Carlisle Park stands on the south bank of the River Wansbeck, opposite Morpeth town centre. The park combines formal gardens with more relaxed open spaces and woodland, plus play areas; tennis courts; a paddling pool; a skate park; a putting green and more. Carlisle Park is also the home of the steep sided Ha' Hill, on which Morpeth's first castle was built, and not far away, the remains of Morpeth's second castle.
The park occupies an arc alongside the river from the main road south of the Telford Bridge in the south, to the Oldgate Bridge in the west. Anyone here to look for the sites of the castles should not be distracted by the extremely castle-like building opposite the main eastern entrance to the park. This is actually the old courthouse, since converted for residential use.
The origins of Carlisle Park date back to 1916 when land on this side of the river was donated to the town of Morpeth by the Countess of Carlisle, which also explains the origin of the name of the park. Work began to turn the area into a public park in the 1920s, and tennis courts and bowling greens in part of the area were in use from 1926.
The park was formally opened on 11 September 1929 by the six year old Earl of Carlisle, by which time the formal gardens, cottages and lodge, and overall landscaping was complete. The pavilion opened in 1951, and the paddling pool opened four years later. A rather more recent addition has been the William Turner Garden, and the neighbouring aviary, which were completed with help from a £2.1m grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund in 1999.
The William Turner Garden commemorates a man remembered as "The Father of English Botany". Dr William Turner was born in Morpeth in around 1508, and became the first person to comprehensively list and describe British flora, in his two volume "Herbal". The garden laid out in his memory towards the eastern end of the park recreates an Elizabethan garden of his era and is an oasis of herbs, low box hedges laid out in knot patterns, and gazebos. On rising ground nearby is what is known as the formal garden, though visitors might think of it as a very large and attractive rockery. Most of the sporting and leisure facilities are found in the central portion of the park, while the western end is home to much of the woodland.
Dominating the east end of the park is Ha' Hill. There is a very steep path worn up the face of the hill, but a slightly less strenuous (and more environmentally sensitive) approach is round the back, via the artificial col on the ridge from which the hill was sculpted. What you find on top is a flat area some 80m in diameter, which provides an ideal viewing platform for looking out over Morpeth.
We tell the story of Morpeth's castles on our feature page about the town, but as you reach the top of Ha' Hill it is worth knowing that from about 1080 this was the location of the first Morpeth Castle, built by William de Merlay to control the crossing over the River Wansbeck below, plus the wider area. The original wooden castle was replaced by a stone one in the 1100s, and this was destroyed by King John during the First Barons' War in 1216. It is unclear whether the lower and narrower area beyond the neck of the ridge to the west was used for a bailey, providing additional accommodation.
If you look south from Ha' Hill you can see the gatehouse of the second Morpeth Castle, built by William de Greystock in 1342. This can be reached by a steep descent into the valley separating the two, then an equally steep climb up the other side. The second Morpeth Castle was defended only once in its history, in 1644, and thereafter fell out of use. The castle itself has largely been recycled into building stone for the rest of the town, but the gatehouse remains in use and is available as a holiday let from The Landmark Trust.