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UK Wandering & Aegean - Black Seas Cruise - Part 2

Author: Phillip F. (More Trip Reviews by Phillip F.)
Date of Trip: June 2010

Back to Part One

June 16

Thirlestane Castle is one of the finest and oldest (13th Century) castles in Scotland and was well worth the time to visit. It still remains home to the Maitland family and the Duke of Lauderdale is said to haunt it!!

The plan is now to see Lindisfarne -- the Holy Island and return back to the mainland before 4.20 pm as the rising tide will trap us until well into the night. Leaving Thirlestane just after 11.00 am would easily give us time to arrive, discover and leave with time to spare. Of course, that was the plan, but on the way we pass another of those pesky brown tourist signs -- this one declaring: ‘Flodden Battlefield'. Well, we have travelled such a long way and it would be such a shame to miss the site of where such an important battle took place -- so important that the Scottish Tourist Board saw fit to mark such a site with a brown sign pointing to where the event took place. Another single lane road with hedges so high one would be forgiven for thinking they were driving through a hedge maze. We arrive at the car park, climb the small hill (again) and there is a monument, a couple of green fields of some sort of crop, and a photo board of what the battle may have looked like. It may not sound very inspiring but the magnificent view of the lush rolling hills, the ancient township below with buildings of stone (some in a ruinous state) the old kirk (church) with the crumbling grave monuments and the serene moment made every precious second spent here worthwhile. Now, if that was the only detour from our quest it would not have been a problem, but now we had to see the Etal Castle -- taken by the Scots prior to Flodden (we have crossed into England 10 miles back at Coldstream), the Black Bull Inn in Etal -- the only thatched roof pub in Northumberland, the small village of Heatherslaw with an iron bridge even narrower than the single lane road as aforementioned, and finally the beautiful village of Ford. So now it's 1.15 pm and we gun it down the highway (actually byway as we are travelling on back roads). We cross the causeway to the island and pull up in the car park at 1.30 pm. OK -- we have effectively 3 hours to catch the shuttle to Lindisfarne Castle, return to the town square to see the Monastery -- the cradle of English Christianity and founded in AD 635, check out the other sights, visit the gift shop for a tasting of Lindisfarne Mead and return to the car and drive back over the causeway before the tide cuts off our escape route. "Gail -- do you have any coin for the parking meter?" That's right after walking around for 2 weeks with a pocket full of jingling coin I had finally gotten rid of the wretched stuff when now all I needed was a couple of small pound coins. A brisk walk to the town shops (why do they put these car parks so far from the attractions and ban you from driving any closer?), a post card purchase with a £50 note and return to affix the parking sticker PLUS returning back into the town to collect Gail and THEN wait for the shuttle gives us all but less than 2 hours to do the sights. The shuttle bus driver informs us, when we alight from the bus at the castle, that there are only 2 more scheduled return buses to the town and the last leaves in 50 minutes. Not a problem! By now, we are such efficient castle explorers, we whip through the main state rooms, avoid the long winded (but informative) tour guides, excuse ourselves to the old and slow geriatric tourists that always shuffle up and down those long winding stone stairs in the towers, take copious amounts of photos and video footage to remind ourselves what we did that day and board the return shuttle in ample time to allow the rest of the planned activities to take place. We cross the causeway with minutes to spare and then decide to wait on the safe side (with other obvious first time tourists) to watch the rush of tide come in and trap the unwary. At 5.30 pm we leave dejectedly as not only were cars (locals) continuing to cross for up to 1 hour later than we were warned but the rush of tide was so slow that we could see the grass growing in the sand the water was soon to cover.

Next stop Bamburgh, just down the coast from Lindisfarne, where we will stay the night and see it's castle the following morning.

June 17

The sun is shining fiercely (after rising pre 4.00 am) and it's time to visit Bamburgh Castle which advertises it's opening at 10.00 am. We line up at 2 minutes to 10.00 and pass through the entry acquiring 2 passes with our DBH cards. (another 20 quid saved). Over the drawbridge and up the rocky path we go. A tour guide intercepts us and explains where the toilets, tea room and gift shop are located. She also informs us that the state rooms will not be opened until 11.00 am and we she look at the grounds, the view (both of which are magnificent) the archaeological dig site and the historical aircraft museum whilst we are waiting. Being the advanced explorers that we now have become, that takes all but 1/2 hour and we kill time (Gail buys a coffee from the tea rooms despite having gorged on a full English breakfast only 2 hours prior) wandering around aimlessly.

Further down the Northumberland coast we stop to view the Dunstanburgh Castle (a ruin) perched atop a rocky outcrop into the North Sea. We parked in the Castle's parking area in the seaside village of Craster, paid the obligatory £2 fee and followed the signs to the castle. A little way into the village, we got to the gate which gives access into the fields you must cross to reach the castle and the sign stated 1.5 miles with rocky terrain needing to be scrambled up from the beach upon arrival. No worries! We had the binoculars, and the first 1/2 mile was over a grassy paddock and besides -- it was just a lot of stones of which we had already seen many. Anyway, the photos looked remarkably good from a distant aspect.

Alnwick is an attractive market town with a warren of cobbled streets, old stone buildings and narrow alleys tucked between its main attractions. The castle (Alnwick) is home to Duke Percy of Northumberland and has been in the family since 1309. Art works including Van Dyke's and Canaletto's hang liberally from every state room and the mirror in the main dining room is so large that the Earl of the day (prior to being bestowed Dukehood) began his own glazing business when no glazier the length or breadth of England could make such a mirror. It is over 20 foot high, mercury backed and made of plate glass. It is angled just so slightly so as the Earl could admire his wood carved ceilings whilst eating his meal without having to crick his neck!!

We amble through Amble taking some photo opportunities of Coquet Island and commence our drive inland toward the lakes district. We stop for the night in Haydon Bridge so as we can inspect Hadrian's Wall in the morning prior to continuing on to the lakes.

June 18

When one thinks of an ancient wall and Roman forts one imagines a structure like the Great Wall of China and fortified enclosures to keep at bay the marauding heathens. Hadrian's wall invoked such images and it was with trepidation and excitement we entered the first National Trust preserved fort -- Chester Roman Fort. Where is the fort? Why are there people in that field over there looking at the ground? Are they looking at those rocks on the ground? The museum was a better display with excavated artefacts which made this visit well worth the effort. In fact along the 14 or so miles we continued to travel, there were some reasonable sections of wall remaining and we even managed another of the Trust's preserved areas (needed the DBH card for entry). Along the road we met a couple of walkers who were walking the length of the wall (from Newcastle upon Tyne on the East coast to Solway on the West coast and they had been walking for 3 days before they had come across their 1st bit of actual wall. I guess 1500 years of using the stones (the Roman's had laboriously crafted) to build castles, priories, houses, barnyards and fences would have degraded the structures somewhat.

Further along the way (Abbey or Appian -- I cannot remember now) Lanercost Priory -- an Augustian Priory circa 1166, was different from other ruins in as much as it had the nave of the church intact.

Finally, the start of our Cumbrian (and Lakes District) travels begin with our arrival to Carlisle. We weave our way through the city traffic, find our way to Carlisle castle and enter the gate with just 40 minutes prior closing time. We exit 15 minutes later, unimpressed, and hit the road for Cockermouth (that's the town at the mouth of the Cocker river!!!). This town had been devastated by the floods last November and most exhibits were still recovering. We stayed at a property just out of town, sipping on our bottle of South African red wine as the sun slowly set.

June 19

A drive through Whinlatter Forest Park -- England's only true forest, gave us our first glimpses of the beauty that lay ahead. Buttermere was the first little hamlet which was oozing in Lakes tranquillity. A wrong turn took us on a steep mountain pass which had no place to turn until we had reached the summit. On each turn we had to negotiate the traffic travelling in the same direction -- (walker & bikers), and the occasional car travelling in the opposite direction. Negotiate was the key word with the opposing motor vehicle as I was on the outside of the pass (drop to the left and no safety fences). After turning around at the top and heading down we realised why our little car was labouring on the way up (I think I can, I know I can) as the sign with a gradient depicting 25% said it all! Turning onto the correct road, we travelled over the Honister Pass which was simply glorious -- streams, rocks of slate, grassy slopes and shaggy Herdwick sheep. At the apex of this pass was Britain's last working slate mine and it produces Westmoreland green slate. A coffee and cake stop over the double stone bridge into Grange village provided the break required to recover our breath and let the beauty, so far, sink in. Keswick -- theatre by the lake, Castlerigg stone circle; Grasmere -- Church of St Oswald's (William Wordsworth's church and is buried with his family), Dove Cottage, Grasmere Gingerbread shop: Rydal -- Rydal Mount (WW family home and to his death); and Ambleside -- Bridge House -- tiny house of 4 x 2 metres built over the old packhorse bridge and where Mr. & Mrs. Rigg brought up their 6 children in the 1850's. Enough for one day. With the poetry of the lakes playing in our ears we stop at a little B & B and fall asleep to the mooing of the cows in the adjacent field.

June 20

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