Thursday, 9 August 2007

In Praise of Northumberland





Long time, no blog…..blame two weeks in Northumberland (plus the bonkers house and the Amazonian garden). Our holiday didn’t begin auspiciously. I really didn’t want to go (still madly in love with the bonkers house and loathe to leave it) and so packed in a bit of a grump. Actually felt envious of our house/dog sitters! Then, of course, we managed to get ourselves caught in the floods in Gloucestershire and very nearly spent the night on the M5.
As we arrived in Seahouses, Adrian had a decided sneer on his face.
‘What’s the matter?’
‘I don’t like it.’
‘Why?’
He ummed and ahhed and finally admitted it was a case of horrible snobbery mixed with an upbringing in a seaside town. OK, so Seahouses is no Southwald – it’s upfront and brassy, with ticky-tacky gift emporia and a hoard of fish ‘n’ chip shops and some truly revolting architecture. But I loved it. After all, you’d have to have a soul of lead not to sigh at the view from our cottage window: boats bobbing in the harbour, waves crashing against the wall; the Farne Islands glistening and so close you’d almost think you could doggy-paddle over to them. An expanse of the perfect wide sandy beach stretching away, punctuated by the solid mass of Bamburgh Castle. Far away, a blue impossibility, Lindisfarne, Holy Island nudging the horizon.
Adrian came round (I thought he would)…wholeheartedly admitting he was wrong and I was right (that was a moment to savour). Suffice to say, we all fell in love with the land of the North and shall be returning next year for sure.
I won’t bore the socks off you with a blow by blow account but let us say there are many reasons to visit and, out of very many, these were our favourites….

1. The most beautiful beaches in the world (probably). OK, California has bigger surf and the Bahamas have whiter sand (and warmer weather) but truly if you have children or dogs (and if you don’t) there are no beaches better….. You park your car on a verge, wander through sand-dunes and find your own bit of paradise. Perfection. No rules - dogs prance merrily and nobody tells you not to swim here or sit there. It all polices itself very nicely, thank you.
2. Barter Books in Alnwick. Adrian spent hours upon hours in this bibliophile heaven. A HUGE second-hand bookshop based in an old railway station. Comfy sofas and chairs all over the place; pots of coffee on the brew; stacks of toys and a model railway running overhead to amuse the children….
3. The Cheviots. Greedy old Northumberland. Stunning beaches AND drop-dead gorgeous hills and moorland. Exmoor with knobs on. We walked to Linhope Spout, a modest hike with the reward of a pretty fabulous waterfall at the end of it.
4. The people. Friendly, down-to-earth, wicked sense of humour. After two weeks they were kind enough to make us feel like locals.
5. Castle overload. Heck, if you’re into ten foot thick walls and turrets, get thee to Northumberland. Turn any corner and there you go – big ones, little ones, solid lived-in jobbies, desolate madly romantic ruins. To be truthful, after you’ve done about five they all start segueing into one big fortification. But at least you get some mileage out of the swords and shields you bought at the first one.
6. Hadrian’s Wall. At which we (along with every other parent in the vicinity) try to ram a bit of history down our beloved children’s throats. ‘Gosh look….this is where they had their baths. Did you know that the Romans were such an advanced civilisation….’ ‘Hey, Mum, look at me rolling down this bank.’ ‘It’s a fosse…’ Oh, give up. Buy a copy of Eagle of the Ninth (that you will read out of nostalgia and which will be stoically ignored in favour of Harry Potter septimus) and move on. At least you feel like you’re getting your money’s worth out of your National Trust membership.
7. Hexham Farmer’s Market (Saturdays). Adrian in foodie heaven buying up local meat, pasties, cakes, veg, pickles…blah blah blah. Needless to say we ate VERY well (honourable mentions too to Swallows fish shop in Seahouses and the butchers in Bamburgh).
8. Scary as hell boat ride to the Farnes. The rest of the boats are big buckets that stolidly roll around the islands. We however were told that Aqua Trax was the boat for us, and Lloydie the man to show us serious seals and birdlife. Thanks @themill! ‘Oooh, isn’t this fun,’ as we speed (yup, it’s a speedboat) out of the harbour. ‘Aaagh, when will it stop?’ as we lurch onto open water and I think we’re going to die at every 90 degree lurch. When I wasn’t in mortal terror of my life, I did manage to oooh and aaah over the seals and puffins and so on. Fruity and deeply non-PC tales come free with the fear factor.
9. Newcastle. This of course was the main reason we went to Northumberland – to make pilgrimage to ‘the Toon’…..James is (for reasons we will never fathom) a committed Magpie. He threw his last nine months’ pocket money into the maw of the St James’ Park shop and emerged with many black and white souvenirs. Then we wandered around town – and what a very nice city it is too.
10. Purplecooers. Ah, the sheer joy. Saw @themill a few times, met her lovely family and was plied with copious libations of Fleurie…..she’s a total joy and I do so wish she didn’t live at the other end of the country. Had a lovely lunch with Crystal (and met Angel too for the first time - hurrah!) and toured her very spooky house….both Angel and I had exactly the same reaction as we went into one part of the house – palpitations out of nowhere. Deeply weird.
I am still awed by what a lovely bunch of people you all are…. Adrian is slightly perturbed that our future holidays may be picked on account of which blogger lives there, rather than more rational approaches...but hey, I can think of worse places to visit than Shropshire, Suffolk, Cornwall, Yorkshire, Scotland, Ireland, France, New York, Canada, New Zealand....I know, I know, I've missed a bucketload but you get the idea....

I could go on and on but I think that’s enough for now. I felt truly desolate at leaving. It is one of the most beautiful places in the British Isles and one that is blissfully unspoilt – for now. Part of me wants to say, ‘well actually it was really crap – avoid it like the plague’ so it will remain untrendy and divine. But I can’t lie – truly it is fabulous. Do yourself a favour and get thee up there (or down there), preferably renting out Spitalford….and say hello from us.

25 comments:

Frances said...

Hello Jane, You have written a very enticing holiday report.

After the rough setting off from that gloriously bonkers house, it really sounds as if your family did have a great time away.

The photos are beautiful. I gonna get out my old soft cover Hachette Guide to Great Britain (The Only Guide You'll Ever Need) ... bought many years ago for $6. And the last guide that I did buy. Now I have access to real breathing guides who write so well.

Anyhow, I will look up the area that you visited and see what it was like in 1988 when my Guide was published. Bet it was good then, too.

xo

CAMILLA said...

Dear Jane,
I was getting withdrawel symptoms, no Jane's diary, boo hoo, but here it is again as large as life packed with interesting info and your wonderful literary attributes.

So pleased that you enjoyed your holiday in Northumberland, it sounds heaven, definately a place to visit I think. Hope the House that beckoned you is safe, I can see you in that glorious room by that most fanastic fireplace.

Camilla.xxx

toady said...

Sounds like you had a great time with a bit of everything for good measure. I've never been further north than York. Northumberland is now on the 'go to' list along with the lakes, Scotland, Machu Pichu, Australia, Petra.... let's hope the premium bonds come up. ToadyX

Pondside said...

Hi Jane - wonderful holiday blog! As soon as I've written this I'll be googling Seahouses and the area.
I read Eagle of the Ninth in ninth grade. The English and Latin teachers were in cahoots! I've never met anyone else over here who's read it, as it wasn't on the regular high school reading list. I found it for my son when he was in Grade Nine, as well.
Lucky you to have met some more purple cooers! Tell Adrian that there are some find micro breweries on Vancouver Island, and then who knows.....

Suffolkmum said...

Fab travel blog Jane! I swelled with pride, reading this, though I was very small when we left .... I know exactly what you mean about Seahouses, it so grows on you though, and my kids LOVE that gift shop! Just wish you could have gone a few weeks later and I would've bumped into you on one of those empty beaches. Great to have you back and to read you again. x

ChrisH said...

Hands up! I read Eagle of the Ninth at school too! We had to trudge through it at a snails pace with a very unispiring teacher who turned it into the World's Dullest Book - perhaps I should revisit it?

We were all set to have a holiday in Northumberland and then we saw a house in Wales... but reading your blog made me remember what attracted us to the place. Good to have you back.

Crystal Jigsaw said...

Meeting you was an amazing experience and I do hope I will have the pleasure of your company again some day. I'm so glad you enjoyed our beautiful county. Now you see why I love living here! Great blog as always and good to have you back in blogland!
Best wishes, Crystal xx

P.S. Glad you got to know at least one of the roaming spirits in my home..

elizabethm said...

so glad you are back blogging. I love northumberland too and was envious reading this although our holiday in newfoundland was pretty good too. we must must must get you back up to wales for meet up with bodran and me and anyone else we can muster. what is happening with walker? am thinking i might read it again!

Faith said...

It sounds wonderful Jane and somewhere I had never thought of to go to really.

I also wanted to ask if you have had any more luck with Walker? You would tell us if you had, wouldnt you?

bodran... said...

It's sounds great i can't wait to go, Good to have you back though..
The gallery is the one on the same side of the road as you, on the way up from the court yard, it looked like the entrance to two shops, with an old electric radiator and some other bits in the hallway.. my mistake but easily done !!! lol !!! xxo..
I'll get down there again.

bodran... said...

I just looked where you stayed it loooks lovely, and that old, is that the eleanor who was simon de monteforts daughter wow

Blossomcottage said...

House vet was a locum in Northumberland for a while and he has a driving passion to go back, and from this I can see why. Hope you have settle into the village way of life and look forward to hearing all about it.
Blossom

WesterWitch/Headmistress said...

And next year you can come to Scotland and bring Asbo and then he and our JRT really can play together. We have two chickens left so Asbo will feel right at home . . . oooeeerr.

Lovely blog . . . excellent homeowrk . . gold star . . .

And thank you for taking the time and trouble to write so much in the comments to help me give up smoking - really really appreciated.

sally's chateau said...

What a lovely blog and so good to have you back, almost felt as though I had taken a wee break there myself reading it, can't wait to hear of your renovations though !!

@themill said...

Well it's always wonderful to meet someone who shares my passion for Fleurie!
And so glad you loved Northumberland too. I always feel rather responsible, especially when I've been singing its praises in blog land. Have to say though, you are the first people I've met who have come to Northumberland because their son supports The Toon! The boy has great taste and will learn great fortitude! Hopefully will be in Devon in the next couple of weeks. Have to speak to eldest and will then be in touch. x

@themill said...

BTW - Glad you found the natives friendly, not everyone does y'know. It's grim up North.

snailbeachshepherdess said...

Have always gravitated South or West for holidays ..this is a whole new enticing area opening up.
As you were struggling north in the floods we were struggling South...what a nightmare start to holidays! So glad you had a good time.

Milkmaid said...

I know we are not far, but we've ventured up to Northumberland 3 times now, staying in Alnwick, Belford and Alnwick, Seahouses I think has actually improved from when we first went 17 years ago, not nearly as tacky as it was
We always get rubbish weather and end up wrap up in blankets on the beautiful beaches
Can recommend Whitby, different beaches but still lots of history a real goth experience, great Fish and Chips

Pondside said...

http://www.vanislandbrewery.com/
http://gib.ca/index-check.php
http://www.tourismvictoria.com/Content/EN/346.asp
http://www.tourismvictoria.com/content/en/728.asp
http://www.bcbeer.ca/brands.aspx
Hi Jane
I'm sure there's a lot more info out there - but here's a start. It's a beautiful part of the world and we love to show it off!

patsy said...

So pleased that you and the family all loved Northumberland, it is magical isn't it? I followed my heart down South but I think a large part of it is left in this wonderful county. Your blog and pictures describe very clearly what is so special about the area...the scenery, the history but most of all the warm-hearted and welcoming people.
Like you Jane I count my family as fortunate to have sat around @TM's and the Farmer's kitchen table, enjoying their unstinting hospitality But did you leave any Fleurie for next time?!

My boy also supports Newcastle..I could see Chateau Shearer from the delivery suite! I think they would get on famously!

Now more blogs about your new house please...

KittyB said...

Glad you liked it - we don't go there enough even though we're only an hour and a half away.

I lived in the Toon for a couple of years and loved every minute of it. It's my favourite city - gorgeous architecture, lovely restaurants and bars and great shops. What more do you want?

Preseli Mags said...

What a lovely holiday blog. I have never been to that part of the world and now I have serious holiday envy!

mutterings and meanderings said...

Thank you.

An honest appraisal of god's own country.

Should've popped along to see the Grey Mare while you were here!

The Country Craft Angel said...

I was right back up there with you...

It was a wonderful place. We are going back next year to tour the Northumberland Coast....

ANd it was great to meet you, Crystal and @the Mill...

warm wishes
xx

Boulmer Birder said...

Oh yes. Never a truer word was spoken. Cheers!
From a Northumbrian...