CHAPTER NINE: Enjoying The Northumberland Countryside
Day Nine: Mirror Image, Going Back To The Seventh Century, Is This Any Way To Go To The Bathroom?, Hitting The Wall, That’s A Ewe Problem, Mixed Messages, “A Palace Of The Modern Magician”, Two Heads Are Better Than One, Country B&B, Buttering Us Up, Tracy Takes It On The Lamb and The Crew Hits The Crewe
Our plan was to get on the road and drive to see part of Hadrian’s Wall, but first we had to actually get on the road safely. For some reason, the side view mirrors would not fold out on our rental car. Kim thought they’d open automagically like they did the previous day, but after a short distance they still would not fold out. It’s hard enough to drive on the other side of the road with mirrors, so not having them presented a problem. Having put the wrong petrol in the car in Gubbio, not knowing how to put the car in reverse in Spello and running into a light pole in Olomouc, we were used to these rental car fiascos, and fortunately Kim figured it out.
With a little renovation work in the 12th century, you really do feel like you’ve stepped back in time when you walk inside.
We checked out the Phelps organ, which I hoped would play the Mission Impossible theme. The Font is said to be from St. Wilfrid’s time.
At the bottom of the Night Stairs is the nine-foot tall Flavinus’ Tombstone from the 1st century. It was discovered in 1881 under the floor of the abbey, and the tombstone is dedicated to Flavinus, hence the name. There are lots of other sculptures to be found. Many of these predate St. Wilfrid by centuries.
Hexham Abbey’s nave is full of banners that “mark some of the most important events, regiments and people in the history of Northumberland.” I guess they could have been called Banner events.
She was able to grab a photo and come back up before becoming part of a Stephen King novel.
There was more to see there …
… but we had a fort to visit and were already running late. We wanted to see a portion of the 73-mile long Hadrian’s Wall and headed to one of the permanent Roman army posts, Housesteads Roman Fort & Museum.
Before we hiked up to the museum, we overheard a man outside the Visitor Center regaling people with tales about going to the bathroom … in Hadrian’s time. Before we had time to escape, he told us how the soldiers would use a moss brush that was marked so you wouldn’t use somebody else’s brush by mistake. For added effect, he took us over to a visual of how soldiers went to the bathroom, and finally had me re-enact that scenario on a replica of one of the ancient toilets, using the brush for special effects … and I thought getting lost in a hotel was embarrassing. I did receive a modicum of applause and laughter from the visitors forced to witness my Oscar worthy role.
It was quite a blustery day, but the hike up to the museum and fort was fun, with sheep joining us for part of the journey. Evidently, they had not seen the shenanigans below.
At the museum we learned about the construction of the fort and why they built the wall. There are plenty of exhibitions, including a film, that went into great detail. It was £10 for Tracy and £9 apiece for the elderly three to visit the museum and fort.
The wind was whipping pretty good as we channeled our inner child and climbed all around the fortress.
Kim lead the way up the steps and we followed.
The views over the countryside seemed to stretch forever.
The northern part of the fort at the top of the hill is where you can really get an idea of how far the wall stretched.
There are remains of the barracks blocks and the Commandant’s house and the accompanying signage gives you an idea of what the buildings looked like. I thought it was just cool to walk around in something that was built about 1,900 years ago.
Kids and adults both enjoyed walking and climbing on the rectangular ruins of this fort that once housed 800 auxiliary soldiers for nearly three centuries.
For some reason, I just can’t escape the loo at Housesteads.
Kim and Mary got a head start on walking back, and about ten minutes later Tracy and I followed. We, however, ran into a roadblock. Out of the blue, the sound of two barking border collies riding with a man in a souped-up red ATV pierced the peaceful morning we were enjoying. As bad as that was, it was much worse for the sheep who immediately went on alert and started running faster than Usain Bolt.
We felt bad for one ewe who most certainly couldn’t find her lamb. Finally, they were reunited and scurried down the hill to another pasture. Of course, their ultimate fate was probably not a good one, since we were told the wool industry is suffering mightily and most of the sheep are used for meat.
Our next destination took a little longer to get to thanks to some dispute between Mary and my GPS system. We went with Mary’s, and the next thing we heard was Tracy seeing a sign whiz by and saying, “I don’t think we want to go to Newcastle.” Since nobody was in the mood for an ale, we recalculated.
Finally, we arrived much later than we had planned at “Britain’s first smart home,” Cragside House, Gardens & Estate, the Victorian family mansion of Lord William Armstrong, dubbed “The Magician of the North.”
Armstrong was a master of all trades; an inventor, scientist and philanthropist who was knighted in Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee year for giving his gun patents to the British government. Cragside was the first building in the world to be lit by hydroelectricity. It was built with additions between 1869 and 1895.
Armstrong was also “a landscape genius, and constructed five lakes and planted more than seven million trees and shrubs” on the property. Just walking up to the estate, we witnessed much of the landscape beauty.
Inside, we saw some of Armstrong’s handy work. In the ”Designer” Kitchen, for instance, there’s a hand-operated dumb waiter, a dishwasher and a water-powered roasting pit over the range.
Armstrong acquired the Egyptian onyx fireplace in the Library on a trip overseas, and the stained glass windows depict the legend of St. George. You could read in this room thanks to Armstrong “harnessing the power of Cragside’s artificial lakes” to provide hydro-electric light. I told you this guy was smart.
Finally, we entered a room where you could learn more about Armstrong’s inventions regarding electricity. It was pretty fascinating, but it was nearly closing time. It was time to “head” out.
We thought about strolling down to the gardens, however the rock steps, now soaking wet, made for a precarious journey. Time constraints also precluded us from taking the scenic drive. Not getting to spend more time here was one of the biggest disappointments of the trip, and who knows if we will ever be back to this part of the world.
Speaking of large, when I went to check out the bathroom (there seems to be a theme going on today), I opened the door into a room of gigantic proportions. There was a shower in the corner and a clawfoot tub in the middle. I felt like a country squire, until I remembered I didn’t own the property.
Ralph had invited us down to the parlor where he served tea and gave each one of us a butter cookie, which immediately changed our lives. This was, hands down, the best shortbread cookies on the planet. Ralph gave us some background on the property, and how he and his wife are sharing in the relief efforts to help Ukranian refugees. Mary reminded me, “They are lending a portion of their B&B to a family of three and trying to help the mother get her 9-year-old daughter and 11-year-old son settled in private boarding schools. They are also housing a young female refugee.”
Mary and Kim headed back upstairs for a little R&R, while Tracy, Ralph and I walked out onto his pastural property.
There we met more sheep, and Tracy and Ralph walked out to feed the lucky sheep that’s off limits for potential lamb chops as his son raised it while he was home from school during Covid.
Tracy and I strolled the grounds gazing in wonder at the forest of rhododendrons.
It was a great trip for rhodys.
We also met some other residents of the property as we walked around the lush grounds. Now we know why those eggs were so fresh at breakfast each morning.
The newly renovated Lord Crewe was our dinner choice for the first evening, and it was a good choice, as were all three restaurants we dined at while staying here (post on all three restaurants here).
We settled in for the evening back at Budle Hall.
CHAPTER TEN: Trying Not To Get Poisoned In Alnwick
Day Ten: Parking Problems, Please Don’t Eat The Plants, “I Didn’t Know Gardening Was So Dangerous”, Not Blooming Soon Enough, Why Is My Tongue Blue?, 700 Years Of History, Hey Hotspur, “Deeply Eccentric Castle”, Castle Hoarders, More Butter Cookies and Swan Diving