A visit to Alnwick is like going back into the old feudal times. The town still retains the moderate dimensions and the quiet air of one that has grown up under the protection of the castle, and of the great family of the castle. Other towns, that arose under the same circumstances, have caught the impulse of modern commerce and manufacture, and have grown into huge, bustling, and noisy cities, in which the old fortified walls and the old castle have either vanished, or have been swallowed up, and stand, as if in superannuated wonder, amid a race and a wilderness of buildings, with which they have nothing in common. When, however, you enter Alnwick, you still feel that you are entering a feudal place. It is as the abode of the Percys has presented itself to your imagination. It is still, quaint, gray, and old-worldish.
In fact, the whole situation is fine, without being highly romantic, and worthy of its superb old fabric. In the castle itself, without and with-in, I never saw one on English ground that more delighted me; because it more completely came up to the beau ideal of the feudal baronial mansion, and especially of that of the Percys, the great chieftains of the British Borderthe heroes of Otterburn and Chevy Chase.
Nothing can be more striking than the effect at first entering within the walls from the town; when, through a dark gloomy gateway of considerable length and depth, the eye suddenly emerges into one of the most splendid scenes that can be imagined; and is presented at once with the great body of the inner castle, surrounded with fair semi-circular towers, finely swelling to the eye, and gaily adorned with pinnacles, battlements, etc. The impression is still further strengthened by the successive entrances into the second and third courts, through great massy towers, till you are landed in the inner court, in the very center of this great citadel.
An idea may be formed of the scale of this brave castle, when we state that it includes, with-in its outer walls, about five acres of ground; and that its walls are flanked with sixteen towers, which now afford a complete set of offices to the castle, and many of them retain not only their ancient names, but also their original uses.
The castle courts, except the center one, are beautifully carpeted with green turf, which gives them a very pleasant aspect. In the center of the second court is a lion with his paw on a ball, a copy of one of the lions of St. Mark at Venice… .
The inner court is square, with the corners taken off; and on the wall opposite to the entrance are medallion portraits of the first Duke and Duchess. Near the gateway appear the old wheels and axle which worked the great well, over which is the figure of a pilgrim blessing the waters. Within the gate-way you enter an octagon tower, where the old dungeon still remains in the floor, covered with its iron grate. It is eleven feet deep, by nine feet eight inches and a half square at the bottom. In the court are two other dungeons, now or formerly used for a force-pump to throw water up to the top of the castle; and one now not used at allwhich could all be so closed down as to exclude the prisoners from both sound and light. . . .
Having wandered thus around this noble pile, it is time to enter it. Of the interior, however, I shall not say much more than that it is at once a fitting modern residence for a nobleman of the high rank and ancient descent of the proprietor, and in admirable keeping with its exterior. The rooms are fitted up with light Gothic tracery on the walls, very chaste and elegant; and the colors are so delicate and subdued, that you are not offended with that feeling of over-fineness that is felt at Raby.
You ascend by a noble staircase, surrounded with armorial escutcheons instead of a cornice, to a suite of very spacious and handsome rooms, of which the principal are the saloon, dining-room, breakfast-room, library, and chapel. The ceilings are finely worked into compartments with escutcheons and pendants. The walls of the saloon are covered with crimson silk, sprigged with yellow flowers; those of the dining-room, with pale buff, and white moldings, rich tracery and elegant compartmented ceiling. In the center of some of the arches you see the crescent, the crest of the Percys.
On the whole, it is a noble and highly satisfactory mansion; but still it is when you get without again that you feel the real antiquity and proud dignity of the place. The fame of the Percy and the Douglas seems to be whispered by every wind that plays around those old towers.