I have a rule that I don’t leave the house in the morning without washing the breakfast dishes and making the bed. This nugget was gleaned in 1967 from a book of advice for young women leaving the parental home and embarking on life in their own flat or bedsitter. A sort of self-help book, though they weren’t referred to in quite those terms in those days. On rare occasions the rule is flouted, and October 12th was one of them. After 7 years’ retirement, early starts, once routine, aren’t so easy.
We had to leave the house at 8am, to go to the Alwinton Border Shepherds’ Show, Northumberland’s biggest country show. I was entering some photographs in the photography section (3rd in the Architecture section, with my image of the stunning interior of the Chicago Board of Trade Building). Not having been to the show before, we had no idea of the procedure or how slick parking the car would be.
The parking was very slick, with lots of lime-green coated stewards on hand to guide us, and despite the recent heavy rain, the field wasn’t muddy. After putting my photos up, we had another two hours to wait before most things started to happen. We wandered up through the village, past the Rose and Thistle where we’d stayed in August and first thought of actually attending the show. Further up the valley, the sheepdog trials had already begun and we watched with some interest and amusement as the hapless dog and his shepherd tried to persuade the sheep to go through a gate. It was hard to determine whether the sheep, in their failure to comply, were stupid, or trying deliberately to provoke. We suspected the latter.
A variety of dogs and their owners were assembling, waiting for judgement.
We walked back to the main show ground where drinks and food were being served in a big barn. After an early start, there was nothing like coffee and a generously filled bacon roll. The atmosphere was of friendly community, and clearly many people knew each other. But the bonhomie was extended to outsiders like us, too.
By 12 o’clock the sheep judging was underway. We had no idea how many classes of sheep there could possibly be, but even someone who knew nothing about them could not fail to appreciate what beautiful, well-bred and well cared-for animals they were . Each was carefully examined, and although they appeared to wait patiently in the pens, once into the judging area many of them decided to show their mettle and resist the process, bucking and rearing away from their owners . We watched the under-16’s section with some trepidation as a small boy tried to restrain a ewe almost twice his size, but in the friendly atmosphere, others quickly came to his rescue.
Some had golden fleeces, apparently dyed.
There was plenty to see and do. Trade exhibitions, a fairground, fell-running, motorcycle stunts, craft stalls, as well as the displays of horticulture, baking (plain and fancy), walking sticks, photography, and ‘industrial’, which included knitted items, crochet, jewellery, tea cosies, embroidery, drawings and paintings. Not to mention the Rothbury Highland Pipe Band.
But what really gripped us was the Cumberland and Westmorland Wrestling. We arrived as the Boys’ under 13s was just starting. At first glance, it seemed a barbaric thing for children to participate in. But it soon became apparent that there were strict rules of gentlemanly conduct and the referee watched the contestants closely and was quick to intervene if there were any infringments of the rules or someone seemed at risk.
As well as the referee, there was a commentator with a microphone who announced the contestants and explained what was happening. He appeared to be not above a little partisanship.
“This is Bobby. He’s come all the way from south of Carlisle.” (Polite applause).
“And this is Jack, he’s a local lad.” (Less restrained applause).
We walked away as the prizes were being presented for the Under 13’s, to watch the fell-running instead. But we were stopped in our tracks when the commentator’s voice was heard saying that there had been a mix-up.
“It seems that people in Coquet can’t count. Under-13 means you have to be less than thirteen. You have to be twelve. Some people have made a mistake and so what we’re going to do is take back all the prize money and the medals and run the contest again.”
So we stayed to watch the re-run, and then couldn’t resist watching all the rest of it, the Ladies’ Open, and the various Men’s contests, impressed by the grace and athleticism of those taking part.
We had had a glimpse of Northumberland country life, a world apart from our usual habitat.
We arrived at the agreed meeting place, a right-angle bend on a narrow road, to find Sheila with her nearside wheels embedded in the soft, muddy verge.
It was lucky that Ian had decided to join us, as this meant we had come in the Mitsubishi, complete with towing ball, rather than the Panda which I would have driven if I’d been on my own. And Sheila had a climbing rope with her. After a brief argument about the relative merits of climbing knots as opposed to sailing knots, Sheila got out her car manual and together we worked out the location of the towing bracket on the back of her Audi, and how to open it.
It’s quite hard to plan circular walks of an appropriate length and level of difficulty, and even harder to plan one in which a pub features, which is also suitably located for lunch. On this occasion we had to resort BYO. But the upside was that apart from a single runner who glared balefully at Winnie when she tried to make eye contact with him, we saw not a single other person.
Having safely parked on terra firma we set off in a south-westerly direction along the forest track, with occasional glimpses through gaps among the trees of the rolling hills to the north of us.
Modern technology, ie the OS Mapfinder app on my phone, is a great help in not getting lost. At a glance, you can see exactly where you are on the map. But you still have to identify features on the ground and where you are in relation to them. Suffice to say that we missed the path which would have taken us on to the long-distance footpath, a Pennine Journey, undertaken by A. Wainwright in 1938.
There was an alternative way through Rawgreen Farm, which meant we didn’t have to re-trace our steps, but better still, the farmer had allowed a permissive path along his land, following Devil’s Water, so we didn’t have to walk through his farmyard with its attendant problems of farmyard dogs, or cows in his fields.
Just before the track left Devil’s Water, we came upon the ruins of the Dukesfield Smelting Works. Two hundred years ago, the area that is now a haven for wildlife was a busy industrial centre. Lead ore was brought here by ponies from the mines of North Yorkshire and the refined lead transported to Blaydon on the River Tyne for shipping.
The path led up the hill to Dukesfield Farm and we took the road back to the car.
We were in charge of Lucy and Dominic for the last two days of the school holidays, and day 1 was a visit to Gentleshaw Wildlife Centre near Eccleshall in Staffordshire. The Centre is a sanctuary for unwanted and mistreated exotic animals and birds of prey, and there was a brief history of each bird or animal outside its enclosure. This included a billy-goat who had been removed from the riding school where he lived, for ‘terrorising adults and children’, but most of the animals had much worse experiences before being rescued.
There was a children’s play area with picnic tables, a miniature railway anda crazy golf course, so plenty to keep everyone occupied.
I knew that as soon as we’d finished our trip round America’s Great Loop, Ian would be busy plotting something else. As our boat Carina is still for sale, further exploits have to be land-based. This means cycling. He devised a 4-night, 5-day trip for mid-August, giving me a week to get all the washing done, and things in the house returned to their rightful places after the family had returned to their respective homes after their visits. I was lured with the promise that our last night would be spent at Riverdale Hall, in Bellingham, where the food is excellent and there’s a swimming pool.
The plan was to ride our bikes to Morpeth, get the train to Berwick, and cycle home again.
The two days prior to departure were marked by almost incessant rain. People posted pictures on social media of normally quiet Northumberland streams transformed into raging torrents. The forecast for our week away was less than favourable. The River North Tyne had burst its banks. But my suggestion of taking the car as well as the bikes, and doing short day rides when the weather permitted, was airily dismissed.
On Monday morning, the promised rain didn’t actually materialise although it was a bit chilly. I remembered that autumn starts in the middle of August in Northumberland, and at the last minute, put some thermal leggings on over my cycling shorts. I felt quite cheerful on departure.
I’m wondering if being early for things is a manifestation of age-related decline. I used to spend the hour prior to departure from home before going on holiday, frantically watering plants, emptying bins, removing anything that hadn’t been eaten up out of the fridge, even hoovering the hall carpet. This behaviour invariably incurred Ian’s displeasure. But these days I’m always ready with time to spare. 9.00am had been specified as the time we had to leave home, and I was ready to go at 8.30.
Despite the gloomy forecast, it wasn’t raining.
And as we climbed the hill at Saltwick, which afforded our first real view, it was quite bright. Just before this photo was taken, we passed my friend Judith’s house, but 9.20 on a Monday morning really seemed too early to turn up unannounced for coffee.
We did have time for coffee in Morpeth though. We arrived at 10.25, 90 minutes early for our train to Berwick. Morpeth Station was covered in scaffolding and the temporary ticket office situated in a portakabin, but there was a cafe in the adjacent industrial estate, we were told. The estate was deceptively extensive, but lacked any sort of information board which might have shed light on where the individual businesses might be located. We had to resort to Google maps to find the oddly-named Nor Cafe, a greasy-spoon establishment where there was clearly no point in asking if you could get a latte. But the coffee was only 80p a cup, so you couldn’t grumble.
The train journey to Berwick with the dreaded Cross-Country trains was less than satisfactory. Ian had reserved spaces for our bikes (free). The spaces were located in Coach D. We managed to find Coach D, but the train was dangerously overcrowded. A young man helped me to put my bike in one of the storage slots, but as well as sharing the entrance vestibule with him and five members of his family, there was a young couple with a very new baby, whose carrycot was occupying the other bike space. The baby’s need was clearly greater than ours, but Ian could only cram his bike in with difficulty. Our embarrassment was compounded into national shame when it transpired that the helpful young man and his family were actually Polish, and on holiday from Holland. Quite why a train leaving Newcastle at 11.30 on an ordinary Monday morning should be so crowded remains a mystery.
We were following National Cycle Route 1, which stretches from Dover to the Shetland Islands. The route went west out of Berwick, past some fine stone houses and with views south across the Tweed Valley towards the Cheviot Hills. We decided we had time to visit the grounds and gardens of Paxton House, but we would save the house itself for another day. Built between 1758 and 1762 by James Adam, the house overlooks the wide sweep of the River Tweed.
After the heavy rains the ground was wet and slippery underfoot and part of the riverside path flooded, so we couldn’t do the whole walk. Leading up from the riverside path was a rather neglected ravine garden, probably lovely in spring with the rhododendrons and candelabra primulas that were just visible among the weeds.
But the herbaceous border surrounding the croquet lawn was much better maintained, and the lily pond quite lovely.
A few miles upstream we crossed back into England via the Union Chain Bridge, an event of some excitement for a retired bridge engineer. The bridge was built in 1820 by Captain Samuel Brown and was revolutionary in its design, being the first to use iron bars instead of cables to suspend the deck. Its strength was tested by Captain Brown riding triumphantly across it in an open carriage, closely followed by several heavily-laden carts. Nowadays, only one car can pass over the bridge at any one time. The wisdom of this rule was demonstrated when a post van crossed over while we were on the bridge, and it swayed up and down rather alarmingly.
Oddly, the Scottish portal is further south than the English one, which bears an apposite Latin inscription. It originally referred to the unique and innovative bridge construction, but of course could have a different resonance today.
The road took us past Horncliffe and west to Norham. Perhaps being immortalised by the country’s greatest painter lends a place some extra awesomeness. Norham Castle defended England from the Scots for five centuries, before falling into disrepair after the union of the crowns in 1605.
The Mason’s Arms at Norham was our first overnight stop. We left Route 1 at this point and continued on Route 68, the Pennine Cycleway, to Wooler.
At Duddo Hill, the route went off-road and followed the River Till down to Etal.
We sat in the sun enjoying coffee at Etal Post Office, until the rain started and everyone except us scuttled inside.
We stopped at Ford for lunch, at the Estate Tea Rooms. The Ford Estate was inherited by Louisa, Lady Waterford in 1858, following the death of her husband. She came to Ford as a young widow and set about improving the lives of the villagers, building houses and a school. She was a renowned painter and had links to the Pre-Raphaelites. The school was decorated with murals painted by Louisa herself, and is now a museum.
More clouds loomed over us as we passed Doddington Moor, but the rain held off.
We stayed at the Black Bull in Wooler and were surprised to find that we couldn’t get a table at their associated Milan Restaurant till 8.30. It was packed. Who would have thought that Wooler could be so busy on a Tuesday evening, but we were too hungry to wait, and went across the road to the No 1 Hotel instead, and had things from their tapas menu, which was very good.
Day 3 wasn’t the best. A steep climb out of Wooler took us south, but when we got to the top of the hill, I discovered that when I thought that Ian had said there would be 600′ of ascent that day, I had misheard and in fact there would be 1600′ of ascent. We had probably done 100′ and I was already puffed out. There were three fords to cross too, and given the rain this month, that was a bit of a worry. The first was at Earle, and fortunately there was a bridge across Wooler Water, but getting to it involved lugging the bikes through a rather overgrown path.
The route continues south to Ingram and then makes a loop west to Alnham. There was quite a lot of rough off-road along the way. There were no shops or cafes, but we had stocked up with pies and cake from a bakery in Wooler.
Most sheep take one look at us and walk off in the opposite direction, but this lot held their ground and stared us out.
We were glad to get to Alwinton and had a warm welcome from Gareth, the landlord at the Rose & Thistle, but the following day was almost as hard as Wednesday had been. The route went south east through Harbottle, with views over the River Coquet towards Rothbury.
On arrival in Elsdon, we were sadly disappointed. The cafe was shut and the pub didn’t open till 3 o’clock. It was midday, and we were hungry. We diverted to Otterburn, adding another two miles to the journey, for lunch at the Border Reiver Cafe.
The route then follows the River Rede through East and West Woodburn and on to Bellingham, and luxury waited for us at the Riverdale Hall Hotel. A swim in the pool, a beautiful room and excellent food made the whole thing worthwhile!
We knew Friday was going to be wet. We briefly considered staying an extra night at Riverdale Hall, but we had tickets for the Newcastle Jazz Festival the following day, and the jazz won out. We didn’t get very wet, or at least, those of us who had remembered to pack our waterproof trousers didn’t. The rain did ease off for a while in the early afternoon and allowed me to take this photograph, looking west from Ryal.
From Bellingham, we were on Cycle Route 10, which passes through Ponteland. It was a long thirty miles back home, and it was some relief when we saw the houses of Darras Hall across the fields.
This is a belated entry. We did the walk with Sheila and Winnie on 10th March. It was Ian’s first proper, as in wearing his walking boots, walk, since his total hip replacement last September, so we took it easy and just did a short bimble.
Heavy cloud at the start of the walk at Keenley
The skies lightened as we passed through Monk Wood.
Winnie was interested in the little horses.
Looking north above Whitfield.
At Gate House, the OS Map seemed markedly different from the terrain. As we puzzled over our exact location, the lady of the house came out and kindly pointed us in the right direction.
Back to Keenley along Isaac’s Tea Trail, and then lunch at the Elk’s Head.
Good Friday was forecast to be the best of the easter Weekend, so we put the bikes on the new bike rack and set off for Wark.
Quite a steep pull out of Wark but rewarded with lovely views.
Looking back towards Wark from a mile along the road
Looking towards Stonehaugh
Looking north towards Wark Forest
Lunch at the Battlesteads Hotel
River North Tyne at Wark
Inspecting the bridge at Wark
The wind was almost as much as a problem as the steep inclines. At one point I had to get off and push the bike downhill.
The Battlesteads had moved upmarket since our last visit some years ago and now sports a large conservatory at the rear and a posh menu. I had a poached salmon salad with onion bread, and Ian had local sausages with bubble and squeak.
Afterwards Ian felt the need to stretch his legs and inspect the bridge over the River NorthTyne.
We actually did this walk on 15th October, so I am catching up. After a slightly odd conversation about parking with one of the inhabitants of the village whom we suspected of nefarious activities, we climbed up Wellhope Moor past the disused mine. Then on to the Dod, turn right and south to pick up Isaac’s Tea Trail to take us back into Nenthead.
A welcome cup of tea at the village shop, and then we followed the valley back up to where we had parked the car, passing an amazing display of a miniature village in someone’s back garden.
The weather forecast last Wednesday was for sun, so we decided to rectify a serious omission. In nearly thirty years of living in Northumberland, we had still not visited the Farne Islands.
We were even well prepared. Ian had gone onto Billy Shiel’s website and reserved seats on the 11 oclock sailing. I had made a flask of coffee. The plan was to return to Seahouses by 1.30 and try the Olde Ship for lunch.
There were no dramas. We left the house at the appointed hour. The drive to Seahouses was uneventful. We found somewhere to park near to the quay, which did seem quite busy. We approached the ticket booth, to be told that there would be no sailings that day, because the waves were too big. It was advisable to check by phone on any particular day, whether the boats would be going out or not.
It was only then that we noticed that although there was little wind, big breakers were rolling in over the beach from the North Sea. Oh the disappointment.
Having paid £4 to park the car for the day, we decided to stick to Plan A and amuse ourselves until such time as we could reasonably eat lunch at the Olde Ship. And on reflection, sitting on a bench drinking our coffee and looking out towards the islands, we were quite glad that we weren’t sitting in a small boat being tossed about on the waves.
Farne Islands from Seahouses Harbour
Looking south from Seahouses Harbour
Seahouses Harbour and the Olde Ship
Lunch at the Olde Ship was worth waiting for – crab soup for me and three Craster kippers for Ian.
Inside the Olde Ship
The next week we went out with Joy and Nick to test out my new bike and my biking prowess, or lack of it. We drove to Matfen and cycled 5 miles south to the Duke of Wellington Inn at Newton, overlooking the Tyne Valley. A perfect day, super views of Northumberland in late summer and a good lunch at the pub.
After Gerry and Ailsa’s wedding celebrations at St Mary’s Loch Sailing Club, we stopped at Floors Castle near Kelso, as August seemed a good time to look at the borders in the walled garden. The weather was overcast but the garden was still stunning.
Some of the many turrets on the house
Close-up of the border near the house- stunning echinops in the foreground
The purple border in the walled garden
The red and gold border
Running the full length of the garden was a hedge of rambling roses trained to make a wave form.
The red and gold border and the wave of rambling roses
Looking back along the red border
The pink and mauve border and the wave of roses
Clematis growing through the roses
The vegetable garden
Purple and pink
Pyramid trained apple trees
The following week we met up with Graham and Christine in Borrowdale, their last fortnight before going back to Australia. The weather was typical of the Lakes in August, so not many photos, but we stayed at the Leathes Head Hotel near Grange which more than made up for the rain – very hospitable owners and fabulous food.
View from our room at Leathes Head
River Derwent between Grange and Rosthwaite
And then we caught up with Susie and Jeremy.
Picnic at Horsehay before a trip on the Telford Steam Railway
On the miniature railway while we waited for the big train to be fixed!
The weather wasn’t as bad as forecast, but the mists rolled in and we got slightly damp later in the afternoon.
The purpose of the visit was to hear Ivan Day talk about the Vegetarian Viscount, as part of the Eden Food Festival, the viscount in question being Sir John Lowther, 1st Viscount Lonsdale,1655 – 1700. Being vegetarian was unusual in those days, and no special consideration was given to Sir John – he had to pick at the garnishes on the extravagant meat dishes which were provided for company. Ivan’s entertaining talk covered the eating habits of future generations, and he made scathing reference to modern food presentation, likening it to a Jackson Pollock painting, compared with the elegance of past generations.
The castle, which was built in the early 19th century was abandoned in 1936 after the death of the Yellow Earl, and used by the Army during the war. The ornamental gardens and orchards were partly concreted over, and then later used for a spruce plantation.
Thanks to grants from English Heritage and others, the ruins of the castle have been made safe, and the gardens partially restored using original plans from Sir John’s day.