After breakfast we left the caravan and headed north and stopped first just a mile or so up the road at the coastal village and sheltered fishing port of Seaton Sluice.
Not an especially attractive name I agree but it turned out to be a delightful place with a working port full of fishing boats, wonderful rugged coastal scenery and a curious gaily painted blue shed. A timber treasure house full of riches washed up from the sea and fashioned into wood carvings, trinkets and what you might generously describe as exclusive souvenirs by the hippie owner/artist with grizzled beard and wild hair. He might easily have been washed up from the sea himself. I thought immediately of Hemingway’s ‘Old Man and the Sea’ and Norman Lewis’ ‘Voices of the Old Sea’.
He invited us inside and told us that everything on display was for sale. It was impressive stuff, we admired the workmanship but there was nothing that we could imagine would add anything to the decoration of our home (except to collect dust) or our garden (we have no room for a Viking Long ship) so we just left a small contribution in the optimistic collection plate at the door and moved on.
Actually Kim thinks one driftwood sculpture in the house is enough. This is one of my own from some time back…
We were driving now to Cragside, a sort of stately home that was built by and belonged to the Victorian engineer William George Armstrong who was enthusiastic about all things hydraulics, hydro power and early electricity.
Cragside is a National Trust property and I am not generally a great fan of the National Trust with their extortionate entrance fees and overpriced gift shops and this was no exception with a charge of £18.50 each. We quickly calculated that if we joined for a year at £108 joint membership that if we then visited a handful more places before we went home that we would soon have covered the cost of extended membership and we signed up on the spot.
Cragside has nice gardens and extensive walks but I was more interested in the house, a real stately pile where a member of the Victorian aristocracy used to live and where there are exhibitions about his life and work.
Armstrong was responsible for developing something called the hydraulic accumulator. Let me explain – where water pressure was not available on site for the use of hydraulic cranes he built high water towers instead to provide a supply of water at pressure.
This is the technical bit which is important – a cast-iron cylinder fitted with a plunger supporting a very heavy weight would slowly be raised, drawing in water, until the downward force of the weight was sufficient to force the water below it into pipes at great pressure.
Simple, don’t you agree?
The hydraulic accumulator was a very significant invention, which found many applications in the following years not least in the mechanism of Tower Bridge in London which is interesting enough but surpassed for me by the fact that the technique was also used in the Dock Tower in Grimsby built in 1852 to provide hydraulic power to operate the giant lock gates of the dock.
Excuse me now for taking a detour two hundred miles south back to where I had started this holiday journey. Grimsby Docks are a rather sad and forlorn place now, abandoned and decrepit, as though everyone left the place one afternoon and abandoned it to a time warp of crumbling buildings, pot holed roads, streets of empty houses, redundant warehouses and a giant ice making factory which is now a listed building that no one cares for as it is slowly being demolished by the passing of time. A process that speeds up month by month!
Lincolnshire is a flat county, a great deal of it struggles to rise even above sea level and this means that any tall building can be seen for miles around. In the south there is the Boston Stump (St Botolph’s Church, the largest Parish Church in England) in the centre there is Lincoln Cathedral (third largest Cathedral in England) and in Grimsby there is the Dock Tower.
It was designed by a man called James William Wild who had visited Siena in Italy and as unlikely as this seems had so admired the place that he based his design for the Grimsby Dock Tower on the Torre del Mangia tower on the Palazzo Pubblico in Siena city centre.
This piece of Italianate architecture on the Humber Estuary may not compare to Portmeirion in North Wales by Sir Clough William-Ellis but is nevertheless a very fine building. At three hundred and thirty feet it is the highest building in Lincolnshire, fifty feet higher than either the Boston Stump or Lincoln Cathedral. If it were in Bristol or Newcastle or Manchester then it would be a major tourist attraction but it is in Grimsby and hardly any one visits Grimsby so not many people have seen it.
Or have they? Let me take you now another two hundred miles or so south to the County of Berkshire and to Legoland Windsor. Legoland is a theme park and one of the attractions is a zone called ‘Miniland’ which is basically a model of London built out of a million or so Lego bricks and here there is Buckingham Palace, The Palace of Westminster, St Paul’s Cathedral and a whole host of other famous landmarks.
There isn’t much room for anywhere else but right there alongside the buildings of the capital is a model representing docks – not Portsmouth or Dover or Southampton or Bristol but Grimsby. Grimsby! To me that is completely astounding and I can find no explanation as to why the designers of ‘Miniland’ should select the remote town of Grimsby to be represented in this way, maybe they got lost on their way over from Sweden or they spotted it out of the aircraft window?
There are about two hundred visitors to Grimsby every year (I exaggerate), there isn’t even a dedicated Tourist Information Office, there is no tourist train, there are no postcards to buy in the newsagents, but there are over two million visitors to Legoland so a lot more people have visited Grimsby than they ever realise.
If, like me, you find this hard to believe then here it is…
The Dock Tower (1), Grimsby Port Offices (2), Corporation Bridge (3) and Victoria Flour Mills (4).
Back swiftly now to Northumberland and after leaving the house we tackled the six mile estate walk through the grounds but this proved to be a mistake with little of any real interest to see unless you like rhododendrons that are two weeks past their best or have packed a picnic, which we hadn’t, so after about four miles we took a short cut back to the car park and left Cragside and headed east towards the coast.