Friday, May 22, 2009

Out of Scotland, Slowly

On Sunday we left Edinburgh, headed for Northumberland and (we thought) York.

Now, if someone says England and tourism, your first thoughts do not turn to Newcastle Upon Tyne, which formerly was the county’s largest city, or for that matter to any place in Northumberland. But for many English folk we have talked to, this area is a great treat, as it has become for us.

Jim Marshall first put us onto the area, marking out Alnwick, Holy Island and Bamborough on our maps. We took it from there and spent three days prowling the backroads and coming to love the area, enough so that we delayed our trip to York until after our return from Germany, in order to get a bit more time in that corner of England.

So, what have we seen and done to warrant such enthusiasm?

Our first stop Sunday afternoon was, in truth, still in Scotland, at Preston Mill and Dovecote or as they put it Phantassie Doocot. The mill, which seems to be a locally popular stopping and walking place, was located an easy half mile stroll from the dovecote and provided a lovely break in our morning.

Our next goal was Holy Island with its ancient abbey and Lindisfarne Castle. We drove the causeway to the island, which is cut off at high tide, parked and walked the village and then out to the castle, which despite its ancient lineage turned out to be just another Edwardian pile (we are becoming such castle snobs that anything newer than two hundred and fifty years barely warrants our lofty attention). Still the castle and village made for an amusing stop.

From there we headed for Bamborough and yet another castle. Scotland and in the north taught us one of those interesting practical lessons. We all know about feudalism. Ya don’t have to be a college professor to know about lords, barons and all that. But driving across this part of the UK taught us the truly local nature of feudalism. All this is a gassy way of saying that in both Scotland and the north

From there we pointed our SatNav toward Alnwick. A word, here, on local pronounciation. The river is, of course, the Aln, pronounced as you would expect. The town nearby is Alnmouth, again, prounounced as you would expect. Alnwick is pronounced “annick.” Go figure.

Our first night there was spent at Blackmore’s Hotel which did not meet our needs, but the dinner was very good and the hotel manager was more than fair in compensating us for our inconvenience. From there we transitioned to the Roxboro House B&B in nearby Warkworth. Run by Claire Gibson, it is among the one or two nicest B&B’s we had occasion to stay at. And you could not beat the view from our bedroon window. In fact the place occasioned our decision to stay another night. We spent the day Monday at Alnick Castle and Gardens.

Only as we entered did we realise that this castle was and is the seat of the Percy family who were first projected into English history by Harry Percy, “Hotspur,” celebrated by Shakespeare in Henry IV, Part I. For exactly 700 years the family have inhabited the castle as the Earls and Dukes and Duchesses of Northumberland.

By this time, of course, we have been through more castles than we can recall and have developed a sense of them. We agree that for us the most resonant ones are those which have been in the hands of a single family through time, and, of course, the Northumberlands have played a major role in the history of England.

In contrast to the Spencers, who occupy Blenheim as the Marlboroughs, one does not get a sense of entitlement from the current Northumberlands. This, perhaps, is because the 12th Duke is the younger son and would not have inherited save for the early death of his brother, but the Percys seem to play a major and constructive role in the life of the area.

Recently rebuilt and redesigned by the current Duchess, The Alnwick Gardens are a horticultural fantasyland in which I had some fun playing with flowers.

Like so many of these families, the Percys had multiple holdings in the area and only when we briefly visited Warkworth Castle, outside our window, did we realise that it, too, though now in ruins, once belonged to the Percys.

Preston Mill.
The drying room, for grain

the dovecote

Lindisfarne Castle, built from the wreckage of the 11th century priory following the dissolution of the monastaries in the 1550s, the castle was extensively rebuilt in Edwardian times and includes a Gertrude Jekyll Garden which we did not visit.
Nearby Bamburgh castle.

And here, Roxboro House where we spend two lovely evenings.
The view of Warkworth Castle from our bedroom window.
A photo of us both in front of Alnwick Castle taken by a friendly passerby.
Along the crenellated tower "defenders." One wonders if anyone was really taken in by these non-lifelike figures.
The most famous of the Percys.

The grounds, as designed by Lancelot "Capability" Brown. In the mid-18th century, Brown literally invented the English landscape garden looking out over the grounds at Alnwick one can see why he was called on to landscape so very many of the great houses of England.

The present duchess, who has recently been appointed Lord Lieutenant of Northumberland , began a project to rescue the garden from ruin in 2000.
The grand fountain, recently designed

Some flowers

A poppy

In truth, after Alnwick we were a bit castled-out, but it was our last day in the area and Warkworth was across the street. We had time for a flying visit just as they were closing.

And, of course, I am powerless over ruins.

In order to have the maximum amount of time in Northumberland, we stayed there Tuesday night and then drove 350 miles on Wednesday before leaving Thursday for Nürnberg. Why is it we are so tired?


Gilly said...

Alas, the wrong number of sheep!

Perhaps some fine German castles would reinvigorate your devotion to the species?

I'm curious as to how much difficulty you had in understanding people in Scotland. My mum talks of visiting parts of Britain where she couldn't understand the locals, and she's English.

mr.goldfink said...

Gilly, the comment about incomprehensible Scots made me chirrup! We're not that hard to understand!