Bamburgh Castle

Bamburgh Castle panorama
Bamburgh Castle panorama

On the last morning of our Northumbrian weekend, the May Day Holiday, we parted company. Valerie and Kenn headed south to Yorkshire, via Newcastle for a family visit, and we decided to visit Bamburgh Castle before setting off for home. Now, I knew I hadn’t been to Lindisfarne or Alnwick Castle before but I was sure I had been to Bamburgh. However, I didn’t recognise it at all inside and can only conclude I’ve only viewed it from outside where it dominates the coastal views for miles.

There is evidence that this area has been occupied for over 10,000 years, but the oldest building now goes back “only” to the Normans, a keep (tower) that remains the heart of the castle, but with many additions over the centuries. Its character today, however, has been determined by 19th century industrialist Lord Armstrong. He bought the castle from distant relatives in 1894 and set about restoring it, having already built a country manor – Cragside, also worth a visit – which was the first house in the world to be lit by hydro-electricity. He wanted Bamburgh to be just as up-to-date, and invented and installed air conditioning and central heating systems. £1m later, he died with his dream still incomplete. His heir finished the work and the Armstrongs still live there today. Let’s take a walk round.

The first thing we did on arrival was stroll along the Battery Terrace. The castle, as you can already see, is blessed with a wonderful sea view.

Then we turned left to visit the State Rooms – a few external details to admire first.

Inside, by far the most impressive room is the King’s Hall, a 19th century construction but sitting on the footprint of the original Great Hall. Nothing but the best in materials – the ceiling weighs 300 tons, is made of Siamese teak and held together with over 1300 oak pins. The stained glass window adorns the minstrel’s gallery. Rather cosier is the Billiard Room with its spectacular fireplace to keep the players warm.

At this point we tried to visit the café, but it’s quite small and was jam-packed with Bank Holiday Monday visitors so we visited the rest of the grounds first. (When we went back, the lunch was very good – better than Alnwick Castle’s café. These things matter to me!)

A small camp was set up for a military re-enactment, and suddenly it burst into life! Those pesky Scots were invading…… 😉

Below the windmill around the camp there were archaeological digs to look at and we also toured the Armstrong and Aviation museum which thrilled one member of the party more than the other. After that, we headed back out and turned left to take the walk underneath the castle walls and down onto the beach. I can’t decide if it’s more imposing close up or from a distance.

Finally, we walked along the almost-deserted beach as far as we thought practical given that we had a two and a half hour drive ahead of us.

The island we could see is Inner Farne. I’ve only been out to the Farne Islands once, on a school trip when I was about 14. When I look back, I shudder at the health and safety standards. We might complain about pernickety details now, but things have improved so much.

I hope you’ve enjoyed my brief Northumbrian interlude. Of the three places we visited – Bamburgh, Alnwick and Lindisfarne – the last-named was definitely my favourite, but I’d happily return to them all.

Linked to Jo’s Monday Walks where you can visit more wonderful places from Yorkshire to Japan.

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Alnwick Castle

Alnwick Castle
Alnwick Castle

Alnwick Castle has been home to the Dukes of Northumberland for over 700 years. Fans of Harry Potter and / or Downton Abbey might recognise it, as it has starred in both. If you so wish, you can sign up for broomstick training on the very spot where Harry had his first lesson, and you can see in the State Rooms an exhibition of photographs, costumes and props from the Downton Christmas specials of 2014 and 2015 in which Alnwick doubled as Brancaster Castle.

As with Lindisfarne, I’d never been here before and enjoyed discovering the castle. The exterior is imposing, and I particularly liked the figures on the ramparts. They, and the numerous cannon lying about, could have been intimidating, but fortunately John, Valerie and Kenn look quite relaxed.

However, what I enjoyed most – and we didn’t know it was on before we went – was the falconry display. It was so well done that we watched it twice.

Afterwards, John was able to get up close and personal with some of the participants. Well, maybe not too close. Those beaks look scary!

Alnwick Castle is also famous for its gardens – however these operate as a separate attraction, and I think to do both we’d have needed more time. On the way out, we had a peek through the beautiful gates and there wasn’t much colour yet (this was a month ago) so we’ll save that up for another day. The gardens ticket includes admission to the intriguing Tree House, also a reason to go back.

This was the third day of our short Northumbrian break. One more castle to go!

Lindisfarne

Lindisfarne
Lindisfarne
Despite living in North East England until I was 18, and visiting regularly until my parents retired and moved away in the early 90s, I had never been to the Holy Island of Lindisfarne until our recent weekend in Northumberland. Neither had John or my friend Valerie – I went to school with her, so you can guess where she comes from. Only her husband Kenn, a southerner, had been before and that was – ahem – a few decades ago. I am ashamed. Lindisfarne, often known simply as Holy Island, is wonderful. There’s also a lot more to it than I thought. I imagined a small island with a priory, but there’s a village, a castle and more trails than we had time to do.

It’s a tidal island, so you have to be careful when you cross. We parked in the main car park (fee) and walked down to the village. Our first port of call was the priory – to reach it, we passed St Mary’s Church, to which we would return, and the statue of St Aidan. We also admired the views over to the castle.

Aidan, an Irish monk, founded the monastery of Lindisfarne around 634. It became the base for Christian evangelism in the North of England and Northumberland’s patron saint, Saint Cuthbert, was a monk here and later abbot. There’s a statue of Cuthbert within the priory grounds.

After the priory, we explored St Mary’s Church. The sculpture here is of monks carrying Cuthbert’s body.

Next, we climbed to the old Coastguard Lookout from which there were good views down to the priory and across to the castle.

A different path took us back to the village – and lunch – before we set off for the castle. Along the way, we came across this lovely building, Window on Wild Lindisfarne, part of the Lindisfarne National Nature Reserve. John’s picture shows it better, but I rather like my iPhone silhouette of him and Kenn.

The castle approached – a steep climb up and we were in!

Lindisfarne Castle is an old fort that was converted to a holiday home by Edward Hudson, founder of Country Life magazine, in 1901. Obviously he pulled in all his connections, because the architect was Edwin Lutyens and the garden was designed by Gertrude Jekyll.

The first thing you notice in the Entrance Hall is the wind indicator, painted by Max Gill. A weather vane on the roof powers the central needle via a mechanism in the chimney and turns it in the direction of the wind. I’ve not seen anything quite like it before.

Moving into the kitchen, I was impressed at how many artefacts were lying in the open rather than behind glass or a rope barrier. I asked the guide on duty and she said this was now policy and so far no harm had been done. I was also struck by the parcel addressed to Austin Reed, which was poignant because the company had just gone into administration.

Some of the rooms were closed for conservation, but there was plenty to see. I absolutely loved this bijou castle – it must have been a joy to stay in. Not only that, the guide leaflet had such engaging stories to tell about Hudson that I think I’d have liked him too.

Before we left the castle, we spent some time on the Upper Battery which had great views over the island.

Below the castle, someone had been having fun making art from stones. The other castle you can just see across the water is Bamburgh which I’ll be taking you to in a couple of post’s time.

Finally, we walked across to the garden but it hadn’t been planted for the season yet so there wasn’t much to see. There were other trails we could have followed back to the car, but by this time there was less sun, more wind and a definite nip in the air so it was decided to take the same route back because it was quickest.

This was a wonderful day out – and remarkable cheap! The priory is administered by English Heritage and the castle by the National Trust, so our Historic Scotland and National Trust for Scotland cards got us in free. Even if you don’t have these memberships, I’d say they were well worth visiting at £6 and £7.30 respectively. Just don’t forget to check the tides…

Linked to Jo’s Monday Walks – lots of walks this week ranging from Poland to Canada.

Belford, Northumberland

Belford, Northumberland
Belford, Northumberland

As is now traditional on the May Day weekend, we met our friends Valerie and Kenn somewhere between their home in West Yorkshire and ours in Glasgow. This time, the choice was Northumberland, specifically Belford, a coaching stop on the main A1 road from London to Edinburgh until it was bypassed in 1983.

It was quite sleepy-looking when we were there, although it livened up with the Saturday morning market. Its coaching past was also evident with the historic Blue Bell Hotel.

Our own accommodation, a former farmhouse, was called Bluebell (all one word) Lodge so it covered all bases by having a blue bell and bluebells (just visible on the middle window upstairs). It was very comfortable and so spacious that we could all have sat in separate rooms if we’d fallen out – which we didn’t, of course.

We were also provided with plenty of reading material – the landlord seemed to know several authors who had left collections of their books. If the weather had been really bad, we would have had plenty to choose from. It wasn’t – mainly bright, but too cold to sit out in the garden or on the tiny little deck over the stream which ran down the side of the house.

So what did we do? Castles galore! More to come…