A weekend in Allendale

With Val and Kenn at Swallow’s Rest Cottage, near Allendale

We spent the May Day Holiday weekend with our good friends Valerie and Kenn in a lovely cottage, Swallow’s Rest, on farmland near Allendale in Northumberland. Unlike the Easter Weekend a couple of weeks before, which had been warm and sunny, the weather was cold and damp – we even had sleet and hail on the Saturday. However, we got out and about and enjoyed ourselves as we always do – Valerie and I have a long history of friendship having started secondary school together, aged 11, and although we might have fallen out occasionally, I don’t think it’s happened since we were about 16!

Killhope Mine

Killhope Mine

On Saturday we crossed into County Durham to visit the North of England Lead Mining Museum at Killhope. (I was pronouncing this Kill-hope, but it seems to be Killup.) There are several buildings above ground to visit and you can also tour part of the old mine – wellies included, it’s ankle deep in water. If you take your own, make sure you check that they are watertight: Val discovered too late that hers leaked!

The working water wheel is spectacular.

Climbing above the wheel there’s a pleasant walk round the reservoirs with a couple of hides for wildlife watching.

One of these squirrels is real!

There’s also a small café and museum. I liked this story about the proddy mats!

Finally, the site has some pleasing sculptural features. We all enjoyed our day out here.

Allen Smelt Mill

Allen Mill in its heyday

There is much more lead mining heritage to see in this area. Just outside Allendale is Allen Mill which was a massive industrial operation, smelting lead from many mines and extracting silver from it. Now it is being restored and turned into a small business park. We visited twice: one of the units is an Indian restaurant where we ate on Friday night (the Spice Mill – excellent). We came back to look round properly on Sunday morning as we set out on a walk.

As you can see in the gallery above, this mill also has sculptures. The last image shows A conflict of interest by Dave Morris which incorporates the Christian cross and Muslim crescent with a selection of weapons. He intends this as an anti-war statement and plea for world peace. Amen to that!

East Allen walk

River East Allen

Sunday’s circular walk took us along the River East Allen and through some attractive farmland. If we look flummoxed in the first picture below – we were. These very feathery hens just refused to stop to be photographed!

The sheep were more cooperative.

We were intrigued at this system of bells to avoid flying golf balls. Ring once when you start to cross the field, and twice when you reach the other side. We could see no golf course – maybe the sheep liked to play?

Some of the farm houses were exceptionally pretty. This was a lovely walk all round, and a short detour took us to The Crown at Catton where we had a delicious Sunday lunch.

Allendale Town

The Tearoom, Allendale

Finally, as is our custom, we packed up on Monday morning, left the cottage clean and tidy, and headed out for breakfast. The Allendale Tearoom hit the spot, but we didn’t linger afterwards because it was so cold and wet. We made do with a quick walk round to see all the pubs we didn’t visit – our cottage was well out of town and no-one would have volunteered to drive.

Even a visit to the local Dalek couldn’t tempt us!

So we returned to our cars, with Val and Kenn heading south to Yorkshire and us heading north to Glasgow. We had intended to stop at some of the Roman Wall sites on the way home, but decided just to keep going. After all, we only had a couple of weeks before our next trip away – to the beautiful island of Islay. Coming soon!

Haltwhistle: the Centre of Britain

Market Place at the Centre of Britain

The name Haltwhistle comes from “Haut Whyslie” or “high watch between two rivers”. So I learned on our recent visit to this small, Northumbrian town.  Its Market Place dates back to 1207 when King John granted a Charter for weekly markets and two fairs to be held each year.

The town also claims to be the Centre of Britain. Here I am at the marker points this year, and on a previous visit in 2010.

If it surprises you that Britain’s centre should be located so far north, as it did me, see the diagram below. Convinced? Well, maybe. It is definitely plausible, although there are other places which make similar claims.

Whatever, the town certainly makes the most of it as a marketing concept with a Centre of Britain hotel, launderette and shops.

Many of the buildings around the market place originated as Bastles, including the hotel above. These are 16th/17th century defensible houses built to provide protection from border skirmishes between the English and the Scots. Haltwhistle has the highest number of bastles, 6, remaining in England.

It also has a fine example of 13th century architecture in the Church of the Holy Cross, with the addition of 19th century stained glass windows made by the William Morris Company.

I knew nothing of this heritage when I was five years old. What is the significance of that, you might ask? Well, this is the town in which I was born, and five is the age at which my family (by then including a younger sister) moved away to the bigger town (now city) of Sunderland. The War Memorial Hospital has been rebuilt in the last few years (and hasn’t had maternity services for decades) so I had to go online to find a picture of it as it was in the 50s and 60s.

Haltwhistle’s War Memorial Hospital 2019

In 1960 my sister was also born there. In those days, women were confined for almost two weeks after a birth. I wasn’t quite three, but I have clear memories of that time – one of my aunts came to stay to help Dad look after me (no such thing as paternity leave in those days). Every morning I received a postcard from my mum, and sometimes a gift that my wee sister had (allegedly) sent via Dad at visiting time: I particularly remember a small baby doll in a wicker cradle.

Children weren’t allowed to visit the wards, and one day Dad held me up to talk to Mum through the open window. I thought I was going to be handed in to her and screamed all the way home when it didn’t happen (and she tells me she took herself off to the bathroom to howl too).

And this was that home – the Methodist manse in Moor View. The colour image is 2019, the old photos show Mum and Dad posing proudly outside their first married home, probably in 1956.

And here am I at 15 months, toddling in the garden behind that big hedge at the side which looks much the same in 2019 as it did in the 1950s, and the whole family together a few years later.

The house was near the railway bridge – that hasn’t changed much either. This is my late Uncle Jim posing on it in the 1960s when it was fairly new – the stone work is dated 1953.

The railway station is also well-preserved – although now unstaffed, it retains its 1901 signal box, in the shape of a ship’s keel, and other buildings.

Finally, this is the church we went to – one of several where my father was minister – the Primitive Methodist Chapel of 1864, known as Castle Hill Methodist Church when we were there. It has since closed and both it and the Sunday School building, seen on the left behind the church, are private houses. The other Methodist church in town, Westgate, is still functioning.

After our brief, nostalgic (on my part) visit to Haltwhistle we drove on to our final destination for the day: Allendale, where we were to spend a long weekend with friends. More on that next time.

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 concluded that I’d 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…