Berwick to Chester-le-Street

Well, that was a day and a half! It should have been one of the easiest days we’ve had, we weren’t supposed to be travelling that far and we had very little scheduled for the day. But that’s not quite how the day panned out. In a spur of what could only be called mild-insanity we broke the few habits we usually adhere to rather strictly. Our first instance of ‘you have to be kidding’ came when we had driven from Berwick to Warkworth, which on its own proved to be a rather longer and weirder drive than needed, and when parking in the car park discovered we’d left a scarf back at the hotel. Great. Do we go back and get it? Or press on? Press on, fine, we go into the castle – which we’d come to investigate – when suddenly we become aware that there’s £50 missing from my wallet. Right, so back at the hotel, some 40 miles away, could potentially be £50 and a scarf we’ve been using on a daily basis. After a few ‘no breaking the rules anymore’ comments we found the £50 tucked ‘in a safe place’ – you know the ones, they’re painfully obvious when you’re putting whatever treasure you have into it, but, when you actually need said item it’s a complete blank, you have no memory of where you put it. So yeah, it’s a safe place all right! – we did find it, when the safe place became the ‘where the **** is it’ place. So, we’re only the scarf short now, and laughing at our silliness, kind of, in that kind of way that you never make eye contact with the crazy looking person on a dimly lit train carriage a night.

For the record Warkworth Castle is magnificent! It has a broad history from Norman times right through to Tudor, and in some ways even into today. From the car park the original Guard Towers are the first part you see, their imposing towers still standing guard over the now grassy slopes of the moat, walking through the arch you enter into the courtyard of the original Norman keep, the ruins of the kitchen, hall, and brewhouse/laundry can all be explored before you ascend the stairs into the later keep which was built during the 1400s, inside the ‘new’ keep is everything you could imagine a proper medieval castle should have, dungeon, great hall, beer and wine storage rooms, kitchens, private chambers with impressive fire places, and always amusing for absolutely no reason, the attached garderobes. The views from the various windows were fabulous, whether it was looking out across the North Sea and over two bends in the River Coquet, and given the mound it’s all built on, it’s not hard to imagine the power that the occupants would have felt as they surveyed all the lands they governed from the comfort and splendour of the castle.

Next on our agenda was Cragside, an historic house with some amazing gardens, that once belonged to Lord Armstrong – an incredible individual who long before the advent of renewable energy was generating hydroelectricity at his own home, via the machinery he engineered. Not bad for the kid who wagged school and took up with a local engineer – he also married said engineer’s daughter and were very happy together – and followed his passion and dreams. We took our time finding Cragside, not because we wanted to, but because we were inadvertently caught up with some huge roadworks on the A1. Roadworks that had us drive an additional 30 miles up and down the countryside just trying to get to a road that would lead to the town we wanted in order to find the address of the property. What should have taken a mere 30 minutes ended up taking nearly 1.5 hours! It was well worth the effort though, even with the humour that all is not quite as it appears. Built in the late 19th century with the feeling of an old castle, Cragside is a splendid manor with stunning gardens surrounding it, and sprawls over 3 and a bit floors. I say a ‘bit’ as the very top ‘suite’ is only 3 rooms appropriately named the ‘owl suite’ as all the beds have carved owls on the bed-knobs. There is also a marble fireplace in the top sitting/drawing room on the third floor, when I say fireplace I actually mean ‘host yourself a barn dance in this thing’, it is massive! Ornately carved, elegantly decorated, with superb workmanship in what is really a semi-separate room within a room. We may also have spent a fair amount of time in the Victorian kitchen chatting with the volunteers who were in the process of doing some baking for the rest of the staff, which of course also encouraged some delectable aromas throughout the house!

Our next stop turned out to be a bit of a bust, mainly due to the rain. We had intended to go to one of the nearby Roman settlement sites, but due to a Ducky-Foo SNAFU we ended up nearly driving to Carlisle! Of course it also had to start bucketing down as we approached the property, and to top off the humourous story it turned out that where we were expecting a covered museum with some active excavations it was in fact the reverse. As much as we love the idea of tramping around some Roman ruins, neither of us were willing to venture into the horizontal down pour. Doing an about-face we headed back towards Durham and made our way to our digs at Chester-le-Street, and much to our delight, and dining pleasure, an adjacent village pub who did a really mean slow roasted lamb shoulder and a fried gammon steak, let’s just say it was an excellent end to an interesting day!