Living in one of the most beautiful counties in England – Northumberland, we are spoiled for choice when we decide to go for a day out.
We live in Alnwick, the County town, seat of the Earls and Dukes at Alnwick Castle for 700 years now.
We love walking, whilst I take photos of
everything and anything and my husband Rob (who is blind) records birdsong and identifies them for me. He does get rather a lot of click-clicks on his digital recordings if I don’t realise he is trying to capture the birds!
But, for no good reason, we had never visited the Cragside Estate, just 11 miles away near Rothbury, even though it is one of our favourite towns for a river walk and pub meal at the Newcastle House Hotel.
So, when we first saw the adverts announcing a special “Free or discounted” day for Northumberland residents to visit various interesting places in the county this weekend, we jumped at the chance.
Northumberland County Council had organised this as a Northumberland Residents’ Festival – “Our people, our places”. Tourism is a vital source of income for this county but it is often the ‘locals’ who don’t think of visiting the amazing places so close to home.
A long time ago I met a Dutchman, I went to visit him and insisted he take me to Keukenhof, the world famous flower gardens, as he lived less than half an hour from them, I was stunned to realise he had never been there! After we were married I discovered that he had never been on a canal boat trip in Amsterdam either. But every year we would spend our holidays in the UK, visiting places that, probably, the local people never went to. Since he died and I moved back to England (& remarried) I have taken all my holidays here, except for visiting family in Holland and the USA.
Northumberland has more castles (not all ruined) than any other county in England but the Border Reivers have finally been tamed and the natives are, mostly, very friendly!
From prehistoric cup and ring stones, through stone-age hill forts and Roman remains, not least Hadrian’s Wall, to the Victorian era, history is everywhere you look, the scenery is second to none and we have some cracking attractions for visitors, and us residents to explore and enjoy.
Cragside – dating from 1863, was the home of William George Armstrong, a scientist,
industrialist and engineer.
His home was very advanced and water power was first used here to provide electricity in 1878, interestingly enough, just 2 days ago we were at local
Alnwick Castle where the current Duke has restored a Victorian hydro-electric power plant built by one of his ancestors. In these days of finding eco-friendly ways to provide power surely a much better idea than ugly wind-turbines?!
We spent nearly 5 hours happily exploring the gardens –
from the river walks, through the woods with lofty Douglas Firs, over an intricate variety of bridges, spotting spring flowers and tree buds everywhere, up to the Formal Garden and its fantastic plants and views.
We actually ran out of time to tour the beautiful house,but did have a late lunch at the tea rooms, sitting outside at one of the many picnic tables, with a great view over Tumbleton Lake.
This lake is fed from the River Coquet and the stepped waterfall down from the lake past the Pump Room generates the power.
As I mentioned, my husband is blind and enjoys ‘bird listening, here is his list of what he heard at Cragside:
1. Green woodpecker. Only one of them.
2. Greater spotted woodpecker. Two of them drumming at the same time. Then one or two individual ones.
3. Coots, by the lake.
5. Buzzards. Two of them in the sky.
10. Great tits.
11. Coal tits.
13 Gold crests.
14. Wood pigeon.
15. Collared doves.
17. Carrion crow. Just one of them.
In 2009, broadcaster Clare Balding came with us, and the Alnwick Health Walk group, to record a programme in her “Ramblings” series for BBC Radio 4, to find out more about this blind man who ‘Bird Listens’! Here is a link to that programme, recorded in Hulne Park, Alnwick, another great place (free) for walking.
We shall get to Cragside House itself one of the days, but can heartily recommend a visit or two to anyone. Rob was delighted to find they even have a braille guide to the gardens! Here is a link to their website