Northumberland 2008

We returned on Friday from our week’s holiday to Northumberland, where we had travelled to see castles, walk through gardens and take in some refreshing sea air.

As you can see from the photo album above, we certainly got our fair share of all of those. First we had to contend with a 6-hour drive from Norwich to Dunstan, where we were staying. Twice as long as any drive we’d attempted before, I was a little intimidated by the distance but, in the end, if wasn’t a problem – especially with Leiali taking up a good 2 and a half hours of the journey time.

While the cottage we stayed at wasn’t anything special (and which had a kitchen so miniscule that it managed to make our one at home seem large in comparison), it was ideally placed as a central HQ for exploring the area. It proved to be a packed week, but here are the highlights:

Lindisfarne – A bit further north, this island is only accessible by a causeway that spend half the day submerged beneath the sea, thus requiring careful checking of the tides so as not to get stranded. The drive across was consequently rather exciting, as we timed our arrival to coincide with the causeway’s appearance. On the island itself is an old ruined priory and the castle itself, perched up on a rocky hill. Intriguingly it had been used as a holiday home during the early 20th century.

Bamburgh Castle – The best thing about a castle-based holiday is that it doesn’t really matter what the weather does. If it’s sunny, great; if it rains, then it just makes everything more atmospheric! Bamburgh was a good example of this, as the fog rolled in off the sea during our visit and had entirely enveloped the place by the time we’d finished looking around its plush interior. This resulted in some great photos and a spooky walk over the dunes to the beach. Standing on the beach, looking out to sea, with all your surroundings past about 50 metres blanketed by a thick white fog is quite a memorable experience. It would have been easy to get entirely lost, if it weren’t for the useful navigational hint of the roaring waves!

Alnwick – In contrast to the authenticity of Bamburgh and the ruined history of Lindisfarne, Alnwick felt more like an attraction created by Disney. The gardens, which have apparently received a huge amount of lottery funding lately, were a largely soulless affair, with most of the garden rather sparse and dead, with spring having not yet reached Northumberland. As such all that remained for viewing were a series of elaborate water fountains – which were, admittedly, extremely spiffy. Each highlighted a particular behavioural aspect of water and they were really quite fascinating, particularly the ‘vortex’ whirlpool. Overall, though, it was all a bit gimmicky and antiseptic. Alnwick castle was better, with parts having featured in the Harry Potter films, but there was still something rather staged about the whole thing. Rather too many photos of the current owners and inhabitants, lounging about in their posh, inherited luxury, for our liking, too! 🙂 I did have my best Cake of the Week at Alnwick, however.

Cragside – The major highlight of the week for me, Cragside is an astounding place built by one Lord Armstrong in the 19th century. Armstrong was a highly innovative engineer and entrepreneur and the house and grounds show this at every turn. Most notably, the house was the first in the world to enjoy full electrical power, thanks to Armstrong’s harnessing of hydro-electricity via the multiple lakes dotted about the grounds. Remarkably the building also featured a three-storey elevator! The grounds were equally impressive, including a 6 mile drive around the perimeter that reminded me ever-so-slightly of the tour in Jurassic Park – though less deadly, thankfully. An inspiring place that unfortunately can’t hope to be properly represented in our photos.

Howick Hall – Earl Grey tea was invented here. Which may not sound like the most exciting of facts, but I’ll admit to the tea being extremely good – and I’m by no means a regular tea drinker. The massive gardens were refined and tamed in comparison to Cragside’s exciting wilderness but were nevertheless most enjoyable, with the Silverwood rohdedendron forest being particularly beautiful (it also sounds like a location in World of Warcraft, which makes it instantly cool). We had a particularly relaxing river walk here, aided by the sunny weather.

Warkworth – The final castle of the holiday is a generally well-preserved site on the coast at Warkworth, a pleasantly picturesque little village. Although the motte and bailey had long since collapsed, the keep itself was in good condition. With the help of a fantastic audio guide the place really came to life and was a satisfying conclusion to the week.

All we have to do now is win the lottery, thus enabling us to buy Cragside and go live there.

Categories: Writing


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