Belsay Castle, Hall and Gardens (situated near Ponteland) is managed by English Heritage. We decided to visit their special bank holiday Knight's tournament event and it turned out to be a fantastic fun-filled day. You can view admission times, details of upcoming events and admission prices via their website.
Our day started with a walk through the fabulous gardens towards the castle. I didn't take many photographs as we were in a rush to watch the archery but it really feels as if you are walking through wonderland with so many fantastic and exotic plants. I overheard the boy in front telling his parents that this is what he imagines heaven to be like. I completely agree and definitely want to visit Belsay again simply to enjoy and photograph their gardens (and visit their tearoom as it is AMAZING but sadly too busy for us today).
It takes about 10-15 minutes to walk to the castle and for today's special event the castle provided the perfect back drop to the Knight's tournament event that was taking place. We arrived just in time to watch the lady's archery. We chose a team and joined the crowd to cheer them on as loudly as we could.
When the archery was finished, it was time to explore the castle. I have to say it is in very good condition. We all climbed about half way up but then the stairs started getting a bit too steep for Heidi (and me!) so Steve continued to the top with the boys. Our 3 year old managed to get to the top but it was a little bit of a struggle climbing back down. We loved the castle though and it is very deceiving - much bigger on the inside than you would imagine.
We left the castle at the rear and found a whole medieval village had been set up. We wondered around the various tents looking at cooking, fancy dress, crafting, armour and weaponry. There were lots of people in costume happy to talk to you and demonstrate medieval skills. The Medieval barbar we had watched at Warkworth Castle had gathered a crowd to demonstrate his slightly gruesome methods of surgery. The atmosphere was lovely and it was nice to see everybody joining in, giving archery a go and trying on various costumes.
When we'd finished browsing we found a spot in front of the main arena ready for the main Knight's battle. This part of the day was definitely a highlight. There was a large crowd all waving their flags and cheering on their team. The compare really got the crowd going and the jester joined in raising a few laughs. I know the weapon's the actors use have been designed not to cause any harm but to be honest it was hard to see where acting ended and real life started - they REALLY got into character and took the battle's seriously which was fantastic to see. By the end a lot of people (including our 3 year old) were on their feet jumping up and down and screaming for their team to win. It really was an amazing atmosphere.
It was now 2pm so we left to visit the delicious tea room but unfortunately as the event was so well attended there was a queue out of the door and no free tables - I would definitely recommend bringing a picnic if you attend future events. There was a full day of events planned included jester shows, weaponry displays and battles - something different every 30 minutes so you could easily have spent the full day here.
We had such a lovely time at Belsay and this was without exploring the gardens or hall itself. I can't wait to return soon.