The Best Books Set in Northumberland to Fire Your Imagination


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There’s nothing better to fire the imagination when you visit a place than to read about it. I’ve always been a voracious reader, the type that finishes a great novel regardless of the hour of the night. Northumberland is definitely a place that fires the imagination in reality and the books set in Northumberland certainly do that too. I’ve had more than 4 decades of a love affair with the fiction and non-fiction about Northumberland and so sadly some of my favourite books about Northumberland are now out of print, so can’t be included, however, there’s still an excellent list of Northumberland books for you to get your hands on.

The Best Books About Northumberland

In selecting these, the best books set in Northumberland, I’ve aimed for a mix of fiction and non-fiction.  I’ve included only those travel books about Northumberland which I think cover the area the best, so none of the general England or UK travel books.  When it comes to specific details on historic properties in Northumberland and books about them, then I’ve found that the best of these books are to be found in the properties themselves.  English Heritage books about Northumberland properties are excellent and the same goes for the Northumberland National Trust properties. Usually, you can only buy these books from either organizations physical sites and only in physical form.  There are several classical literature books that I’ve also include d- not because I think anyone will run out and buy one, but I definitely think its interesting to know how this most northerly of counties appears in the classics too!

The Best Fictional Books set in Northumberland

When it comes to novels about Northumberland it’s definitely the crime genre that wins here.  It’s even better when like my first pick, these novels about Northumberland are televised, as then we all get to see this magnificent county on screen too.

Anne Cleeves – the Vera Stanhope Series Set in Northumberland

In many ways, most people will know of the Vera Stanhope novels because of the TV series of the same name – Vera.  Author Anne Cleeves pits the middle-aged, close to retirement overweight DCI Vera Stanhope against a stark Northumberland backdrop.  This is Northumberland at its best. Gritty, real and beautifully written.  Whether you start with the first Vera book – the Crow Trap – or jump around and take the latest – the Darkest Evening each novel set in Northumberland stands on its own, but also reads fabulously when read in series.

Mari Hannah – the DCI Kate Daniels Series in Northumberland

Hannah’s series on DCI Kate Daniels starts with the Murder Wall – through the (currently seven) books in the series, you’re taken on a journey through the glorious landscapes of Northumberland.   This is great series to read before or during your trip to Northumberland as they’re all set in various locations – Monument to Murder brings in Bamburgh and Alnwick, so you’ll just HAVE to visit (read about what to do in Bamburgh here) and picture the scenes for yourself!

 

LJ Ross – the DCI Ryan Series set in Northumberland

You can pretty much figure out that this series is set in Northumberland by the covers.  Her first in the series, Holy Island starts with a retreat to the island set just off the Northumberland coast.  His sabbatical leave is cruelly interrupted as a body is discovered within the grounds of Lindisfarne Priory.  The series moves around throughout Northumberland and a number of different locations get to be the star of the novels, he even heads down to Durham and High Force at one point.  Great crime fiction that sets the locations at the heart of the story.

Paula Hawkins – Into the Water  based in Northumberland

I loved Hawkins “The Girl on the Train” – and this is her second full-length novel – and was delighted to find it based in Northumberland.  The town in the novel, Into the Water, is, however fictional.  It might not have received the critical acclaim that The Girl on the Train did, but it’s a great read with a mix of twists and turns. And no, I couldn’t put it down until I finished it!

Sharon Bolton – Dead Woman Walking – starts in Northumberland National Park

I’m pretty sure I’ve never seen a hot air balloon in Northumberland, but I didn’t let the start of this novel put me off as it provides for some excellent descriptions of Northumberland National Park and this is, after all, fiction.  There are seriously clever plot twists in Dead Woman Walking, great overviews of the landscapes and amateur as well as professional sleuths involved.  You’ll not only want to pick up the next of Bolton’s books, but you’ll also want to head to the National Park and see the landscapes for yourself!  Visiting Northumberland National Park is one of our top things to do in Northumberland!

Mary Stewart  – the Ivy Tree – romantic suspense novel in Northumberland

We’re taking a step back in time now from more recent Northumberland fiction to this from Mary Stewart, published in 1961 in the UK.  The novel, a suspenseful romance begins very firmly in Northumberland with Hadrian’s Wall overlooking Crag Lough.  The settings and descriptions in the Ivy Tree are picturesque and you won’t be left wondering what’s about to happen at the end, but again, the setting of Northumberland and the somewhat complex plot kept me interested until the end.

Hazel Gaynor – The Lighthouse Keeper’s Daughter: A Novel

Based on the lives of two historic lighthouse keepers daughter, but a fictional romantic account, this novel weaves the stories of two women a century apart.   Great historical fiction.  > buy and read now.

Carol Wensby Scott – the Lion of Alnwick – historic fiction from Northumberland

You simply can’t talk about books set in Northumberland without mentioned the Percy Family.  This series of books from Wensby Scott is now out of print, but I’m mentioning it just in case you manage to find one in the library or a charity shop.  Ignore the covers, they don’t do the books justice.  I first read this series – Lion of Alnwick, Lion Invincible and Lion Dormant more than 30 years ago.  And they fired my imagination for the wilds of Northumberland and the history of the Percy family.  The lions are the symbols of the historic Percy family (see their emblem on the walls at Warkworth Castle) They definitely assume that you know a lot about the history of the area, but that’s a great excuse to go and pick up a history of the Percy’s and find out more!

Classical Literature Set in Northumberland

Sir Walter Scott – Rob Roy

This 1817 historical novel by Sir Walter Scott was set most likely in 1715, the first of the first Jacobite uprising.  Much of the novel focuses on the England – Scotland border area of Northumberland.  Scott clearly travelled to the area – he’s also famous for his Rokeby poem, set in Teesdale, just a little to the south near Barnard Castle. The Rob Roy of this novel is most definitely fictional, a good story, and some interesting depictions, but he bears little resemblance to the historic figure. > Buy Rob Roy Now

Non-Fiction Books About Northumberland

When it comes to non-fiction about Northumberland then your options are split into the following :

  • Travel Books about Northumberland
  • Books about the History of Northumberland
  • Biographical Books About Northumberland

Here’s a short selection of our favourite picks for each of those

Northumberland Travel Books

Of course, Northumberland is covered in most of the major travel books, with small sections, but when it comes to specific books on travelling in Northumberland here are your best options

Northumberland: Including Newcastle, Hadrian’s Wall and the Coast (Bradt Slow Travel) – Updated in 2019 and includes 30 walks, chapters on Hadrian’s Wall, the coast and Northumberland National Park.  > Buy now.

100 Walks in Northumberland – this great book of walks in Northumberland covers 100 walks up to 12 miles in length – from coastal and Northumberland beach walks to sections of Hadrian’s Wall.  Great descriptions and easy to follow directions >  buy now.

Lost Lanes North – Bike Rides around Northumberland – great easy to follow bike rides around Northumberland and the north.  Includes gorgeous photos if you’re an armchair traveller.  > Buy Now

Northumberland History Books

There’s no shortage of books aobut the history of Northumberland – so we’ve focused on just a few that give you the history of some of her more famous residents and those which give an overall flavour of the history in an easy to read format.

The Life of Grace Darling – John Harper and John Pagan

Those who have visited the gorgeous village of Bamburgh or taken a trip to the Farne Islands, cannot fail to have at least heard the name Grace Darling.  This Victorian heroine along with her lighthouse-man father rescued survivors from a stricken ship in 1838.  This account of her life is factual and includes illustrations.  If you plan to visit the Longstone Lighthouse in the Farne Islands it’s worth reading this before you visit to get more from it.

Northumberland: Romans to Victorians (Visitors’ Historic Britain)

Northumberland has more medieval remains than any other county.  It has Hadrian’s Wall. Abbeys. More than 70 Castles.  Including one many know better as Hogwarts.  It has heroes of Victorian Britain – Grace Darling, Lord Armstrong, whose house at Cragside was the first in the world to be powered by hydroelectricity.  In short, Northumberland has a whole lot of history and this book condenses it into a fabulous read.  Buy Now on Kindle

The Northumbrians: North-East England and Its People: A New History

Northumberland has contributed immensely to British history and this book lays it all out, starting with the venerable Bede. This easy to read book covers a huge gamut of history and how Northumberland fits in.  Buy Now

Northumbria: History and Identity 547-2000

This is a pretty long period in history to cover, but it’s a great story of the history of Northumbria and Northumberland.  It covers the ancient kingdom of Northumbria and how the identity of Northumberland had changed over the centuries.  You’ll get to understand more about the language, poetry, religion and literature of the region right up to current date.  Buy it Now

Biographical Books about Northumberland

Often the spirit of a location comes alive with the biographical detail, we’ve collated our favourite books of a biographical nature about Northumberland.

To the Island of Tides: A Journey to Lindisfarne – Alistair Moffat

Moffat takes a pilgrimage from his home in the Scottish Borders to the island of Lindisfarne, once the place where the Lindisfarne Gospels were written, Holy Island has long been a place of sanctuary. Moffat’s journey takes us on a historical walk and a very personal journey with much reflection on life.  Buy and Read Now. 

Wife in the North – Judith Reilley

Northumbrians are some of the friendliest folk around, but moving from the south, and especially London, to Northumberland can be tough.  This biographical book about Reilley’s move along with 3 small children will give you a firsthand view of what it’s like to up sticks and head to this most northerly of counties.  Because I’m sure when you’re staying in your gorgeous holiday cottage sipping a glass of wine, the thought is definitely crossing your mind! > Buy it on Kindle and Read Now!

Final Words on Books Set In Northumberland

Whether you choose to read about the history of Northumberland or about fictional detectives solving murders in historically significant locations, or if you just want to dip into finding out about the wildlife in Northumberland there are definitely books for you.  Pick up a book about Northumberland and explore this county from afar before you visit, and take her home again when you leave.  We hope you’ll be back as often as we are.

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About Sarah Carter

Sarah Carter is an avid reader, writer and traveller. She loves hiking, sailing, skiing and exploring the world through food. She left a successful career in IT security and compliance in both the UK and US to travel the world with husband and partner in adventure, Nigel.

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