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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!

vickiebypass Jul 3rd, 2017 09:38 AM

Annhig - yes, carpet bedding is a more descriptive name and is something I associate with municipal parks. Must take a lot of time to create & maintain, so good for your parents.

FRI, JUNE 16, grey & cool
The night before I passed a sign for Brinkburn Priory so I decided to check it out, and very glad I did. An English Heritage site; car park is at the top of a hill and it’s a nice walk down to the site, along a rushing river. The EH lady asked my age, charged me the concessionaire price and told me that there are no signs, so recommended I purchase a guidebook…which I did (good salesmanship!) The priory itself is an empty church – plain, with a Victorian red tile floor, some stained glass windows and a high, arched, wooden ceiling. It was fine but nothing spectacular.

However, the adjacent Manor House was like nothing I’ve ever seen before. It’s a combination of architectural styles and renovations over the ages and the family moved out in 1953. Due to extensive dry rot, the interior has been gutted down to the stone and only the ground floor and basement can be visited. It was very eerie walking through the empty, echoing rooms; in some, the wooden window shutters are still there; scraps of wallpaper remain on some walls; ceilings are partially demolished but some plasterwork & fancy moldings still exist; original room doors (minus door knobs) are there and can be pushed open or closed. The grand staircase to the second floor has only a piece of plywood nailed across it but you can look up and see two more floors, partially gutted, gaping holes in the plaster; rough edges of wooden lathe. And, even more amazing to me is that weddings are held in the priory and the receptions (at least the drinks part) are held in the house. They don’t put down any carpet or “pretty it up”. Just imagine that – the bride in a beautiful dress; guests all dressed up; in an empty shell of a house. Sounds like a ghost story. Spent 90 minutes and this unexpected detour was very worthwhile.

Off to Rothbury. Somewhere on some web site, I found a self-guided walking tour of Rothbury’s “Heritage Trail” which was a good intro to this bustling market town. All local shops and people going about their day to day lives. Went into an antique shop that was jammed with items – several years ago, I saw a small dish commemorating the commonwealth nations at the time of Elizabeth’s coronation; the shop was closed so I couldn’t buy it but have been looking for something similar. This seemed a likely spot but no commonwealth specific items, so instead I bought a little cup issued for George VI’s coronation with a photo of king, queen & both princesses. I suspect I overpaid but I’ve never seen anything like it and it’s a fun memento of my morning in Rothbury. Had a late lunch at the busy Tomlinson’s Café (they support cyclists, even having an adjacent bunkhouse for riders). Food was OK.

Zipped off to Herterton Gardens, about which Great British Gardens days “The gardens at Herterton House are one of the North's finest.” Herterton House Gardens will come as a delightful surprise to anyone who visits them. Hailed by well-known British garden writer, Robin Lane-Fox, as “one of the most influential English gardens to be created since the end of World War II”, they have been created by a husband and wife team, Frank and Marjorie Lawley, over the last 40 years”. In less than an acre, this couple created four or five distinct gardens. I was very interested to see little-known garden that gets rave reviews and shows the results of just two people. It closed @ 5 and I arrived @ 4; there was no one in the potting shed to collect my £5 admission fee so I tucked it under a trowel. The nursery garden was underwhelming and looked like exactly what is was – a place for plants no one wanted to buy; sparse and a bit sad. But the fancy garden was more like it – parterre, statues and then…. the flower garden which was my favorite. Topiary, winding paths, borders, floofy, foaming flowers in distinct color groupings (a photo display in the gazebo explained that Marjorie Lawley designed the gardens to resemble either oriental rugs or modern art by Klee.) It had that casual, un-manicured look that takes years of planning and maintaining to accomplish. A panorama of heights, widths and colors. I was approached by an elderly gentleman from the house, who introduced himself as Frank Lawley and said that he hadn’t had any visitors all day, so was planning to close the gate but that he was delighted to see me and I should take all the time I wanted. He encouraged me to look at the exhibit in the gazebo to learn about what it looked like when they bought the place, photos of them clearing out barrowfuls of stuff, precise, architectural-like plans of each garden with notes about height, seasons, etc. Very impressive to see the starting point and what they accomplished. He also suggested I see the Physic garden (I’m never struck by these) and the formal garden in the front – lots of topiary created using complementary shades of green & yellow shrubs. He mentioned that he had been about to make tea for his wife, who is poorly, and that if I needed anything, I should knock on the front door. A gracious man who kindly spent time chatting with an unexpected visitor. (He has written a book which I would have bought but he only takes cash and I didn’t have enough.)

Took a scenic drive (they’re all scenic!) back to B&B; detoured to Fontburn Reservoir just to see it. One lane road took me through sheep fields and I stopped to take photos – a little beep of a horn and I realized I was blocking a Royal Mail van, so moved and waved. The reservoir is a big fishing area but was empty at day’s end so I walked around, listening the wind in the trees; waves lapping and birdies.

Tomorrow…Northumberland Park, Melrose & Country Hotel

vickiebypass Jul 3rd, 2017 11:22 AM

SAT, JUNE 17, sunny
Today I was driving through Northumberland Park en route to Melrose for the Borders Book Festival. A glorious drive through the park – blue skies, fluffy clouds, sun and panoramas of fields, forests, stone walls and lots of sheep. Stopped several time to look at the cows & sheep and talk to them. Drove through various hamlets – about 8 buildings, right smack dab on the roadside; no shop, no pub. Thinking it could be bleak. Then I came to Elsdon….a gem!

Bigger village, large green, big church; newer houses in addition to the old ones. I circled around behind the church and drove past a little wooden cottage on a slight hill, overlooking the green and church in front and the hills & sheep in the back, with a “To Let” sign (which I took a picture of, the sign that is). Then, spotted a large stone tower and a plaque, so stopped the car and investigated. The tower was Elsdon Tower, which has been renovated & is now a private home; I only walked a few feet in the driveway, but that’s the house for me! Historic, stone, windows glinting in the sun, huge copper beech tree, manicured lawn, globe sculpture, perched on a hill. I had seen a man cutting the grass and he stopped, so I mentioned the house and he said it could be mine for £3.5 million. He owns it, the house next door and the wooden cottage; did all the renovations himself. We talked about the village and that young people leave, but over 50% of residents are “incomers” now – people who didn’t grow up in the village (either retirees or people who work from their homes). Said the village lost their school and pub, so without those, it’s difficult for a village to thrive; but, the pub is re-opening soon. Talked about how no one wants to be a farmer and round up sheep in 4 feet of snow with howling winds. I’m still thinking about that wooden cottage and wondering what it would be like to live there. I may rent a holiday cottage for several weeks to get a feel for real life.

Back on the A68, where it crosses the national border, there’s a parking area and caravan café run by a mother & daughter (mum is 75+). I got a bacon sandwich which was much better than the ones I got in Newcastle (better bread). I kept stopping to take photos so didn’t get to Melrose until just before lunch. What a great drive.

Parked in the car park across from the Abbey and walked to Harmony Gardens, the location of the Borders Book Festival. I had intended to listen to some author lectures, but it was a hot day and even hotter in the tents so I bought a book, wandered the garden (meh) and went to the abbey instead. That was great – what a site and the audio guide (free w/admission) was excellent - gave a thorough historical perspective, in addition to walking you through the ruins and telling you what you’re seeing. Cistercian monastery which was purposely located in a secluded area, far from distractions and marauders. They were great farmers and sheep raisers, so became rich; dissolution of the monasteries, etc. I’ll have to read up on their history. The ruins are well preserved and you can get a sense of its use throughout the ages. Spent about 90 minutes here. Walked around the town center and had lunch at the Dalgatty Tearoom – had a ham sandwich was fine, but the very slow and semi-sullen service would keep me from returning or recommending.

On the road to my next lodging, Tillmouth Park Country House Hotel, in Cornhill-on-Tweed. Somehow got turned around in Kelso and ended up going through the middle of town, instead of around. Loved the hotel – a big old Victorian house with mostly original furnishings (e.g. paneling, lights, rugs, staircase, windows, etc.) Several lounges with comfy sofas & chairs; a bar; billiard room; rod & gun room and formal dining room. This was one of those places that really didn’t fit in geographically with my itinerary, but it was difficult to find a room for a Saturday night in June and the website sold me. I called to discuss room selection and reserved the Tillside room – a gigantic, elegant room overlooking the rear lawn. 3 sets of tall windows; 4 poster bed; Recamier, pair of club chairs, dressing table, armoire, fireplace and chandelier on a dinner/bed/breakfast package (£209).

Had drink in the drawing room, perused the dinner menu and off to the dining room. I was concerned about dressing appropriately so specifically brought a black top and silk scarf, but didn’t need to worry since the other tables (about 8 tables) were casual – no jeans, but no jackets. Starched linen tablecloth and napkin; heavy silver; - reminds of staying at Turnberry and MoretonHempsted when I was child (on paternal golfing trips). Love it. I had venison boboti (S. African minced venison w/curry sauce); trio of lamb (cutlet, chop & filet) w/celeriac mash and lemon tart. Aaaahhhh. All very good and satisfying to my soul.

Tomorrow…seaside, Manderston, cricket

SUN, JUNE 18, sunny
Today’s mission was Manderston House and gardens but it’s only open two days a week, from 11:30-5, so I went to the seaside town of Eyemouth in the morning. Nice, long, curved beach with dog walkers, families and me. Sat against the seawall for about 45 minutes people & cloud watching. Walked to the marina and saw several seals right at the dock. They snort & snuffle when they come up for air w/spotted bodies rolling under the water.

Amazing scenery on the way to Manderston, in Duns. “Manderston is the supreme country house of Edwardian Scotland; the swan-song of its era. A house on which no expense was spared with opulent staterooms, the only silver-staircase in the world and extensive "downstairs" domestic quarters. It stands in 56 acres of formal gardens, with magnificent stables and stunning marble dairy.” Since the house isn’t open until 1:30, I started with the outbuildings and gardens. Car park is near the stables and tea room. Wow – mahogany stalls w/brass columns and porcelain trough; thick, thick carpet of hay in each stall. Whole tack room with mahogany cabinets.

The Marble Dairy was impressive in concept, but very small so a bit ho-hum. I noticed the head gardener’s house on the way to the dairy – very nice indeed. Noticed a cricket area with some activity as I worked my way through the gardens. Enjoyed the Woodland Garden most: on the other side of the lake, there are paths wending through shrubs, trees & rhododendrons; surprise nooks w/statues; each path leads to another path. Most of the rhodos were past their prime but enough still had blooms to give a sense of what it must be like in prime blooming season! Walls of blooms and not just the lavender colors that we see a lot here – scarlet, pink, apricot, white, cream. I liked all the greens and the surprise of paths & nooks (plus, it was cool in here).

Crossed the bridge to the formal gardens on the terraced area behind the house. As their name indicates, these aren’t the fluffy, shaggy gardens I like, but instead well-proportioned, geometric designs with rose bushes embedded within designs; topiary shrubs; box hedges and gigantic hostas. Croquet & tennis lawns too.

Walked back to the cricket field to see if anything’s going on and there’s a team practicing – I really want to watch, but also want to have enough time to visit the house, so ask a spectator how long they’ll be playing and she said “hours and hours”. So, off to the house.

Spectacular and what is even more amazing is that this is a private home and the family still live here. Bought my ticket and chatted with the admission lady, who passed me along to another guide to lead me to the rest rooms (it’s free flow, so you wander at your own pace; there are laminated info sheets in each room and guides). Turns out that this guide, Ashley, is from Atlanta, Georgia and is always interested in fellow Americans; I asked her how she ended up working at Manderston and she’s married to the head gardener! Said it was a real love story; I was dying to ask more but didn’t. Started going through the first room and noticed an older man wearing goofy Hawaiian shorts, sandals & a bright yellow polo shirt talking to Ashley and thought to myself “who is this yahoo, dressed like this?” Then, it occurred to me that he seemed very relaxed and might be the Lord; listened to his voice and yep, sounded all BBC-ish. He left and Ashley came past and mentioned that he was in fact the current lord. Only 66, but looks older. Eccentric aristocracy. Guide said their money came from trading hemp & herring w/Russia way back; plus, there’s a biscuit connection (bought by Nabisco) and various other sources. His son, Hugo, will inherit the title.

Everyone makes a big deal about the silver staircase, which is impressive, but I was more struck by the grand rooms, which are made human-stature with comfy furniture, worn oriental rugs, books and many family photos. There are a lot of rooms to see – ground floor ballroom, sitting rooms, dining room, library and second floor bedrooms, baths; plus the downstairs. Truly an “Upstairs/Downstairs” sense – white tiled main hall & rooms; 56 bells connected to all the rooms; kitchens; storage rooms; larder; game room; curing room, etc. The housekeeper’s room was large and nicely furnished – Mrs. Bridges never had it so good!

I was starving and thirsty, but still had a cricket game to watch (and new lodging to drive to), so walked back to the team room for a sandwich to bring w/me to the match. As promised, the match was still underway. Many, many years ago I went to Kew on a glorious summer day and stumbled across a cricket match which has lived in my memory as a quintessential English day – all bound up with the Empire, young men in Flanders, good sports and other positives. This had the same impact on me; can’t explain it, may not make sense, but it made me very happy.

I didn’t really follow the game, but liked watching the ballet of running & hopping to throw overhand; fielders converging on the ball; batter running, etc. After 30 minutes or so, they stopped for a tea break (they unpacked food & stuff, set up on a table behind the team benches). Listened to folks chatting w/each other; fathers & sons; one man was passing around sandwiches and tea and offered them to me, I declined w/thanks but he wouldn’t accept my no, so I had cucumber sandwich – crustless, served from a toile porcelain dish. Sigh. Play resumes and I watched for another 30 minutes; the sandwich guy ran past me and asked “everything alright, here?” Finally, left at 5:45. A wonderful, wonderful day full of natural beauty and experiences.

On the road to Traquair House, in Innerleithen, near Peebles. More amazing scenery. One narrow road had “Lambs on Road” signs so I drove very slowly and lo & behold, there sheep right at the roadside and lambs scurrying around them. Took more photos. Am staying at Traquair House for 3 nights – the oldest continuously inhabited home in Scotland. Mary Stuart, among many royals, stayed there; Jacobites; brewery; another stately home where the family lives there and mere mortals can stay too. I reserved the Pink bedroom, overlooking the maze, for 3 nights (about £100 night). I arrived at 7:00 (long after the house was closed to the public) and called the assistant housekeeper, who opened the gates for me. She showed me around and was very patient with my many questions; and brought me a light dinner tray (meats, salad, bread, oat cakes, chutney, cucumbers). The room was spacious; a four poster bed with upholstered canopy; window shutters; several chairs; two large dressers; walk in closet; bookshelves full of interesting titles; TV; and various antique china doodads.

Tomorrow….explore Traquair, Jedburgh Abbey, Monteviot Gardens

annhig Jul 3rd, 2017 01:07 PM

Annhig - yes, carpet bedding is a more descriptive name and is something I associate with municipal parks. Must take a lot of time to create & maintain, so good for your parents.>>

it certainly did and they grew all the plants from seed even the lobelia which have the tiniest seeds and seedlings you've ever seen. Nowadays you can buy them all in modules which is much easier.

Loving your detailed descriptions and especially the cricket - my favourite sport.

vickiebypass Jul 5th, 2017 12:51 PM

MON, June 19, sunny
Had fancy breakfast in the “Still Room”, with linen cloth, silver, salt cellar, etc. (Just grapefruit, porridge, & toast, but I felt quite fancy).

The house doesn’t open to the public until 11:30, but as a guest, I was able to wander through so spent several hours doing that. (I’m starting to realize where “shabby chic” came from – antique furnishings, but paint dings on moldings, lumpy wallpaper, dusty bathroom pipes. It’s not bad, just different.) The household were always Jacobites and had secret hidey-holes for religious items, in case they were raided. An attic room for the priest with a twisty staircase to the garden in case he had to escape. Mary Stuart stayed here, with baby James & Lord Darnley. Lots to see, so by the time I was done with the house it was 12:30, so saved the grounds for the next day.

Hit the road for Jedburgh, and a few minutes away from Traquair, made a wrong turn and pulled into the Cabursten Coffee Shop to turn around. What a fortuitous stop! Very, very local; low key with homemade baked goods; local author’s books for sale. Bought two sizeable rounds of shortbread for only £1 each. Started eating one in the car – wow, was that good!! Buttery, crumbly but moist, sugary top.

In Jedburgh, went to Monteviot Gardens which didn’t strike a chord with me at all. The blooms were generally past their prime and there wasn’t any background info about the history of the gardens – who, why, or when. They’ve recently created an Imagination Garden with an arch of stones, a statue and paths but a sign explaining the concept would be helpful – it sure didn’t fire my imagination! The Oriental Style Water Garden was a disappointment since the water was covered in algae and other than a bamboo stand, not sure what was oriental about it. Several of the paths in the woodland, connecting the various gardens, were seriously overgrown. It felt unkempt and cursory.

Kept heading south to Jedburgh Abbey, which is right in the middle of this busy town. Another good audio tour (included in admission fee). Very different sense than at Melrose, which felt more serene & spiritual but interesting in comparison.

Headed back to Traquair and a yen for pizza, so went to Franco’s in Peebles. Not terribly welcoming and seemed a bit annoyed that I wanted take out (had to find the separate menu for take away, told me wait in the stairwell, etc.) Got a calzone instead which was only OK.

TUE, June 20, sunny
Before breakfast, I walked around the grounds, following their “Woodland Walks” leaflet which provides a map and great background on eight locations within the walk – very well done. Also points out trees and creatures to see along the way. Nice walk through the woods, past the diverted stream which was a 17th & 18th century “Ladies Bathing Pool”
Spent 45 minutes and didn’t finish the walk, so will save for this evening.

En route to Kelso for Floors Castle, I again passed Cabursten Coffee Shop and stopped in for more shortbread. Got to Floors @ 11:30 – admission was the highest so far, £11.50. Compared to the other stately homes, I thought this was an inferior experience. The docents were informative and very chatty, but there aren’t rooms open to the public. Manderston was 3 floors and lots of rooms, whereas this was about 5 rooms and 3 more rooms full of display cases of stuff. Sure glad I didn’t buy the £5 guidebook! Only spent an hour in the house and that included three long conversations with the docents. Stopped into the Courtyard Café at the house for a slice of walnut & coffee, 2 layer cake (£3), which was very dry – possibly stale. Waste of money & calories.

Following a guide’s suggestion, I drove to the car park for their Walled Garden (you need to show your ticket to get in.) Now, that’s a garden! Huge, deep and wide, glorious banks of flowers – good combination of heights, colors and species. Very large garden, with many paths to walk down. Glasshouses didn’t have much in them; Millennium Garden (a parterre featuring two letters M and the owners’ initials) was well done but ho-hum. Spent about 90 minutes in the garden, which was totally worth visiting but wouldn’t bother with the house or café.

Drove four minutes to the town of Kelso and wandered all over the downtown area. Lots of charity shops! And butchers and bakers. Kelso Abbey is the smallest of the three abbeys and not much to see or imagine.

Bought a sandwich at Sainsbury and back to Traquair where I finished the Woodland Walk, along the river, with setting sun views of the Tweed, fields, and forest. I don’t know if those are “sunlit uplands” but that’s what I think of.

vickiebypass Jul 31st, 2017 05:35 AM

I got busy with work, so am finishing this trip report now. Hope it's helpful!!

WED, June 21, gray
On my way out the door at Tracquair en route to my next stop, I chatted quite a bit with the housekeeper and another lady, then hopped in my car….got to the main road and for some reason, realized that I hadn’t put my suitcase in the car! All that chatting distracted me but thank heavens I thought of it before I was an hour away! Disaster averted, I headed off to Thirlestane Castle in Lauder. (Stopped at Caburston Coffee Shop again for shortbread – warm from the oven, yum, yum!)

Thirlestane Castle - Interesting exterior which reflects multiple centuries of additions & enhancements. The interior, other than the ornate plaster ceilings, was generally Victorian. The info sheets in each room were comprehensive and the stewards in each room were very informative (sometimes a bit too chatty - hard to get away since I didn't want to hurt their feelings). They pointed out key items or tidbits of info and were able to answer all my questions. I particularly enjoyed the nursery rooms on the top floor since those spaces aren't usually included in tours of stately homes.

Had a quick sandwich in their tearoom and off on a long drive to Budle Hall (near Bamburgh). The GPS directed me via the A1 but I wanted a scenic drive so had long but very nice drive on local roads. Stopped in Flodden Field and went into the quaint church but didn’t walk to the memorial overlooking the field since I was focused on getting to Budle Hall. Sailed along roads, high in the hills, spotted a huge cow and pulled over to check it out. Realized he was a bull and in a separate field from the cows, with a wire fence between them. He was in fine form – pawing ground, throwing dirt and bellowing. Another bull in a field across the street bellowed back. Took a lot of pictures – they were BIG! Also drove through a sign-posted “lambs on road” section at a snail’s pace and this time there actually were lambs on the road. They are too stinking cute.

Got to Budle but was a bit confused where the B&B was, so called and it turns out I was about 200 feet away…who knew? Anyway, the house is a large stone home, with sheep fields next to it (I liked watching the sheep graze and huddle and didn’t mind a b-a-a-a-a or two). For some reason, I was a bit atwitter after a long day but the owner, Celia, was welcoming and gracious. She set me up with a pot of tea & banana bread in the living room so I relaxed for an hour before heading out for dinner. I had reserved the Red room, which was not en-suite but the bathroom was across the hall, and since all the other rooms had en-suites, it was my very own private bathroom – just had to walk across the hall to it. (A dressing gown was provided for that purpose.) The room was large, nice window seat overlooking the fields, comfortable bed, good lighting and a TV; and a full bookcase; plus the normal tourist info.

I wanted a low key dinner, so Celia recommended the Castle Inn pub in Bamburgh. Maps are deceptive and I thought Bamburgh was 20 minutes away – hah! It was 3 minutes. I really liked the Castle Inn; it was bustling w/locals but I found a corner table in the bar. Had their special: beef with wine sauce served in a Yorkshire pudding with carrots, peas & mashed. Beef was fork tender and the Yorkshire pudding was eggy and crisp exterior, just like it should be. Had a small glass of cider (half-pint?) and a soda to dilute the effects! This was a great place with a nice vibe; families, singles, buddies, etc.

THU, June 22, gray
Breakfast at Budle Hall was at a shared table in the dining room (submitted menu the night before). Had porridge and toast which was fine. Not much conversation which was also fine. Since the trip so far had been very busy and go-go-go, I needed a lazy day so decided to spend time at the beach & locally.

At Celia’s suggestion, I did the 1 ¼ mile walk along the beach from Budle Hall to Bamburgh Castle (the posted entrance was across the street, to the right about 50 yards). The beach is a wide swath of sand since the tide goes out very far; rippled sand bed with puddles of water; tall dunes; later, it changed to lots of flat black rock that looked volcanic, seaweed clumps on the rocks, tide pools; people walking dogs in both directions; once I passed the Beacon light, saw the castle ahead. More people walking (with & without dogs) now. Very peaceful and relaxing.
At the castle walked up a sandy path to the green in front of the castle; debated going in but decided not to since today was going to be a relaxing, no “shoulds” day. Found “The Pantry” and got a turkey sandwich and soda which I ate on a bench in the park. Lots of people heading to the castle; lots more walking around the town. I was going to take the bus from the village to Budle Hall but I waited 15 minutes and it didn’t arrive, so I called Celia (that morning, before I set off she had offered to pick me up if I didn’t want to wait for the hourly bus). To me, that “taxi” service seemed above & beyond so I appreciated it very much. Back at the hall, I realized that they only accept cash so I had to drive to Seahouses for the closest ATM.

On the way to Seahouses, I stopped in Bamburgh to visit St. Aidan’s church - so impressive. It’s clearly very much in use, but is historic and has a dark wood beamed ceiling, bright stained glass plus various other historic things. Excellent laminated guide to the church on the table of pamphlets. Cemetery is interesting too. And, outside the church gate, along the sidewalk, there’s a display case for village notices & flyers and I spotted a concert that night on Holy Island – pipes and fiddles, so tucked that idea away.

Seahouses is busy and sea-side tacky but the ATM is convenient at the roundabout in the center of town so I got my cash and left town. I wanted to go to the beach, so drove to Beadnell and parked on the roadside near a dune path. Climbed over two stiles, up a steep narrow sandy path down to a really nice beach. Fishermen, dog walkers, kite flyers not to mention waves, birds and clouds. I found a little tussock in the dunes and sat there for over an hour; the sun was out and I could have taken a nap if it was flat. Ah, I really love the sea.

Back to Budle Hall and then off to Lindisfarne (Holy Island) for the concert. I had wanted to go there but when I found out the Castle is closed until April 2018 for restoration, I decided not to go. So, this was fortuitous. The concert was planned in conjunction with the tides and the flyer clearly stated that the causeway would be open (I double checked the tide tables just to be sure…) It’s an odd sensation driving on a narrow road over wet sand and tidal pools. There are 2 weather beaten refuge boxes on stilts in case you’re on foot and get stuck (or have to leave your car to the ocean).

Walked the short distance from the car park to the center of town and located the Village Hall, which was the site of the concert. Just a bit further I saw the Crown & Anchor Inn; no food was served in the garden but I sat at a table in the bar for a bleu cheese burger, ½ pint of cider and soda. Burger was just OK (not much flavor and oddly, couldn’t taste the bleu cheese at all); but it was a pleasant meal. After dinner, walked around the priory and cemetery before the concert.

Concert was fun – a full house of about 70 people (£7 admission). A married couple where the husband played the small pipes (Northumbria’s version which has arm-pumped bellows). She played fiddle, Swedish stringed thing and sang. It was folk music but not dirge-like; one song was a crowd favorite and they sang along. I stayed for a little over an hour and then drove back to Budle Hall.

dwdvagamundo Jul 31st, 2017 07:45 AM

Thanks Vickie--

What road is Flodden Field on?

Also, we're planning to stay in Seahouses this fall while exploring the east coast, and the Bamburgh Castle Pub looks like a great place to eat.

janisj Jul 31st, 2017 08:27 AM

Vickie: Budle Hall looks really lovely. You sure did stay in some nice places.

dwdvagamundo: Flodden is about a mile or so off the A697 about 5 miles east of Coldstream. The nearest village is Branxton and both Branxton and Flodden are well signposted.

vickiebypass Jul 31st, 2017 08:59 AM

Janisj: thanks for the road info about Flodden, since i just stumbled across it en route, i had no idea what road I was on!

Part of the fun for me is staying in interesting, nice quality places; several years ago I stayed in Sissinghurst Farm House which started me on the path of searching out little gems.

Here's the next installment (only two days left!)

FRI, June 23, gray
Light breakfast at Budle Hall of cereal. Funny conversation with the other six guests. Someone asked where I was from, so I said Connecticut, in the states. They asked along the lines of “what’s there” and I mentioned Yale University; not much reaction, so I added fall foliage; still not much so I said “we’re one of the original 13 colonies”. Well, that sure got a reaction! Seemed like a wince followed by odd chuckles…like I had said something quite embarrassing. I smiled inside.

Said goodbye to Celia, my hostess at Budle Hall and complimented her on her ability to tread the fine line of being available to guests & welcoming without being a pest. She said it takes a while to develop that sense and that I would be very welcome to return.

My plan for the day was Chillingham Castle but it didn’t open until after lunch, so I decided to go to Alnwick Garden in the morning. I had debated with myself about Alnwick since it sounded rather commercial and “big business” but so many garden books, articles, etc. mentioned Alnwick that I felt delinquent as a tourist if I didn’t go. Bah humbug!! I think it was a rip off starting with the £3 parking charge (no other stately home or garden charged to park!) and the £11 entry fee for the garden only (their “deal” for the gardens & house was £25).

My impression of a very commercial outfit was reinforced as you walk in, past a pond with an owl & pussycat in a boat and motion-activated recording burbling about a princess and a mystery. On the way to the ticket counters, you pass two gigantic, tree-sized books and ads with fairy tale characters. There were some school groups there so it would seem that’s one demographic they’re targeting. I had been intrigued by descriptions of their “contemporary” gardens. The Poison Garden….sheesh. It has a locked gate, admission is by a guide-led group only and some of the plants are encased in wrought iron cages. I admit that the guide had some interesting info & stories about the plants (for example, daffodil bulbs are poisonous so knights carried a daff bulb as their cyanide pill), but she was on a tight schedule of 20 minutes so not a lot of time to ask questions (no lingering allowed – she told people to stay together). I liked the huge beech tree tunnels curving up and along the hillside, next to the fountains. The Formal Gardens were impressive – lots of rooms w/boxwood hedges and flurries of blooms. Large enough that the crowds were dispersed. The Rose Garden was also impressive – as you entered, waves of scent enveloped you. Zillions of species – single petals, doubles, triples; cream, apricot, red, pinks; stripes. Bushes and climbing; trellises.

So, I’ll eat my words somewhat – it is very commercial but if you ignore that, and the cost, then some of the gardens are impressive.

From there, zipped over to Chillingham which I LOVED! As one TA review said, “it’s like all the junk from a family’s attic or cellar” – they felt it wasn’t a proper house but I happily spent 4 hours there. You definitely need to buy the room guide since it contains so many details about items in the rooms, plus commentary by the current Lord Wakefield (who seems like a real character).

What a family – explorers, sportsmen, adventurers, etc. An ancestor settled Adelaide since the govt didn’t want Australia to be known only as a penal colony. The current lord and his uncle climbed Everest. And the stories keep going. The family lived in India and returned after the partition, shipping back households of stuff…including brass elephant armor which is displayed in the armory. Lots of photos of princes and family members scattered around. Their family crest is a bat – it’s on the huge weathervane, embroidered on napkins, carved into fireplaces, etc. Piles of invitations to royal events stacked on windowsills. Stray, dusty piles of parchment documents on another windowsill. Gems upon gems. Every room had so many fascinating things to look at. The room stewards knew about everything and had interesting stories about them. I think I remember something about Mick Jagger and an antique bathtub.

The parterre garden was nice but a mere nothing compared to the house. (He also has a herd of wild cattle that you can only see with a guide since they’re dangerous. I skipped them.) The tea room was spectacular – both the room and the food. It’s the undercroft, with a minstrel’s gallery on one end and a huge fireplace on the other end. Big mullioned windows, various pikes, lances & animal heads on the walls; vaulted ceiling. I had a ham & cheese toastie which was like an American grilled cheese and ham – melted cheese oozing over the crust; I think there was a salad but who knows. I came back on my way out to buy a slice of Madeira cake for the long road trip to Edinburgh.

I would go back to Chillingham again and recommend it to people who appreciate quirky and off-beat places.

Hit the road to the Ibis Budget Edinborough Park hotel where I was staying for two nights. A £long drive but found the hotel fairly easily. It’s in a corporate business park, west of Edinborough proper and close to the airport. The Royal Highland Show was going on at the nearby show grounds (I was going there the next day) and all the hotels in the surrounding area were either fully booked or charging crazy prices, like $250 a night. So, this “cocoon” style Ibis was a bargain at only £125 per night plus it was right across from the Gyle tram station which stopped outside the show ground entrance. There were pro’s and con’s: all hotel staff were very helpful; room was small but had great lighting, ceiling, over bed, next to bed, over desk, over sink, in shower, etc. The shower had super water pressure. TV was good location; wifi worked well. They had a restaurant and I got a tasty chicken pizza to take to my room, so that was very handy. They also sell sandwiches, beverages, snacks which is good because there’s no where around to buy anything.

BUT, the walls are super thin since I heard full conversations from the people in the room next to mine and the bed pillows were the hardest, weirdest pillows I’ve ever encountered. For the second night, I balled up my fleece jacket and used that as my pillow – infinitely superior. I think a lot of people would be shocked if they hadn’t carefully studied the text & photos on Ibis’ site. I knew there was no closet (just a shelf & hooks) and didn’t care; I could see that the bed practically touched the wall so there was no extra room; I saw that the shower door was frosted (several people in the lobby bar complained non-stop about the door and how they would have to leave the room when someone showered). All in all, if the room rate was £70-80 a night, I would have been happy, but for £125 it grated on me.

annhig Jul 31st, 2017 09:29 AM

Bah humbug!! I think it was a rip off starting with the £3 parking charge (no other stately home or garden charged to park!) and the £11 entry fee for the garden only (their “deal” for the gardens & house was £25). >>

That does seem a lot, Vicki - glad that the gardens delivered though. Chillingham sounds a lot more interesting, not to mention less commercialised.

I think that you've done a great job in hunting down interesting and unique places to stay - just the sort of thing that we like too. [we'll draw a veil over the Ibis though!]

irishface Jul 31st, 2017 10:51 AM

What a wonderful trip and brilliant report. Did I miss it or is there a link to your pictures?

janisj Jul 31st, 2017 10:55 AM

Yep -- the gardens are very commercialized (has one of the largest gift shops I've seen at that sort of site). But I find the gardens themselves very striking -- being a totally modern development, the Treehouse is a very good restaurant, the Castle is mostly non-commercial (there are some Warwick-esque bits in the Outer Bailey but easily avoided) -- and the whole complex is the 3rd largest employer in all of Northumberland. They have created a full on industry.

I never made it to Chillingham -- the one time I tried to visit it was closed for a special event of some sort.

vickiebypass Jul 31st, 2017 12:41 PM

Irishface: thank you for your kind words - I don't post photos since mine are usually out of focus, etc.

Annhig: i'm one of those travellers who research to the nth degree so I get very happy when the places live up to expectations. This was one of the best trips I've been on recently and I'm already figuring out when I can come back and see more.

Janisj: Next time you're in the area, definitely check out Chillingham, i think it's your kind of place. You can stay there too...

vickiebypass Jul 31st, 2017 12:42 PM

SAT, June 24, gray
Tram to Royal Highland Show. Grey and very blowy – ended up buying a fleece sweatshirt. I spent 7-8 hours there, mostly looking at sheep and cows. I walked through the farm equipment area, got a bacon sandwich, scooted through the shopping/craft tents and went to the animals. I saw all kinds of sheep and cows; watched sheep being judged by solemn people in white lab coats; visited w/cows in their pens; saw parades of grand champions and champions; looked at Clydesdales and other working horses (so tall); marveled at miniature horses; watched sheep shearing and the competition among the people who fluff & fold the skins (quite intense – who knew?) Wandered past stalls selling all kinds of specialty items – hoof blackeners, bridle stuff and clothing for specific roles. Grabbed a sandwich from M&S and sat on the grass to rest my back & feet.

The main events were finished and so was I. Tram back to Ibis and a sandwich from their snack selection for dinner.

Overall thoughts:

I thought Newcastle was great and will go back again since I feel like there’s still more to see (considering that i spent 2 days elsewhere – Tynemouth and Durham).

Driving was very easy and swooping up and down the hills, with the patchwork of fields, sun & clouds was glorious.

In general, prices at lodgings, restaurants, shops & cafes were reasonable (versus Iceland or Norway, where a trip to the convenience store for sodas & candy bars costs $20+).

I should have done a better job with the itinerary since I backtracked several times. Also, would try not to change lodging so often (just my personal preference).

Northumbrian beaches are amazing.

I will definitely return – am thinking about renting a house near the Cheviot hills in late January/early February since I like cold weather and wind. Or, maybe somewhere nearer the sea. I have to ponder.

Anyway, I know this has been a long, detailed trip report but I get so much help from Fodors’ posters that I wanted to share my experience. Hope it’s of interest to first time travelers or old hands.

annhig Jul 31st, 2017 12:49 PM

Great report, Vicki - thanks for taking the effort to write it and to complete it.

As a serial non-finisher of TRs, I'm super-impressed.

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