For our holiday this year, we stayed in the UK – in fact we stayed in England – although we were only 10 miles from Scotland when we went to the Holy Isle.
MONDAY Depart Pine Ridge early. Kettlewells huge coach was much longer and higher than usual and very comfortable. FIRST pleasant surprise. But thankfully enough luggage space for both wheelchairs and luggage – all successfully jammed into luggage hold. Departed on time 7.30am And SECOND pleasant surprise – no traffic Jams on A322, M3, M25, and onto A1 , (I still can’t believe that), so an excellent speedy first leg of outbound journey, in sunshine. After 2 hours experiencing Daniels smooth driving, we arrived at Peterborough Services – one of the better Service stations, for a breakfast stop. First test of the ‘Walking Wounded‘ process whereby the able-bodied helped unload wheelchairs to speed up disembarkation. First time we witnessed Anne Giles and Mike Reed on their motorised buggies speeding away and overtaking everyone to get to the eateries.
Back on the road, the weather turned cloudy and the temperature dropped. Was it time to turn back? But the sun came out again at the lunch stop. After lunch, again made good time, allowing us to make a short break to look at Anthony Gormley’s Angel of the North statue. impressively dominating the surrounding area. Stunned by the statistics of size and building work. Our gathered Individuals looked so small at the feet of the Angel. And an informal Group photo was taken.
Then only a short run to the Holiday Inn Hotel at Seaton Burn, where we arrived to a welcome, coffee and cakes! Great. The regular swimmers took advantage of the swimming pool to warm up before dinner. Dinner was a revelation with a choice of 3 starters, 3 hot main courses from the buffet, steaming hot and constantly replenished, the dirty plates whisked quickly away and our selected sweet – choice of 3 – appeared almost instantly.. All the food was delicious and well prepared. Never before have we had a selection of each course, on a fixed menu. Fast and friendly service. THIRD PLEASANT SURPRISE – Hotel met and exceeded our expectations..
TUESDAY Sunny all day !!!
Civilised starting time and short drive up the A1 to Alnwick, to reach the Castle and Gardens just after opening. People were free to select whether to go into the Gardens (newly created only 6 years ago), or the Castle (newly created in the 13th Century) or the join one of the tours available (created New for this Year). Many found the gardens provided a lot of variety, from the Grand Cascade fountains (what time is the next display?), to the Ornamental Gardens with the unusual display of individual stems, found many admirers, and the Roses Garden, and others took the tour of the Poison Garden (noting how many of the plants they actually had in their gardens at home). Others moved directly to the Castle and the State Rooms, where the staff were found to be very helpful to the Walking Wounded. Did anyone go on the tour of the dungeons or on the Harry Potter Broomstick Training?
By this time, the grounds were becoming very crowded. Glad we came early.
Back to the coach, reload the wheel chairs and off to National Trust Cragside -what a beautiful , interesting, and extensive site, where those interested in flora and fauna could easily have spent a couple of hours just walking the road right round the Estate (6 miles long), but we parked the coach and waited for the Craghopper mini coach to get the Walking Wounded up to the House, which turned out to be not only perched on the rocks and but much of it was built straight into the rock. It was much larger inside the house than appeared outside. Seemed like hundreds of rooms, including the huge white fireplace in the Drawing room, the Billiards Room, the Plunge downstairs, the mechanism for pumping, and the kitchen. The first electric lighting installation was very impressive. Many of us ended up at the Visitor Centre, overlooking the lovely lake and enjoying nan Ice-cream.
The route between Alnwick and Cragside tracked through some beautiful countryside up and down hills and dales, using some quite narrow roads . Daniel drove faultlessly as usual.
WEDNESDAY Overcast but not cold.
Daniel found our way up the A1, turn off just before Berwick on Tweed. to the Holy Isle. Fortunately, we had interpreted the Tide Tables correctly, and the tide was out for crossing the causeway. Then a mile or so on the island to the town of Lindisfarne. Parked, from which we could already see the Castle 15-20 mins gentle walk away – or 3 mins by local mini-bus, favoured by many. Set on a huge rock, very foreboding, and must have been impregnable to attacks. There was a steep walk up to the Castle pay point, and then continuing steps up to the portcullis and a very strong door – this deterred some of the party. Unexpectedly warm inside, proving how thick walls can keep the wind out and the heat in. Inside a very homely furnishings in a variety of rooms. On the battlements, some excellent views all round, including the navigation posts, the channel leading into the small port and some local seals basking on the sands. Few visited the Gertrude Jekyll gardens, strangely isolated away from the castle.
In the Lindisfarne Heritage Centre, the key exhibit was the computer screen showing important Embossed pages from the Lindisfarne Gospels – so impressive. And the opportunity to do brass rubbings.
In the town, plenty of places to snack lunch. and souvenir shops to look for typical Northumbria Collectables.
Everyone had heeded the warning of dire consequences about missing the incoming tide, and we left 5 mins earlier than deadline, and joined the stream of cars and coaches leaving at about the same time, with the same intention. Yes, causeway still clear, and we avoided getting the coach axles wet.
Back on the mainland and just a short Drive along the coast road, with lots of sandy bays to view. Soon on the horizon, was the very impressive and very large Bamburgh castle – again perched on a hill and seemingly impregnable. But insufficient time to go round the inside – perhaps next time?
A few walked back up the road to see the Grace Darling museum, telling the story of the lighthouse daughter’s epic row to save travellers stranded or rocks after a disastrous storm. Excellent visuals brought the story to life and her grave in the churchyard opposite means she always looks over the scene of her good deed.
We needed an afternoon coffee, and on the map, Seahouses, 3 miles further on, looked like a nice quiet village, but turned out to be more like the Northumbrian equivalent of Blackpool. Sorry.
Back to hotel and another delicious dinner
THURSDAY Sunny Again
Up early start, because Hadrians Wall was now further away than our OS map indicated. Initally south, then turn west along the A 69, and as soon as we got out of the suburbs, was lovely scenery – rolling countryside. Like all Hadrians Wall sites, Birdoswald was off the main road, and we found the turning which avoided the low bridge en-route, and soon found ourselves in very narrow lanes (for a coach as large as ours, anyway). Daniel did his usual excellent steering round sharp corners, and we found the Birdoswald Car park – it looked as if we would have to walk the final uphill section. But a quick call confirmed that coaches could go up the hill and turn round. So up we went, disgorged the wheelchairs, etc. right at the entrance. But the staff at Birdoswald had never had a coach as large as ours, so Daniel had to back the whole way down the hill.
We split into 2 groups for the planned tours – both groups had excellent guides, who really put flesh on the remains of the original Bannan Fort before us – plenty of visualizations of how it appeared originally . Many were blown away by the engineering achievement of the wall – 15 ft high, 12 ft wide in places, and stretching 80 miles across the countryside. Forts every three miles and outposts as well. Really impressive. And made us really appreciate the legacy of developments which the Romans left us – aqueducts, sanitation and medicine and education and irrigation and indoor plumbing and freshwater system and baths and public health and wine and roads and public order,
and not least, socks and sandals
We gathered people together for a group photo in the courtyard, in the bright sunlight – for the record. Without the coach, the group wandered slowly down the hil , keeping brakes on the wheelchairs and Rollator, and pausing at a good example of the wall leading away from the fort.
Back on the road, retraced some of the A69, before turning south east to arrive at Durham, In time for lunch and sightseeing. Some bold travellers got as far as the Cathedral (either walking or using the No 40 bus and some forgetting to use their bus pass) and were very impressed.
At 4 o’clock, gathered to board the coach onto Gateshead, and followed the satnav towards the Quays and with a bit of memory jog, arrived right at the low level, right on the Quay, near the Millenium Bridge and could easily disgorge the wheelchairs for another group photo with the Millenium Bridge in the background. Impressed by the bridge (apparently even better at night when illuminated), but no time to visit the Sage Concert Halls or the Baltic Contemporary Art Museum.
Back to Hotel and a change of venue for dinner, but another delicious meal. We gave a vote of thanks to Kerry Turtle for the excellent standard of cooking and presentation of food throughout the week.
We started the evening by raffling the Northumbria Souvenirs, which many people had been very ingenious in their choice of local material.
This was followed by the evening entertainment –Bingo – after trying to explain the rules to the non-regular Bingo playing audience, our amateur callers needed some time to acclimatise to the portable equipment and found it difficult to handle their small balls. Generating peals of laughter from the audience – especially when players claimed for the wrong line or corner.
FRIDAY Journey Home
Scheduled to break the long homeward journey by an extended lunch in York. Travellers had the opportunity to go to a unique gathering of the six remaining Mallard steam locomotives , celebrating the 75th Anniversary of setting the world steam speed record in July #38. Huge crowd of enthusiasts there
Others went to look round York Cathedral, Jorvic Centre and small side streets. All enjoyable
1) Weather much better than expectations.
2) Coach better than expectations. Very comfortable, quiet and a side door.
3) Coach Driver splendid – probably the best ever – smooth, calm, confident, and very helpful getting the wheelchairs on and off the coach up to 5 times each day
4) Hotel met and exceeded expectations – food was super, with multiple choices at each course. Rooms large.
5) The ‘Walking Wounded’ plans worked well, and they did not feel disadvantaged at any time.
6) The attractions were very varied, impressive, interesting and educational. Selected for suitability for the Walking Wounded, and assuming that most people had a basic idea of the history so only a few fully-guided attractions –– travellers could proceed at their own pace – tackle what they could – no pressure.
7) Everything ran to schedule, due in no small measure to Steve, Mike, John and Frank for making the arrangements with the NT and EH sites and the last night entertainment.
But most of all – what a splendid crowd – the friendship and companionship really made the holiday a success. Travellers should give themselves a pat on the back.
Alan Boyd – Tour organiser