Northumberland is a ceremonial county in the North East of England, lying along the border with Scotland to the north and bounded by the North Sea to the east and the English counties of Cumbria to the west and Durham and Tyne and Wear to the south.
The county has a land area of 1,936 square miles, with a population of 316,028 at the 2011 census. It is predominantly rural, although the south-east of the county contains several former coal mining towns and villages. The county town is Morpeth; other important towns include Berwick upon Tweed, Alnwick, Hexham and Haltwhistle.
Northumberland is one of the most ancient counties in England, with a distinct identity (as part of the old Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Northumbria) dating back to the mid-7th century AD. Hadrian's Wall crosses the southern part of Northumberland; other major historic sites in the county include the island of Lindisfarne or Holy Island, and medieval fortresses at Bamburgh, Norham, Dunstanburgh, Alnwick, Warkworth and elsewhere. In Berwick, Northumberland has England's only sixteenth century walled town. The traditional county of Northumberland also included areas of Tyneside north of the River Tyne including the city of Newcastle (which, however, was made an independent county as early as 1400) and North Tyneside. These two districts became part of the administrative and ceremonial county of Tyne and Wear in 1974.
Northumberland is sometimes referred to as the "cradle of Christianity" in England, due to the early activity of monks in the region during the 6th century, especially on Lindisfarne, where a major monastery flourished.
Northumberland is the northernmost of England's 48 counties, lying mostly above 55° North latitude. Like the ancient kingdom of Northumbria from which it takes its name, the county's name means "north of the River Humber," though in point of fact the Humber lies well south of the modern county's southern border. For residents of England's South and Midlands, Northumberland (like many of the far northern counties) seems to have more in common with Scotland than with England itself, a view that has considerably impacted the county's history and culture.
The eastern part of Northumberland consists of a low, relatively flat coastal plain, facing the North Sea. Taking in the cities of Alnwick, Berwick, Blyth, and Morpeth, among others, it culminates in the Northumberland Coast, a mixture of sandy beaches and rugged cliffs, with a number of offshore islands (these last including Holy Island, on which the ancient monastery of Lindisfarne is located). The west-central portion comprises a large part of the Tyne River Valley, mostly characterized by low, rolling hills; the far northwest of the county is dominated by the Cheviot Hills, straddling the border with Scotland and rising to over 2,500 feet at a few points. South of the Tyne Valley, as one approaches County Durham, lie outlying uplands associated with the North Pennines.
Owing to its northern location, Northumberland has a considerably cooler climate than the rest of England. Average temperatures range from 39°F in January to 58°F in July, with the moderating influence of the North Sea generally preventing extremes in either direction. As uplands to the west block the moisture carried by prevailing westerly winds, the county is also relatively dry compared to England as a whole, typically receiving between 25 and 30 inches of precipitation per year.