either.
Heading to the home of my beloved Leeds United, shopping enthusiasts can find the home of legendary British chain, Marks & Spencer. If that isn’t your cup of tea (and there’s no shortage of fine tea to be found in England) there’s the option of a gaslight cinema, a number of theatres, and plenty of picturesque walking trails among the buildings and streets of the city.
The Lakes District
I’ve already spoken at great length about this gem of natural beauty in northern England, so the best advertisement for the area would be to take a look at my recent travel daydream post about the Lakes District.
I’m by no means an expert on northern England, but my appetite has been whet and I’m keen to learn more. Been yourself? Give me your favorite spots so I can update my bucket list and maybe update this post!
Any tips on hotels in northern England or the best restaurants? I’d love those too.
Truth be told, Google wasn’t a whole lot of help. There’s a niche to be filled here, people.
More on my US trip and my recent adventures in China to come over the next few days. Brace for awesomeness!