Summary day 3 – Warkworth and Alnwick (again)

The forecast for today was for very high winds for most of the day along with a fine-ish morning then a blustery and showery afternoon. We decided to postpone our original plans to go to Rothbury to visit the gardens at Cragside House and instead take a shorter morning walk south to Warkworth then head over to Alnwick and back to Alnmouth.

Zoly was really tired last night and we figured that he’d appreciate a less arduous day. We set out for Warkworth at about 10. The sun was shining but the winds were already really strong. The path from Alnmouth to Warkworth has been made into part of the National Cycle Network, so it was really well-surfaced and sheltered from the adjacent road by a hedge. At the start of the path there were some lovely views back over the River Aln to Alnmouth. Not far along the path we we came across a lovely bench – carved and painted with a plaque in memory of Michelle Turnbull who died in 2009. ‘Find me here, I am not gone’ – a beautiful memorial.

The main railway line to Edinburgh was over to our right and just south of Alnmouth we could see a level crossing with a house next to it. Mum had told me that my grandparents had lived in a house near Alnmouth by the level-crossing. This had to be it – there’s no other level crossing in the vicinity as far as we can tell. As we were looking, sirens began to sound and red lights started flashing; the gates came down and an express train went through heading north. While all this was going on my phone rang – it was my sister! All coming together this felt strangely satisfying – but I wouldn’t be surprised if Mam told me that it wasn’t this house!

From here it wasn’t far to Warkworth, but on the edge of the village the cycle path veered off to the left and towards Warkworth Bay. Going straight in into the village there wasn’t any pavement, so we were forced to walk on a very busy road. A Welcome to Warkworth sign asked: Please Drive Carefully, but this was entirely in vain – Matthew and Zoly were almost hit by someone in a car who started to drive towards them!. I’m always a bit baffled about why carful driving requires a polite request. In this case it was a completely ignored anyway – cars and lorries and buses were thundering past at top speed on a narrow winding road. This bit of our walk was not pleasant. Thankfully we arrived in Warkworth intact (physically if not mentally), and were greeted with a much nicer sign: ‘Welcome Cyclists’ in a hotel window. Also a funny notice screwed to a house wall: ‘Friends always welcome – family by appointment’.

We made our way up to the castle – on our way we passed a young woman with very bright red dyed hair, I assumed that she must be another local estate agent. Once at he castle we were delighted that we could go in – and for free – with our English Heritage membership cards and that Zoly could accompany us. The women staffing the shop made a big fuss of Zoly – one of them even went off to find some dog biscuits to feed him – we won’t have any trouble taking him back there!

The castle was just as I remembered it – small, but high and lots still intact. My uncle Eric and aunt Sheila live in a house that looks on to Warkworth Castle and when I was a boy I used to visit them and their two boys: Stuart and Neville. We would play in the shadow of the castle and I remember thinking that they lived in an impossibly romantic spot. I thought about calling on my aunt and uncle today – they were delightful, warm, friendly and kind to me when I was small. But they are quite elderly and both rather frail now – I was worried that dropping by unannounced with a husband and dog in tow would be too disconcerting, (I also had that ‘family by appointment’ notice in my mind!). I decided to stay away.

After the castle we had a look in the church – a nice Norman building with a leaning tower. The interior was not so attractive – full of clutter and a CD player playing Gregorian chant, which was rather off-putting too!

There were some spots of rain and the wind was cold by now. Given that our walk in to Warkworth on the road had not been pleasant, we decided to take the bus to Alnwick, pick up some groceries, have a look in the tourist information office, which had been unaccountably closed on Sunday and have some lunch in Barter Books. We also called in at a wonderful pet shop in Market Street and bought Zoly a new harness – he had lots of fun trying on different ones. He had lots of fuss in there, too! On our way to the bookshop, we passed the Conservative and Unionist Office, I was looking at some posters of their candidate in the window when a young man came out of the building, “She’ll be our next MP”, he said when he saw me. “I rather hope not”, I replied – but I fear that he’s right – the Lib Dem has a small majority over the Tories and is retiring at this election, so they’re bound to lose.

We had had a pleasant walk home though – the promised rain never really materialised, so we could have gone to Cragside today. Still, back early meant we could get on with some laundry, write some postcards and Matthew wants us to download and watch Paddington!

The election campaign stutters into life

The general election here in the Berwick constituency has got off to a flying start. Well when I say flying, I mean flying in the kind of way of those people who dress up in fancy dress with wings attached and then launch themselves off seaside piers. In truth, you’d barely know that there is a general election taking place. We’ve seen one large ‘Vote Conservative’ hoarding on the gate posts of a not insubstantially sized house (it’s probably where their candidate lives) and then there is the previously mentioned Boris Johnson (that well known north east politician) ‘I’m backing the let’s dual the A1 campaign’ poster in the centre of Alnwick outside the Conservative and Unionist offices (no pictures of David Cameron there though, funny that).

But just when you thought the election was going to pass unnoticed, it all gets a bit exciting (ok I may exaggerate a bit). Today on our way back from Morrison’s we came upon Iain Gordon, an independent candidate with his very own ‘battle bus’ (ok battle Renault) in the centre of Alnwick Market Place. So what is Iain Gordon of the ‘Fair Society Party’ standing on a platform for? According to the Northumberland Gazette – ‘Explaining his party’s policies, he said that they are fighting for “£10 an hour minimum wage, 50p off a pint of beer, 50p off a bottle of wine, no taxation under £16,000, £20 per month for every foreign registered car on our roads, £200-a-year annually and free parking in hospitals”.

Unfortunately Iain Gordon didn’t get much time to convince many voters of these pledges (or potential candidates – he is apparently at present short of one for the Berwick constituency where Alnwick is situated as he’s standing elsewhere). Shortly after arriving in the Market Place a civil enforcement officer slapped a parking ticket onto his Renault for flouting the new (and ‘wholly unjust’ parking restrictions – that is according to yesterday’s Northumberland Gazette) that have been introduced in Alnwick Market Place.

The police soon arrived to escort Mr Gordon from the scene, his campaign placards left in a heap in the middle of the Market Place – I expect he’ll get another ticket for littering, the price of democracy eh?

When the wind blows

What a night, they said it would be windy and they were not wrong. It huffed and it puffed and certainly tried to blow the Huffy House down. Fortunately it’s a sturdy stone building so we were safe inside from the worst that Mother Nature could throw at us.

The weather forecast for today was further strong winds and heavy rain showers from lunchtime onwards for the remainder of the day. We made the best of it by taking a shorter walk from Alnmouth to Warkworth. We were lucky to have sunshine most of the way, but the dark clouds were gathering fast behind us. The footpath from Alnmouth to Warkworth is also a very nice section of the National Cycle Network with a well surfaced path running alongside the road but separated by a hedgerow.

Zoly enjoyed a whiz around Warkworth Castle (we’re very impressed by English Heritage’s progressive approach to allowing dogs (on leads) on their premises) followed by a bus ride to Alnwick. After picking up a few preserves we made for Barter Books again to partake of the buffet room. You can tell that the Easter holidays have begun, the whole place was overrun by children (reinforcing my opinion that dogs are far less trouble).

Our walk back didn’t take long as the gale force wind blew us along. No sign of the forecast rain, just more sunshine – if it was a little fresh. The washing that we put on before we went out was done, and what better weather for drying it outside. I’ve pegged it to the line (with extra pegs) and so far (touch wood) it’s still there. I don’t expect that it will take long to dry, providing it doesn’t take off and land somewhere in South Shields!

Summary day 2 – Alnmouth to Embleton – return by bus

The weather forecast today was for a fine, blustery morning with rain in the late afternoon – probably around 4 or 5. We decided to walk up the coast from Alnmouth to Dunstanburgh Castle then on to Embleton to catch a bus back.

Mathew made a picnic and we set off at about 10am. Alnmouth was beautiful, with bright blue skies, sparkling sea and the wind sending sand streaming and skiming across the beach.

There were really very few other people about – some dog walkers and a runner running along the sand with her dog. We were walking north with the sea on our right and the sun mostly behind us. There’s a very well-marked coastal path and we used that or walked on sandy beaches or across rocks.

We went through or past Foxton, Boulmer, Howick, Craster then Dunstanburgh and Embleton. We walked about 14 miles when the bends and curves of the bays and promontories are taken into account. Zoly walked much further than that, of course – he was trotting backwards and forwards, zig-zagging from side to side, chasing after other dogs and paddling in the sea!

The coast heading towards Craster was really undulating with the basalt rock outcrop at Cullernose Point where tall linear stone columns juts out to the sea. The path was surrounded by gorse bushes with the most incredible bright yellow flowers. There were clumps of flowering daffodils and primroses too – making it very spring-like.

We stopped for lunch in Craster at about 2:00 and had a little look around the village – lots of pretty boats and smoke billowing out of the herring-curing sheds where ‘smoked kippers’ are produced.

Dunstanburgh Castle is magnificent – even though it it is ruined. It was built in the early fourteenth century on a cliff-top promontory and we could see it in the distance as we rounded headlands, then it would be hidden from view, only to reappear again, all the time getting larger and larger. The ruined gatehouse is one of the most striking features and was the largest of any British castle. The landward side of the castle was protected by large artificial lakes – meres – that have largely silted up now and are filled with boggy plants

When we arrived in Embleton, a bus was coming towards us – and even though we weren’t at a bus stop we signalled for it and the driver stopped for us, What a result! Zoly climbed on to our laps and fell asleep almost as soon as we were sat down.

Back at the cottage and Zoly needed a hose down before his dinner, which he didn’t particularly appreciate. After he’s eaten he fell asleep for he rest of the evening. He’ll have to have a quieter day tomorrow we think!

Agent orange

There is absolutely no doubt that this is a beautiful part of the world and I can see the appeal of living here. I like to have a little nose in the estate agents’ windows to see what’s on the market and play a game of ‘seeing what we could afford’. There are some lovely stone-built town houses and several coastal properties with stunning views. On the whole, the properties are very well presented and tasteful – which is more than can be said for one of the estate agents!

Walking into Alnwick yesterday, our eyes were assaulted by the ‘for sale’ sign for Coast and Castle estate agents. The rather startling choice of hair colour sported by the estate agent featured on the hoarding was more in keeping with the kind of ‘day-glo’ effect you’d expect after a day trip to Fukushima, rather than from someone selling castles or cottages with sea views. Perhaps it’s just an unfortunate printer’s error – or maybe Toyah Wilcox has packed in music for a new career in real estate!

Beach Boys

We have been very fortunate in our decision to head north east for our holiday. While Bristol (and most of the rest of the country) seem to have been battered by wind and rain since the weekend, we’ve had mostly sunshine with just the odd shower. Today has been no exception, with glorious sunshine for our walk to Dunstanburgh Castle.

Mike tends not to be very keen on beach holidays, I’ve never persuaded him to head to the Greek islands and even on our excursions to Brittany we rarely spend very long on the beach.  The magic of Northumbria’s coast has clearly worked its charms on Mike (that and our four legged friend’s insatiable appetite for running wild in big open spaces) as we spent most of our day on the beaches and cliffs of the coastal path.

The sun, sand and wind in the dogs ears made for some lovely images. Of course we are clearly biased but Zoly does usually turn heads wherever we go and with the sunlight shining off his ginger coat, today was no exception. He was glowing a beautiful orange colour that wouldn’t have looked out of place as a spray-tan on the cast of Geordie Shores – he was our very own Geordie Paws!

We started out from the cottage and headed into Alnmouth. The wide white sandy beach in the sunshine was clearly a magnet for dog walkers and Zoly was in his element, going through his usual tentative slow crouch approach, followed by laying down with a ‘please play with me’ gesture to every dog he met. By the time we reached Dunstanburgh I think he must have greeted at least 50 dogs.

The sunshine (and perhaps a little of the sea breeze) has left my face feeling a little sun kissed this evening. It must have done Zoly’s beauty regime good too. There’s nothing like a few hours racing around on the beach to exfoliate those paws. However, sandy dog is not a good thing when said dog likes nothing better than to snuggle down under the duvet of your bed. As soon as we got in Mike took Zoly into the wet room for a hose down before lighting the fire for him to dry off in front off – this place is becoming less like the Huffy House and more like the ‘Woofy House – spa resort for dogs’ every day.

Bark-gain books

It has to be said that there isn’t an awful lot to do in Alnwick on a showery Palm Sunday. After a quick coffee, (but no soya milk available – Mike was not happy about that), a whizz around the small market (a white Primula Denticulata ‘Snowball’ purchased – let’s call it an anniversary present [to myself!]), and a glance at the Tory election campaign billboard (the highly imaginative [not] and environmentally destructive: ‘let’s dual carriage the A1’) – we sought refuge in Barter Books.

Housed in the (now redundant) Alnwick station, this temple to secondhand books is surely the highlight of any trip to Alnwick. It beats the Castle and (contrived and gimmicky) Castle Gardens hands down. Rails and platforms have been replaced by shelf upon shelf of secondhand books. Each lovingly categorised and displayed with love and reverence, (appropriate for a cathedral of books). In an age when the Internet has all but killed off the independent bookshop, Barter Books is a beacon of light.

As well as the wonderful books, the warm welcome is far better than anything you’d find in any chain store. Roaring coal fires greet you in the former waiting rooms, now converted to snugs, perfect for perusing you chosen books. The old station buffet has been lovingly restored (and extended) to accommodate the hoards of hungry bibliophiles. High above the shelves trains on a model railway clatter their way round the store and on the end wall an artistic arrangement of neon tubes means that the sun is always shining, even when (as this afternoon) the rain was hammering down on the roof.

Best of all though is the sign on the entrance that proudly announces that ‘dogs are welcome’. What else would you expect from the place where the original (and now much reproduced and mimicked) ‘keep calm and carry on’ war time propaganda posters* were re-discovered? Dogs are the ultimate calming influence – much more so than children, and if they’re let in, why not dogs too? Zoly was in heaven. At almost every turn there was a new friend to say hello to and admiring glances and comments from the two legged punters. The only down side was that Mike kept wandering off to look at books (how inconsiderate), leaving poor Zoly angst ridden until Mike reappeared from behind one book shelf or another. Fortunately today’s separation anxiety was a fairly quiet affair (no barking and just a little bit of whining) – that’s Zoly I mean (not Mike).

What’s even more remarkable though is that Mike only purchased one item – and it was for me. Returning to the cottage I was presented with an anniversary gift, wrapped tastefully in a Barter Books plastic bag. The contents ‘Something Wonderful’ Bryn Terfel signs Rodgers & Hammerstein, is now playing as I write this. I can’t think of a more appropriately titled gift to sum up our marriage.

* The ‘Keep calm and carry on’ posters were prepared by the government in case of a German invasion, but as that never materialised they were never used.

Welcome to Northumberland, March-April 2015

This is our first proper holiday for more than twelve months. We’ve had weekend breaks but not a whole week off work together, just us and the dog. Will our one year old (today) marriage survive this new experience? Only time will tell.

As this is our first holiday away with Zoly we a) are still in the UK and b) are not on our bikes. However, fear not those of you who are avid followers of our cycling adventures – a dog trailer is imminent. As soon as we can train Zoly to sit or lay still in it we’ll be planning our first adventure on two wheels with four paws in tow!

Until then we’re depending on two feet, busses and the odd train to enjoy this spring break in Northumberland. This will of course be no real hardship as the walks round these parts are fantastic. Miles of golden sands, lovely lanes and more castles for Zoly to pee on than you can wag a vizsla’s tail at.

This morning we walked Zoly to Alnwick (about four miles away) and then had a mooch around the town before traipsing over to Sainsbury’s on the edge of town to get our weekly supplies. There is a Morrison’s in the town centre but Mike prefers Sainsbury’s as it has a wider variety of vegan-friendly goodies.

Unfortunately we mistimed the bus back, missing one by ten minutes (they’re only hourly on a Sunday). Rather than lug all the shopping home by foot I volunteered to wait for the bus while Mike walked Zoly back to the cottage. Fortunately, the sun has been out most of the time I’d been waiting and it gave me the chance to pen this first holiday blog entry from the Ravensmede bus stop waiting for the X18 to arrive. This blog can surely only get more exciting as the week goes on!

P.S. No sooner had I put my phone in my pocket to make sure I didn’t miss the bus,(I was writing this blog entry on it), than a large black car pulled into the street turning just past the bus stop. A young women ran round the corner and asked if I wanted a lift. I explained the bus was due any minute and that I was only going to Alnmouth. She replied ‘I know, we own the Huffy House’! The driver of the car was Jill who welcomed us yesterday. She’d apparently seen me standing at the bus stop on their way into Alnwick. They’d done their shop in Morrison’s and were on their way home and spotted me still standing there, so kindly stopped to give me a lift. Mike looked a bit perplexed when I can through the garden gate, trying to work out how I’d got back so quickly. It’s good to keep a bit of surprise in a relationship!

It’s time for our honeymoon (only one year late!)

It’s been a busy year, what with welcoming a new member of the family (our puppy, Zoly) and our wedding – we didn’t get around to having any kind of holiday in 2014. We even managed to get married without having a honeymoon, (which Matthew wasn’t very pleased about – I mean the lack of honeymoon, not the marriage, obviously!). But we’re putting that right now – we did some research and came across a lovely cottage near Alnmouth in Northumberland. The owners of the ‘Huffy House’ (more on the name later) allow guests to bring their dogs and it’s situated close to a railway station that we could get to direct from Bristol (the Plymouth to Glasgow train stops at Alnmouth!). We’re booked in for a week and decided that as Zoly hasn’t learned to travel by bicycle yet (he will, of course) that we’d make this trip on foot.

We travelled from Bristol to Newcastle on Friday. It was going to be Zoly’s longest train journey, so we both took turns to walk him – Matthew at 6am out along the Towpath and through Greville Smyth Park then back for breakfast and out again with me to make sure that he was tired and ‘wrung out’ before we settled on the train. The poor thing, he was playing with some doggy friends in Victoria Park – running and chasing and wearing himself out – and I shooed him away from the dog bowl outside the café.

We’d arranged to stay our friends Michelle and Catherine and Iain in Newcastle so that we could get to Alnmouth on Saturday afternoon. They have an absolutely beautiful Weimaraner called Poppy and we wondered how Zoly and Poppy would get on when they met. We needn’t have worried – Zoly was beside himself with excitement when they met and was entranced by her all evening and the next morning. He was constantly wanting to play with her, chasing about, doing a bit of showing off and following her about wherever she went. Poppy is four years old and was very capable of handling herself.

On Saturday morning we took Zoly and Poppy for a walk on the Newcastle Town Moor and into Exhibition Park and then to a café in Northumberland Street (Poppy’s first visit there) – the dogs had a wonderful time on the moor – sniffing and chasing each other. We tuned heads wherever we went – two men with two extremely stylish dogs was a bit of a give-away! Lots of people asked us what kind of dogs we had and would smile and say something like: “Beautiful dogs” as we passed.

After we’d walked the dogs we returned Poppy and headed to Central Station for our train to Alnmouth. We arrived at the station with six minutes to spare… so while Matthew bought our tickets Mike asked at the information desk where the Alnmouth train was going – “Platform two to Edinburgh”. So we went to platform two and there was a train waiting – destination Edinburgh. We just made it – it left Newcastle almost as soon
as we got on – which made us think that perhaps something wasn’t right – it departed sooner than we thought it should. True enough the announcer on the train said we were on the Edinburgh train, next stop Morpeth then
Dunbar! Argh!! I ran up and down the train to find the train manager to check if the train really wasn’t stopping at Alnmouth (and to see if they could be persuaded to stop there since they were passing through), no – and no – we had to get off at Morpeth, run over to the other platform and return to Newcastle to try again
for Alnmouth!

Eventually we made it and finding the house was easy – and it’s in a wonderful setting at the top of a grassy ridge, with views to the Lesbury Railway Viaduct and on towards Boulmer and over to Alnmouth.

Michelle had made some soup for us (Thank-you Michelle – you were a super-star!), so we didn’t have to worry about getting any shopping in and once we’d unpacked and eaten we went for a lovely evening stroll to the sea.

So here we are on the North East coast between Newcastle and Berwick – about a mile from Alnmouth and three miles from Alnwick. We’re planning to do lots of walking with Zoly – up the coast, visit Alnwick, Cragside, Bamburgh, maybe Lindisfarne. We’ll keep you posted.