Scotland & UK: 2 weeks with Sheep & Cows

Old Jul 3rd, 2017, 09:38 AM
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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
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Old Jul 3rd, 2017, 11:22 AM
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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
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Old Jul 3rd, 2017, 01:07 PM
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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.
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Old Jul 5th, 2017, 12:51 PM
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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.
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Old Jul 31st, 2017, 05:35 AM
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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.
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Old Jul 31st, 2017, 07:45 AM
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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.
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Old Jul 31st, 2017, 08:27 AM
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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.
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Old Jul 31st, 2017, 08:59 AM
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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.
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Old Jul 31st, 2017, 09:29 AM
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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!]
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Old Jul 31st, 2017, 10:51 AM
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What a wonderful trip and brilliant report. Did I miss it or is there a link to your pictures?
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Old Jul 31st, 2017, 10:55 AM
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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.
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Old Jul 31st, 2017, 12:41 PM
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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...
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Old Jul 31st, 2017, 12:42 PM
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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.
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Old Jul 31st, 2017, 12:49 PM
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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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