A walk around the creation of a Victorian industrial genius.
Distance 3 miles (4.8km)
Minimum time 2hrs
Ascent/gradient 492ft (150m)
Level of difficulty Medium
Paths Well-marked tracks, occasionally muddy
Landscape Man-made forest and gardens on steep hillside
Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 332 Alnwick & Amble or free map from visitors' centre (clearer)
Start/finish NU 071026
Dog friendliness Dogs allowed on paths but not into formal gardens
Parking Large car park near visitors' centre
Public toilets At visitors' centre and at play area
Notes National Trust Cragside Estate usually open April-December
1 From the visitors' centre, follow the sign to the Armstrong Trail. The dam and Tumbleton Lake are on your right. Cross the road and continue to the Pump House. Cross the footbridge and turn left, following the sign to the Power House. The trail leads through thick woodland, crossing the river twice to a point that gives a marvellous view of the house. Keep following signs to the Power House, past the Iron Bridge and zig-zagging along the hillside, over footbridges and down to a waterwheel. Turn right to the Power House.
2 Return to the wheel and follow signs uphill to reach the house (Cragside). Turn sharp right on to a metalled road labelled Estate Drive. After 25yds (23m), follow a stepped path signposted to the tarn. At a junction, go right, and continue through a natural tunnel of sandstone boulders, then left where the track forks to the tarn. Where trees have been cleared, there are views over the Coquet and Rothbury to the Simonside Hills.
3 Follow the track to the viewpoint and lakes, uphill past a wonderful array of sandstone crags. At a T-junction, turn right then, where the road forks, go left and after 220yds (201m) reach the play area. Go through this on to the road and turn right. Just before the bridge, turn left on to the track that leads round the side of Nelly's Moss Lakes. Near the northern end of the second lake, after crossing a bridge, turn left. Just before the second bridge, follow a fork to the right. This track leads alongside a stream and past the water boxes of the timber flume. Go uphill to join the main drive at Canada car park.
4 Go right along the road to Moorside car park, with views over the heather moorlands. From the back of the car park, follow the track signposted to Canada Drive. On reaching this, turn right and follow signposts to the house. At a crossroads, take the track to the right, down a steep staircase, and straight across at the next crossroads on to the track above the house. Turn right and return to the car park and visitors' centre.
William George Armstrong (1810-1900) was born in Newcastle. He trained as a solicitor, but found his main interests lay in science and engineering. In 1842, he constructed a hydro-electric generator and four years later, began to develop hydraulic cranes. This business was so successful that he abandoned his law practice to build a factory at Elswick, on the banks of the Tyne. In the 1850s, after the Crimean War, Armstrong devoted much of his efforts to armaments, and his factories supplied armies and navies across the world. During the American Civil War, both sides were equipped with Armstrong's weaponry. Machinery for Tyneside's shipbuilding was made at Elswick, as was the mechanism for raising London's Tower Bridge.
The legacy of Lord Armstrong, as he later became, can be seen all over the north east. The waterwheel at Killhope Lead Mining Centre in County Durham, and the hydraulic engine to be seen at Allenheads were made at the Elswick factory. Jesmond Dene, in Newcastle, was home to Lord and Lady Armstrong, and its landscaping is thought to have provided much of the inspiration for their later work at Cragside. Jesmond Dene was gifted to the City of Newcastle in 1883.
In their later years, the Armstrongs channelled their energies into Cragside House and Estate. The house was designed by Richard Norman Shaw and built using local sandstone. Two lakes were created and their waters used to generate electricity, which powered the house. Cragside was the first house in the world to be lit by hydro-electricity. The inventor of the incandescent light bulb, Joseph Swan, was a friend of Lord Armstrong. The house had hot and cold running water, central heating, telephones and a service lift from the kitchen.
The grounds were the preserve of Lady Margaret Armstrong, who was a keen botanist. She designed the rock gardens and nurtured exotic plants from around the world in glasshouses and the Orchard House. The hillside was planted with 7 million trees and bushes to create a 1,000-acre (404ha) forest. Again, these were imported from America, Japan and Africa, and include the tallest Douglas fir in England. The Cragside Estate is now owned by the National Trust and isn't open all year round, so check before you set out.
The Pump House and Power House are open to visitors and contain replicas of Armstrong's machinery. Many of the trees in the Pinetum, between the iron bridge and the Power House, have plaques to aid in their identification.
The restaurant at the visitors' centre serves meals, teas and ice creams as well as home-made Victorian and regional recipes. This was once the stable block and has a courtyard with tables for dining outdoors in good weather.