Ambles from Ambleside

North Cottage, Ambleside

Above is the Lake District home-from-home in which we spent a week at the beginning of June. We arrived on a Saturday afternoon, parked the car and didn’t move it again until we left a week later! This wasn’t what we originally intended, but we discovered that there were plenty of walks which we could do straight from the door, or using the efficient open-topped buses and, on one day, the Windermere ferries. So forgive the cheesy title, which I couldn’t resist: here are our ambles from Ambleside.

Sunday – Loughrigg Fell

It’s possible to do a circular walk from Ambleside taking in Loughrigg Fell. At only 335 metres / 1099 feet it’s not a very big hill, but the ascent is steep – however, if this was meant to be a warm-up for greater things it didn’t quite work out that way.

Monday – Wray Castle and Claife Heights

Windermere at Ambleside

On Monday, we purchased Walkers’ Tickets from the pier at Ambleside – three ferries with a walk in between ferries one and two. The first boat took us to Wray Castle which we’ve visited before. There have been improvements such as an upgraded café (whoop!) and new displays.

Wray Castle

The neo-Gothic “castle” was built in the 1830s as a retirement home for just two people, James and Margaret Dawson, using Margaret’s inheritance from her father’s gin business. Until recently it was assumed, given that marital law at the time gave a husband control over his wife and her property, that James was the driver behind this. However, research in Wray’s archives turned up proof that Margaret inherited as feme sole (sic), in other words had legal control over her own inheritance. It’s likely, therefore, that she had a much bigger role in building the new house than was previously thought.

Artworks and information panels throughout the house illustrated this. For example, I enjoyed a game on the giant Silk Stockings and Social Ladders board, a variant on Snakes and Ladders based on the prizes and pitfalls facing a respectable young woman of Margaret’s time. Staff insisted this should be played wearing a silly bonnet, which you can see I have whipped off in time for the photograph. Purse of Power considers the powers available to Margaret – or not. The trumpet banners represent the vote, which she did not have, and the juniper berries refer to her father’s gin fortune, which she did.

After the castle, we set off on a four mile walk to our next ferry. Well, it was probably longer than that because we chose an alternative route via Claife Heights. Actually, we’d have been better sticking to the lakeside as far as the views were concerned – with the trees in full leaf (not complaining) we only caught occasional glimpses through the gaps.

The path ended at the remains of an old viewing station, built in the 1790s for early tourists to the Lakes. In the 19th century it was also used for parties and dances, and the path from the courtyard below was lit by Chinese lanterns and coloured lamps. The small cottage in the courtyard was, at that time, the home of an old woman who welcomed visitors and escorted them to the station – including one of the Lakes’ most famous residents, William Wordsworth. Today, it houses a café where we had probably the best lunch of the week, albeit a late lunch at 3pm. (Don’t worry about us expiring, we had partaken of brownies at Wray Castle and we also have plenty of fat reserves.)

From here it was a short step to Ferry House where we caught a launch to Bowness, and from there a larger boat back to Ambleside.

Tuesday – Grasmere

The previous day, my ankle had started to hurt. I’d bashed it on something a couple of weeks before, and it seemed to have recovered, but obviously walking boots were applying pressure in just the wrong place, and when I took them off my ankle was bruised and swollen. An easier day was called for, so we caught the bus to Grasmere.

We know the village well, having stayed there on all our visits to the Lakes over the past 15 years. We started out in the Grasmere Tea Gardens, just visible to the left of the bridge above, which were established in 1889. In those days, visitors had to get out while their carriages crossed the River Rothay by ford and  the owner of the house, Mrs Dodgeson, served refreshments from her kitchen table.

After a riverside walk, we headed up to Allan Bank, a National Trust property. It was too nice to spend much time inside, so we mostly strolled its grounds and took its Woodland Trail. Great views from the Viewing Seat of the fells we wouldn’t be climbing!

For lunch, we headed to Lancrigg, the hotel we used to stay in. It used to be exclusively vegetarian ( a rare treat for me) but since our last visit three years ago it has been sold and now has a mixed menu. It still has great veggie choices though! After a final walk through Lancrigg’s woods and the lower reaches of Easdale we hopped back on the bus to Ambleside.

Wednesday – viewpoints over Windermere

On Wednesday, we were back on the bus, this time in the opposite direction to Bowness-on-Windermere. From here, we took a 3-4 hour circular walk to three viewpoints over the lake: Post Knott, School Knott and Biskey Howe.

Thursday – Brockhole

Brockhole – Lake District National Park Visitor Centre

By Thursday, my ankle was starting to feel better – and John’s knee was sore. What a pair of old crocks! We took the bus a few stops to Brockhole, built in 1899 as a family home. Since 1966, after a stint as a convalescent home for Merseyside ladies, it has been owned by the Lake District National Park Authority, opening as a Visitor Centre three years later.

We started on the café terrace (no surprise there) which you can see John is enjoying hugely. I had my eye on the couple at the far end who, it seemed to me, had the best seat in the house. As soon as they moved, I shot into their place – and proved myself right.

The grounds were being prepared for a big event at the weekend, so we didn’t linger. Crossing the main road, we climbed through farmland and forest to a path that took us back to Ambleside, looking down on the lake the whole way.

Friday – Rydal Park

Rydal Hall

By Friday, John’s knee was really hurting (the doctor has since told him it’s probably arthritis 😦 ) We chose another easy, circular walk, of which the route notes said: “This is a really soft walk with virtually no ascent. It is ideally suited to those recuperating from heart attacks, violent hangovers or loss of a leg.” Even so, for the first time in living memory it was John asking me not to go so fast.

The walk took us to Rydal Hall, these days a religious conference centre, so you can’t visit the house, but are free to wander the grounds. The sculpture in the gallery below, The Angel, was created in 2007-09 by Shawn Williamson from a piece of limestone from York Minster. The little “Grot” dates from 1688 and was deliberately built to provide a window to frame the view of the lower Rydal Beck waterfall.

The Hall does have a café, but we spurned that and headed off past Rydal Mount (Wordsworth’s home for many years and open to visit) and Rydal St Mary’s Church – both also spurned. We had a destination in mind – the Badger Bar where we have enjoyed lunch and a pint (or two) many times over the years, usually on a longer and tougher walk, but, hey – medicinal purposes!

After lunch, we took an alternative route back to Ambleside for the last night of a wonderful holiday.

Ambleside and its surrounds also featured in two of my posts for Becky’s recent roof challenge – if you missed them, see #RoofSquares 9-15 and #RoofSquares 16-22.

This post is linked to Jo’s Monday Walk, where this week she is in Krakow.

#RoofSquares 16-22: Lake District continued

Welcome to my next batch of RoofSquares, once again chosen from our recent Lake District holiday. This time we had a cottage in Ambleside, but for old times’ sake we visited Grasmere where we stayed on our last few visits. I’ve always liked this row of cottages on the way up to Allan Bank – to me, the roof looks as though it has been sliced off prematurely.

Here’s Allan Bank itself (National Trust property), looking down on its roof from the Woodland Trail. The small building on the right is the Billiard Room – as a bonus picture, I’ve included its roof from the inside looking up.

Also in Grasmere is St Oswald’s Church. When we last visited three years ago the tower and the church were the same colour. Since then the tower has been restored, including re-roofing and repair of the gutters, castellations and roof pinnacles. Doesn’t it look splendid?

Another day, our walk took us to three different viewpoints over Windermere. This is the lowest and offers a good roofscape of Bowness-on-Windermere.

During the walk, we passed this cottage – Old Droomer. I loved the mossy porch roof over the red door, all surrounded by a wonderful flower display.

This dinky Clock Tower has a castellated roof complete with weathervane. It marks the boundary between the towns of Bowness-on-Windermere and Windermere. I got confused by these names when travelling with my sister and my oldest friend in our early twenties. I assumed the town of Windermere would be right next to the lake and booked accommodation accordingly, not knowing that Bowness was in between. It was a mile uphill from the lake back to our B&B! (By the way, never refer to Lake Windermere – it’s a tautology. Mere means lake.)

Finally, I give you the gloriously neo-Gothic Wray Castle which I’ve written about before and no doubt will again!

My last batch of roofs next Friday will be closer to home, and a non-roof account of our Lakes trip will follow in due course.

No definite news on the Art School yet – the experts have started planning, but there is still a large exclusion zone with residents and businesses displaced. Take a look at this BBC article for pictures of two very roofless buildings – Glasgow School of Art and the ABC venue behind it.

To end on a happier note – I’ve cracked 500 posts! Here’s to the next 500.

#RoofSquares 9-15: Lake District Edition

We spent last week in the Lake District and it proved fertile ground for attractive roofs. We rented a cottage in Ambleside which was up 30+ steps from the street: a long way to climb with your luggage or after a hard day’s walking! From our patio we looked out almost at roof level to the Churchill Inn across the road. The picture above was taken the afternoon we arrived – but don’t worry about the grey skies. By the next morning, they had disappeared and we had glorious weather for the entire week.

The view above was taken from one of the cottage’s skylights, so that’s our roof and chimney in the foreground. To the right is the Churchill Inn again, and the whole scene is backed by Black Fell. I can’t get enough of these grey slate roofs! One more view from this perspective:

This time, we were across the road in a top floor café. The spire is St Mary’s Parish Church and it’s unusual amongst the grey slate roofs – it’s sandstone. Not sure I approve!

A few more Ambleside roofs – this house has very unusual chimneys.

The old Market Hall has a distinctive pointy roof and is now a popular Thai restaurant (very good, we tried it).

Coming back down into Ambleside one afternoon, I couldn’t work out what the round structure below us was, then as we got nearer I realised it was the roof of the local garden centre.

Finally, walking out of Ambleside on the other side of town you come to Rydal Park and Rydal Hall. I like this shot of the Hall’s roof peeking out behind the garden wall (which has another little roof  on the summer-house built into the staircase).

I’ll have more lovely Cumbrian roofs for you next week. In the meantime, pop over to Becky’s Roof Squares challenge for all the fun of the fair and to see what everyone else has found.

Southampton and me

One of the questions I posed in my post about why we went to Hampshire was, could we replicate the picture of me standing outside the Central Library in 1978? Answer: yes we could! A few things have changed about the building – the stonework has certainly had a clean – and more has changed about me, but I’m recognisably the same woman standing in the same place.

This was taken on the Sunday when I was exploring with John – the library was closed, but I was able to get inside the next day. More on that later: after the photo opportunity above, we set off to walk round the medieval walls of the old town, seen below.

Southampton Old Town

In the 18th century, Southampton was a fashionable spa and seaside resort whose visitors included Jane Austen – there were several information boards commemorating this, of which I’ve included a couple of examples in the gallery above. The walls would originally have been right on the shore – in the picture with me, you can just see the Forty Steps in the background, which were constructed 150 years ago to take visitors down to the beach. The building with the arched doorway and stars in the window, the old Wool House, is now a brewery and restaurant called The Dancing Man – I can report it does a very good Sunday roast lunch (meat and vegetarian).

Tudor House

Within the walls, we visited the Tudor House and Garden, originally built in 1492 by John Dawtry. It’s an impressive little museum which tells you about the house and some of its previous residents such as a Tudor lawyer, an artist and a Victorian bonnet maker.

Monuments, murals and memorials

In the gallery above are two of a series of wall plaques on the site of an old Franciscan Friary, a 1970s mural in ceramic and concrete celebrating Southampton’s maritime history, and a 2013 mural just round the corner which has a similar theme.

In the gallery below is another selection, including two memorials related to the Titanic which set sail from Southampton, and the ruins of Holyrood, known as the Sailor’s Church. This dated from 1320, was bombed in 1940, and is now preserved as a memorial garden to those who served in the Merchant Navy and lost their lives at sea.

The Cultural Quarter

Guildhall at night

My clearest memory of Southampton, because I worked there, is the Civic Centre, a grade II* listed building (1939) which in my day housed the City Council, Art Gallery, and Library, as well as the Courts. The first three are still there, but the Courts have been replaced by the SeaCity Museum and the former Guildhall is an O2 venue. The whole complex stands at the centre of what is known as the Cultural Quarter.

On the Monday of our long weekend, John went off to his meetings at Southampton University and I was left to explore on my own. This was my big moment – I could look at the library where I began my career 40 years ago. It has been transformed. Although the exterior is the same, the dark interior and enclosed rooms I remember are now light and open, including the staircase up to the excellent Art Gallery which has been yarn-bombed by residents of a local Care Home. I loved it.

I also visited SeaCity which had a very moving Titanic exhibition with lots of personal stories. On our walk the previous day, we passed The Grapes Public House where some members of the Titanic crew had stayed too long on the day of departure and missed the boat. The story was in the museum too.

There were some light moments amongst the sadness: for example, the replica of a 2nd Class cabin with a quote from a stewardess who said “It was impossibly for myself or the steward to enter the cabin to wait upon the occupants unless both of then climbed into the berth”, and the toilets. I mentioned before that the museum was in the old Courts (with a modern extension which, externally, looked like a series of ships’ prows). The Ladies and Gents were housed in the old cells’ corridor, complete with original doors.

And finally …

A couple of amusing tales to finish. How’s this for a vegetarian meal? We arrived at our hotel in Southampton just before they stopped serving food on the Friday evening. The only vegetarian option was Carrot and Avocado, described as cumin-roasted carrots and smashed avocado with coriander and lemon. I expected a dainty sort of salad-plate with baby carrots maybe, but I have never seen such enormous carrots as these! The flavours were as described and, I admit, delicious, but that’s a lot of carrot. I’m afraid I balked at the side of mashed carrot which John took to accompany his almost-vegetation-free burger.

Just before I left for the airport, I decided to track down one last memory. When I arrived to start work in Southampton I had never been there at all – my interview had been in Winchester. I lived for the first couple of weeks in the YWCA, en route to which the taxi from the station took me past the Civic Centre with its distinctive clock tower, as seen in one of the photos above. Some time later, we arrived at the YWCA. It seemed like quite a journey. The next day, I left the hostel to find out how to get a bus back into town. I walked to the corner and what did I see? That clock tower, just a few minutes’ walk down the road! I remember the feeling of shock that the taxi driver had cheated me, but was that memory real?

These days, Google keeps me on track. It seemed to think the YWCA still existed, and the general direction seemed right. When I got there, I didn’t recognise the hostel which had been completely rebuilt, but I walked to the corner and saw –

The clock tower! The taxi driver had, indeed, taken me a very long way round. What a mean way to treat an obvious stranger to the town. However, I didn’t let it colour my impressions, either then or now, and I left for home happy to have reacquainted myself with a pivotal time in my past.

Winchester and me

Winchester from St Giles Hill

A couple of weekends ago, as described in my last post, John and I stepped off the train at Winchester to meet Becky of The Life of B. Forty years ago I arrived at the same station on a Sunday afternoon, on my way to an interview the next day which resulted in my first library job as a Trainee Librarian with Hampshire County Council.

Winchester is an ancient settlement (in the 9th century King Alfred reconstructed it), so I wasn’t expecting much to have changed in the historic centre – but what about my own history? Both Becky and John were kind enough to indulge me in searching it out.

Library HQ was very close to the station, and for my interview I stayed in a hotel between the two – I think this is the building below, now converted to housing, but Becky will correct me if I’m wrong. I know I definitely went to this church on Jewry Street in the evening.

The first thing Becky did was take us for coffee in the library. I never worked in this building, which I believe was the Lending Library at the time, though I’m sure it didn’t have a colourful staircase like this back then. After coffee and a chat, Becky took us round the corner to the former Library HQ, now private residences. I remember the structure – the arches led to the Reference Library and the rest was HQ where I worked in one of the rooms with the big bay windows. My boss seemed to spend most of his time on the window seat, drinking coffee and chatting to his friends, while I did everything else! What I didn’t remember was the vibrant red brick – maybe it has been cleaned up in the interim.

I lived in Winchester’s YWCA (a misnomer, as most of the residents were men) for 8 of the 12 months of my traineeship. Later in the day, after Becky had left us, we went looking for it – I knew roughly where it was, but couldn’t remember what it looked like. However, as soon as I saw the building below the memory of entering through that covered passage-way came back very clearly. It’s now known as Milford House and still seems to be some sort of hostel.

But enough about me! Time for some pictures of the really interesting bits of Winchester. The Cathedral is not to be missed, of course. The two monuments are in honour of William Walker, a diver who worked in 14 feet of water to underpin the tottering foundations between 1905 and 1912. What an awful job! The ladies in pink you probably know.

Jane Austen, whose books I love, is buried in Winchester Cathedral, and nearby is the house in which she died – allegedly: Becky tells me this is no longer certain.

St Swithun-upon-Kingsgate Church is interesting – it’s set above an archway in the City Walls. Oh look, those ladies in pink again!

And – I could go on and on, but here are just a few of the other lovely buildings we encountered (all are captioned, please Becky – tell me of any mistakes!)

Many thanks once again to Becky for being our tour guide in the morning. We had a great day out in this wonderful city, and the only thing I really wanted to see and didn’t was the Great Hall and King Arthur’s Round Table, which was closed for a wedding. I’ll need to save that for the next time – although unless I live to be 100 I can’t afford to let another 40 years elapse before I revisit!

The call to place: Hampshire

Anabel and Becky, Winchester 2018

Last week, I left you with a bit of a riddle. I said I would soon be off for a short break to the south coast of England with John who was visiting a university in a city where I lived briefly as a young woman. I also told you that it was near the home of a blogging friend whom I was going to meet, and invited you to guess where and who. By the time my scheduled post was published, that meeting had already taken place. The university was Southampton and the blogger was Becky who lives in nearby Winchester, when she’s not in the Algarve, and writes at The life of B and It caught my eye in Portugal.

Becky and I had been discussing a meetup for some months, envisaging that we would both travel to somewhere in-between our homes, but John’s trip was too good an opportunity to miss. He’s a regular, if infrequent, visitor to Southampton and I’ve wanted to accompany him for years, long before I knew Becky. Somehow, it never worked out, but this visit was on a Monday allowing us to make a weekend of it. Why was I so keen?

Let me take you back 40 years to 1978. I was finishing my undergraduate degree in Sheffield and hoping to study Librarianship at postgraduate level. To do this, you had to have a year’s experience working in a library. At that time, many councils and universities had Graduate Trainee posts which allowed you to experience all aspects of library work. I applied for several and accepted the first one I was offered – Hampshire County Council. I thus spent four months each working in Southampton, Winchester and Farnborough. Apart from one short visit a couple of years later, I’ve never been back until now. What would be different? What had stayed the same?

I have very few photographs of that time. Forgive the quality of this one, scanned from an old slide, which shows me standing outside Southampton Central Library in the autumn of 1978. My very first library job. Could I replicate this picture?

Anabel in Southampton, 1978

We had a wonderful weekend searching for the answers to these questions. On Saturday, we met Becky in Winchester. I can report that she is an excellent tour guide, and I’m very grateful to her for taking a few hours out of her busy schedule to show us around. On Sunday, John and I took a walk through Southampton’s Old Town and on Monday, while John was working, I did some more exploring myself and hunted down some old haunts. Full posts on Southampton and Winchester will appear in due course*.

As for my year in Hampshire, it passed very quickly and in October 1979 I returned to Sheffield to study for my MA. While there, I met John as I’ve already described in a previous post. He had another year to go on his PhD in Sheffield, but I was going back to Hampshire. Part of the traineeship arrangement was that I (and 5 other trainees) would work for the council for at least two years after university. The library would save up librarian vacancies during our year out and slot us in when we returned. However, in May 1979 a Conservative government under Margaret Thatcher had been elected and all the talk was of cuts, cuts, cuts. Much like now.

In the early summer of 1980, Hampshire wrote to say they had no librarian vacancies but would appoint returning trainees to library assistant posts and we would all have to compete for anything better that came up. This was a blow. When I told John, he said “You could write and tell them you’re getting married and don’t want to come back.” What! This was the first time the M word had been mentioned between us, so I took it as a proposal and, well, here we still are.

I didn’t actually say that to Hampshire, but I suggested that, as they were obviously having difficulty finding jobs for us all, it was in everyone’s interests if I applied elsewhere. Luckily, I got a job in Nottinghamshire – much nearer Sheffield! But I did wonder as I toured Winchester last week what our lives would have been like if I had gone back.

Many of you will know Cathy who has created several blogs over the years but is now settling down as ~wander.essence~. She’s revamping her approach to travel writing and is encouraging us to do so too. One of her challenges is Call to PlaceI invite you to write a 700-900 word (or less) post on your own blog about what enticed you to choose a recently visited or a future particular destination. I’m linking this post to that invitation – Cathy’s own most recent call to place is to the Four Corners area of the USA. Follow the link to find out more.

*See:

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.

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…