Stokesley, sock dryers and Sunday in Sedgefield…

On Friday, we’d arranged to meet our friends, Malcolm and Margaret in Stokesley, a small market town on the edge of the North Yorks Moors. We wandered around for a little while before meeting them and discovered a pack horse bridge over the river. It’s on an old route from Durham, through Helmsley and on to York. Records date the bridge to 1628. The tea room we’d intended to try was packed out so we repaired to Sadlers, where we had a lovely meal and a long catch up chat. The forecast rain didn’t begin till we’d said goodbye and we made it to the car without getting wet.

The next day, we’d booked an afternoon tea at Ushaw College a former Catholic Seminary, whose college and grounds are now open to the public. It lies on Ushaw Moor, a short 10 minute drive from my Mum’s home, the visit brought back quite a few memories for her. Confusingly, afternoon tea wasn’t served after 2pm so we’d opted for a 12:30 slot. The tea was slightly uninspiring and we partly regretted not using the refectory instead for hot food.

Some of the college is impressive, other parts less so. There was an animatronics installation of an eagle, the stunning refectory, chapel and a display of vestments. I was amused by the display of a sock dryer from the 1950’s, I seem to remember those winters being damp and dreary,  so a sock dryer would be a most useful item to have…

The gardens are small but beautifully managed and we whiled away half an hour round the curved paths.

Sunday lunchtime saw us back at the Pickled Parson in Sedgefield, where last year we celebrated Mum’s 90th birthday. We were recognised, which is always a nice thing and we enjoyed a relaxed lunch (I particularly recommend the deconstructed cheesecake)

Tomorrow we drive down to Stansted for our flight home on Tuesday morning…



Our visit to Beamish Open Air Museum had been postponed several times, going back a couple of years then a week or so back, because of bad weather. Today though, we took the plunge and actually visited.

Beamish is a huge site and requires some walking. There are period methods of public transport, a tram and bus but neither of these are adapted for wheelchairs. Luckily my cousin Dorothy had come along with us and took charge of my Mum in her wheelchair. From the entrance, we walked round to the 1900’s pit village. The exhibits are not facades or reproductions. Francis Street is a row of six cottages, transplanted brick by brick from Hetton-le-Hole and rebuilt on site. They are furnished in period, inhabited by ‘guides’ who will give you a totally realistic feel for what a harsh and hard life it was for miners in the Durham coalfield. There’s even a roaring coal fire in the hearth..

We could have spent longer chatting to the occupants but there was a school to visit, an engineering shed for the small shunting engine and a drift mine, down which Susie and Dorothy went, a sobering experience.

There’s fish and chip shop, which uses coal fired ranges and fries in beef dripping. We stood for about 30 minutes to get served but it was worth the wait. We enjoyed a tour round the 1892 school building and read about the corporal punishment given out for what seems minor offences now. Whipping for scribbling in books….

We wanted to move on to the 1900’s town but it was too much of a trek with the wheelchair. Beamish do provide transport adapted for wheelchair users, but it was off the road and they’d hired a slightly smaller modern mini bus to fill in. Because there were other wheelchairs, we had to wait quite a while before we could be dropped off at the town and unfortunately we had little time to look round and were a bit disappointed to have missed some exhibits.

It’s worth pointing out again, that this is an enormous site and because of it’s size it’s been possible to utilise real buildings. No reproductions or cinematic ‘sets’. You’d have to be there early and be quite fit if you wanted to see it all in one day. It’s wonderful and we’ll go again on our next trip…

Vindolanda, shoes and loos…

We were really sad to leave Horncliffe this morning. Trevor and Fiona are a lovely couple and run one of the best b&b’s we’ve ever stayed in. Anyone that offers you a menu for breakfast which includes porridge with cream, honey and a small slug of whisky gets my stamp of approval.

Though we were heading back to my Mums, we made a detour towards Hadrians Wall. Driving in the general direction of Bardon Mill and Housesteads, our detour naturally became ‘getting lost’. As luck would have it, we found a roadsign to ‘Vindolanda’.  This is one of the most outstanding excavated Roman sites on Hadrians Wall, if not in the north of England. It’s popularity was reinforced by the overflowing car park, in which we were lucky to shoehorn the car.

The reception staff were brilliant, chatty and enthusiastic. We grabbed a quick drink in the small cafe, while waiting for a guided tour. Our guide was knowledgeable and eager to answer questions, even ones from an obnoxious person who decided to try and prove he knew more than the expert.

We were shown how complex and expansive the site was. (There are still digs ongoing) Latrines for up to 25 people where strangely, leather shoes had been recovered. It was supposed that if you were using the latrine and your shoe slipped off, the last thing you’d want to do is search for it. However, over 6,000 leather shoes have been unearthed from the site (not all from the latrines), some of them in a remarkable state of preservation.

It’s a unique site, with a well laid out museum displaying the recovered artefacts and warm and welcoming staff. The only part the spoilt our visit was the weather, which had turned wet and blustery when we walked back through the site to our car. If you’re in the area it’s a must see.

It wasn’t too long before we arrived at my Mums and we quickly popped out for fish and chips. Tomorrow we’ve planned a visit to Beamish Open Air Museum. That’s over 1,000 years of history in two days….



A day on the ocean waves..

The boat trip to Holy Island was going to be a highlight of our trip. We found the excursion website to be impossible with which to book online, so arrived early at a packed Seahouses (at the rear of an overflow car park) and stood hopefully at the booking office window. “Sorry”, we were told, “it’s full”. She even rang and checked for us, then Neptune must have smiled on us, as the phone rang and suddenly they’d had a cancellation.

We mooched about to fill in the time till departure (sorry Seahouses but unless you want to stuff yourself silly there isn’t a lot to do) and then we assembled in the green ticket line. The weather was beautiful, the sea calm and we sailed out of the harbour, firstly for the Farne Islands and their extensive sea bird population, then Lindisfarne.

Truthfully, we were a bit deflated on exploring Lindisfarne. It has a certain mystique but also an eerie empty feel, which may have been caused by high tide and most of the tourists leaving before they were cut off. For the most part it was closed and far too late to easily get a hot meal. Ok, two huge toasted teacakes helped stave off the pangs of hunger.

We boarded for our return trip in gusting rain, which made the sight of Bambrugh from the seaward side even more foreboding. I think we could be referred to as ‘weatherbeaten’ when we got back to Seahouses and we decided to drive on to Berwick for a meal before returning here. We really enjoyed the day and it was an unforgettable experience, though for both of us it was something to be ticked off the bucket list rather than to be repeated.

Tomorrow, we drive back to my Mum’s. Though not before a diversion to look at Hadrians Wall and Corbridge.


In which Mr.Toad arrives in Duns..

It wasn’t until I studied a map the other night, that I realised how close we were to Duns. It may not mean much to my readers but Duns is the site of the Jim Clark Museum and given my past love of, and connection with motor sport, it was a must see. It really is super, though quite specialist. Only opened a few days ago, the new building hosts memorabilia from Jim’s remarkable career, his many trophies, a Lotus F1 car and a Lotus Cortina. It also has an F1 simulator, into which I was semi reluctantly shoehorned. I wish I could say I fitted comfortably (perhaps if I lost 10kg) and my skills are only up to two laps of Silverstone, crashing three times, including one which required a simulator reboot. It was great fun however and I’d cheerfully do it again. Perhaps it’s an incentive to go on that long promised diet..

Leaving Duns, we stopped in Kelso, having lunch in one the hotels on the market square. We wandered round after and noticed a stage set up outside the town hall. It appeared that we were present during ‘Civic Week’ and subsequently a quaint ceremony took place which I took to be a form of riding the bounds, a way of marking out the town boundary. There were lots of horses, a police car, an ambulance and a road sweeper, because after horses….

A short drive from Kelso is Floors Castle which exhausted my puns on carpet, lino and tiles. Sadly we were only allowed to see round the ground floor and strictly no photographs of the interiors. There were three super young guides, well informed and very approachable. It’s fascinating to walk round, especially as it’s still a family home. Sadly we arrived somewhat late in the afternoon, and didn’t have enough time to look round the walled garden and to have a coffee and cake. The cake won…

Tomorrow we take to the waves, looking for puffins, seals, dolphins and on Holy Island a sample of mead..Perhaps a ‘full English’ isn’t a good idea tomorrow morning.

62B or not 62B?….

We drove into Berwick on Saturday, not once but twice. I wanted to change my phone sim to a nano sim which would fit the new phone. However the Vodafone shop needed to scan my passport before this highly secure transaction could occur and of course I don’t carry my passport with me. Honestly, we have less trouble flying out of France.

Though Berwick is an attractive town and prettily situated on the Tweed, it is suffering from the high street malaise of empty shops. We found a long stay car park and almost immediately passed the above renumbered house, which tickled our zany sense of humour. It was a bit downhill from then on. Berwick isn’t unpleasant at all, it’s historic and has interesting buildings but hasn’t any ‘wow’ factor. Maybe it doesn’t pretend to..

We found somewhere for lunch which left us underwhelmed and we drove back to our B&B in Horncliffe, where we collected the passports and drove back to Berwick. The girl in the Vodafone shop sorted out the phone very quickly and pointed us to a cafe for some much needed coffee and cake. Mielle Patisserie is a bit of a hidden gem. Speciality teas and coffees (Espresso Bonbon, coffee on top of condensed milk) and super cakes. We’d definitely come back to Berwick for this place..

Today, we’d decided to visit Bambrugh Castle, which is really outstanding. We toured the interior and had a less than outstanding lunch in the cafeteria. However, the castle is really worth a visit…just take sandwiches.

It was early afternoon by the time we decided we were ‘castled out’ and despite a desperate need for indigestion tablets we thought we’d push on to Craster, further down the coast. Craster is famous for it’s smoked kippers, though we read some tourist info that nowadays the kippers are imported and only smoked in Craster. It’s a very pleasant town, with a tiny harbour and even tinier beach where two children seemed intent on paddling in freezing waves. We even found a cure for our indigestion, a cream tea at a charming little cafe..

Tomorrow we may cross the it too much to expect Nicola Sturgeon to welcome us in person??


Wallish Walls..

Yesterday was given over some shopping, of the clothing and hi tech variety. Susie was impressed by my Mum’s new tablet (not oral but Samsung) and I’ve updated my mobile to a Galaxy something or other. Sadly the sim card from my previous phone probably won’t fit so a visit to a Vodaphone shop is in order.

Today we moved on to the Northumberland leg of our trip. I’d decided we could stop in Rothbury for lunch on the way. Rothbury is very attractive town and the Turks Head not a bad place for ‘pub grub’. We wandered round a little after (mainly to walk off a huge helping of sausage and mash) then got back on the road to Horncliffe.

Driving towards Coldstream I passed a road sign to Wallish Walls, which made me wonder if it was twinned with Roofish Roofs or Doorish Doors. However, we made it to Horncliffe and are now comfortably cosseted in the Old Church. Yes, it really is an old United Reform Church, wonderfully renovated and converted into sumptuous bed and breakfast accommodation.

We had a short walk round and were struck by the unusual red shaded stone the houses were constructed with. Apparently, there’s a music festival here this weekend which will be interesting, though we are going to Berwick in search of a Vodaphone shop and probably lunch….