Alnwick Castle is, during opening hours at least, quite easy to get into these days. All you have to do is buy your ticket and you’re in! Five or six hundred years ago, however, it would have been a very different story – especially if you were attacking from north of the border.
Before you even got to the Castle, you would have rivers to cross and hills to climb – probably whilst dodging arrows from the men on top of the Abbot’s Tower, where our Fusiliers’ Museum is now (there are still some stone figures watching from the top of that tower today, left over from the First Duchess’ reign in the eighteenth century).
Your next problem is the Barbican – an imposing gatehouse structure finished in 1475, and the only proper way into the medieval Alnwick Castle (with the exception of the sally-port, a sneaky secret exit that only those inside the Castle walls would know about). With solid stone on either side, your best bet is to break down its thick oak doors with a battering ram... straight into a narrow, exposed corridor, with defending soldiers firing down arrows (and whatever else they can find) at you from five different heights. There’s no time to hesitate or turn back, because the rest of your army is pushing you forward – which would become problematic if the drawbridge was raised and you faced a sheer drop down into the Bow Burn moat!
If you got past the drawbridge (and the archers hidden behind slots in the walls, and the sharp iron portcullis, and another pair of thick oak doors) you would effectively be through the ‘front door’. But not really! You are still a long way away from the keep – the centre of the castle and the part you need to conquer most... and of course, every knight and soldier stationed within the walls has been alerted of your arrival, and they are armed and ready to defend Alnwick.
You would have to fight your way through the Outer Bailey, the Middle Arch gatehouse, the Inner Bailey, a second drawbridge, the Inner Courtyard and up a spiral staircase to get into the keep ... and then fight through that, room by room, before you can claim the castle as yours.
With defences like this, it’s not hard to imagine why Alnwick has never been successfully taken by force – and I think, given the choice, buying a ticket is a much safer way of getting to see the Castle!