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The Crack Magazine


Spirit of Northumbria

Ad Gefrin is the brilliant new Anglo-Saxon museum that has just opened in Wooler, and – get this! – it’s also a whisky distillery. Sold!

It seems so obvious now: a world-class visitor attraction and a whisky distillery. But no one else had previously thought of the concept. Until now. Of course, the whole thing would fall down if either the attraction, or the distillery, wasn’t up to snuff, but, pleased to report, Ad Gefrin has really pulled out the stops here (or put them in when it comes to their bottles of whisky). First up: the Anglo-Saxon stuff.

The long journey the museum took in coming into being can be traced back to 1949. It was then that Kenneth St Joseph was taking aerial photographs of Northumberland. He discovered something worthy of attention in Yeavering, and these investigations – and subsequent excavations – led directly on to one of the 20th century’s most remarkable finds: a huge complex of large timber halls and a unique wooden grandstand that was used for the assembly of people. This all proved to be a very big deal – and caused much excitement among historians – because this discovery shone a light onto a period that had previously been lost in a vale of shadows. What had been unearthed, in actual fact, was the Summer Palace of the kings and queens of Anglo-Saxon Northumbria – a place that people had once travelled to from right across Europe and beyond. And now the main chunk of that palace – The Great Hall – has been re-imagined in Wooler, a stone’s throw away from Yeavering. And it’s just one of the attractions that is helping the museum really bring to life the largely untold story of the 7th Century Anglo-Saxon royal court of Northumbria. It’s a wholly immersive visitor experience and features rare and never seen before Anglo-Saxon treasures from the British Museum and other collections, many returning home to the north-east for the first time in decades.

It’s all come about largely thanks to the local Ferguson family, who have been the main driving force behind the venture. They’ve long held an ambition to create a destination showcase in the region that celebrates the best of Northumbria’s heritage and culture, marrying the incredible sight of the great halls of the Northumbrian kings and queens with an immersive and modern museum. Ad Gefrin Director Dr Chris Ferguson commented: “Since the very beginning of this project we strongly believed the story of Yeavering and of the ‘golden age of Northumbria’ was worth sharing with the world, and we look forward to welcoming visitors here.”

And those visitors can expect to be immersed in the atmosphere of the Great Hall with full-scale projections bringing the main characters of the era to life. These include the bard, standard-bearer and weaver, as well as the royal entourage that follow Queen Aethelburh and King Oswald. Their stories will literally unfold in front of your eyes. And in the main museum itself, you’ll be able to see the artefacts that these people would have actually held and treasured. Highlights include a Great Square Headed Brooch and Shield Boss, both loaned from the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, as well as objects from the British Museum’s early medieval collections, such as a Pseudo Roman Coin Pendent, Silver Wrist Clasp, high-quality replica of The Franks Casket, and the Castle Eden Claw Beaker, which is one of the best preserved pieces of Anglo-Saxon glasswork to survive.

And the whisky distillery bit? Well, this is Northumberland’s first (legal) distillery to open in 200 years, and it’s no mere afterthought. Indeed, the team behind it have come together from right across the world under the leadership of Ben Murphy. Murphy – who has enjoyed successful stints as Head Distiller at Berentsens Brygghus in Norway, and Poetic License Distillery in Sunderland – is passionate about traditional methodologies but is not afraid to innovate. At Ad Gefrin, guests will find washbacks made of Douglas Fir (instead of steel) and two great copper stills, manufactured and hand-beaten by Forsyths of Rothes – the world’s leading manufacturer of distillation equipment. The finest malting barley and purest Cheviot water are being put to use to help create the first Northumbrian English single malt whisky. Ad Gefrin have also created whisky blend Tácnbora – meaning ‘standard bearer’ in Old English – which features Scottish and Irish whiskies, reflecting two of the peoples that would have made up the Anglo-Saxons of Northumbria (alongside those from England and Scandinavia). Tácnbora has a strong Northumbrian provenance, an intertwining of the past and present, cultures and landscape, which aims to bring people together to share.

If you wish to sample a dram, then Ad Gefrin has a multi-sensory tasting experience, and there’s further refreshment to be had in the bistro, which has both indoor and outdoor seating. And, naturally, there’s also a shop, which is stocked with high quality giftware and bottles of the good stuff. Ad Gefrin has been years in the making, but boy has it been worth it.

Ad Gefrin: Anglo-Saxon Museum & Whisky Distillery, Wooler. Open every day except Tuesday. Full visitor information from: adgefrin.co.uk

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