Tag Archives: Northumberland

Gritty Grimsby is not a Tourist Town

“Grimsby was not at all what I had expected…. The town centre was not compact and charming and town like, but grubbily urban with busy roads which were difficult to cross on foot” – Bill Bryson

I used to like Bill Bryson, I thought he was funny but in his last lamentable book ‘The Road to Little Dribbling”  he had the above to say about Grimsby.  I am not a Grimbarian so I have no axe to grind.  I am not arguing with him but I just got the sense that he hadn’t really visited Grimsby at all and his dismissive assessment was based on a Google search.  Despite its shortcomings I think the town deserves more than a quarter page in one of Bill’s travel books.

I have lived in Grimsby for ten years and I rather like it.

Read The Full Story Here….

 

The Driftwood Boat

“The sea’s curious workmanship: bottle green glass sucked smooth and porous by the waves: wood stripped and cleaned and bark swollen with salt…gnawed and rubbed: amber: bone: the sea”  –  Lawrence Durrell – Propero’s Cell

After a gap of about  five years, maybe even more, this week I returned to the Driftwood  Boat project, found my old sticks at the back of the shed and set to to build a boat.

This is a box of driftwood and other bits and pieces that I collected on various holidays to the Greek Islands and brought home in my hand luggage.  Interestingly I never once was stopped at airport security or UK customs and asked to explain my unusual cargo.

So, it has been carefully assembled but now comes the tricky bit – negotiating with Kim on a place in the house to display it.

A year or so ago and two thousand miles from the Greek Islands I was in a seaside fishing village in Northumberland  called 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’.

Here I am looking for inspiration…

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“The sea does not reward those who are too anxious, too greedy, or too impatient. To dig for treasures shows not only impatience and greed, but lack of faith. Patience, patience, patience, is what the sea teaches. Patience and faith. One should lie empty, open, choiceless as a beach—waiting for a gift from the sea.”  – Anne Morrow Lindbergh

On This Day – Hadrian’s Wall in Northumbria

While the current travel restrictions are in place I have no new stories to post so what I thought that I would do is to go through my picture archives and see where I was on this day at any time in the last few travelling years.

Relatively recently, on 30th June 2018 I was at Hadrian’s Wall in Northumbria.

Hadrian’s Wall was a defensive fortification in the Roman province of Britannia, begun in AD 122 in the reign of the emperor Hadrian and was the northern limit of the Roman Empire immediately north of which were the lands of the northern Ancient Britons, people so frightening that even the normally fearless Romans wouldn’t take them on.

Hadrians Wall

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Tea Towel Souvenirs – St. Mary’s Lighthouse at Whitley Bay

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In 2018 the most viewed photograph on my blog pages was a picture of a tea towel that I took in a shop in Puglia in Italy.

Puglia T Towel Map

On account of that I thought that I would begin an occasional series of posts of tea towel souvenirs that I have brought home from my travels and I begin with St. Mary’s Lighthouse in Whitley Bay in Northumberland.

“To me a lighthouse was meant to be lived in. It was part of working life. And ships passing, day or night, knew there was somebody there, looking at them.” – Dermot Cronin, the last Lighthouse keeper in United Kingdom

Since 1998 all of the UK Lighthouses including this one are fully automated.

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This is my post on pointless souvenirs in Spain –

Travels in Spain, Pointless Souvenirs

Northumberland, St Mary’s Lighthouse

 

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Get timings wrong and you will get wet feet coming back.  Local people 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.

Clearly entertainment in Whitley Bay is seriously hard to come by!

St Mary's Lighthouse Whitley Bay

Northumberland, Hadrian’s Wall and The Tree of The Year

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For our few days in the caravan at Whitley Bay we didn’t do a great deal that was different from our weekend there the previous year, this time we were entertaining family, but one thing that we did do was to visit Hadrian’s Wall.

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.  The wall is entirely within England and although it is close to Scotland in the west at its eastern end the wall is fully seventy miles south of the River Tweed.

Hadrian's Wall

Hadrian’s Wall was a defensive fortification in the Roman province of Britannia, begun in AD 122 in the reign of the emperor Hadrian and was the northern limit of the Roman Empire, immediately north of which were the lands of the northern Ancient Britons, people so frightening that even the Romans wouldn’t take them on.

It was a very pleasant day for our visit and the sun was shining but I guess this would have been quite a bleak place two thousand years ago.  I imagine a legionnaire waiting for details of his posting and hoping to go Spain or France to the warm inviting beaches of the Mediterranean Sea and  bit of sunshine would have been bitterly disappointed to discover that he was going to the bitter cold north of England to help build a massive stone wall.

Clayton_painting

At a length of almost seventy-five miles long it is the largest remaining construction anywhere in the old Roman world and it was started and finished in just about six years which is an impressive rate of progress compared to how long it takes to get anything built these days.

Seventy-five miles sounds like a lot of wall but by way of comparison the Great Wall of China is over thirteen-thousand miles long, Donald Trump’s Mexico wall is approximately two-thousand miles and even in England Offa’s Dyke running between England and Wales was one hundred and fifty miles long stretching from the River Mersey in the North to the River Severn in the South.  The Maginot Line in France (a sort of underground wall) was nine hundred and fifty miles long but ultimately completely useless because the French didn’t get to finish it and in 1940 the German Panzer divisions simply went around it on their way to Paris.

The Romans were more clued up than the French it seems and the wall goes all the way from coast to coast.  They didn’t leave a gap at one end that the Barbarians could conveniently use to get past.

Hadrians Wall

Hadrian’s Wall was built almost completely of stone with a small castle every mile to act as a watchtower and a large garrison fort every five miles which was manned by a cohort of troops numbering as many as eight-hundred.  A cohort is considered to be the equivalent of a modern battalion.

It is possible to visit quite a lot of these old fortress sites and each one claims to be the biggest and the best but we chose Housesteads (maybe called Vercovicium in Roman times, no one really knows) simply because it is owned by the National Trust and being National Trust members we get to go visit for free, well, not really free but you know what I mean.

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I didn’t really know what to expect of the wall, when I was a boy I wondered why the Northern Barbarians didn’t just get some ladders and climb over it when no one was looking but here at Housesteads I got to appreciate the massive scale of the thing.  The wall was built on a natural hard granite rock escarpment called Whin Sill which rises dramatically and vertically out of the ground.  If this wasn’t enough, on the northern side the wall comprised a ditch, then the wall, a military road an earth rampart and then another ditch with adjoining mounds.  No Welcome Mats and if anyone was going to get over this wall it was going to take a lot more than a ladder let me tell you!

Once its construction was finished, it is thought to have been covered in plaster and then whitewashed, its shining surface reflected the sunlight and was visible for miles around, an extravagant expression of Roman military might and the border of the Empire.

Robin Hood Tree

So we visited the small museum, watched a short video presentation and then wandered around the site and the excavations and then walked the short distance to Sycamore Gap which is a point in the escarpment where glaciers in the Ice Age carved a path through the rock.  The place is significant because here grows a sycamore tree which is said to be the most photographed tree in England and was voted English Tree of the Year in 2016.

Oh, I just love the idea that a country that is England has a Tree of the Year competition.  It is astonishing that with such busy lives and so many distractions people actually take time out to vote in a Tree of the Year poll.  What next? A weed of the year perhaps.

There is more to this tree however.  It is also referred to as the Robin Hood Tree, not because it has anything to do with Sherwood Forest and the Major Oak but because a scene from the movie ‘Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves’ was filmed there, the one where he first comes across the villain Guy of Gisborne.

Major Oak

The Major Oak in Sherwood Forest (above) was voted Tree of the Year in 2014.  The latest Tree of the Year (2017) is the Gilwell Oak in Epping Forest which has connections with the Boy Scouts and the founder of the movement Robert Baden-Powell.  He adopted the towering oak as a symbol for the growth of the scouting movement world-wide.

So, now we have been to Hadrian’s Wall in Northumberland, The Maginot Line in France, The Great Wall of China, back to England and Sherwood Forest in Nottinghamshire and Epping Forest in Essex and once we were through with our visit to Housesteads we returned to the caravan in Whitley Bay.

Northumberland Seaside Painting

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Northumberland, Seaton Delaval Hall

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A year ago we went to Northumbria for a weekend break, bought National Trust membership and visited as many places as possible just to get our money’s worth.  One of these was Seaton Delaval Hall.

I liked this place immediately. I could imagine living there. Sadly the main block is almost derelict, destroyed by a massive fire in 1822 but even though it is soot blackened and blaze scorched (it reminded me of one of my garden BBQ attempts) it remains a magnificently impressive building.

I liked it so much that we returned for a second visit a year later in the Summer of 2018.

What a tragedy that a place has magnificent as this should be destroyed in a single night and after two hundred years or so still be left as a great ruin.  Now it is a place frozen in time, agony twisted metal, flame seared alabaster statuary, fire coloured bricks of multi-colours and ash blackened floor tiles.

It was designed and built by Sir John Vanbrugh who had been previously responsible for Castle Howard in Yorkshire and Blenheim Palace in Oxfordshire and although this one is much smaller in scale historians and architects today consider it to be his finest works.

The Delavals were rich landowners and early industrialists who made their money from coal, salt and glass and by all accounts they worked hard and partied hard and weekends here of parties and shagging went together like dog’s tails and wagging! Everyone in Georgian society looked forward to an invitation to a weekend rave popping through their letterbox!

Of all the places that we had visited this weekend this was my favourite, I could have stayed and poked about in the corners and the recesses for a whole day. The west wing (not destroyed by the fire) was lived in until relatively recently by a member of the modern day aristocracy but upon his death the owner had a huge bill for inheritance tax and unable to afford it sold the place to the National Trust.

If you missed the full post first time round then you can find it here…

Northumberland, Seaton Delaval and George Washington

Northumberland, Just Pictures

Cragside KitchenSeaton Sluice Shell ShipNorthumberlan Iron RivetSeaton Delaval Hall NorthumbriaDunstunburgh Castle

Northumberland, Seaton Delaval and George Washington

Seaton Dalaval Hall Northumberland

We were leaving the caravan this morning and I wasn’t especially sad about that.  It was nice enough but disappointing compared to the luxury accommodation that we had enjoyed a couple of months previously in Norfolk; the constant sickly smell of calor gas reminded me of childhood caravan holidays and was giving me headaches, although Kim accusingly suggested that it might alternatively have been the Stella Artois!

We started the day by making a third attempt to visit nearby Seaton Delaval Hall which had been inconveniently closed for the last two days. We arrived at ten o’clock but it didn’t open until eleven (Kim said that I should have checked the web site and I couldn’t argue with that but I blamed the Calor gas/Stella Artois headache) so we walked around the gardens and then sat in the pleasant sunshine in the garden until the ticket office opened.

We didn’t need tickets because now we were members of the National Trust so we flashed our temporary paperwork and walked straight through without stopping even to look in the ridiculously overpriced gift shop.

I liked this place immediately. I could imagine living there. Sadly the main block is almost derelict, destroyed by a massive fire in 1822 but even though it is soot blackened and blaze scorched (it reminded me of one of my garden BBQ attempts) it remains a magnificently impressive building.

What a tragedy that a place has magnificent as this should be destroyed in a single night and after two hundred years or so still be left as a great ruin.

Seaton Delaval Great Hall

It was designed and built by Sir John Vanbrugh who had been previously responsible for Castle Howard in Yorkshire and Blenheim Palace in Oxfordshire and although this one is much smaller in scale historians and architects today consider it to be his finest work.

The Delavals were rich landowners and early industrialists who made their money from coal, salt and glass and by all accounts they worked hard and partied hard and weekends here of parties and shagging went together like dog’s tails and wagging! Everyone in society looked forward to an invitation popping through their letterbox!

Of all the places that we had visited this weekend this was my favourite, I could have stayed and poked about in the corners and the recesses for a whole day. The west wing (not destroyed by the fire) was lived in until relatively recently by a member of the modern day aristocracy but upon his death the owner had a huge bill for inheritance tax and unable to afford it sold the place to the National Trust.

Taxes! We pay taxes all of our lives to the Government and then when we die we pay them all over again. Bloody outrageous if you ask me, reminds me of a film I once saw with a great line – “There is nothing more certain in life than death and taxes – unless you are Greek!”

Seaton Delaval Staircase

As we walked around the West Wing my eye was drawn to a painting which described the subject as Baron Astley of Hillmorton in Warwickshire and why that poked my interest is because I lived and grew up in Hillmorton in Warwickshire.  None of the guides could give me any information on that point and that was not especially surprising because as it turns out the Baronetcy of Hillmorton was/is just a convenience title and the man who enjoyed it actually lived in Norfolk.

There is however a street in Hillmorton called ‘Astley Place’.

After visiting the Hall we walked around the grounds and the formal gardens, which didn’t take especially long and then we left Seaton Delaval and Northumbria and headed for the Tyne Tunnel and the journey back home.

Before driving into Yorkshire we stopped briefly at Washington Old Hall, another National Trust property and the ancestral home (allegedly) of George Washington of American Independence and First president of the USA fame.

Washington Old Hall Tyne and Wear

It has to be said that the link is quite tenuous because George’s ancestors left Washington Old Hall almost a hundred years before he was born and he himself apparently confessed had little interest in genealogy or his English heritage.

I have said before that I always like to see how far a place name has travelled and not unsurprisingly there are a lot of Washingtons in the USA and thirty States have a place named after the town in Tyne and Wear or, more likely of course, the first President of the USA.  These are the nineteen that don’t – Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Hawaii, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee and Wyoming.

Minnesota does however have a statue of Leif Ericson.

We spent a very pleasant hour or so at Washington Old Hall and as we finished with a cup of tea and a slice of cake in the café I did some final reckoning up and was happy to find that we had fully recovered the cost of National Trust membership and we had a full year ahead of us to make a tidy profit.

I wonder where my next caravan holiday will take me?

Washington Old Hall Eagle

 

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