Northern Delight - It was recently described as the best place to live in Britain. But does the medieval market town of Alnwick live up to the hype? Located just 30 miles north of Newcastle in the heart of Northumberland, this delightful area is surrounded by unspoilt countryside and long sandy beaches.
Steeped in a rich and ancient history, Alnwick is filled with cobbled streets, winding alleyways, and impressive buildings, but still manages to have all the amenities you would expect of a thriving modern town.
Alnwick is renowned for its many specialist shops and family businesses, which combine with the craft fairs and coffee mornings held around the central Market Place, to create a truly charming atmosphere.
There is also a farmers' market on the last Friday of each month, which adds to the traditional British feel that makes the town so appealing to residents and tourists alike.
One of the town's most famous shops is Barter Books, which has more than 350,000 titles to choose from. The store, believed to be one of the largest second-hand book shops in England, is based in a listed Victorian building, which was once the town's railway station.
There are also a host of high-street shops surrounding the medieval marketplace on Narrowgate, Fenkle Street and Bondgate Within, for those with more mainstream tastes.
But Alnwick's greatest attractions are intimately bound to its colourful history, which is filled with bloodthirsty battles between the English and Scots and dramatic events dating back to 600AD.
Alnwick Castle is magnificent, featuring spacious grounds and stunning rooms, which deserves its place as a nationally renowned tourist attraction and unspoilt location for filmmakers.
The second largest inhabited castle in England after Windsor Castle, it is currently occupied by the Duke and Duchess of Northumberland and has been the home of the Percys since 1309.
The first mention of Alnwick Castle in the history books is in 1096 when Yves de Vescy became baron of Alnwick.
Today, it acts as the focus of Alnwick's commercial, educational and tourism interests, including Northumberland Estates, and also houses a number of American students studying in the UK.
It is surrounded by 3,000 acres of outstanding natural beauty known as Hulne Park, which includes the remains of a 13th Carmelite priory as well as Brizlee Tower, a Grade One Listed folly designed by Robert Adam in 1777 and erected for the first Duke of Northumberland.
Next to the castle is another of the area's most well-known attractions, The Alnwick Garden. The Duchess of Northumberland's vision was to create a beautiful public space accessible to everyone and this has been realised with lush gardens, featuring more than 15,000 plans, spectacular water displays and one of the largest tree houses in the world set 60ft above the ground.
The 12-acre walled site, officially opened in 2002, was created by Belgian designer Jacques Wirtz and his son, with international architect Sir Michael Hopkins designing the garden's pavilion and visitor centre.
Outside the town, the Alnwick countryside is perfect for walking and cycling while the coastline consists of more than 20 miles of picturesque beaches.
Coastal villages include Warkworth and its stunning castle, Amble, Alnmouth, Boulmer and Craster, which is world famous for its smoked kippers and salmon.
Only one of the ancient walls, which once surrounded the medieval market town of Alnwick, still stands today.
Hotspur Tower, which divides Bondgate Within from Bondgate Without, once proved an effective means of keeping people out of the town during conflict.
These days however, Alnwick is far better known for welcoming visitors with open arms and enchanting them with its keen sense of tradition, the sheer beauty of its coastline and countryside and its unique balance of historic and modern attractions.
Shops - Alnwick features a host of specialist shops such as Barter Books, golf specialists Scotts of Alnwick and the House of Hardy fishing shop.
Pubs - A host of popular drinking establishments include Ye Olde Cross, known as "The Dirty Bottles" (touch them and you'll meet your doom), The George pub and The Tanners Arms, among others.
Leisure - Attractions include the Alnwick Playhouse, Bailiffgate Museum, Shire Pottery and the Willowburn Leisure Centre, which features a children's pool, health suite and gym.
Restaurants - Good places to eat include the White Swan Hotel, an 18th Century coaching inn, which houses the first class lounge from the Titantic's sister ship RMS Olympic. Lilburn's Bar Restaurant, the Queen's Head Hotel and the Art House Cafe, also come recommended.
Schools - Include Duchess's Community High School the Dukes, Lindisfarne and Thomas Percy Middle Schools, and Alnwick North and South first schools.
Transport - Alnwick is close to the A1, providing easy access to Newcastle (33 miles south) and Edinburgh (80 miles north). The main East Coast rail link between Edinburgh and London runs via the nearby Alnmouth Station. Newcastle International Airport is a 45 minute drive.
Famous names - Most notably, Sir Henry Hotspur, known as Harry Hotspur, the son of the 1st Earl of Northumberland. Harry had a reputation as a warrior and led a rebellion against Henry IV, but was killed at the Battle of Shrewsbury in 1403.
Property expert Simon Brierly explains why buyers continue to flock to Alnwick.
Ne66 is the principal postcode for Alnwick District, and as such includes Alnwick itself, voted the most popular place to live by Country Life Magazine in 2002 - and still earning praise today.
Alnwick is an increasingly popular destination with the attractions of the Alnwick Castle gardens, the castle itself and the proximity to the wonderful coast, beaches, National Park and Cheviots.
The town is sought after by many "affluent greys" who wish to retire to the Alnwick district, where possibly they were born and bred and have subsequently moved to further professional careers and wish to retire to such a wonderful and attractive location.
The postal district also includes some of the most popular and sought-after coastal villages in the North, such as Alnmouth, Craster and Low Newton. Property prices in these villages for permanent or second homes are amongst the highest in the region.
Further west it includes the villages of Whittingham, Glanton, the Gateway to the Cheviots and the national park, also within easy commuting distance of Tyneside.
The planning policy of Alnwick District Council means there will be no more building in the rural areas, other than on already developed sites in Alnwick, Amble and Rothbury. As a result due to the continued demand for properties in NE66 it is anticipated that in the near future there will be a shortage of supply to cope with the ever increasing demand from people wanting to return to Northumberland, or acquire a home in this beautiful part of the country.
NE66 and the Alnwick area have:
* Good transportation links, particularly the A1 to Newcastle.
* Good rail links from Alnmouth Station and Berwick.
* Good flights from Newcastle International Airport.
Alnwick is increasing in its availability of good quality shops with more niche shops opening within the town centre, and recent planning consents for a new Sainsbury's store and a Lidl store, to compete with the existing Morrison's supermarket.
The Lionheart Industrial Estate continues to attract investment and create new jobs, adding to the popularity of the region.
* Simon Brierley FRICS is a partner of chartered surveyors and property professionals George F. White, based in Alnwick. The branch can be contacted on (01665) 603231 or go to www.georgefwhite.co.uk
Life's good, but not for teens
The picturesque Northumberland coastline and enchanting Alnwick Gardens have well and truly placed Alnwick on the map, but as Karen Scrimshaw realised, there is far more to the market town than tourist brochures would suggest.
Karen, who moved to Alnwick from the South 11 years ago with husband Paul, admits that she only moved because he got a job in the area - although the family were immediately impressed with Alnwick's rural setting and proximity to the sea.
She said: "We're ideally placed for travel - on a national scale. We're a three-and-half hour train journey from London, an hour from Newcastle Airport and two hours from Edinburgh.
"The infrastructure, in a national context, is very good considering we are in such a rural location. We can get anywhere"
Alnwick Playhouse also impresses Mrs Scrimshaw, where she said "shows the cream-of-the-crop of films, more arty films and good standard local productions".
The couple have three children - Bryony, 15, Laura, 13 and Nicholas, nine - and while Karen loves the town, she says Alnwick is not particularly great for teenagers.
She said: "For my generation and young children Alnwick is a great place to live, but we have a real need for somewhere for teenagers to gather and socialise after school or college, a venue that is not a pub or alcohol-related."
Since arriving in the area, the family, who live in Royal Oak Gardens, have noticed a vast array of changes.
"The town has changed enormously since we moved here, especially with regards to its growth," Karen said.
"When we first arrived, the housing estate Allerburn Lea only had one phase, but in the 11years we have been here second, third and fourth phases have been built, along with several other housing developments." This rapid expansion has brought positive impacts to Alnwick, for example the construction of a new leisure centre on the town's outskirts and the new supermarkets being built.
But Karen felt that the town needed to develop further to accommodate its growth. She said: "For example, I feel the doctors and dentists are over-booked and the schools have high demand."
This Grade II Listed townhouse in Alnwick enjoys a central location with attractive views over the town.
Castle View on Bailiffgate is a terraced home with communal entrance, kitchen/breakfast room with Belfast sink and Inglenook feature fireplace, and utility area. There is a dining room with Inglenook feature fireplace and exposed beams.
The first floor has a bedroom, bathroom and reception room overlooking Alnwick Castle walls. A second staircase leads to a bedroom with en-suite and views over the castle, and bedroom with Victorian-style feature fireplace and en-suite shower room. The property has a rear town garden with water feature.
It is for sale through Your Move at £325,000, tel: (01665) 603443.
Located in the heart of historic Alnwick, this stone-built mid-terrace home has a wealth of period features.
It has an entrance lobby, spacious sitting room with open fire, kitchen and dining room with black-leaded range under a stone Inglenook. Upstairs there are three bedrooms, two with cast iron fireplaces, and a bathroom. There is an established front garden and rear patio garden with brick outhouse.
9 Percy Terrace is for sale through Rook Matthews Sayer at a guide price of £249,950, tel: (01665) 510044.
Situated within Alnwick's conservation area, this period terraced home is within walking distance of the town's amenities.
The four-bedroomed property has an entrance hallway with decorative cornicing, living room with bay window and a dining room. The kitchen/breakfast room has patio doors to the courtyard. The first floor has a master bedroom with bay window, second double bedroom and single bedroom, now used as a study. The second floor has attic bedrooms and a shower room.
The house, on Beaconsfield Terrace, has a front town garden and rear courtyard. It is for sale through Sanderson Young for £265,000, tel: (01665) 600170.
In a prestigious residential area of Alnwick, this imposing period property is in need of updating, which is reflected in the price.
The spacious home retains many period features and includes an inner vestibule, hallway, lounge with bay window and Adam-style fireplace. There is a kitchen/dining room and cloakroom. The first floor has a master bedroom with fireplace, bathroom, two further bedrooms and attic bedroom. There are lawned gardens at the front, rear patio area and detached garage.
53 Swansfield Park Road is for sale through George F White at offers over £285,000, tel: (01665) 603581.