Today was our Rabbie’s tour of Alnwick Castle, the Scottish Borders and Northumberland, with our amazingly informative tour guide/driver, Dave. We headed out of Edinburgh south-east toward the border with England, bound first for the small town of Kelso, home to the ruins of a 12th century Romanesque abbey, from the time of King David I. It was once one of the wealthiest and grandest in Scotland. Its proximity to the English border made it vulnerable to English attacks during the Wars of Independence, and by 1545 was severly damaged, leaving the ruins that remain today. There also happened to be a market going on in Kelso, which is always fun! Our only purchase was a couple of very yummy brownies from one of the stalls, for a mid-morning snack!
Back on the bus headed for Alnwick Castle, but first having to cross the River Tweed into England. It’s no big deal, given that it is all part of the UK. Nothing more than a rather unimpressive sign that says ‘England’ at the end of the bridge. Dave gave us the opportunity to walk across it ourselves!
On to Alnwick Castle, constructed in 1096, and belonging to the Duke of Northumberland to this day, the current owner, Ralph Percy being the 12th Duke. It is the second largest inhabited castle in England, after Windsor Castle. Its claim to fame is that it was the location for filming the first two of the Harry Potter movies, serving as Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, as well as standing in for the fictional Brancaster Castle in the Downton Abbey Christmas Special. Even though it is still an actual residence for the Duke and his family, they vacate it during the tourist season, and allow visitors to traipse through their many rooms and gape at the splendor and opulence of life for the upper crust. As you walk through, you are reminded that it is indeed someone’s home, with typical family photos on the walls and on tabletops. There is artwork dating back centuries, and so many ornate and unique artifacts, it is almost impossible to take it all in. One highlight was being in the dining room with the table that, expanded to its fullest, can seat fifty. This is where the dinner scene from the DA episode was filmed. There is a very interesting film that talks about the logistics (and trepidations) of having a film crew and cast invade this stately abode. I’msure it putthe curators of the estate in a right tizzy!! Unfortunately there was no photography allowed, so I will just have to hold the mental images.
Being a site from Harry Potter, there are references, as well as activities related to those movies. One activity for the kids is the opportunity to learn how to fly a broom, right on the same grounds where Harry took his first flying lesson. We did not avail ourselves of the chance to show our latent Quidditch skills!
Another attraction of Alnwick are the extensive gardens, with the central Cascading Fountain, Rose Garden, Poison Garden, Bamboo Labyrinth, Fountain Garden, Exotic Garden to name but a few. We managed to get to most of the gardens and were most impressed. While we were there, there was a wedding reception going on and the array of fascinators was, well…..fascinating!
Back on the bus, for a drive along the Northumberland Coast with views of the North Sea. We were bound for Bamburgh, a small village best known for Bamburgh Castle, originally the site of a Celtic Brittonic fort in the 5th century. It was destroyed by the Vikings in 993 and the Normans later built a new castle on the site, which were the foundations of the present castle. Over the years, the castle deteriorated, but was restored by vaious owners during the 17 and 18th centuries. It was finally purchased by William Armstrong, a wealthy industrialist and philanthropist, and whose family still owns the castle today. It covers some 9 acres of land and sits high on the cliffs above the sea, overlooking the town of Bamburgh.
Bamburgh was also home to Grace Darling, a local girl who is famous for, along with her father, having rescued passengers from a paddlesteamer that ran aground on the Farne Islands off the Northumberland coast. She and her father rowed for a mile out in the tempestuous sea to rescue those who ahd survived the wreck and were clinging to rocks. She and her father were both awarded medals for their bravery. Unfortunately she died only four years later at the age of 26, and her funeral was a major event attended by hundreds.
On the road again, bound for Edinburgh. After a long day of travelling and touring we were ready for a good dinner, so stopped at the Inn on the Mile and decided to have our first meal of haggis. Mine was just the regular neeps and tatties and haggis in a whisky sauce, while Irv went for the more exotic chicken stuffed with haggis. The haggis was very nicely spiced and quite delicious.