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Northumberland National Park, England

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Northumberland National Park spills out beneath a visitor standing atop Hadrian's Wall.

Name: Northumberland National Park
Location: England
Date Established: 1956
Size: 405 square miles (1,049 square kilometers)

Did You Know?

Open Lands This “land of the far horizons” is a scenic gem at the top of England, anchored by the Cheviot Hills and undulating southward in swaths of open moorland and grasslands, dotted with traditional villages and cut by picturesque valleys.

Purple Heather Most of the park, about 70 percent, is open moorland covered with grasses that feed sheep and cattle from the more than 200 farms located in the park. In areas like Simonside and Cheviot Hills, where sheep grazing has been restricted, purple heather cover abounds—a habitat found few other places in the world. The heather often hides red grouse, which explode from cover in a noisy, helicopter-like flight. Red grouse are one of the few birds to live on the moors year-round. The curlew, Britain's biggest wading bird, breeds on the wet edges of the moors in spring.

Hadrian's Wall Northumberland is justly famed for the ancient engineering marvel of Hadrian’s Wall. The wall was constructed in the A.D. 120s to mark the frontier of the Roman Empire and separate its lands from those of the barbarians beyond. Many centuries later, most of the turf-and-stone structure still stands, stretching across the landscape of Northumberland for 73 miles (117 kilometers). It can be walked end-to-end along the Hadrian’s Wall Trail. Continuing archaeological work periodically reveals new glimpses of life in Roman Britain; some of these are on display at the Roman Army Museum in Greenhead.

Ancient Residents The Romans weren’t Northumberland’s original inhabitants. People have lived here for at least 10,000 years, since hunters roamed the landscape in the days after the end of the last ice age. Permanent villages sprang up after about 2000 B.C., and during the Iron Age, after about 300 B.C., dozens of spectacular stone and earth hill forts appeared. Today they are among the finest in all of Britain.

Pristine Waters The park’s rivers flow with clean water bound (except in the case of the Irthing on the Cumbrian border) for the North Sea, and many host migrating salmon and sea trout returning from the ocean. Of Britain’s 6,114 rivers only five are listed as “pristine” under new EU environmental standards—and four have their source in Northumberland National Park.

Bogland The park’s bogs have evolved during some 10,000 years of cool, wet conditions. Their mossy top layer covers thick deposits of peat—the decomposing remains of bog plants—which can be more than 33 feet (10 meters) deep. Bogs are home to some unique plants, including the very rare orchid called Jacob’s ladder.

Flora and Fauna Bits of ancient oak, alder, birch, and rowan woodland remain along riverbanks or upland burns. Northumberland’s woods harbor the red squirrel, now extinct in much of England due to competition with the larger grey squirrel. In spring some forest floors are speckled with the delicate white flowers of the wood anemone—beautiful evidence of an ecosystem that is hundreds of years old.

How to Get There

The Tyne Valley Line provides train service to Hadrian’s Wall and the park’s southern regions. Buses from Newcastle and Carlisle connect to most local destinations within the park, and the Hadrian’s Wall Bus AD122 cruises along the wall’s corridor, with stops at important sites, between April and September.

When to Visit

Park authorities have created a Springwatch program to showcase the special attractions of that season, when flowering hawthorn, violets, and wood anemone reach their peaks.

How to Visit

Cyclists and walkers have miles of trails to explore and birders can be kept content for days in Northumberland National Park. Castles, country houses, and parks feature gardens, and historic villages like Wooler invite exploration. No trip to Northumberland is complete without a visit to Hadrian’s Wall.

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