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Living in Northumberland: The Local Area Guide

Northumberland is a large, very rural county in the North East of England. Bordering County Durham, Cumbria, and Scotland to the north, it is the most sparsely populated county in England.

Formerly part of the Roman Empire, Northumberland is known as the 'cradle of Christianity' for being the site of early Christian conversions. Specifically, the island of Lindisfarne was home to some of the first missionaries.

Northumberland, thanks to its position, has also been the site of conflict and rebellion repeatedly through the ages - both with the Scots to the north, and with the authorities in London. As a relic of this, it has the most castles of any county in England. It is particularly well known for several rebellions against the crown, with the Percy family often being instigators. For many centuries it was also a fairly wild and unkempt county, with outlaws and bandits common and the rule of law rare.

Later on, Northumberland's collieries were highly important during the Industrial Revolution, employing large chunks of the population up until the de-industrialisation of the 1970s and 80s.

Today, Northumberland's outstandingly beautiful countryside and pretty towns attract significant numbers of tourists from the rest of the country and abroad.

Demographics

Northumberland has a population of just over 316,000 people, which is an increase of nearly 10,000 since the 2001 census. Its populace is relatively scattered, with only 62 people per square kilometre.

The mean age, as is common for rural counties, is higher than the national average at 42.8, which compares to 39.3 for England. Only 16% of the population are children, while more than 1 in 5 is over the age of 65. It also has a highly ethnically homogenous population, with less than 1% being ethnic minorities. For England as a whole that figure is 9%.

In terms of social grade, Northumberland is slightly poorer than the national average. Just 19% of households belong to grade AB, which is 4% lower than England. A little under 30% are C1, which is 2% lower than the national average. More than half of households are in grades C2 or DE, therefore 3.8% of the population claim Jobseeker's Allowance, higher than the national average.

However, home ownership is relatively high thanks to the North's relatively low house prices when compared with the South. More than two thirds of houses are owner occupied, which is above the national average. Only around 12% are privately rented, with 20% designated as social housing.

Education

Northumberland has a comprehensive school system, and has adopted the 'three tier' approach (lower, middle, and upper state schools). It has 15 state secondary schools, as well as two academies and a single independent school in the county.

The three tier approach means that its schools are unusually large. For example, Cramlington Learning Village has almost 400 pupils per school year, which makes it one of the largest in the country.

Within Northumberland there is one Catholic secondary school, which has about 900 students. Known as the St Benet Bishop Catholic Academy, it is the first and only school in the UK to have set up its own social enterprise business.

Transport

Northumberland's industrial past has ensured it has an excellent railway system. The East Coast line can take passengers from Alnwick, the county town, to Edinburgh in a little over an hour, or to London in less than 4 hours.

There are also good road links. The A1, in particular, is the major artery running north to south, connecting Edinburgh and Newcastle upon Tyne, going through lots of large towns on the way.

For flights, Newcastle Airport is the closest major airport and offers connections all over the UK and Europe.

Amenities and Shopping

Alnwick and Morpeth are the two major towns of the county and both have very good shopping available.

Alnwick has three main retail streets: Market Street, Bondgate Within, and Fenkle Street. In fact, Bondgate Within was recently voted Britain's best for shopping.

Morpeth, on the other hand, has most of its shops clustered around Bridge Street. These include the large department store Rutherfords, which has existed for over 150 years.


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