Tag Archives: National Trust

On This Day – The Dad’s Army Museum in Thetford

Even though travel restrictions are easing I am not yet minded to risk it so I still have no new stories to post so I continue to go through my picture archives and see where I was on this day at any time in the last few travelling years.

On 3rd August 2018 I was in the Norfolk town of Thetford in East Anglia meeting a sort of hero of mine…

Mainwaring Thetford

I visited the Norfolk town of Thetford a year earlier but didn’t do my research properly and the Dad’s Army Museum wasn’t open.  The simple reason was that it is run by volunteers who, unlike me,  have jobs to go to during the week and only opens on a Saturday so this year I made sure that we went there on the right day.

Dad’s Army was an English situation comedy which was first broadcast in 1968 and fifty years later remains one of the funniest, often repeated and most popular of all BBC programmes.  I am a huge fan and will happily sit through endless reruns of the shows.

Kim is not so keen I have to tell you.

Dad's Army

My plan was to stay in a hotel called the Bell Inn because  the cast of the show used to stay here fifty years ago and I wanted to stay there too.  I hoped I might get lucky and get the very room that Captain Mainwaring (Arthur Lowe) used to sleep in.

Sadly the Bell Inn turned out to be a massive disappointment, yes there was some Dad’s Army mementoes hanging on the walls but the place was a complete dump and the room we were allocated was tired, uncared for and dirty.    A real shame, I was so looking forward to staying there but I had to agree with Kim that it most likely hadn’t been decorated or cleaned since Arthur Lowe himself slept there in the 1960s.  Kim refused to stay and sent me to reception to get a change of room.  I was told that this was not possible so we decided to leave immediately.

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‘Dad’s Army’ is set during the Second World War and is a story about the British Home Guard which was a amateur defence force army made up of local volunteers otherwise ineligible for military service either because of age (hence the name “Dad’s Army”) or by being in professions exempt from conscription.  Their job was to defend Britain against a German invasion force of Panzer Tanks and battalions of crack Wehrmacht troops. This was most unlikely and is the real basis of the whole series of programmes.

The show called the fictional town they defended Walmington-on-Sea which was said to be on the south coast of England but it was actually filmed in Thetford in East Anglia.

The little museum turned out to be a real treasure store, crammed full of memorabilia relating to the series, pictures, video clips, scrap books, newspaper articles and pictures and photographs of all the stars.  Kim is not such a big fan of Dad’s Army as I am but enjoyed this place just as much as I did.  We stayed longer than expected and then finished with a cup of tea and a cake at the Marigold Tea Room which is a recreation of one of the sets famous from the series.

Mainwaring's OfficeMarigold Tea Rooms

Thankfully the Wehrmacht never invaded!

Cornwall, St Michael’s Mount

St Michaels Mount 01

“In 1067, the monastery of Mont Saint-Michel gave its support to Duke William of Normandy in his claim to the throne of England. This he rewarded with properties and grounds on the English side of the Channel, including a small island off the south-western coast of Cornwall which was modelled after the Mount and became a Norman priory named St Michael’s Mount of Penzance.” – Wikipedia

Everyone knows that driving in Cornwall can be a tedious and frustrating affair.  I knew it but didn’t expect it so early in the year as the month of April (even though it was school Easter holiday week).

Today we were driving thirty miles west to the village of Marazion and St. Michaels Mount.  A simple enough matter anyone might think.  Entrance to the castle is restricted by the tide because visitors have to walk across a causeway that becomes submerged twice a day so timing is somewhat critical.  I studied the tide tables and set a departure time which would give us plenty of time to get there for the opening of the causeway and a couple of hours wandering about at the site.

First of all we drove to the town of St Austell which is not a very appealing place I have to say.  It was once the centre of the entire World china clay production and most people will have an item of porcelain in their homes which came from this area but the quarries are all closed down now.  It is estimated that there are fifty years of clay reserves left in the ground but the owners find it more economical to concentrate on operations in Brazil.

Away from the dramatic coast line Cornwall is not an attractive place.  Pause for sharp intake of breath from readers.  Concrete not stone, render not brick.  The rural landscape is rather dull and the towns are depressing, grey and ugly.  Places look better in the sunshine of course but in Cornwall the sun has to try a lot harder than some other places.  I am reminded of the joke, “There was an earthquake in Cornwall last night, it did a million pounds worth of improvements to Cambourne”.  St Austell is surrounded by white peaks of spoil from the quarries but even the optimistic description of the Cornish Alps cannot really hope to make them any more appealing.

Cornish Alps St Austell

North of St Austell we finally reached the A30 and I foolishly looked forward to straight forward effortless motoring for the final twenty miles.  How wrong I was.  The A30 must be one of the worst roads in England.  You cruise along nicely for a couple of miles on a dual carriageway and then every five miles or so the traffic grinds to a standstill at a roundabout and then everyone creeps forwards at increments of about two feet every ten minutes.

The traffic was frequently at a standstill and according to my calculations the tide was coming in at St Michaels Mount and I could feel my normal calm demeanour rapidly evaporating.  I cursed myself for not allowing more time for the journey.

We finally arrived at Marazion and being late for the tide and the foot crossing it was so busy that we had to use an overflow car park which involved an additional fifteen minute hike to the causeway and then inevitably everyone wanted to go to the toilets which added another ten minutes or so and my frustration entered the red zone as I could see our tidal window of opportunity quickly ebbing away.

St Michaels Mount 04

Eventually we made the windswept crossing to the castle but we only had a couple of hours now before we would have to return or be cut off by the tide and have to stay there for eight hours or so.

I was keen to see St Michael’s Mount because a couple of years ago I had visited its counterpart in France.  Mont St Michel is a lot bigger and although a magnificent spectacle is disappointingly commercialised so I didn’t know quite what to expect.  It turned out to be quite different without the tacky tourist shops and cheap food outlets which have spoilt the French island castle but really I wouldn’t expect that sort of thing from the National Trust.

Interestingly, despite the fact that Mont St Michel is a UNESCO World Heritage Site St Michael’s Mount is not.  How unfair.

It is one of the iconic landmarks of Cornwall and today it was rather too busy for my liking with thousands of people swarming across the causeway and then making their way to the very top of the rock and visiting the interior.  Inside was hot and cramped so we turned back after the first room and skipped the visit preferring instead to sit outside on the rocks and wait while the family completed the tortuous route through the castle.

From the top we could see the tide beginning to advance so it was time to make our way down and cross back to the mainland before the causeway would be completely submerged.

Despite the crowds this is a place well worth a visit and I enjoyed our short time on the rock with its attractive harbour, medieval cobbles and stone built houses where real people still live.  As it happened there was no real need to rush off because there was a ferry boat service that would have taken us back for only a small charge.

St Michaels Mount 03

Just by way of comparison this is Mont St Michel in Brittany in France…

Mont St Michel France

Cornwall, Value For Money with the National Trust

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With the weather much improved, the sun shining and the temperature rapidly rising we could now begin to make plans for the rest of the week with a whole lot more confidence.

We are all members of the National Trust so one of our plans was to take full advantage of this and see how many places we could visit without spending a penny on admission.  The annual cost of a joint membership is £120 and I have discovered before that it is quite easy to get all of that back in only a few days.

First of all we visited nearby Lanhydrock, an aristocratic Victorian country house, an upstairs/downstairs sort of place with a succession of perfectly preserved rooms and exhibits.  I especially liked looking around the kitchens and the food preparation areas probably because in the social hierarchy of the time that is where we would most likely have found ourselves.

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It was a busy place and I was surprised to learn that it is the tenth most visited National Trust property in the UK.  First, by the way, is the overrated Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland.

We spent an enjoyable afternoon at Lanhydrock exploring the house, a walk in the garden and an Easter Egg hunt for the children.  Without National Trust membership the cost of admission would have been a whopping £53.75 for all of us.

Next up was Trerice close to Newquay, an Elizabethan manor house that was once the home of the powerful Arundell family where little it seems has changed since it was built in 1573.

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It has a nice garden and some interesting rooms and a hands-on dressing up in Tudor clothes rack for the children.  This is a good feature of the National Trust, they know children are going to be bored out of their minds in the house and gardens so they lay on several distractions.  Mine bypassed the clothes and went immediately for the medieval armour helmets.  The poor man on duty nearly had a fit when he saw my three trying them on for size and almost dropping them on the stone floor.  William’s chosen helmet was almost as heavy as he is. The man was greatly relieved when we put them down again and moved on and so was I because I wasn’t looking forward to explaining the damage to the Board of the National Trust.

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Outside in what was once the farmyard there was a barn with more children’s activities, egg painting, brass rubbing and more dressing up.  I left the children to it whilst I explored the gardens and the old orchard outside.  I especially enjoyed this visit.

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Total saving on admission price at Trerice was £47.25 and after only two visits we were almost in credit on our membership fee.

On another day we visited St. Michael’s Mount at Marazion but I am saving that for a full post later because it was an especially good day out.  Total saving on admission prices £56.00.  I was feeling really good about all of this.

On the return journey from the island retreat we stopped over at the country house of Godolphin, once home to the family of the same name who were once the richest landowners in the whole county with an immense and obscene amount of wealth based on exploitation of minerals and mining.

It is a pleasant little house and garden but the house it seems is rarely fully open because it is let out as a holiday home by the National Trust.  It wasn’t open when we visited but the children enjoyed the gardens and the activities that were laid on for them,

I thought that the place was overpriced and our total saving on admission price was £31.50.

On the final day in Cornwall we visited Tintagel.  We wanted to visit the castle (English Heritage, not NT and prepared to pay) but it was closed so instead we went to the National Trust Old Post Office which quite frankly was a bit of a let-down and I would have been very annoyed indeed if we had paid the full adult admission charge of a combined £9 for just a couple of rooms and a tiny garden.

NT 08

Adding all of that together that was a total of £197.50 in saved admission charges on the day but of course to keep things in perspective I have to say that if we hadn’t been members then we certainly wouldn’t have gone to all of them!

Within the last year we have visited other places as well…

Hadrian’s Wall and Seaton Delavell in Northumberland (total saving £32.40) and Oxborough Hall, Sutton Hoo and Ickworth House in East Anglia (total saving£59.20) so overall I think membership has provided value for money and I shall be happy to renew without any grumbles when it is due for renewal in June.

East Anglia, Sutton Hoo and Rainy Day Caravan Holidays

Suffolk

Over time I calculate that I have visited forty-seven of the forty-eight traditional (ceremonial)  English Counties (often for pleasure but sometimes for work) but I am fairly certain that I have never visited the County of Suffolk so this holiday was my opportunity to fill this glaring geographical gap in my UK travels.

Today we drove south almost as far as Essex and the plan was to start at Sutton Hoo and then work our way back north.

I don’t want to be accused of exaggeration but Sutton Hoo is perhaps the most important archeological site in the whole of England because it sheds light on a period of Dark Ages history that is on the margin between myth, legend, and emerging historical documentation.  It is the site of an Anglo Saxon burial ship for King Rædwald of East Anglia who was in his day the most powerful chieftain/King in all of the South-East of England.

This is King Rædwald…

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The discovery is a great Indiana Jones/Howard Carter sort of story.  Local folk reported seeing ghostly figures wandering around the mounds and in response the initial excavation in 1939 was privately sponsored by the landowner Edith Pretty and carried out by a local freelance archeologist called Basil Brown and a couple of estate workers as labourers who could be spared for the task.  Unsurprisingly when the significance of the find became apparent national experts took over.

The most significant artifacts from the burial site were those found in the burial chamber in the centre of the ship, including a collection of metalwork dress fittings in gold and gems, a ceremonial helmet, shield and sword, a lyre, and many pieces of silver plate from Byzantium.

Sutton Hoo Face Mask

It is a good story but it has some holes in it.  These mounds had been there for a thousand years or so and must surely have generated some interest before Edith Pretty financed the operation.  And so it was because four hundred years earlier Henry VIII (no less) authorised a dig to search for treasure and those entrusted with the task began their excavations.  They discovered one tomb and made away with the loot but failed to make their way into King Rædwald’s ship and gave up rather prematurely.

The point is if people knew there was treasure in the field in 1540 why did no one look again until 1940.  Did everyone just forget?

So is it the most important archaeological site ever uncovered in England?  There are some challengers for the title.

The Staffordshire Hoard represents the largest find of Anglo-Saxon gold and silver metalwork ever found. Consisting of over three thousand, five hundred items found by an amateur detectorist buried in a field in Staffordshire. The discovery is said to have completely altered our perceptions of Anglo-Saxon England and the hoard accounts for over 60% of all the Anglo-Saxon items conserved in English museums.

The last Plantagenet King of England was Richard III and he was killed at the Battle of Bosworth in 1485 and hastily buried somewhere in the city of Leicester. The Richard III Society are obsessed with the King with a bad reputation and one member in particular, Phillipa Langley, was convinced that she knew where he was. She persuaded the University of Leicester to finance an excavation in a city centre car park, pointed to a spot, the excavator started to work and bugger me there he was!

All we need to find now is King John’s Treasure lost in The Wash in 1216 somewhere between Spalding and King’s Lynn, somewhere down the A17 and whoever finds that is going to be very famous and very rich.

Watch this short clip to see what it is all about…

The Detectorists TV show.

Suton Hoo Guided Tour

There is a pleasant walk through the gentle Suffolk countryside to the site of the excavation but the reality is that there is very little to see except for seventeen burial mounds which look rather like giant mole hills.  This is a place that requires some considerable imagination to appreciate it and it really doesn’t take long to view.  The point I suppose is this, some places we visit to spend time and see things, a museum for example but some places we visit simply to say that we have been there for the significance of the place and the Sutton Hoo burial mounds fall firmly into the latter category.

There is an interesting exhibition hall and interpretation centre but there are no original artifacts on display because these are all in the British Museum because although it was decreed that the treasure belonged to Edith Pretty she promptly presented it all to the nation which was at the time the largest gift and most valuable made to the British Museum by a living donor.  Edith Pretty was either very generous, very stupid or very rich anyway.

After five days of glorious sunshine it was raining today, pouring actually, so this cut short our visit to Sutton Hoo and with no chance of any improvement we made our way back to the caravan at Kessingland and sat inside for the rest of the afternoon.

This was exactly how I remembered caravan holidays when I was a boy.

Click on an image to scroll through the gallery…

 

East Anglia, Dad’s Army and the North Sea

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I visited the Norfolk town of Thetford a year earlier but didn’t do my research properly and the Dad’s Army Museum wasn’t open.  The reason was that it is run by volunteers who have jobs to go to and only opens on a Saturday so this year I made sure that we went there on the right day.

This post isn’t going to make a lot of sense to overseas readers because Dad’s Army was an English situation comedy which was first broadcast in 1968 and fifty years later remains one of the funniest and most popular of all BBC programmes.  I am a huge fan and will happily sit through endless reruns of the shows.

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It is set during the Second World War and is a story about the British Home Guard which was a amateur defence force army made up of local volunteers otherwise ineligible for military service either because of age (hence the name “Dad’s Army”) or by being in professions exempt from conscription.  Their job was to defend Britain against a German invasion force of Panzer Tanks and battalions of crack Wehrmacht troops. This was most unlikely and is the real basis of the whole series of programmes.

The show called the fictional town they defended Walmington-on-Sea which was said to be on the south coast of England but it was actually filmed in Thetford in East Anglia.

In 2004 Dad’s Army was voted fourth in a BBC poll to find Britain’s Best Sitcom. It had previously been placed thirteenth in a list of the one hundred Greatest British Television Programmes drawn up by the British Film Institute in 2000.

English humour is the finest in the World but doesn’t always travel that well but just watch this little scene which was voted the funniest ever Dad’s Army gag line of the entire series (over eighty programmes) to get a little flavour of the show…

Don't Tell Him Pike

Funniest Scene

American humour especially struggles to cope with British wit and interestingly a pilot US show based on Dad’s Army was tried and piloted.  It was called Rear Guard but flopped badly and never made it into a full series.  If you watch this disaster then you will understand why…

This is the US version of the same scene

The little museum turned out to be a real treasure store, crammed full of memorabilia relating to the series, pictures, video clips, scrap books, newspaper articles and pictures and photographs of all the stars.  Kim is not such a big fan of Dad’s Army as I am but enjoyed this place just as much as I did.  We stayed longer than expected and then finished with a cup of tea and a cake at the Marigold Tea Room which is a recreation of one of the sets famous from the series.

Mainwaring's OfficeMarigold Tea Rooms

The star of the show was an actor called Arthur Lowe who played the lead character of Captain Mainwaring.  There is a statue of both of them, as it were, in the centre of the town by the riverside (The Little Ouse) so after the museum we made our way through the town and the Saturday market and found the Captain sitting pompously as ever down by the waterside.

Mainwaring Thetford

It was always going to be hard to follow the visit to the Dad’s Army Museum and so it proved when on the way back to the car park we visited the Ancient House Museum which had a few interesting items but didn’t detain us very long and soon after we were on the road again and on the way to the caravan park destination.

Along the route we chose another National Trust property and forever keen to get maximum value for our annual membership we called in at Ickworth House bear Bury St. Edmunds.

It turned out to be an interesting stop at an unusual eighteenth century stately home built in the Italianate style with a huge central rotunda and two complimentary wings to the east and the west.  There are a sequence of rooms to pass through, first the servant’s quarters below stairs and then the largely Victorian rooms of the nobility and upper classes who once lived there.

We stayed for an hour or so and then completed our journey to the village of Kessingland on the extreme east coast of England.

Ickworth House

We had intended to arrive first at the caravan so that we could organise the arrival of my daughter and grand-children in an orderly way but we were delayed by supermarket shopping and they arrived before us and by the time we turned up Sally and the children had the place looking just the way they like it – rather like England would have looked like if the German Panzer Divisions had successfully invaded and passed through in 1941.

We dealt with the unpacking as best we could and then in early evening to satisfy the children made our way to the nearby beach and although it had been a very warm day I have to say that I didn’t expect to find myself swimming in the North Sea at seven o’clock in the evening.  This was probably my first time in the North Sea for about fifty years or so, since I was a boy on family holidays but under intense pressure from grandchildren…

North Sea Swimming

… the North Sea, let me tell you, is not the warmest water in the World!

A UK Holiday – Lincolnshire to Norfolk, Traffic Congestion and The Patron Saint of Escapology

camp2

A couple of years ago a good pal introduced me to the experience of modern caravanning.

I had taken quite a lot of persuading.  I remembered staying in a caravan in about 1970 and I said that I would never ever to do it again.  I have consistently maintained that I just do not understand caravanning at all or why people subject themselves to the misery of a holiday in a tin box with no running water, chemical toilets and fold away beds, I could see no pleasure in it whatsoever.

I am pleased to be able to report however that modern caravans are much improved and imagine my shock then when I tell you that I was so impressed with our holiday caravan accommodation which had all of the facilities of a modern home with central heating, hot and cold running water, a bathroom with a shower, electricity and a fully equipped kitchen.

I instantly became a caravan fan.

Earlier in the year my daughter invited us along on a camping holiday.  Not being a fan of tents and not even willing to try it I turned the opportunity down but offered the alternative of a modern luxury caravan.  She didn’t take a lot of persuading, it turns out that she is not such a big fan of camping either!

Great Yarmouth Post Card 2

So, when the day arrived we packed the car and headed south to the county of Suffolk in East Anglia.  Traditionally in England families took one week holidays from Saturday to Saturday and my Dad used to like to travel on a Friday to avoid the traffic so fifty years later we did the same.  I thought that this was a good idea but it seems however that holiday habits have changed and now everyone travels on a Friday!

It was only a short journey of about one hundred and fifty miles but we had to use the A17 route which is a major English road which takes almost all of the traffic from the North of England into East Anglia and consequently some days it can become horribly congested.  This was one of those days.

Find an easier way I hear you say but sadly there is no way of avoiding the A17 because of the topography of the region.  To get into Norfolk from Lincolnshire it is necessary to pass close by to a stretch of water called The Wash which is a large chunk of water in the coastline of Eastern England that separates the north-east coast of East Anglia from the wetlands and the Fens of Cambridgeshire and Lincolnshire.  Building roads over bogs is difficult it seems.

The Wash

Four major rivers flow into The Wash, The Witham, The Welland, The Nene and the Great Ouse and except for the most northerly, The Witham, which is relatively easy to get across, the other three are crossed by the single carriageway A17 and there is simply no sensible alternative route so all of the traffic converges close to Boston in Lincolnshire and then crawls along the A17 for about thirty miles or so until it gets past King’s Lynn in Norfolk.  It makes for a dreadfully frustrating journey.

When you finally get past King’s Lynn the A17 ends and joins the A47 which is another horrible road which brings all of the traffic into Norfolk from the East Midlands and everyone going for an East Coast holiday from the cities of Leicester, Nottingham, Derby and Peterborough so even though there are no more rivers to cross there isn’t a great deal of improvement in traffic flow.

As a consequence of this our journey into East Anglia took considerably longer than anticipated and we were about two hours behind schedule by the time we finally arrived at our first planned stop, a National Trust property called Oxburgh Hall which is situated into the village of Oxborough.  I’m afraid I have no explanation to offer as to why the spellings do not match.

Oxburgh Hall Norfolk

Oxburgh turned out to be a fabulous place, nice gardens, woodland walks and a moated Medieval House in a good state of preservation. So we walked the grounds and visited the house and looked out for the highlight feature of the property, a Priest Hole, open for visit and inspection.

A Priest Hole was a hiding place in Tudor and Stuart times for Catholic Priests during the religious persecutions of the Reformation.  Several important members of the Nobility and their families remained defiantly but secretly true to the Catholic faith and in large important houses provided these hiding places for resident priests and various items of Catholic paraphernalia.  The penalty for being discovered and captured was severe with the certainty of horrible torture (almost as bad as driving the A17) and the liklihood of painful death so these Priest’s Holes had to very cunningly designed and built.

A man called Nicholas Owen is famous for carrying out this work in a number of great houses and so crafty were they in their planning that even today it is suggested that they may not all have been found.  At Oxburgh he came up with a sort of sunken pit concealed in the solid interior brick work of the house and with access through a false floor and just a tiny corridor.

The really interesting thing about this one is that visitors are allowed to go down through the floor and narrow entrance and go inside to have a look.

I sent Kim down first to check it out…

Oxburgh Priest Hole

It is quite a tight squeeze but once inside it isn’t so bad although I wouldn’t want to spend a few days down there in the dark with no bathroom facilities.

Nicholas Owen was captured in 1606 and taken to the Tower of London where he was mercilessly tortured for ten days as the authorities sought to discover all of his Priest Hole stories.  He never gave in and eventually died and all of his secrets went with him.  Owen was canonised as one of the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales by Pope Paul VI in 1970.

Today, Catholic stage magicians who practice Gospel Magic consider Saint Nicholas Owen to be the Patron Saint of Illusionists and Escapologists.  His Feast Day is celebrated on 22nd March.

Click on an image to scroll through the pictures…

Northumberland, Just Pictures

Cragside KitchenSeaton Sluice Shell ShipNorthumberlan Iron RivetSeaton Delaval Hall NorthumbriaDunstunburgh Castle

Northumberland, Dunstanburgh and Wallington

Northumberland Countryside View

The scenery was wonderful, sweeping and serene as we left the fringes of the Northumberland National Park and the Cheviot Hills and headed east back towards the coast.

Out of curiosity, I checked later just how far north we were and I was surprised to find that although we were still in England we were further north than the Scottish border at the Solway Firth in the west.  In fact the Scottish border there somewhere north of Carlisle is almost seventy-five miles south of the border in the east at Berwick-upon-Tweed, the most northerly town in England (the most southerly town in Scotland is Gretna).

That is why despite being in England, Berwick Rangers play in the Scottish Football League and Carlisle United play in the English Football League. If Berwick Rangers played in England (and assuming they were in the same division) than a match for the team at England’s southernmost and westernmost league team, Plymouth Argyle, would result in a round-trip of almost one thousand miles.

By contrast Gretna FC (2008) play in the Scottish Lowland League and not in England.

As it turned out we were even further North than Scotland in our caravan park at Whitley Bay, just outside of Newcastle.

Hadrians Wall

We were also some way north of Hadrian’s famous wall and although a lot of people think that the Roman Emperor’s Wall marks the border between England and Scotland it never has and never will because it runs a conveniently short distance between Wallsend near the River Tyne in Newcastle and the Solway Firth in Cumbria. When it came down to military expediency the Romans didn’t concern themselves too much about geography.

So we carried on now to Dunstanburgh Castle stopping briefly on the way at the pleasant but unremarkable little town of Alnwick where it was market day and which by all accounts has a very fine castle but is not National Trust and with our membership cards burning a hole in our pockets we drove straight by and on to the village of Dunstan, determined to get our money’s worth from the membership fee that we had forked out earlier.

As we drove some previous life memories came back to me and I remembered how in the 1990s I worked for an incompetent waste management company called Cory Environmental (I wrote some stories about them some time back) who had purchased some seriously unprofitable contracts in the North-East at Wansbeck and Castle Morpeth Councils and I chuckled to myself now as we drove through these two council districts and the towns of Morpeth and Blyth where the company had their depots and recalled just how disastrous the privatisation of public services had been at that time and continues to be even today.

Eventually we arrived at the coast at the fishing village of Craster with a sheltered harbour, with the tide out fishing boats resting up on the mud banks and lobster pots stacked on the quay ready to be taken out to sea later.

Lobster Pots Cranston Northumberland

Do lobsters like bright colours I wondered?

From Craster there was a long walk to Dunstanburgh Castle, almost two miles as it turned out, but the weather was exceptionally fine and we made our way north along the coastal walk. A grassy stroll across a windswept headland and on the way we passed through flocks of sheep and herds of cows and as we stopped now and then to look out to sea over the salt stained black rocks decorated with vivid green seaweed and water polished barnacles I imagined the intrepid Vikings bearing down from the North Sea and sweeping westward across the land.

Viking Ship

Dunstunburgh turned out to be a very fine Medieval Castle, ruined of course, collapsed into the sea in some parts and pillaged over the centuries for building stone for nearby Craster but I liked it, it has a nobleness and a sense of the ‘Wars of the Roses’. I forgot about the Vikings now and imagined a Baron’s army laying siege to the castle or a great Lord of the realm leading his men out to defend against Scottish invaders from the North or possibly from the South depending upon which direction they came from.

So we climbed the towers and the battlements and walked through the courtyards which are no longer there and then we took the two mile walk back to the car park and began our journey back to Whitley Bay and the caravan park. Still determined to get full value from our recent National trust membership we stopped en-route at the stately home at Wallington.

I was pleased that we hadn’t driven too far out of our way because although it made for a convenient stop and there was a fine house and extensive grounds to explore it wasn’t especially thrilling but at least we were closing in now on break-even on the cost of our National Trust annual membership.

It was Father’s Day and everywhere was rather busy but we didn’t expect to see long untidy line of people queuing up outside a pastry shop in the small town of Seaton Delaval. We were intrigued by that and although we didn’t have the patience to investigate right now we made a note to return possibly the next day.

(We did that and it turned out to be an Italian bakery with the most delicious vanilla ice cream made from a secret recipe from Tuscany, which apparently draws people in from miles around).

Rather unimaginatively we ended the day at St Mary’s Lighthouse where we just sat with the local people who regularly turn up here at high tide and watch and see if any unsuspecting tourists get cut off and have to either swim for it or spend the night on the island.

Watching the Tide at St Mary's Island Northumberland

Northumberland and Grimsby, An Unexpected Link

Seaton Sluice

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.

Seaton Sluice Driftwood Garage

Actually Kim thinks one driftwood sculpture in the house is enough.  This is one of my own from some time back…

Corfu Boat Souvenir

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.

Cragside Northumberland

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.

Grimsby Dock Tower

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.

Siena piazza del campo

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 WindsorLegoland 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…

Legoland Grimsby with key

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.

St  Mary's Island Whitley Bay