Despite my joy in writing, I rarely seem to have the time, but as I am nearing the end of a little holiday, I thought I would write about that...
I had never been to the north east of England, but had long ago hankered after a trip to Newcastle and had a desire to see the 'Angel of the North' up close and personal.
Years ago when I was renting rooms in shared houses and working in a pub, I lived with and met several people from the north east. In a sweeping-statement-kind-of-way I found them loud, friendly and quite often a bit bonkers! My recent trip has laid that to rest as the people we encountered on this trip were nothing but friendly and helpful.
As too often the case, this trip was whizzed up into a whirlwind; fitting rather a lot into a short timeframe. My travelling companion was my number one son, Sam, aged fourteen. He likes trains, and I think we could have almost ran this as a train-enthusiasts tour of Northumberland!
We started our journey from Kings Cross, and headed to the lovely town of Alnwick in Northumberland. For our first night's accommodation the only room available had a giant bed, which my son spent the first ten minutes diving on from various angles...I knew we were going to have a good time.
We got busy tightening up the itinerary and had a scout around the area to get our bearings. With only two full days here, we needed a plan!
Monday morning was spent visiting Alnwick Castle, which has been home to the Percy family for over seven hundred years. Attractively set with views of the rolling landscape around, it has something for everyone, with Harry Potter events for kids and an insiders view for Downton Abbey fans as scenes for both have been filmed at the castle. My favourite part was the library, hosting 14,000 catalogued books - floor to ceiling in one of the state rooms with access to the top galleries through a hidden door!
A sudden downpour saw us head out of the castle and into the bus station to pick up a bus to Lindisfarne...well kind of. I had chosen to take the coastal route which takes about an hour an a half to reach the drop-off point. We discovered there were problems on the A1, so the bus was running a minimum of forty minutes late. Luckily there was an alternative, faster bus service which takes around forty minutes. That was also running late, and being used to a flow of London buses we were getting impatient!
Anyhow, we got on the bus, and tentatively got off somewhere on the A1.
Now, I can't be sure if my pre-trip research was severely off or I had misinterpreted a friend who had given me a local bus timetable( and visits Northumberland regularly...with a car), but I was under the impression we could walk from our bus stop to Holy Island without too much difficulty. Lindisfarne (Holy Island) lies several miles off the Northumberland coast. It is cut off twice-daily from the rest of the world by fast moving tides. I had at least researched the tide times, so we could cross to the Island!
Anyway it turned out that it was a five mile walk to the island, and it happened to be extremely windy. For the first mile it looked like the world was going to end, and my son was convinced he could see twisters in the sky...we kept ourselves entertained with apocalyptic stories.
We reached the open flat of the causeway and it really is an amazing landscape...wide, sparse, and hard to believe the water rises to make it inaccessible. Despite the views, by around three and a half miles we were getting a little worn down, and mindful of the fact that we had to get back to the A1 to be sure of making it back to Alnwick that night! This is when my son suggested hitch-hiking. He told me the next day he had been joking, and so was surprised when I agreed. We stuck out our thumbs and waited. There wan't much passing traffic, and it seemed like nobody would stop, so on we marched with vague attempts at thumbing a lift here and there. I looked back to see around five cars heading our way, so suggested we gave it one more go. A lady in a four by four started slowing down and we were good to go! She was quite excited about it being "the first time I've picked someone up on the causeway". She was so kind, and after pulling up outside her holiday cottage, she walked us down a track and pointed out Lindisfarne Priory which was the heart of Christianity in Anglo Saxon times. She also pointed out St. Cuthbert's Island and gave us a potted history of St.Cuthbert himself. She also pointed out other island highlights and told us if we got stranded to just knock on her door and she'll take us back across the causeway. Her name was Georgie, from Lincoln and according to my son "one of the nicest people I have ever met".
By the time we'd been windswept at the top of St. Cuthbert's, tip-toed over the rocks and walked to the top of a hill to get a Birdseye view of Lindisfarne Priory, it seemed like most people were leaving the island. All of the shops were closed, so we headed for the car park in the vein hope of getting a bus back ( as we had discovered there was a bus serving the island). No chance; the last bus had left two hours ago, so the worst case scenario is we had to walk another five miles back to the A1, but we weren't about to panic. We set our sights on an 'older couple' entering the car park and quite simply asked if there was any chance of a lift back over the causeway.There was. As the couple dropped us off on the edge of the A1 I sensed they were a little concerned for our homeward journey, but we assured them that there was a bus stop just around the corner and now time was on our side as we only had to wait about five minutes for the scenic bus back to Alnwick. A great day!
Day two of our northern adventure saw us collecting hire bikes from an industrial estate just outside the town. Not five minutes into our journey we stopped at the Aln Valley Railway project; a wonderful place run by enthusiasts and aiming to rebuild the branch line which used to link Alnmouth Station to Alnwick. The project is currently funded through donations, a couple of organisations and the Duke of Northumberland; the 'Percy guy' from Alnwick castle.
Because it is a new project it will not be eligible for Lottery funding until they hit the original track bed as it will then be classed as a heritage project. Find out more here
As an added bonus, there is an RAF training camp not far away, so we were serenaded by several jet engines and a C17 globe master ( of course I know my planes).
After a quick trip on the Wickham Trolley we picked up cycle route 1 of the national cycle network and traversed all kinds of land, from rough shingle to pot-holed country lanes. We stopped at various railway crossings and hopped off to relish in the extremely quiet wonder of the North Sea's lapping tides.
En route we took a little detour into Alnmouth and then headed through the undulating roads toward Craster, with the ruins of 14th century Dunstanburgh Castle in the distance. No trip to Craster would be complete without a crab sandwich, so with that covered we got back on the saddle, and took a faster route home, just in time to drop off the bikes before they closed for the night.
Despite the sore bottoms we throughly enjoyed our ride, and I have to admit I like trains too!
I would like to tell you about our day in Newcastle as that will have to wait...
Viva the North!