The standing remains of Norham Castle are in a good state of preservation and open for public viewing. It is a Listed Grade I building and Scheduled Ancient Monument managed by English Heritage.
Visiting Norham Castle
Parking is available towards the rear of the castle
Open daily through most of the year
Location & Access
The site is in Norham village; 6 miles (9.66 kilometres) northwest of Berwick, North of the A698
From the A698, take B6470 into the village - the castle is well signposted
Castle Street, Norham, Northumberland, TD15 2JY
Know Before You Go
- The site is on uneven ground that may become muddy in wet weather - Not suitable for wheelchairs
- English Heritage does not allow drone flying at any of its sites without explicit permission
History of Norham Castle
The following dates are rough and may have been a couple of years out as different sources report slightly different dates.
-1121 (First Castle Built)
To protect both the strategically significant road into Scotland and the ford over the River Tweed, Ranulph Flambard, Bishop of Durham, built a castle at Norham.
Initially constructed as a ringwork and bailey fortification, the ring or inner ward was surrounded by a sizable earth bank mounted with a wooden palisade protecting a two-storey stone structure, which likely served as the Bishop's ceremonial hall. The bailey or outer ward encompassed an irregularly shaped area to the west and south.
-1136 (The Anarchy)
Given its critical placement along the easter border, the castle was subject to regular attacks by Scottish forces. The first attack came during King David's reign when he set out to capitalise on the Anarchy raging through England.
Supporting Matilda, David attacked Northumberland and captured Norham Castle. The records are obscure, but it seems the castle was soon returned to the Bishop of Durham before David's next attack.
King David returns to capture the castle once again. A group of nine English knights bravely defend it, but to no avail, and the structure was destroyed.
After David was defeated at the Battle of Standard, constricting his northern objectives, the castle reverted to the Bishop.
-1154 (Henry II Breaks Promise-Restores English Monarchy)
The Anarchy was eventually resolved with Matilda's son, Henry II, claiming the throne. Throughout the war, Henry assured David that Northumberland (and Cumbria) would stay Scottish should he be crowned King. However, after his coronation, his paramount priority was recovering land lost and restoring the English monarchy's power.
-1157-1170 (Castle Upgraded)
Bishop Hugh de Puiset was ordered by King Henry II to rebuild Norham's defenses in stone. The work was a considerable upgrade that included the Great Tower's construction atop the former ceremonial hall's remains and both the Inner and Outer Wards' Gatehouses being rebuilt.
The substantial modifications were finally complete, resulting in an intimidating fortress that immediately began proving its worth, as William the Lion passed-by the fortification during his attack that ended with his capture at Alnwick.
Meanwhile, skeptical of the Bishop's loyalty, King Henry took possession of the castle. Together with Wark and Berwick castles, Norham would soon become one of the main fortification lines protecting the narrow, eastern stretch of land along the Anglo-Scottish border.
Bishop Phillip of Poitou has the castle restored to him by King Richard I.
Once Bishop Phillip died, King John took control of the castle. He made further modifications with intentions to discourage Scottish aggression as his regime destabilised England.
King John added more fortifications; He spent a good deal of money improving the castle over the years to provide the Scottish King with a powerful message about his claim on Northumberland.
The castle's upgrades were put to the test when Scottish forces led by Alexander II besieged Norham. Sir Robert Clifford successfully defended the castle for forty days, resisting Alexander's attempts to take it.
The castle is restored to Bishop de la Marsh by King Henry III.
With Norham Castle standing as one of the most prominent border fortresses, it was used to hold diplomatic functions from time to time.
In May of this year, Anthony Beck, Bishop of Durham, entertained King Edward I and his court here as he headed north to adjudicate the succession to the Scottish throne.
King Edward I returned to the castle following the judgment, determined by the King at Berwick. During this visit, John Balliol, Edward's chosen candidate, paid homage to the King as Scotland's feudal overlord.
-1311-1312 (Robert Bruce Rebellion/First War of Scottish Independence)
Robert Bruce's rebellion wreaked havoc on English strongholds in Scotland, reducing them one by one in the years following King Edward I's death. In an attempt to force a negotiation with the English, Robert invaded Northumberland in 1311 and 1312; Norham was left alone on both occasions, its fortifications deemed too strong to permeate.
The English war machine was largely destroyed when they were routed toward the Battle of Bannockburn after marching to relieve Stirling Castle. This humiliating defeat left Northern England vulnerable to further raids.
With Scottish invasions an ongoing threat, King Edward II temporarily took control of the castle.
-1318 (A Year of Sieges)
Norham had become a target, and Sir Thomas Grey was appointed as constable of the castle, which was soon subjected to a nearly year-long series of attacks and sieges.
The Scots managed to overrun the outer bailey on more than one occasion, but Thomas continued to fight off the invaders, eventually expelling them, and kept hold of the castle.
The Scots attempted (and failed) to capture the castle again, this time, with a seven-month siege.
The Scots returned once more to lay siege to Norham; again, the castle remained under English control.
The castle finally fell to the Scots after they had ravaged the North of England.
Scottish hold of Norham was short-lived, as the First War of Independence was ended with the Treaty of Northampton, which returned control of the castle to the Bishop of Durham.
-1332-1357 (The Second War of Scottish Independence)
War was quick to start again, but the castle remained mostly inactive. Early on, in 1333, Edward III defeated a Scottish army and captured Berwick-upon-Tweed at the Battle of Halidon Hill; effectively, this deflected future attacks on Norham.
In 1355, the constable, Thomas Grey II, caught sight of Scottish spearmen on a raid nearby the castle and set out to chase them off. Unfortunately, he was ambushed, captured, and sent to Edinburgh Castle, where he spent the next two years imprisoned.
The castle continued to enjoy relative peace after the war ended in 1357.
The West Gate was significantly upgraded.
Major improvements were made to the Great Tower.
-1461 (War of the Roses)
Henry Percy, Earl of Northumberland, held the castle at this time. He was supportive of the Lancastrian cause, remaining loyal even following the overthrow of Henry VI and the ceding of Berwick to the Scots. At that point, the castle once again became a key strategic outpost.
King Henry VI and Queen Margaret led a Lancastrian army on an eighteen-day attack on Norham.
After the Yorkist victory at Hexham, the castle eventually was surrendered to Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, without a fight.
In his understanding of Norham's importance for maintaining a secure border, Yorkist King, Edward IV, ensured the castle was properly cared for, provisioned, and garrisoned at all times.
-1480 (Artillery Installed)
Having its role as primary border fortress revived, Norham receives further upgrades, including artillery installation.
Richard, Duke of Gloucester (soon-to-be Richard III), re-took Berwick.
-1485 (The Battle of Bosworth Field)
The castle again saw conflict following the Yorkist's fall to Henry Tudor when the Scots tried to destabilise his regime.
-1497 (Mons Meg Attack)
Norham was further strengthened and again besieged by the Scots. James IV led the attack in support of Perkin Warbeck, an imposter to the English throne, passing himself off as one of 'Princes in the Tower.'
The castle suffered extensive damage by the 330lb (150kg) gunstones used in the great Scottish siege gun, Mons Meg, with parts of the Great Tower demolished. Nevertheless, the siege was not successful.
-1513 (Castle Surrendered/Restored)
The necessary repairs from the 1497 attack had just finished when King James IV returned another time to lay siege to Norham whilst King Henry VIII was in France on a campaign. The Scots bombarded the outer wall for two days before beaching and storming the outer bailey, causing massive damage to the castle. Out of ammunition, the garrison was forced to surrender.
Weeks later, the Scots were defeated at the Battle of Flodden, and Bishop of Durham, Thomas Ruthall, had the castle restored to him. He immediately began repairs, as only the west wall and the keep remained.
In only two years, Thomas has restored the Great Tower and added Clapham's Tower to enhance protection over the Inner Ward. Casemated guns were also installed to guard the ford at the River Tweed.
When the Duke of Albany presented a threat of Scottish invasion, gunners from Portsmouth were sent to strengthen Norhams's garrison. As a result, the Scots did not attack the castle.
The Duke of Norfolk equipped the castle with artillery.
A report by Sir Robert Bowes records the castle as in good repair, well-furnished, and sufficiently stocked with artillery.
The Earl of Hertford protected the castle after Sir Brian Layton, the captain of Norham, was killed in the Battle of Ancrum Moor.
The Bishop of Durham, Cuthbert Tunstall, declined to take the Oath of Supremacy, resulting in Norhamshire and its castle being reverted to the Crown. The castle began to decay shortly after.
A survey noted the castle to be in a poor state of repair, and the construction of a completely new fortification was recommended.
Henry Carey, Lord Hunsdon, expresses concern for the castle's decayed state to Lord Cecil and again some years later to Queen Elizabeth. However, the Crown refuses to pay for its repairs.
-1596 (Monarchy Cuts Off Funding)
Elizabeth I emphatically refused further funding for the castle's upkeep.
Elizabeth's death led to James VI of Scotland also being named James I of England, notably terminating all military utility of Norham.
King James I sold the castle to the Earl of Dunbar, but the castle eventually fell into ruin.
After passing through several private owners and plenty of quarrying, the castle was put into the State's care.
Norham Castle Occupants
As a mighty stronghold protecting the English border, Norham spent its days controlled by the current monarchy or the Prince Bishops of Durham and typically occupied by the garrison stationed there.
Between the 12th and 16th centuries, the castle was taken by the Scots four times, but by and large, it remained in English hands. During times of peace, it is likely that the Bishop resided in the castle, though historical records do not prominently mention the castle's use as a residence.
Images of Norham Castle
Images Supplied and licensed from Shutterstock Standard Licence Package
Norham Castle Q&A
What Type of Castle Was Norham Castle?
Norham Castle is noted as a certain Timber Castle, a certain Masonry Castle, a certain Palace, and a certain Artillery Fort.
When Was Norham Castle First Built?
As noted in the timeline above, Norham Castle was first built in 1121 by Bishop Ranulph Flambard of Durham.
How Big Was Norham Castle?
The original castle is believed to have covered most of the same vast area seen today. Situated high above the River Tweed, a steep slope to the north and a deep ravine to the east protected the castle; A large, artificial moat guarded the south and west sides.
The West Gate, strongly fortified, served as the main entrance and led into the outer ward protected by Marmion's Gate--a drawbridge-spanned stone causeway. An additional gate, the Sheep Gate, was positioned on the south side.
After crossing the moat's drawbridge, the inner ward was accessed through a fortified gate to the west. The north side had the Bishop's hall, measuring 18.3m by 9.1m (60ft by 30ft), and to the east was the keep--built by Hugh de Puiset--measuring 25.6m by 18.3m (84ft by 60ft) and 26.8m (88ft) high.
What Was the Main Use of Norham Castle?
When Bishop Flambard built the castle, he did so with the purpose of guarding his land against "robbers and Scots," and for almost 400 years, the main use of Norham was doing just that. (Ironically, the castle intermittently was controlled by "robbers and Scots" between periods of English control.)
Does Any of Norham Castle Still Exist?
Today, the castle's remains are impressive, especially given the large scale of the grounds. The inner ward's Great Tower is the most intact building, standing as a three-sided, hollow shell of its former self.
The inner moat has intriguing structures remaining, and even more lie within the inner ward--now accessed by a wooden bridge. Here, the remains of the Great Chamber, the Great Hall, and three walls of the Great Tower survive.
Location of Norham Castle
Norham Castle is located just east of the village for which it is named, situated upon a hill on high cliffs over River Tweed's southern banks.
Location of Norham Castle