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Five days in Northumberland with Cairngorm Travel, March 2019


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I love Northumberland and it is several years since I was last there. When an unsolicited email arrived from Cairngorm Travel for five days in Northumberland this March, I didn’t hesitate long.

Cairngorm Travel are a coach company based in Goole and run short holiday breaks with pick up point across the north of England. I rang to place my booking. Dealings with Cairngorm travel by phone were good. Calls were answered promptly and efficiently and all my questions answered. They don’t charge extra for use of a credit card, but do ask that you have insurance for the trip. Paperwork and details were sent out a week before the holiday.

I was the only person travelling from Scunthorpe so was picked up by car from Scunthorpe Bus Station and taken to Doncaster Interchange where I joined the main coach. This worked very well, especially when the driver on the return trip dropped me off at home, rather than the bus station.

The coach had other pick ups at Ferrybridge, Wetherby and Durham Services, where people arrived by mini bus.

We arrived at Alnwick about 4pm and were booked into the White Swan Hotel for four nights.

This is an old coaching inn in the centre of Alnwick and is a lovely old fashioned place with a lot of character. The revolving door, main staircase and fitting in the dining room (panelling, windows, mirrors and plasterwork) came from the RMS Olympia which was a sister ship of the Titanic and as opulent. When the Olympic was scrapped in the late 1930s, the then owner of the hotel bought them to install here.

The dining room is stunning and meals more than lived up to the surroundings.

There was plenty of choice on the three course evening menu. Food was properly cooked and attractively presented with good size portions. The cheese plate could have served three. As well as the usual full English breakfast, there were also Craster Kippers on the menu, which were so popular the chef had run out by the second morning.

I had a room at the back of the hotel, so the view wasn’t brilliant.

It was a comfortable room with an excellent walk in shower, good towels and plenty of toiletries. The welcome tray also included two packs of Grandma Wild biscuits each day along with two bottles of water (still and sparkling).

There was a big flat screen TV, hair drier, ironing board and iron. There was an open hanging area with plenty of coat hangers. My only criticism would be lack of drawer space for clothes. This was limited to two small drawers beneath the desk and bedside tables.

I had enough time after registering to go for a walk round Alnwick taking photographs and got as far as the Lion Bridge for the classic view of Alnwick Castle seen across the river.

We spent all of the first day on Holy Island, arriving just before the causeway was covered until late afternoon. The advantage of this was there were few visitors. On sunny days in summer when the causeway is open all day, the island does get uncomfortably busy.

I had planned to visit the ruins of the Priory but found it was shut (unexpected closure at short notice) so had to admire from over the wall.

St Mary’s Church next to the Priory and the parish church was open and nearly everyone visits.

I walked to the castle which has recently reopened after a massive restoration programme to sort out problems with damp from leaking roofs and windows. Many of the rooms are still unfurnished which means you see the architecture and structure of the rooms rather than the furnishings.

The next day was a free day for us to spend in Alnwick. I began with St Michael’s Church, an impressive C15th building overlooking the river, but the outside is more impressive than the inside.

Although Alnwick Castle was shut until the end of the month, the Gardens are open all year. I had read a lot about them before visiting and they more than lived up to all the hype. They were the brian child of the present Duchess who wanted to restore a disused Walled Garden to provide much needed employment and also bring tourists and their money into the area. They have certainly achieved this. Visiting before the leaves come out means you can appreciate the monumental scale of the gardens and the work needed to create them. The cascade is stunning.

I finished the day by visiting Barter Books in the old railway station. This markets itself as the largest second hand bookshop in the country and it is huge. In fact there were so many books, I went into overload.

Our final day was a trip to Cragside, near Rothbury. This was the home of C19th Tyneside Industrialist Lord Armstrong. It was the first house in the world to be lit by electricity and labour saving devices so essential today. It is said to be the place were modern living began. We had plenty of time to visit the house and explore the gardens.

The next day was back to Scunthorpe. This is the first time I have been with Cairngorm Travel and I was impressed. The coach was comfortable. The feeder service worked well, reducing the amount of time spend sitting in the coach travelling around the countryside to pick up passengers. I would definitely use them again.

The following pages contain more detailed descriptions and lots of pictures of the places visited. It is an area ignored by many tourists who rush through heading to Edinburgh and Scotland. They miss a lot.


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The Holy Island of Lindisfarne

There is always something special about small islands and this is particularly true of Holy Island. Off the east coast of Northumberland, Holy Island is reached by a tidal causeway whichs cuts the island off from the mainland for several hours twice a day. The tide comes in very quickly and motorists ignoring safe crossing times are liable to be stranded, although a refuge hut is provided for the foolish.

It is possible to walk across the sands at low tide, following the pilgrim’s route which is marked by wooden posts.

The Mud flats along the causeway are popular feeding ground for wading birds. The long causeway is banked by sand dunes, stabilised with marram grass. In late spring the damp hollows are the habitat of orchids.

The rest of the island is flat and low lying rough grassland with patches of open water.

Much of the island is now a nature reserve and there is a nature trail around the eastern half, starting from the small information Centre Window on Wild Lindisfarne.

The island is dominated by the massive rocky outcrop of Whin Sill known as Beblowe Crag and topped by Lindisfarne Castle.

Holy Island Village is a compact small settlement clustered around the harbour

In AD 634 Oswald, King of Northumbria granted the island to the church and a monastic community was established and rapidly became a centre of Christian learning, spreading Christianity across the north of England. The growing wealth of monastery made it a target for Viking raids. In the late C9th the monks took their precious relics of Aidan and Cuthbert along with the Lindisfarne Gospels to safety on the mainland. Viking raids led to its abandonment in the late eighth century when the monks left, taking St Cuthbert’s body with them.

After the Norman conquest, the Priory was re-founded by a group of Benedictine monks from Durham Cathedral. After the Dissolution of the Monasteries, the priory and estates passed to the crown. This was a time of considerable unrest with the Scots and a fortress was built on Beblowe Crags. The island with its natural harbour became an important military stronghold until the beginning of the C19th when it was used by the coastguards.

By the end of the C19th, the fort was in a ruined condition and was bought by Edward Hudson who commissioned Sir Edwin Lutyens to remodel it as a fashionable holiday home. Lindisfarne Castle is now in the care of the National Trust.

To the north of the castle is the walled Gertrude Jekyll Garden. There has been a garden here since the C16th growing vegetables to supplement the diet of the troops based in the fort. It is on a south facing slope to get the most of the sunshine. The walls help protect the plants from salt damage from wind blown spray.

Hudson decided to restore the walled garden which could be seen from the castle windows. Lutyens commissioned Gertrude Jekyll, a close colleague, to design a garden that would flower in the summer when Hudson and his guests were staying in the castle. The garden fell into disuse in the C20th but has been restored by the National Trust in 2003, to Jekyll’s original planting plan.

From being an important Monastic settlement to a military fortress, the island is now a popular tourist destination. Visitors head to the attractive village with its regular street pattern lined with old stone or plaster houses.



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Holy Island of Lindisfarne continued....

The ruins of the priory are to the south of the village, by St Mary’s Church.

Although there has been a church here since the C7th, the present building is mainly C13th. In the south aisle is a carving

St Aidan’s Roman Catholic Church in the centre of the village is mid C20th.

St Cuthbert’s Centre in the C19th Presbyterian Church is currently closed for essential maintenance.

Next to it is Lindisfarne Mead and St Aidan’s Winery. The mead is made from fermented white grapes, honey, herbs and island water. The Visitor Centre offers samples of the different meads as well as selling products made with the mead. Next to it is a large gift shop.

The Lindisfarne Centre contains the information centre and has an exhibition covering monastery and the Lindisfarne Gospels, the Viking raids and wild life on the island.
Across the road is the Gospel Gardens, inspired by the Lindisfarne Gospels, these were a silver medal winner at the Chelsea Flower Show. The metal arch at the back of the garden represents the Rainbow Arch in the Priory ruins.

The Look Out Tower on a rocky outcrop to the south of the Priory was built in the 1940s for the coastguards. It has now been restored with a 360˚ glass observatory at the top which gives good views down into the Priory ruins and across the island. It is best reached along the track from the harbour.

Off the coast is the tiny tidal St Cuthbert’s Island, which was used by St Cuthbert as a retreat. The remains of stone walls are probably medieval.

The sheltered natural harbour lies to the east of the village and played an important role in the defence of the north east coast against the Scots in the C16th and C17th. In the C19th it was home to one of the largest herring fleets along the east coast of England. Now there is little fishing and upturned no longer used fishing boat now function as storage sheds.

The remains of C19th lime kilns can be seen beneath the eastern flanks of the castle. These are the largest and best preserved lime kins in Northumberland. They were built in 1860 and worked until 1900. Limestone was quarried in the north of the island and brought by wagonway to the kilns. Coal needed for smelting was brought by boat from Scotland. The wooden poles on the shore are the remains of the jetty. The lime was used for fertilizer, whitewash and building mortar.

The kilns were constructed as a block of six in two banks of three and there were access and service tunnels linking them. Buttresses gave extra support. Limestone and coal were loaded into the top of the kiln.

The kilns were carefully monitored while burning to make sure the correct temperature was reached. The finished lime was raked out from the bottom of the kiln and loaded onto boats anchored at the jetty and exported to Scotland.


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Lindisfarne Priory

In AD 634 Oswald, King of Northumbria granted the island to the church and a monastic community, led by St Aidan with monks from Iona, established a monastery here, which played a key part in the spread of Christianity across northern England. There were two small wooden churches with domestic and service accommodation, surrounded by a ditch and bank.

Aidan was succeeded by Cuthbert in 670 and the monastery rapidly became a centre of Christian learning. The Lindisfarne Gospels were written here in early 700s. At its peak, there were probably about 30 monks here along with novices and lay people. After Cuthbert’s death, his body was enshrined before the high altar and Lindisfarne became an important pilgrimage centre. The growing wealth of the monastery made it a target for Viking raids. The last Danish raid in 875 led to its abandonment when the monks left, taking St Cuthbert’s body and other precious relics including the Lindisfarne Gospels with them. A small Christian community seems to have survived on Lindisfarne as fragments of C8-C10th Carved crosses have been found and are on display in the museum.

After the Norman invasion, Lindisfarne Priory was re-founded in 1070, by a group of Benedictine monks from Durham Cathedral. Work began on a splendid stone church in 1120 using locally quarried stone, over the spot they believed St Cuthbert had been buried. A cenotaph marked the spot. The original church had a small chancel apse but this was later extended to form a rectangular chancel. Once the Priory Church was completed, work began on the monastic buildings, with a courtyard with the domestic buildings to the south of the church and the Prior’s House in the south east corner. A plan of the site can be found here, with a reconstruction of what it might have looked like here.

Monks from Durham served here on rotation. At its height in the late 1200s Lindisfarne Priory was home to perhaps 10 monks, a prior and supported by a large number of servants.

Lindisfarne was never a wealthy monastery. C14th border raids on the local area from Scotland led to a drop in tithes and land rents from estates on the mainland. The number of monks fell to four.

The monastery was fortified by building a defensive wall and tower, forming an outer and inner courtyard. Battlements were built round the top of the church and towers and arrow slits added. Extra protection was provided by a barbican on the gateway between inner and outer courtyard. The outer courtyard served a similar function to the outer bailey of a traditional castle.

After the Dissolution of the Monasteries by Henry VIII in 1534, the priory and its estates passed into the possession of the crown. The island was taken into Crown ownership. The buildings were used as storehouses for the fort (now the site of the Castle) built to protect the harbour. They finally fell into disuse in the C17th when the lead was stripped from the church roof and the central tower collapsed, leaving the iconic Rainbow arch, one of the ribs of the vaulted ceiling. Villagers used the stone for building stone. By the late C18th the ruins were becoming a popular attraction for both artists and antiquarians. The west front collapsed in the 1850s and was carefully reconstructed at the crown’s expense. The site has been in the care of English Heritage since 1984 and is one of the most visited sites in the country.

The ruins of the priory along with St Mary’s Church, dominate the south side of the village.

On the lawn in front of the church is a modern carving of St Cuthbert.

The west front with its two flanking towers and carved arches around the west door would have been an impressive site for pilgrims. The south tower stands to nearly its original height. The battlements along the top of the wall with the arrow slits were added in the C14th.

The transept walls are still standing. Although the central tower collapsed, one of the vault ribs still survives, forming the iconic and much photographed ‘Rainbow Arch’. Little remains of the chancel apart from the north wall and the the empty east window.

Only low walls are left of the courtyard and domestic buildings between the church and the Prior’s lodging.

Its tall chimney stack still stands but the rest is now an empty shell. This was built after the church using a different stone. The grey colour contrasts with the red of the church building.

There is little left of the barbican between the inner and outer courtyards. This is now a grassy space with the foundations of the guest hall and stables along the outer wall. The C14th defensive wall on the west side of the courtyard still stands.

The lookout tower on the rocky outcrop beyond the priory ruins has a good view down onto the outer courtyard with the remains of guest house along the wall and the the barbican separating the inner and outer courtyards.

There is a small museum in the Visitor centre which has a collection of Anglo Saxon stonework and crosses and other artefacts from the site.


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St Mary’s Church

There has been a church here since C7th when St Aidan established a monastery on Lindisfarne. This had two churches - the larger and more easterly St Peter’s Church was the monastery church. The smaller westerly church of St Mary would have served the wider community which grew up around the Priory.

St Mary’s would originally have been a wooden building but was later replaced by stone. The remains of the Saxon arch can be made out above the chancel arch. The north aisle and north arcade date from the late C12th. The rest of the church was rebuilt in the C13th, when a long narrow chancel replaced the Saxon /Norman apse.

After the Dissolution of the monasteries, St Mary’s continued as the parish church. The buttressed bell turret is Georgian and was added in the early C18th.

There was a major restoration in the C19th.

Inside, it is a simple but attractive church with a Norman north arcade with round pillars and round arches and a later south arcade with octagonal pillars and pointed arches. The arches are picked out in bands of different coloured stone. Above is a timber roof. The remains of the Saxon arch can be made out above the chancel arch. There is a small rectangular window above the chancel arch. Pews and pulpit are from the C19th restoration.

The long narrow chancel feels bare as most of the choir stalls have been removed. At the far end is a simple table altar. The modern reredos on the east wall has the Crucifixion at the centre with Northumbrian saints and the Virgin. The carpet in front of the altar has a Celtic design similar to those seen in the Lindisfarne Gospels.

Kneelers also have a Celtic cross design.

The organ is at the end of the south aisle. This contains a large elm sculpture ‘The Journey” of six monks carrying St Cuthbert’s coffin.

The north aisle is known as the fisherman’s aisle. The altar is dedicated to St Peter and has two crossed keys on the front. Draped around it is fishing net with small fishes caught in it.

Stained glass windows are C19th apart from the lovely lancet window in the north wall of the chancel with images of Holy Island

The church is open daily and popular with visitors to the island.


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Lindisfarne Castle

The Holy Island of Lindisfarne with its Priory was an important religious settlement until the C16th. When Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries, the priory and all its estates passed to the crown. With increasing unrest along the Scottish border, the island with its natural harbour, became an important military stronghold. The harbour was the most northerly in England and important for the protection of Berwick on Tweed and the Scottish Border.

Beblowe Crag, an outcrop of the whin sill and the highest point of the island, was fortified with an earthen work fort, to protect the harbour below. This was later replaced by a stone curtain wall and the lower battery.

A stone garrison with administrative buildings and an upper battery soon followed, using stone from the Priory buildings. The fort was garrisoned by troops from Berwick on Tweed and was consistently under funded. With the Union of the Crowns and accession of James VI of Scotland to the English throne, the fort lost its military significance, although a small garrison was maintained there.

The fort was seized by the Parliamentarians during the Civil War. By the start of the C18th there were only seven men stationed there. It was captured for just one day in 1715 by two Jacobites before being recaptured. It remained a military fort until the beginning of the C19th when it was used by the coastguards.

By the end of the C19th the fort was in a ruined condition. It was leased and then bought by Edward Hudson, owner of Country Life magazine. He commissioned Sir Edwin Lutyens, architect and designer, to re-model the castle into a fashionable holiday home. His design was based on a medieval castle with thick walls, vaulted ceilings. open fireplaces and lit by candles.

He created an L shaped house on the lower battery which linked the east and west buildings of the original fort.

The castle was extended a few years later with the addition of the long gallery and extra bedrooms. When work was completed, the castle had four living room, nine bedrooms and a bathroom. Lutyens also designed some of the furniture, like the dresser in the kitchen, for the castle. The rest was chosen by Hudson.

The castle was used for house parties in the summer but with no running water, or electricity it was not popular with visitors.

Hudson never married and in 1921 sold the castle and contents to a London Stockbroker., who later sold it to a merchant banker who gave it to the National Trust in 1944. He continued to live there as a tenant until his death in 1965

The castle has recently reopened after a massive restoration programme. Lutyens might have been an iconic C20th architect but several of his buildings developed major faults with deteriorating stonework, leaking roofs, damp and windows. Lindisfarne with its flat roofs and exposure to the elements, was one of these. The castle was completely cleared of all its furnishings . Walls were repointed and covered with ‘sneck harl’ (a lime and sand coating designed to act as extra protection). The inner walls have been covered with lime plaster to help them ‘breathe’. Drainage of the flat roof has been improved. All the windows have been replaced.

Some furnishings have been returned but the majority of the rooms are still empty while the plaster still dries out. The advantage of this is that visitors now notice the architecture, with its austere but beautifully designed rooms linked by dramatic corridors, galleries and stairways, rather than the furnishings.

Lindisfarne Castle is an L shaped building which dominates the whole island. The walls seem to rise out of the stone.

It is reached up a steep cobbled ramp to a small door through the outer wall which has a portcullis worked by weights in the scullery above. Steep stairs lead onto the Lower Battery with the remains of gun emplacements used in the late C19th.

In front is Lutyens ‘castle’ with a doorway into the entrance hall. The kitchens and scullery are to the with the dining room and ship room behind.

The entrance Hall is ‘Norman’ with sturdy round columns and arches.

On the end wall is a massive open fireplace. Above it is a wind indicator, painted in 1912. In the centre is a map of Holy Island with the defeated Spanish Armada being chased by the English fleet.

To the left of the entrance hall is the kitchen with a large cast iron range set in an inglenook. The large dresser on the right was designed by Lutyens for the castle. The older settle has a cupboard on the back which was used to hang meat while it cured.

When the walls were stripped during restoration work, the remains of late C17th wall paintings with stylised flower motifs were found.

Beyond is the scullery with a small sink.

Opposite the window is the winding gear and weights for operating the portcullis over the entrance door to the lower battery. In a corner is a massive cast iron boiler and fuel store which was responsible for heating three radiators in the castle.

A corridor leads from the entrance hall to the dining room and ship room beyond. These retain their original stone vaulted ceilings designed to take the weight of the cannons on the upper battery. The dining room has a lovely brick floor. The windows are replacements of Lutyen’s original design. The open fireplace in the end wall has the remains of a bread oven.

The ship room was the gunpowder store of the Tudor fort and the small room at the end was originally a latrine but was converted into a store for logs for the fire. The massive fire place used to fill the room with smoke if the wind was in the wrong direction.

The room gets its name from the model ship hanging from the ceiling.

The bell in the centre came from steamship Locksley which was built in Newcastle and took deliveries to ports on the north east coast. She was wrecked on the Lindisfarne coast in 1938 and the bell washed ashore. It was discovered again in a cupboard in 2011.

Stairs lead to the first floor with the bedrooms and long gallery, which was the main reception space of the castle. This has an attractive tile and stone flag floor.

This was the only new building added by Lutyens, intended to link the former Commanders lodging on the upper battery with the old garrison barracks. At the far end is a small fireplace. Beyond is the west bedroom, now an empty room.

Off the long gallery are the two north bedrooms and a smaller bedroom, added by Lutyens to provide more guest accommodation. The east bedroom over the entrance hall was used by the most important guests. It was the largest and most sheltered of the bedrooms with a massive fireplace. The room is now used for talks about the castle.

A short flight of stairs from the long gallery leads out onto the upper battery. This has excellent views across the island to the causeway and down the coast to Bamburgh Castle and the Farne Islands.

A flight of stairs leads up from the long gallery to the upper gallery. This is a long narrow room with views across to the harbour and priory. It has plaster walls and a wooden floor. At one end, three steps lead up to a small area furnished with table and chairs. An old fashioned gramophone was playing. There is a small spiral staircase which presumably leads up to the roof but now has no entry signs.


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Just off the present A1, Alnwick was an important staging point between Newcastle and Berwick. It became an important market town and is traditionally regarded as the historic County Town. That role has now been taken over by nearby Morpeth which is the administrative centre for Northumberland.

Alnwick has preserved its character over the years and is a very attractive town with cobbled streets and narrow alleyways, lined with C17th to C19th buildings. The Market Cross still stands in the market place, although the top was replaced in the C19th.

Although there are large Morrisons, Sainsbury, Co-Op and Lidl supermarkets, the centre of the town still retains a wide range of small specialist shops, many which have been trading for many generations. A walk along Bondgate Within, Market Street and Fenkle Street is shopaholic heaven. Alnwick is a bustling and thriving town.

Turnbull’s butchers has been trading for 140 years and as well as selling very good meat also has an excellent selection of pies, pasties, cakes and biscuits. They also sell traditionally smoked Craster kippers. The Cheese Room is a specialist cheese shop and deli selling a wide range of local and continental cheeses.

Glendale Paints is the kind of old fashioned hardware shop which was so common 50 years ago, but has virtually disappeared now. As well as paints it is an Aladdin’s cave of goodies selling everything from light pulls to walking stick ferrules. Mojo Toys is an old fashioned toy shop selling traditional toys which are so difficult to find now. Not only does Jobson’s of Alnwick sell country cloths, it also has its own saddler. This is the place to come to repair an old saddle or to have a bespoke one made.

The House of Hardy on the edge of the town manufactures fishing tackle and runs factory tours. It has a small museum covering the history of the company that started in 1872. Their shop has the best stock of rods and reels in the area.

There is a Saturday Market in the Market Place and a monthly farmers market and craft fair on the last Friday of the month.

There are also charity shops selling good quality items, reflecting the affluence of the are. I was intrigued by book titles “Cooking for your cat’ and ‘The Secret Life of Cows’.

For second hand books, the place to go is Barter Books in the old Station building on the edge of the town. A short branch line was opened in 1850 bringing visitors to the castle from the main line at Alnwick and the size of the station reflects its importance. The line closed in 1968 as part of the Beeching Cuts and is now home to the largest second hand bookshop in the country. There is a coal fire in the waiting room, lots of chairs to sit and read in as well as a cafe. A model railway runs round the top of he shelves.

Tourist Information is in the splendid Shambles building between Market Street and the Market Place. This was built by the third Duke of Northumberland in 1826 with butcher’s shops and a fish market at the end of the building and Northumberland Hall above. This now hosts weddings and events. Staff are knowledgeable and helpful and there is a very clear free map of Alnwick. This is also the place to buy tickets for Alnwick Gardens as they give a 10% discount on the price.

The Town Hall with its clock Tower dates from 1736 and originally contained the court room, council chambers and weigh house. It is now the home of the Alnwick Gallery.



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Alnwick continued....

Alnwick is a Saxon place name with wik meaning dairy farm. A settlement grew up beside a ford on the River Aln on the main north south route through Northumberland.

The town grew up in the shelter of the Castle, which still dominates the west side of the town.

After the Norman Conquest land was granted to Gilbert de Tesson who built a motte and bailey castle here, guarding the crossing point of the river. De Tesson was stripped of his land after taking place in an abortive uprising against William II and his estates were granted to Ivo de Vesci who became 1st Baron of Alnwick and built a stone castle. When the last de Vesci died without an heir, the barony was bought by Lord Henry Percy, and still belongs to the Percy family today. He was responsible for making the castle a mighty border fortress.

By the C17th the Percy family were no longer living in the castle and it was damaged in the Civil War. The First Duke of Northumberland began a massive restoration programme in the 1700s, employing Robert Adam turning the medieval fortress into the more comfortable Gothic style building. In the mid C19th, the Fourth Duke employed Anthony Salvin to restore a more authentic medieval border fortress to the outside with sturdy stone walls and towers. Stone figures were added to the battlements. These were fashionable in the C14th to give an impression of guards along the walls.

The classic view of the castle is from the Lion Bridge with its cast iron Percy Lion in the centre of the parapet.

Alnwick Castle is the the second largest inhabited castle in England after Windsor Castle, and a very popular tourist attraction, especially with the Harry Potter connections.

Also worth visiting is Alnwick Castle Gardens. These were the vision of the Duchess who not only wanted to bring a derelict walled garden back to life but also provide much needed employment and a community resource, with its drug awareness programmes and work with dementia sufferers. The result is possibly the most ambitious contemporary garden in the world, with its cascade, water features and poison garden and the world’s largest tree house. They are wonderful.

Being close to the Scottish Border the town suffered from Scottish armies and also raiding attacks. Edward IV granted a ‘licence to wall and embattle’ the town in 1443. All that is left of the walls is the massive Bondgate Tower or Hotspur Gate, built to guard the entrance to the town from the south east.

The Pottergate Tower guarded entry from the north. This was rebuilt in 1768 and is now luxury holiday cottage.

Hulne Park is part of the Percy estates and was originally a hunting park enclosed by stone walls. It contains the ruins of two important religious foundations. Alnwick Abbey was founded by the Premonstratensian Order in 1147 on a site on the north bank of the River Aln just to the north west of the town. It was suppressed in 1539. All that remains today is an imposing gatehouse, standing in Hulne Park, which is part of the estates of the Duke of Northumberland. Near by are the ruins of Hulne Priory, which was founded by the Carmelites in the C13th and had a defensive wall around it. The public are free to enter the park which has a series of waymarked walks, but no tourist facilities.

Also in Hulne Park is Brizlee Tower, built in the C18th by the First Duke to commemorate his late wife.

At the opposite end of the town, near the old station is the Percy Tenantry Column, a fluted Doric column with a balcony round the top with the Percy Lion and more lion statues round the base. In 1816, the Second Duke reduced tenant’s rents in response to hardship caused by the Napoleonic Wars. The grateful tenants erected this column to him.

After the death of the Second Duke, the Third Duke is alleged to have increased rents again assuming that if the tenants could afford to erect the tower, they could afford increased rents, hence the nick name ‘The Farmers’ Folly’, although this story only became widespread many years later.

The town war memorial is near here.

The bronze Harry Hotspur Statue on Pottergate was unveiled in 2010 to commemorate the 700th anniversary of the Percy family in Alnwick. Hotspur made famous by Shakespeare was an important captain in the Anglo Scottish wars and lead a series of rebellions against Henry IV before being killed in the Battle of Shrewsbury. The statue’s face is based on tht of the eldest son of the present Duke, who is a similar age to Hotspur.

The row of cottage behind are the Duke’s Memorial Cottages, and are council houses dedicated to the Ninth Duke who was killed in battle in 1940, along with other men of Alnwick who also lost their lives.

St Michael’s Church on the outskirts of the town near the castle is big, reflecting the size and importance of Alnwick. Set in a large graveyard, much of the present building is C15th.

In 1448, permission was granted to build a small chantry and chantry house in the grounds of St Michael’s Church, on Walkergate. This was dedicated to St Mary and housed two chaplains. The house was also the school, until a new school was built on Pottergate. Now all that is left is part of a wall.

With the rapidly increasing population in the C19th, St Michael’s was no longer large enough to hold the congregation. The Third Duke commissioned Anthony Salvin to build a new church, St Paul’s, in the centre of town on Green Batt.

In the late C20th the two parishes were combined and St Paul’s was sold to the Roman Catholics to be used as their church rather than the smaller St Mary’s. This was deconsecrated and is now the Bailiffgate Museum, a local history museum covering the history of Alnwick.

The Bakehouse Gallery in the old Bakehouse on Prudhoe Street sells pictures, sculpture and jewellery.

The Alnwick Playhouse on Bongate Without is currently undergoing a massive redevelopment programme to provide an Arts and performance centre.

Alnwick Music Festival is a three day event with well known as well as local performers.

The Alnwick Shrove Tuesday football match known as Scoring the Hales dates back is a popular local tradition stretching back over hundreds of years, and is one of the few surviving games of Medieval football still being played. There are few rules and each team has around 150 players. The game is won by the first team to score two ‘hales’ or goals.

Ghost walks introduce visitors to the blacker side of Alnwick history.

Although the Alnwick branch line closed in 1968, the Aln Valley Railway have ambitious plans to restore the line. Although it is no longer possible to use the old station and access to the town is restricted because of the by pass, a brand new Lionhart Station and Visitor Centre have been built on the edge of the town and half a mile of track is now running with plans to extend further.


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Alnwick Gardens

This was my first visit to Alnwick Gardens and I’d read all the hype when it first opened. It had a lot to live up to, but boy does it! This is an amazing garden constructed on a monumental scale. Visiting in mid March before the leaves come out meant that I was very aware of the underlying structure of the garden and the massive effort taken to create it.

The garden is very much the vision of the Duchess who has turned a derelict garden not used since the Second World War’s Dig for Victory Campaign, into a world renowned garden. Not only has she created what must be one of the best contemporary gardens in the world, it also achieved her aim of providing much needed employment to the area as well as bringing tourist money into the town.

The garden cost an estimated £42 million to develop and is now run as a charitable trust, encouraging community involvement. Drug awareness programmes are run in the Poison Garden for local school children and there are horticultural programmes to improve the quality of life and well being for the over 55s or those with dementia.

The garden is a wonderful combination of different areas and spaces with something for everyone from golf in the forgotten garden to the largest tree house in the world, set high in the tree canopy with massive branches growing through the floors. and wooden walkways.

Entry to the gardens is through the original 1750 gates and leads into the Garden Pavilion, an attractive wood and glass structure opened in 2016. This has a cafe and one of the best views in the gardens, with the cascade made up of a series of steps falling down the hillside.

This is particularly impressive when the jets and fountains are turned on every half hour for 5 minutes. Starting at the top, a series of plumes of water run down the upper cascade culminating in a massive yet at the bottom.

There are smaller water features and fountains scattered around the gardens with water channels feeding into the cascade.

At the bottom of the cascade is the Serpent Garden with hedges of trimmed yew forming a maze with more water features.

Next to it is the Bamboo labyrinth and beyond both of these is the rose garden. As well as rose beds, pergolas are covered with climbing roses,clematis and honeysuckle in the summer months.

Well made paths climb up through the trees towards the walled ornamental garden at the top of the garden. In early March, the grass was covered with small blue bulbs.

The Ornamental Garden is entered through a triple archway with metal gates and looks down on the top of the cascade.

The cascade begins in here and there are water channels and small fountains feeding it. Hedges are carefully designed to provide different vistas of the garden.

There are a series of small beds lined with fruit trees trained to form a trellis around them.

Beyond the ornamental garden the path wanders through more trees to the Cherry Orchard.

There are over 300 trees and this is the largest Cherry orchard in the world. The trees are underplanted with spring bulbs. Wooden swings have been placed in the orchard to enjoy the blossom and the views. Live streaming allows you to enjoy the blossom if unable to visit the garden.

The Poison Garden is near the bottom of the cascade, through a locked wrought iron gate decorated with poison ivy and can only visited by guided tour.

Over 100 species of poisonous plants are grown in the garden, including class A, B and C drugs which require a Home Office licence to grow. Participants are warned not to touch anything as some plants are so dangerous, even touching them with your skin can cause death.

The guide talks about some of the plants growing in the garden, how they are used and their effects. It was sobering how many are commonly found garden plants including rhubarb, laburnum, helebores and rosemary.

I spent several hours wandering and enjoying the garden. It has been cleverly designed so there is something to enjoy throughout the year. The gardens are open throughout the year.

The main car park is off the B1340. Alternatively there is plenty of disc parking in the town and pedestrian access off Greenwell Road. Tourist Information in Alnwick sell tickets to the gardens with a 10% reduction on the ticket price.


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St Michael's Church, Alnwick

The church is at the edge of the town near the castle. It is built on top of the hillside overlooking the river.

There may have been a church on this site in the C8th although the first record for a church is in the late C12th. Nothing remains of this building, apart from a few studded stones on either side of the chancel arch. The church was badly damaged during the Wars of Scottish Independence in the early C14th. The church was rebuilt around 1460. All that remains of this building is part of the west and north walls.

By the C15th, the church was in a poor state of repair. Henry VI granted financial aid for the rebuilding using tolls from the port at Alnmouth. This explains the splendid building which is regarded as one of the most outstanding churches in the county.

Much of the present building dates from this rebuild when the chancel was extended, clerestory and tower added. The unusual look out tower at the south east corner, with a winding stair to the roof, was used to warn of raiders during the Border conflicts. It was again used in the early C19th when a landing by Napoleon’s army was feared and a series of beacons were set up around the country.

There was a major restoration of the church in the mid C19th by the fourth Duke of Northumberland when the plaster was removed from the walls and ceiling and took out the west gallery removed. He also gave the oak pews seen in the chancel.

A sacristy and choir vestry (now the parish room) were added to the north wall in the late C19th.

From the outside it is a very attractive church, set in a large graveyard. It has a typical squat Northumbrian square tower at the south west corner. Entry is through the south porch.

Just inside the door, beneath the tower are early medieval grave slabs.

On the window ledge near them are the remains of two statues discovered during the C18th restoration. These were probably thrown out during the Reformation. One is thought to be Henry VI and the other St Sebastian.

The inside is big with arcades of pillars with pointed arches separating nave and chancel from the side aisles. These are unusual as they stretch the length of the church. The heavy wood truss roof with small carved heads at the base of the beams, dates from the C19th restoration. Between the beams are small square clerestory windows with plain glass.

The modern black Kilkenny limestone font at the back of the nave was added in 2001.

On a pillar at the back of the nave is the memorial slab to officers and men who died in the South African War 1899-1901.

The arcade in the chancel is more delicate than the pillars in the nave and they have much more elaborately carved capitals with angels holding a shield with a frieze of fruit and leaves below. There are open carved wooden screens between the aisle chapels and the chancel.

The beautifully carved choir pews date from the C19th restoration. On the floor of the chancel are old grave slabs. The simple table altar in the chancel came from the castle in the 1980s and replaced a smaller altar.

The lovely east window has Christ in the centre with the four evangelists which their symbols on either side.

The side aisles have flat ceilings. The organ is in the north aisle. At the end of the north aisle adjacent to the chancel is St Catherine’s Chapel which was refurbished by the eight Duke in memory of his father. It is now used for private prayer.

The reredos with the Adoration of the Magi, the Crucifixion and the Resurrection dates from 1926.

At the end of the south aisle are two C14th stone effigies. The lady is thought to be that of LAdy Isabella, widow of William de Vesci, the last Baron of Alnwick. It is not known who the young man was. The identity of the male figure is unknown, although he may also have been a member of the de Vesci family.

The stained glass in the church is C19th.

The small lancet window at the back of the north aisle contains a small fragment of C14th stained glass representing a pelican plucking her breast to feed her young.

When I visited in March 2019, workmen were removing the front few rows of pews in the nave to open up the church for other activities.

I found the outside of the church more impressive than the inside. The church is open daily until 4pm.


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Cragside - the house where modern living began...

People run out of superlatives to describe Cragside. They vary from ‘a palace of the modern magician’ to Pevsners’ description of ‘The most dramatic Victorian mansion in the north of England’. It was the first house in the world to be lit by electricity. It had hot and cold running water, central heating, telephones, fire alarms, a hydraulic passenger lift and even a Turkish bath suite. It can be said that Cragside was the place where modern living began.

Cragside was the family home of Lord Armstrong, a successful Victorian industrialist and inventor as well as an important philanthropist. His scientific innovation and entrepreneurial skill was employed in the manufacture of hydraulic machines, heavy industry, armaments and ship building. By the end of the C19th, his factories on Tyneside employed 25,000 workers and were responsible for building the largest and most powerful battleships of the time, for customers across the world.

The house was built in 1862 on a bare rocky hillside near Rothbury, and was intended as a modest country retreat with eight or ten rooms and a stable for a pair of horses. The Northumberland Central Railway arrived in Rothbury in 1869 making travel from Newcastle easier and faster. Cragside gradually became the Armstrong’s main home.

It was expanded in 1869 by R. Norman Shaw who took 15 years and added wings and towers. It is a mix of architectural styles with Arts and Crafts half timber, stone work with Elizabethan style mullioned windows, battlements and clustered chimneys.

His wife was an enthusiastic and keen gardener and was pivotal in turning the bare rocky hillside into the gardens seen today, by planting over seven million trees and shrubs.

Five lakes were constructed to supply water to the house and to produce electricity.

Cragside was an important setting for Armstrong's commercial activities and many foreign dignitaries visited him there, including the Prince and Princess of Wales, the Shah of Persia and the King of Siam. The visits were planned as relaxed country weekends with sporting pursuits for the men (angling and shooting) and walks in the pleasure gardens for the ladies.

It also acted as a showcase for Armstrong’s ever increasing art collection. Furniture and fittings were specially designed for Cragside by some of the most outstanding designers of the time, including names like William Morris, Byrne Jones and Dante Gabriel Rosetti.

When Armstrong died in 1900, the house was inherited by his great nephew William Watson-Armstrong. He lacked Armstrong's commercial acumen and a series of poor financial investments led to the sale of much of the great art collection in 1910. In 1972, on the death of Watson-Armstrong's heir, William John Montagu Watson-Armstrong, it passed to the Treasury in part settlement of death duties. It was acquired by the National Trust in 1977 as one of the most important Victorian houses to be preserved for the nation. The house opened to the public in 1979. The formal terraced gardens, glasshouses and parkland were acquired in 1991.

Cragside was the most technologically advanced house of its time with every home comfort imaginable. It was the first house in the world to be lit by hydroelectricity, making it a wonder of the Victorian age. Forty five lights were put in although there was only enough power to light nine at a time until a larger power house was built. Dinner guests were given cushions at dinner to smother flash fires caused by the electric filament lamps.

Many of rooms in the original part of the house were heated by a warm air ventilation system through a network of ducts. The air was heated in two basement rooms fitted with massive cast iron heating pipes. Most of the rooms are fitted with floor gratings arranged around the perimeter of the room.

The later parts of the house were heated heated by a low pressure wet heating system, with massive heating pipes enclosed in decorative wood and mesh.

The house is reached by a carriage way from the B 6341 and is entered beneath two archways with a small courtyard between them.

The house closes for the winter from November until the middle of February, although the grounds are open throughout the year apart from Christmas day and Boxing Day. Be prepared to pay at the small ticket office on your way in off the B6341. The Visitor Centre, tea room and shop are in the stable block of the Home Farm which overlooks Tumbleton Lake and is a few minutes walk from the house. The main car park is between the two. The Still room kiosk by the house serves drinks, sandwiches and snack. There is a separate, smaller car park for the Formal Garden.

Lighting in the house is poor to limit damage to fragile furnishings. This makes photography difficult and can lead to a slight colour cast on the pictures.

Allow a full day for the visit as there is so much to see and do. As well as the house, there are over 1,000 acres to explore with 40 miles of footpaths and way marked walks.
There is also a six mile circular estate drive.


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Cragside continued .... the ground floor rooms

The main reception rooms and the servants area are on the ground floor. The bedrooms, owl suite, gallery and drawing room are on the first and second floors.

The main door leads into a large wood panelled entrance hall with fireplace and two archways. The larger was used by the family and guests. The smaller was used by the servants and lead to the kitchens and butler’s pantry

The Butler’s pantry is near the front door. He was responsible for the family silver which was locked away in large chests when not in use. He was also in charge of lighting the house and had a telephone to contact the ‘Caretaker of Electric Light’ in the power house to arrange for which rooms needed to be lit.

The kitchen is a large and well lit room. There are two massive cast iron ranges on one wall with a meat spit worked by hydraulic power. In front of one of the ranges is a plate warmer. Food was kept cool on a marble slab surface. There is a dumb waiter, electric lights, electric bells to summon servants and an electric gong to announce mealtimes. Over the sink is a primitive dish washer used to rinse plates before they were washed thoroughly. This would originally have been in the scullery.

From the kitchen. stone steps lead down into the scullery in the basement. There are no windows and the only lighting was from the electric lights.

The mechanism to work the spit is here. A dumb waiter carried dirty dishes and pans to be washed in the scullery and then sent them back to the kitchen.

Off the scullery is a small room with a brine tank for curing hams. At the far end is the game larder.

A hydraulic passenger lift used by the servants to take luggage, hot water and coal for the fires in all rooms of the house, went from the basement to the to the second floor which was. This was worked by water power. Water was let into the jigger (moveable ram) from a reservoir above the house and pushed it over a system of pulleys which raised the lift. When the water was released, the lift was lowered. The system was designed so the lift stopped automatically at the correct place. The passenger compartment had a manual control to determine the direction of travel to the jigger control valves. There was also a control handle on each floor to call the lift.

Back on the ground floor, a long corridor leads from the large archway in the entrance hall and gives access to the main reception rooms, with the dining room at the far end. The bottom of the walls are covered with brightly coloured Majolica Tiles.

The study nearest the entrance hall, was originally Lady Armstrong’s sitting room and has a beautifully moulded plaster ceiling. It later became Lord Armstrong’s study which he used for scientific experiments. On the desk is his microscope and a slide box.
It is a cosy room with dark red walls lined with tall bookcases.

Next to it is the garden alcove with a wood panelled ceiling and doors leading out onto the rock garden.

Beyond is the Japanese room. Armstrong’s shipyards on the Tyne supplied many battleships to the Japanese. Armstrong developed close links with the Tokugawa, who was an uncle of the Empress. The room contains prints and other gifts given to Armstrong by Tokugawa.

Stairs next to the Japanese room lead down to the Turkish bath. This is a suite of rooms with steam room, cold plunge bath lined with blue and white tiles, shower and changing rooms. Bathers undressed and then lay in the sauna with hot dry air coming up from the furnace room through grating in the floor. They then either had a cold shower or jumped in the plunge bath before getting dry and dressed again. The steam generated by the Turkish bath was recycled and used to heat the rest of the house.

At the end of the ground floor corridor is the inner hall with doors leading into the library and dining room. These two rooms are considered as two of the finest surviving examples of Victorian interiors in England.

The library originally the drawing room with a large bay window, which looks down over the ravine. The panels of stained glass were designed by Rossetti and Burne Jones and produced by William Morris. The middle six panels depict St George and the dragon.

The onxy surround of the fireplace was acquired on a sales trip to Egypt and is framed with red marble and blue and white majolica tiles. Low bookcases line the base of the walls. The colour of the pale beige wallpaper was designed to show off the oil paintings. The beautiful panelled ceiling is made of walnut and has carved bosses and a frieze of plants and leaves on a gold background.

The dining room next to the library was designed to be impressive but also homely. The base of the walls are panelled with green patterned wallpaper above. Round the top of the panelling is carved frieze with animals and plants. At one end is a large bay window. Opposite is the massive sideboard set between two doors; one used by the servants, the other by the family.

The large dining table is most unusual. Known as a capstan Table, it is made of segments which can be opened out by turning a handle. Large straight segments can be slotted in between the original segments to make the table larger.

The massive stone inglenook fireplace has two wooden settles. These are modern reconstructions of a settle Armstrong is sitting on in one of his portraits.

The beautiful four panels of stained glass in the Inglenook were designed b William Morris and represent the four seasons.


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Cragside continued.... the upper floor rooms

A splendid wooden staircase leads to the upper floors.

At the top is a William Morris stained glass window.

A corridor to the left leads to the bedrooms and the morning room.

The wallpaper in the white and yellow bedrooms is a replica of William Morris’s original design.

The red bedroom overlooks the rock gardens and still retains its 1930s decoration with pale coloured walls. These were intended to make the bedroom feel lighter when the conifer planted in the rock garden had started to make the bedroom feel dark.

Next to it is a small dressing room with two doorways, so the maid could enter and set out the clothes for the day without disturbing anyone.

The bamboo bedroom at the end of the corridor has bamboo wallpaper and furniture is carved with bamboo shoots.

Next to it is the morning room, which was originally another bedroom until it became Lady Armstrong’s sitting room and private retreat. The Latin inscription above the door translates as “it is not those who ask but those who are asked that I admit” . It is a large and attractive room with a splendid plaster ceiling and comfortably furnished. There is a beautiful fire screen made out of peacock feathers.

A short flight of stairs leads to the gallery and drawing room. This was the last part of the house to be built and is built into the solid rock face.

Originally the gallery was intended as Armstrong’s study and a place to keep his collection of scientific, geological and natural history specimens. Once the drawing room was built, it became a display area for his paintings and sculptures. It is a long narrow room lit by fanlights in the roof. Sculptures line the walls and there are display cabinets with shells.

A small room off is used to display Armstrong’s collection of water colours.

A short staircase leads from the gallery to the owl suite in the tower. This was used for the five day visit of the Prince and Princess of Wales in 1884. There are two bedrooms, dressing room and private lavatory. The beds have carved owl finials at the corners.

The main bedroom is an impressive room with a barrel ceiling. The window looks down onto the Debdon Burn and the Iron Bridge. Furniture is made from American black walnut and there is a half tester bed. There is a wash stand and sitting area at the far end of the room.

The smaller bedroom has a sunken bath, complete with plumbed in hot and cold water. Part of its reflection can be seen in the free standing mirror.

At the far end of the gallery is the drawing room which was completed in time for the royal visit, when it was used as a banqueting hall as there were too many guests for the dining room. It is the most impressive room in an already remarkable house. It is a huge room, formal and ostentatious, and intended for grand gatherings.

It is dominated by the massive carved marble fireplace at the far end. Even the underside is ornate plasterwork. The fireplace is so large that the inglenook with its wooden settle seems almost inconspicuous. This weighs 10 tons and the room is built on the solid rock of the hillside, the only way it could support this weight. The fire was mainly decorative as the room was heated by below from its own boiler and pipe system.

Apart from a small window set in a bay at the far end, the room is lit by a large skylight.

The ceiling round the base of the skylight is wonderful example of decorative plaster work.

Walls are covered with deep red wool damask, giving the room a warm and cosy feel, despite its size. The walls are hung with more oil paintings.

Beyond the drawing room is the billiard room which is very much the gentlemen’s retreat. It is a dark room and, being built into the rock face, the only light is from the skylight. Walls are panelled around the base with dark green wall covering above. At the far end is a wooden fireplace set back in an archway with pillars.

Beyond the billiard room is a small room described as Armstrong’s laboratory. This has a display of scientific equipment in wall cabinets in the centre are different push button experiments illustrating some of the different aspects of electricity.


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Cragside continued.... the estate, gardens and electricity

Cragside was originally built on a bare rocky hillside which has been transformed by the planting of over seven million trees. There are over 40 miles of footpaths and way marked walks.

The Visitor centre overlook the Tumbleton Lake, formed by damning the Debdon Burn. There is a lovely walk along the burn towards the classic viewpoint of the house with the Iron Bridge.

The bridge is a very elegant structure dating from 1874 and spans the burn on three arches . It has recently been restored and again allows access to the rock gardens and the house.

The rock gardens are one of the largest in Europe and huge boulders fall down the hillside below the house. A network of footpaths allows visitors to explore. The rock gardens are planted with small trees, shrubs and heathers.

Beyond the house is the pinetum. This was a Victorian symbol of wealth and status. Every stately home owner aspired to one as Victorian plant hunters brought back an increasingly wide range of species from around the world. The Cragside pinetum concentrates mainly on North American conifers. Rustic wood bridges cross the Debdon Burn.

The Formal Garden is a 20 minute walk from the house and, constructed on a south facing slope, and is a sun trap. By the entrance is the clock tower which was built in the Gothic Revival style in 1860. This controlled life on the estate with a bell signalling the start and finish of work for the day and also breaks for meal times. It could be heard across the whole estate. The mechanism allowed for different striking times on Saturdays and Sundays.

The formal gardens are terraced on three levels. On the top terrace is the massive glass orchard house, built around 1870, and restored at the end of the C20th. There was great status in growing a wide range of hardy and tender fruits. A boiler in the basement provided heat. Plants were grown in large terra cotta tubs on rotating cast iron bases, unique to Cragside. These were powered by electricity generated on the estate and ensured plants were turned one a day to encourage even growth and ripening of the fruit.

Behind the orchard house is the fernery with a pond.

The terraces fall down the hillside with views across to the Simonside hills and Rothbury. The Garden Cottage is now a self catering holiday home.

On the lowest terrace is an elegant cast iron loggia, with a small pond.

Armstrong was a very foresighted inventor who realised water could be used to power hydraulic lifts for use in his heavy industries on Tyneside. He was one of the first to realise its potential for the generation of electricity for domestic purposes. Not only was Cragside the first house in the world to be lit by electricity, the electricity generated also powered revolutionary labour saving devices, particularly in the kitchen. There was an electric spit for roasting meat. a primitive dish washer, a hydraulic lift, dumb waiter, telephone and electric bells.

The Debdon Burn was dammed to form Tumbleton Lake as a water store. The Black Burn was dammed to form another five lakes in the hills above the house. A wooden flume still brings water from the hills to feed into the lakes.

Tumbledon Lake provided the head of water needed for the Pump House which contained a hydraulic pump which pumped water to a small reservoir above the house. Water also powered a small turbine which provided electricity to light the house. During the day it was also used to operate the estate sawmill.

By the power house is a modern Archimedes screw. Originally designed to raise water, this is now working in reverse to generate electricity. Water from Tumbledon Lake enters the top of the screw and pushes down on the blades inside. These turn and the rotational energy is used to drive a generator. The electricity is now being fed into the the house supply and it is estimate it can provide enough to light all the lights in the house again.

As the demand for electricity grew, the Pump House could no longer meet demand. A new Power House was built in 1886 with turbines powered by water from Nelly Moss Lakes in the hills above the house.

The original turbines and dynamos can still be seen. To maintain the power supply at peak times, a second dynamo was added connected to a set of storage batteries.

During prolonged periods of dry weather the water supply from Nelly’s Lakes became unreliable, so a gas engine was installed that could drive either or both of the dynamos.

The Power House had to be manned at all times by the ‘caretaker of the electric light’. There was a separate control room which was kept warm and dry. This housed the switchboards and solenoids controlling demand. He was connected to the house by telephone.

As well as providing electric power for the house, Armstrong also provided turbines to drive machinery on his farms and there are two examples displayed here. Near the Power House is a small overshot waterwheel moved here from elsewhere on the estate.


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