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vickiebypass Jun 27th, 2017 12:15 PM

Scotland & UK: 2 weeks with Sheep & Cows
During my planning phase, many Fodorites were very helpful and encouraging, as always! So, I’ve provided this trip report to let everyone know how it turned out and hopefully help someone thinking about a similar trip. Be forewarned – it may be lengthy!

I’m a solo traveler and like to visit historical sites and gardens. As a Type A person, I research trips beforehand and create a daily list of things to do as a guide, so I used various guidebooks and web sites. I stayed in a combination of hotels, B&Bs and stately homes and will describe them below.

SAT, JUNE 10, grey & rainy
Arrived at Edinburgh airport (although I was starting my trip in Newcastle, I would be leaving from EDI so flew in/out using points). Found the tram easily (good signage – about a 5 mins from outside the baggage claim area, beyond the AirLink bus stop). Very simple to use the machine to buy a one-way ticket to St. Andrews Square for £5 (there was a tram person there to offer help if needed). Tram was not full, plenty of space for luggage and once at St. Andrews Square, it was a 5 minute walk to Waverly train station. On the tram, and especially once in the station, I saw a LOT of men in kilts; not the full gear, just kilts with polo shirts, but all different tartans. Couldn’t figure out what was going on until I saw a sign about the platform for the Scotland vs. England World Cup Qualifier game in Glasgow that afternoon (turns out the game was a draw).

Everyone on this site always advises “buy your ticket in advance – same day sales are expensive” but when I researched train times, it clearly stated that tickets can only be used for the specific train they were purchased for and since I wasn’t sure how long Border Control, baggage & transfer to Waverly would take, I didn’t buy a ticket in advance. So, £40 later, I had a same day, single ticket. Sheesh – my own fault; I should have just bought a ticket for a later train and then hung out in the station if necessary (advance tickets were £12). The train itself was nice – plenty of room and a very scenic ride along the coast. 90 minutes later, we arrived at Newcastle’s Central Station. (A comment on “hen parties” – I had read about these and saw several groups of fancily dressed women getting off trains in Newcastle; some had short bridal veils on; others had “Happy XX Birthday” sashes on; all were very happy. All afternoon, early evening and Sunday morning, I ran across these groups moving from pub to pub. Saw similarly well dressed groups of men doing the same.)

My hotel for five nights was Roomzzz which was literally a 6 minute walk from the station. Roomzzz is an aparthotel, where each room has a full kitchen. I had debated between Roomzzz, Vermont Hotel, Hotel Indigo or the Royal Station Hotel and am very glad I chose Roomzzz. I reserved a Liberty Suite and, after joining their Royalty Club to get an immediate 15% discount, I paid £420 for 5 nights – a great price. I’m usually so tired after a full day of sight-seeing that I don’t go out at night, so having a fridge, microwave, etc and comfortable seating to watch TV was important to me. My suite was on the 3rd floor (elevator or stairs) and was great – separate bedroom w/large TV, living room with sofa & 2 comfy chairs and a dining table w/4 chairs, plus kitchen with dishwasher, oven, cooktop, microwave, fridge and all the pans, plates, cutlery, etc. Both the bedroom & living area had a cathedral ceiling with beams, a window and skylight. Bathroom was modern and clean (as was the entire place). The location was perfect – near the Quayside on the other side of the train bridge. In addition to the train, there was a Metro stop at the RR station, plus various buses stopped there. Within 8 minutes walk to the guildhall, bridges, St. Nicholas Cathedral and Castle. I would definitely recommend Roomzzz. All the reception staff – days and evenings – were extremely helpful and volunteered directions, restaurant recommendations, etc.

It was lunchtime, raining and I was hungry so took the shortcut stone stairs next to Roomzzz and ended up on Sandhill. I walked past The Redhouse and since I had read about in, I wandered in and was their first customer for lunch. Sat in front window booth, ordered a steak pie with pease pudding and chatted with the bartender who was very friendly and interested in what brought an American to Newcastle. He was the first of several people who told me about MTV’s Jordy Show. They likened it to the US show, Jersey Shore, and said that it has raised awareness of Newcastle and a lot of people from Europe now come there, which the hospitality industry likes but no-one else does! The steak pie was very good - the crust was tasty and the chunks of beef were tender. While I was there, the place began to fill up. Interior is ye olde quaint (but legitimately old). I enjoyed my pie and would go back again. Rain alternated between heavy and none, so feeling revived, I left to walk along the Quayside.

Newcastle is a Victorian, industrial age city and I really enjoyed seeing all the famous Tyne bridges; and the way new buildings (like the court) blend with the old buildings. I had read about the Local Heroes walk and looked for the sidewalk plaques honoring these folks – all nominated by citizens, they represent a wide range – athletes, artists, businessmen, etc. Nice idea and a good reason to walk both sides of the river from the Baltic and over the swing bridge. It was neat to walk over the Millennium bridge, but was disappointed that it wouldn’t be opening at a time I’d be able to see. Since admission is free, I popped into the Baltic, more to look at how an old flour factory was converted to a contemporary art museum. I didn’t “get” the art, but enjoyed the greeter’s recommendation of the kittiwake viewing platform. It’s chick time and they’re squawky, messy birds but from this platform you’re at their level and see them sitting on their nests. Saw eggs, chicks of every ages and a lot of birds fluffing feathers before sitting down again.

It was only mid-afternoon, so I took the Quayside Link bus (which are useful to avoid walking up steep hills) to Haymarket and walked over to Grainger Market. It was interesting from a historical, architectural perspective, not as a shopping destination. Lots of butcher, produce, cheese & sweets stalls; plus various sundry shops. Very busy place with people buying – not tourists. When I mentioned to someone that I had gone there, they were shocked and said “but there’s better shopping at the centers”. Guess if you’re a native, it’s not a novelty.

I was getting tired now, so walked down to the RR station since there’s a Sainsbury market there and bought some provisions for my Roomzzz. A pre-made, but very tasty, ham and cheddar on whole grain and a Nutella croissant made me happy.

SUN, JUNE 11, partly sunny
My mission for the day was Tynemouth – the market at the train station and the ruined priory. Since I woke up early-ish, I went to St. Nicholas Cathedral – 5 minutes away. It turns out that I arrived before a special confirmation service which the bishop was leading, so was reluctant to explore too far and intrude. There were a number of church personnel and volunteers there and each of them said hello and chatted for a minute or two. They encouraged me to look around and explained what was going on (bishop and adult confirmees); I enjoyed hearing the choir practicing and looked around a bit on the side aisles, but decided to come back another day when I could be a tourist!

From the Central Station, took the Metro (Daysaver ticket covering 3 zones for £5); per the Roomzzz receptionist’s suggestion, I took the long loop route since it’s mostly above ground and scenic.

The weekend market at Tynemouth Station is large – the full length of both sides of the track but this year (as opposed to last year), I thought there were a lot fewer antique/bric-a-brac stalls and more stalls of new tat or crafty items. Plenty of food stalls. I bought two watercolor sketches from a stall that said “pay what you think is fair” so I gave her £10 for both and she seemed happy. One sketch was a church interior done in shades of red and the other was a woman reading a book on the beach – me!! I saw an author signing books so checked it out – the book was “Rafa’s Way” by Martin Hardy, who was signing. My brother is an athlete and his birthday is approaching, so a perfect gift. A member of the Newcastle United team was there and when he heard my accent, asked where I was from – it turns out that he’s going to Connecticut in two weeks to visit a friend who used to live in my home town. We had quite a chat and got a nice inscription in the book. One side of the market is mostly book stalls, ranging from newish books to antiques. My eye was caught by shelves of Penguin books, so I had a long talk with the stall owner about the different colors of Penguin covers, cover artists and collecting vs. selling. I bought two books from this very nice man.

Time for the priory so headed off to the High Street which was busy but not mobbed. Not a long street, so walked the length to check out the many pubs, cafes, shops for a lunch stop. Decided on The Priory since they had tables available outside. Since it was Sunday, Sunday lunch was on the menu and I had minced beef, veg, dumpling and gravy, plus a Strongbow cider and a Diet Coke (to dilute the cider effects!) Mince was good but the dumpling looked like a huge, hard scone, not soft – it barely soaked up any gravy. But it was a nice way to relax in the sun and watch the world go by.

On my way to the Priory, I stopped in the storefront of the Tynemouth WWI Commemoration Project. Lots of brochures, posters, etc – the project was created to ensure people don’t forget and to recognize the contributions of the people in the Tynemouth area (in terms of manpower). Talked to the volunteer manning the desk for about 30 minutes, who said I was his most exotic visitor ever…he’d had someone from Romania last year, but he figures Connecticut is more unusual. Who knew? I bought a book and spotted a poster about a lecture to be held in Newcastle Tuesday night “When the US Entered the War”.

Finally made it to the Priory. Green, green grass – closely mowed lawn. It’s an English Heritage site and the ticket lady asked me “How old are you madam?” I don’t really care about that kind of stuff, but that question is never asked in the US so I was a bit thrown off. I sort of whispered that I’ll be 60 in August and she explained that people 60 and over get the reduced concessionaire rate, so I saved £1. The Priory ruins surprised me – they were built of sandstone, so over time the wind & sea air have eroded them into sharp edges and odd shapes. Every bit of stone had softened edges and looked droopy – like dribbled sand castles. Enjoyed walking through them and the adjacent graveyard. The Coast Guard built a station there in the ‘80s which was abandoned not long ago; seems crazy to have a perfectly good building sitting empty. WWII gun, magazine & artillery was very interesting. Amazing view of the headlands and choppy sea; spent about 90 minutes in total.

Walked down the long steps to the adjacent beach – by this time, it was about 4:30 but there were a lot of people on the beach. Some brave folks went into the water but most were sitting on the sand. Riley’s Fish Shack, right smack dab on the beach, was doing a bustling business. I got a soda and sat on a log to watch the waves for a while. A couple of guys wearing wet suits went in for a swim but no surfers this late in the day.

It had been a long day, so took the Metro back and stopped at the Herb Garden (located in a railroad bridge archway about 3 mins from the station & 2 mins from Roomzzz). Their pizza was recommended so bought a cheese pie to eat back at Roomzzz.

Tomorrow, Barbour outlet; back to St. Nicholas; and shopping

annhig Jun 27th, 2017 12:38 PM

nice start to your TR, vicki, though I can't imagine what happened to your dumpling! they should of course be soft and able to soak up any amount of gravy. Perhaps it was the revenge of the Sunday Lunch fairy because you were eating minced beef - on a Sunday??? ono - it should be roast beef, [or pork or lamb], not mince.

and thanks for taking me to Newcastle. I've never been, and I'm not likely to any time soon, so now I don't need to as you've told me all about it!

PalenQ Jun 27th, 2017 12:38 PM

Marking to read thoroughly as it looks like a lot of interesting stuff and so well written. Thanks!

Gyhtson Jun 27th, 2017 08:59 PM

The Newcastle TV show is called Geordie Shore. "Geordie" is the term used for a person from Newcastle.

Also: yeah, minced beef on a Sunday? Wth? It should be a Sunday roast!

Morgana Jun 27th, 2017 09:47 PM

My son lives in Newcastle so we often visit. Great that you got to visit Tynemouth. Riley's Fish Shack gets fabulous reviews and has become a bit of a destination - usually has a massive queue!
Minced beef and dumpling is traditional up in the NE including for Sunday dinner.
Did you know you were following in the footsteps of Jimi Hendrix? He had a fish supper in Tynemouth and there's a blue plaque featuring this outside the chippy he went to!
The English Heritage person should not have asked your age in that way! I work for the National Trust and there are subtler ways to see if anyone qualifies for a discount!

vickiebypass Jun 28th, 2017 04:48 AM

Annhig & Ghytson: based on the plates I saw going past me, the roast options were too much food so I opted for the mince. Good to know that the dumpling should have been soft since a hard rock made no sense.

Morgana: I didn't notice Jimi's blue plaque but then I'm not a true believer in all that is Hendrix! I went to another English Heritage spot (Brinkburn Priory) and she asked me the exact same question, so I commented on how surprising it is to be asked your age and her response was "that's how EH has told us to ask". Humphf. As you said, I can think of half a dozen better ways to convey that a discount is available for people over 60.

annhig Jun 28th, 2017 05:22 AM

Morgana - I didn't know about minced beef being a northern tradition "up north". My apologies, vicki. Didn't know about Hendrix either. The things you learn on Fodors!

PalenQ Jun 28th, 2017 07:11 AM

I've taken the train through Newcastle several times and it is awesome as it goes high above the bays and port far below - geographically quite striking - trains often dwell on the high bridge- sweet!

I have looked around town and seems as nice as any large British city.

Morgana Jun 28th, 2017 07:25 AM

Minced beef and dumplings would have been a cheap, filling meal in the old days. You'll still find it on menus all over the North East. Done well it tastes good!
Jimi is a huge hero of mine and it has always amused me to think of him having his fish supper up here. I do hope he was in one of his fabulous colourful outfits!

vickiebypass Jun 28th, 2017 09:13 AM

MON, JUNE 12, sunny & windy
Today was my shopping day. In “things to do” on the VisitNewcastle site, I found the Barbour Factory Outlet Store listed. I have an old quilted Barbour jacket that I’d like to replace but they are very expensive here, so I took the Metro to Bede and the factory store was about 50 yards to the left of the station. It’s huge and the front third is regular retail items, with the rest discounted items. Rack upon rack of men’s & women’s – trousers, shirts, sweaters, jackets, vests, plus hats, socks and a room of footwear. Some racks were “last chance”, others ranged from 30-70% off. I ignored everything except jackets but got overwhelmed quickly so since they had a lot of sales clerks, I asked one to help me which was the smart thing to do. She knew which lines were slim cut, which were shorter, and brought other sizes/items from the back room for me to try. I ended up buying a jacket and 3 hats. I spent 2 hours there; as a note for others, they have restrooms just inside their front door and if you walk to the corner (away from the Metro stop), there’s a small store w/beverages, snacks, etc.

Back in Newcastle, I dropped off my bags and went back to really explore St. Nicholas cathedral. There were so many things to see: Gorgeous stained glass windows, mostly late 19th and 20th century but also 3 modern windows; many war memorials (from India, Boer War, WWI and WWII); regimental colors of the Northumberland Fusiliers with plaques explaining when & where they were used and retired. I made a list of all the places mentioned on the memorials so I can look them up: Karee Siding, Relief of Chitral, Malakand pass, Mauritius, Lucknow, Dilkoosha, St. Julien, Fyzabad, Vlamarting and Hazebrouck. It reminded me of how far the Empire extended and how every village and city sent men to war. The organist was practicing, so enjoyed hearing big music while I pottered around. They have a new café, Dog Leap Café, which opened 6 weeks ago just to the left of the organ. The café itself is a large room with a soaring wooden ceiling, painted in a red & blue design. It’s a comfortable, homey feel and there were some church workers having a lunch meeting and two men in suits also having a meeting, plus stray visitors. Big menu plus daily specials & they’re open from 8-4. I had a roast chicken and stuffing sandwich w/gravy which was tasty. It was a pleasant place to relax. I would recommend that any visitor to Newcastle spend time at the cathedral since it has a long history and is still a vibrant part of Newcastle.

Way back when, I remember Princess Di saying that she bought her knickers at Marks & Sparks, so I always stock up when I’m in the UK. Walked up Grey Street to Northumberland Street, which is a pedestrian street full of stores. Popped into Curry’s to buy a new adapter (very friendly clerk who wanted to know what brought me to Newcastle, where I’d been, where I was going, etc.) Love M&S, I think their clothes are more fashionable than what we see at comparably-priced stores in the US; bought enough knickers to last until my next visit!

TUE, JUNE 13, grey
Today is Durham to see the UNESCO World Heritage site, Durham Cathedral and possibly Crook Hall & Gardens. An extremely easy, 12 minute, £7, train ride, followed by the Cathedral bus (£1 for unlimited rides all day). I had read about the bus but it was a bit tricky finding the stop at the RR station – basically, it’s the same stop for all the buses and is in the circular driveway, just outside the station and near the car park. Bus driver was very helpful and told me which bus to take to Crook Hall after the cathedral.

Cathedral was busy w/tourists but they were quiet and spread out (no photography is allowed inside the church). Took the free 11:00 tour which was very informative. Multiple tours going on at the same time, but even though the guides stop at the same points, they work together to stagger their stops. Interesting to hear about Cuthbert and the flight from Lindisfarne which led to the establishment of the church in Durham. Also, some modern art works plus new stained glass windows. Cloister is serene since most people just pass through it. I ended spending about 3 hours there, including 20 mins in the gift shop. The café off the cloister was quite busy and noisy, so I went to the Café on the Green, just outside the cathedral on the right. Small, run by university students. Had absolutely delicious lentil & bacon soup with a cheddar sandwich. Low key and nice.

Got a different bus and the driver dropped at the pedestrian bridge (Penny Ferry?) across from the Radisson hotel. A few minutes walk past the hotel and I was at Crook Hall. I really enjoyed these gardens – small scale, created and nurtured by the two families who have lived here since 1979. There were about 7 “rooms” which led into each other. The maze was very funny because as I walked past it to the gardens, I kept hearing people in the maze calling to each other and jumping up to try to see where they were. The folks sitting on the benches were amused too. Little silver heads popping up and down…

One of the things I liked best was the scent of the roses. So many varieties – single petals, doubles, striped, lush and blowsy, climbing, bushes, and they all had a scent. Some strong & cloying, others spicy, or delicate or rich and deep. The silver & white garden was petite, but serene – it was a wedding anniversary gift from one husband to his wife. The garden I liked best was the Walled Garden – overflowing with roses, blues, purples, whites, paths wending through the flowers. Great color combinations all intermingled, poppies, lots of flowers I didn’t’ recognize, trellises, archways and benches tucked into corners. All the visitors were spread out, and even the tour bus occupants were busy having cream tea in the garden.

The house was amazing since it has a medieval great hall & minstrel’s gallery; a Jacobean main room; and other Georgian rooms. It’s still a family home and there were comfy chairs and books around, so it wasn’t renovated to a sparkling finish (which I liked). Checked out the kitchen where they were very busy preparing tea but I had never seen an Aga in real life, so they invited me in and showed me around.) It was large, bright and home-cook friendly.

I missed the last bus to the train station, so walked – a bit of a hike and I had to ask a bunch of people but made it there fine! I was going directly to the lecture which was at Northumberland University, so took the Metro to Manors. Was looking at the map to orient myself and a man on his way out turned around to ask me if I needed help and pointed me in the right direction. The uni buildings are very modern (he said they’re supposed to look like a ship) and luckily one of the professors was standing outside, asking people if they were there for the lecture.

With such a specific topic (When the US Entered the War), it was expected that the audience would be a bit small. I counted 24 people but it turns out that this was one of a series of lectures and most the folks had been to all of them. Two current history professors introduced the speaker, who had studied at Cambridge and taught various place but finished up at Newcastle Univ. He was wonderful! A great speaker, and clearly knew all the background and spoke without notes. I would go to any lectures he led. It was a little over an hour, not many questions but I really enjoyed it and learned a bit too.

Tomorrow….Beamish and walking tour.

sofarsogood Jun 28th, 2017 09:50 AM

Very interesting to read about a part of the world not often featured on these forums.

Regarding your M&S knickers - did you know the last surviving Marks & Spencer Penny Bazaar is in Newcastle’s Grainger Market? The current M&S grew from Victorian market stalls such as these, where everything cost a penny.

(PS It's Northumbria University (where Jonny Ive, he of Apple fame, learnt his trade)).

vickiebypass Jun 28th, 2017 12:56 PM

Sofar - Glad you're finding it interesting. One of the Fodorites (I think it was bilboburgler) wrote a very positive trip report about Newcastle which was a good resource. From the reactions of so many people, it's clear that not many Americans go to Newcastle; several people said they go to London and the Highlands, which may not be wrong. I like cities, especially those off the well-trod path. And, I did visit the M&S in Grainger Market - think i bought some bourbon creams. Great link - i've saved it.

WED, JUNE 14, grey & warm
I’ve always heard and read about bacon sandwiches (sarnies, butties, etc) but never had one, so stopped in a café near Roomzzz to get one. The lady asked if I wanted any sauce, I asked what kind and she listed a whole raft of them including catsup, A1, & BBQ sauce. I didn’t remember reading about sauces so went plain – just butter & bacon on a soft white roll. Boy, was that good!!! Probably a zillion calories but wow.

I decided to go to Beamish Village today primarily because they recently opened a pit mining village section and several locals raved about it. I usually don’t like open-air museums, since re-creations of ye olde days always seems like Disney. Bus 28 or 28A, which stopped right in front of the cathedral, goes directly to Beamish and only cost £6 roundtrip. It took about an hour and I thought the route –through Gateshead and various country towns – was interesting; lots of new housing developments. At one point, we came around a corner and there was the Angel of the North statue which was smaller and a much more womanly figure than I expected.

Entrance fee is £19. Vintage trams and buses, plus footpaths connect the 4 main areas. The fact that they’re spread out from each other made it feel more genuine. I started by riding the steam train (because when would I ever do that again?) and then explored Pockerly Hall. The train is an 1813 coal fired steam engine that was used to move coal cars in/out of mines. It doesn’t go very fast but is very strong – known as the Steam Elephant. The Hall was bigger than I expected and it was interesting to see the period furnishings, since they were all donated or found. The rooms were fairly big and each had at least one window. There were costumed docents in most rooms to explain or answer questions. Had an interesting chat with another visitor in the stables about carts, which I thought were two-person drays and he practically snorted and said “no, that’s a farm cart. I know because I used to ride in the back of them”. So we talked about him growing up in Richmond with no indoor plumbing and working in the fields. He was probably around 78? Another interesting conversation.

A two minute walk on the forest path led me to the colliery and pit village. Colliery was a bit hard to figure out – very few signs and the guides were doing some kind of repair – but I got the gist. I did the 15 min tour of the old mine drift – pretty cool. Have to wear a helmet and crouch a bit since the entrance was about 4 ft high. At one point, the guide turned off the electric lighting and we just had the light from the miner’s lamp – imagine the dark, damp, coal dust and cramped working conditions. No wonder their life span was short. That tour was worthwhile.

Had lunch (sausage roll & soda) and sat on a bench outside. Got talking to the guy next to me who said that as a young child, he lived in miner’s quarters, with an outhouse in the back. He worked as an aircraft engineer and traveled the world; told me “I went to Thailand and came back with a Thai wife” and patted her hand, next to him…. Now he’s showing her England.

With that info, I explored the Pit Village. These docents were full of information – many of them had a bed in the front room which was for the man who worked in the mines, since the other sleeping option was up a steep ladder to a loft and he had to be injury-free, otherwise they would be evicted. (No falling down the ladder & breaking a bone!) If you couldn’t work, you had 7 days to get back to the mines, or else you were out. Later, in the mid-20th century, mining companies started providing better conditions to keep their employees. On my way back to the entrance & bus stop, I went through 1900’s Village which was bustling with people, maybe because the sweet shop & pub sold goodies.

Overall, I spent 5 hours there which was enough. I think it was well done and each site was free-standing and didn’t feel manufactured or fake. Except for the 1900’s village, none of the sites sold anything (souvenir-wise); even the food locations were limited and the menus were sort of period appropriate (e.g. meat pies & sausage rolls in one spot and fish & chips in another). As a side note, there were lots of well-maintained toilets at each site and benches to sit.

Bus back to Newcastle and since I was doing a 7:00 walking tour, I got a sandwich from Waitrose, took the Quayside bus to the guildhall and sat in the Newcastle Business Improvement District’s “Relaxation Area” right on the water. Watched the world go by on the river, quayside & street. The tour was offered by Newcastle City Guides who are enthusiastic, well-trained volunteers who share a passion for the history, heritage and culture of their city and the cost was only £4 for a 90 minute tour. The tour was “How the Other Half Lived” all about the poor of Newcastle, how they lived, where they worked, what social services were provided, etc. It began at the Guildhall and ended at Manors metro station. We walked down little allies, behind buildings and up hills. I wish they offered more tours since I learn so much from them. Sometimes I get so busy doing things and going places that I forget to just walk down side streets and poke around areas off the main drag. It seems that there a significant number of historic buildings (Grade II) that are empty and have been for a while, with no plans to do anything with them. That’s such a shame – I would think that developers could keep the façade and turn them into apartments or a hotel; although I guess the developers would prefer to tear the whole thing down and build from scratch.

The next day I would be leaving Newcastle to drive north, so a few observations: the people were really, genuinely friendly. Not friendly to sell me something, or friendly because the boss is watching but sincerely interested in why I came to Newcastle, what I was seeing and then talking about themselves. Also, Newcastle has so much to offer – an industrial Victorian city that’s vibrant but has a gritty edge; wonderful old & new buildings; very lively; and the people. I would come back again and spend more time actually exploring the city.

Tomorrow, drive north; farm B&B; Cragside!

janisj Jun 28th, 2017 04:50 PM

Finally catching up w/ your trip report. REALLY enjoying it! I've only spent the odd night in Newcastle a couple of times (not 'odd' nights, one nighters ;) ) so haven't seen some of the interesting places you fit in. Roomzzz looks like a find - I'll keep it in mind

>> Have to wear a helmet and crouch a bit since the entrance was about 4 ft high.<< I'm short so I was pretty cocky when I went into the mine - I hardly have to crouch/watch my head anywhere. But I sure did there and it was not the least bit comfortable.

dwdvagamundo Jun 29th, 2017 10:46 AM

Thanks Vickie--your June 14 entry brought back memories of our visit to Beamish maybe three years ago. Also the Durham Cathedral, which is all we saw of Durham. Since we were there, the Venerable Bede has become a Saint!

vickiebypass Jun 29th, 2017 12:23 PM

JanisJ: Glad you're enjoying the report. Yes, Roomzzz was a great find; they have other locations in Leeds, Manchester and Nottingham in case anyone's heading that way.

THU, JUNE 15, sunny
Had bought too much at Boots, Barbour & M&S, so had an overstuffed tote bag plus my small wheeled suitcase and schlepped to the Metro which went right to the Newcastle airport and the Hertz desk was at the top of the exit ramp from the Metro. I had done price comparisons and AutoEurope had the best prices; I’ve used them before with no problems, so that decision was easy. Remembering narrow British roads from my prior trip, I reserved a compact car, automatic, unlimited mileage, 10 days for $362. The car was from Hertz and all the paperwork was going smoothly until the clerk said “you are responsible for the full replacement cost of the car which is $28,300, since you didn’t purchase insurance”. I already knew that I had sufficient insurance through my credit card, but that statement – and amount – took me aback; I wavered for about 10 seconds but declined all their insurance and was ready to hit the road (in my brand new white Skoda Rapid hatchback).

Several years ago, I visited homes & gardens in Kent and, with encouragement from annhig and janisj, I rented a car and drove all over. Although I got comfortable after two days, the anxiety the narrow roads and cars parked on either side, never dissipated so I was concerned about driving now. It turns out that there was no need to worry at all – the roads in Northumbria and Borders area were relatively wide and there were barely any other cars on the road!! I loved it, zipping around corners and zinging up & down the hills listening to BBC Classic radio. No white knuckle driving; the roundabouts didn’t flummox nor, nor did the A1. Good signage, lots of places to pull over and sightsee or let faster drivers pass and GPS made it all very easy.

My objective for the day was visiting Cragside, a stately home & garden, near Rothbury. Built by Lord Armstrong in the 1870’s - Victorian inventor, innovator and landscape genius, the house was a wonder of its age and was lived in by the family until 1970. It was the first house in the world to be lit by hydroelectricity and has original furnishings. There are a lot of rooms to see – at least 3 floors; in addition to laminated info cards in each room, there’s a docent in each room who are like encylopedias. The rooms were attractive sizes (not echoing grand halls), with lots of windows overlooking the gardens, bright Oriental rugs, oak paneling, Morris-style wallpaper and upholstered furniture. The overall feel was elegant, but comfy and you could easily move in tomorrow and be quite happy. The kitchen, scullery, butler’s pantry are always interesting – the scullery was in the basement and the scullery maids worked 10 hr days down there, doing nothing but washing dishes. Yeeesh. Butler’s pantry was near the front door so he could see who was arriving; large room (not what I’d call a pantry) with locked cabinets for all the special dishes and big wooden trunks for the silver flatware, plus a lead sink for washing the silver without scratching.

Quite a surprise to see the Turkish baths on the lower level – steam room, sauna, plunge pool (with blue Turkish tiles) and cold shower, plus wood lounge chairs and potted palms. Imagine having the creativity to design this in the late-19th century; he used thick pipes and floor grates to exude heat (or steam) as needed. On the top floor, aside from a picture gallery and room for demo’s of electricity, was the Owl Suite – created for the visit of the Prince/Princess of Wales. Two bedrooms, private toilet, tub in one of the bedrooms, fancy carved headboard & canopy and gorgeous views. Apparently, the royals were impressed; docent said that typically royalty stayed at nearby Alnwick Castle, but the Turkish baths and electricity drew them to Cragside. I spent 2 hours in the house (could have spent more but felt driven to see the gardens, have lunch and drive to the B&B).

The rock garden wasn’t what I expected (a tumble of rocks with little plantings between and among the rocks) – instead, this was boulders descending from the front terrace down to the river with various landscaping (Rhodos, heather, flowers) with stone steps wending through it. Wide and long, I gather it’s one of the largest rock gardens in Europe. At the bottom is the iron footbridge Lord Armstrong built over the stream, which leads to the Pinetum and formal garden.

I had never heard of a Pinetum, but apparently in the Victorian era, an arboretum or Pinetum was regarded as a supreme symbol of wealth and status. The towering firs filtered the sunlight and their needles made a cushy ground (although there is path, I did step off it briefly!) A burn runs through the Pinetum, with a couple of small bridges where you can watch the water gurgle along, there are some mossy stumps and a carved tree trunk. Very quiet and peaceful.

The Formal Garden wasn’t huge but it was nice. I (and a number of other visitors) was fascinated by the robot lawn mower hoovering along it’s grass square, bumping against the curbs and backing up to go off in another random direction. It was hypnotic, like watching waves; seems very random as to where it travels, not straight, parallel lines but diagonals, horizontals, & verticals; didn’t seem to be any logic but I guess that over X period of time, it will cover every inch. We watchers had a chuckle at ourselves…

Bed gardening is a dying art but they have two large beds in their garden which were being created (filled in with plants) so I couldn’t see the end result but the guide book tells me it involves designing a pattern, edging the pattern with very low plants, filling in the design solidly so there are no spaces visible and then trimming the plants to keep them low and therefore maintain the design.

I felt like it had been a long day so was ready to go; took the shuttle to the tea shop for a quick snack; and then drove the Estate Drive. This is a huge loop, one-way, narrow through 40 acres of forest, moor, hillside, lakes, etc. Passed many sign-posted walking paths which would be fun to do. (I gather a lot of people just visit the gardens and lands – it’s dog friendly.) Next stop, Cragend Farm B&B where I was staying two nights.

A general note about my lodging choices: I was looking for either rooms at stately homes, B&Bs or country hotels. I forgot that June weekends would be very busy and a number of places were fully booked. Typically, the way I found the places I stayed (other than the rooms at stately homes) was by using Google maps to identify lodging options in the vicinity I wanted to be in. Then I looked at on-line reviews for a general sense and their own websites. Anyone who knows the area will realize that my route was not very efficient – due to opening days/times of some homes; non-refundable reservations; and no availability, I backtracked and hop-scotched all around. It’s not my normal, logical mode but it worked out fine. Some accommodations I would recommend, others not, but there were no disasters

Cragend Farm’s property adjoins Cragside; it’s a real farm, complete with barn, stables, sheep, cows, chicken and peacocks and a renovated house. Since I was their only guest (they have 2 rooms & a cottage), they upgraded me to the Armstrong Wing. This was a very large room, with two windows, an outside door and a huge private bathroom. Cream carpet and upholstery; flat screen TV; coffee/tea setup; good reading lamps; comfy sofa and chair. Bathroom looked brand new and quite deluxe – separate shower with rainshower head; huge bathtub; chair; stool; toilet; sink and lots of lights. They provided a folder with local information in the room. The owners were very friendly and welcoming and mentioned that they had only been operating as a B&B for 3 months or so. Breakfast was in their kitchen, made to order (no menus to be completed the night before); eaten with the owners who have several friendly, well behaved dogs.

But there were 3 things that turned me off – (1) the room smelled strongly of dogs. It was clean – no dog hairs, carpet vacuumed but as soon as I opened the door, I smelled dogs. And sitting on the sofa was worse – I ended up getting a quilt from the closet and spreading it over the sofa, which was fine. (2)The price was very high - £120 per night; I knew the price when I booked, but this was the first reservation I made and didn’t realize that in comparison to other B&B’s, it was expensive. (3) It’s a fine line for B&B owners in terms of how helpful/intrusive they are and, while these owners were very nice, any conversation turned into 45 minutes which I didn’t need or want. I tried traditional hints, like edging away, shifting my packages from hand to hand, but they just offered me a chair. My room had it’s own entrance which opened onto a patio in process with a fair amount of bricks and assorted rubble – no matter, I used that whenever possible. And cursed the gravel when the noise of my tires alerted the owners that I was home and they opened the front door to welcome me in… So, I won’t stay there again for all 3 reasons; others who don’t mind dogs or have a lot of spare time to chat, might not mind the cost.

Dinner: The room info suggested Anglers Arms, which was only 4 miles away. I turned down the table they offered next to the toilets and requested any other which made them rather snippy, along the lines of “you just tell me what you want”. Ignored him; it was Pie Night so I had a steak & ale pie, half-pint of Magners and lemon-lime cheesecake w/ginger crust. £17. Steak was tasty, crust a bit soggy and the cheesecake was a huge slab which I couldn’t finish but was very good.

Tomorrow…Explore Rothbury and environs; Herteton Gardens

annhig Jun 30th, 2017 10:28 AM

From the reactions of so many people, it's clear that not many Americans go to Newcastle; several people said they go to London and the Highlands, which may not be wrong.>>

not to mention Bath and York, which along with London seem to be the UK equivalent of Italy's Venice, Florence and Rome. Newcastle not so much, but to judge from your descriptions, they [and we] are missing something.

The flat panting you mention is sometimes called "carpet bedding" which I think gives a better idea of what is being aimed at and it was a Victorian fad, though it still persists in the decorative planted clocks that you sometimes see in some public gardens. My mum and dad were still doing it when I was growing up - our lawn was surrounded on 3 sides by a border of allysum, lobelia and what we called tagetes [a sort of marigold] grown close together to make a ribbon of colour. Completely out of fashion now but it was very popular then.

irishface Jul 1st, 2017 12:19 PM


jane1144 Jul 2nd, 2017 09:34 AM

Just caught up with this report. I'll be following along. hank you for the amazing detail.

irishface Jul 2nd, 2017 10:17 AM

thank you for such a detailed report. I am loving it and making mental notes for my next trip. Who knows? No one can give an accurate time line for this thing that has me in its grip.

I loved hearing about Cragside--just the sort of place I enjoy visiting. I too find kitchens and "work areas" fascinating.

I will be following you and vicariously enjoying your trip. Many thanks!!!

vickiebypass Jul 2nd, 2017 01:14 PM

I'm so glad you're enjoying this - I was worried it was too detailed but since I find all the details helpful in other people's reports, I'm forging ahead.

It'll take me a few days to post the next installments so don't lose hope! �� Thanks!

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