Harry Potter, Are You There?: UK 2016 Post 8.5
Our ultimate stop for the day was Berwick-upon-Tweed, the last English town before the Scottish border on the eastern coast, but before we rolled into Berwick-upon-Tweed we had plans to further explore 7th century English Christianity and Harry Potter.
Alnwick Castle (pronounced An-nick) has been the family seat of the Percy family for the last 700 years. The de Percy family purchased Alnwick Castle in 1309 and were created Earls of Northumberland in 1377, it is currently inhabited by the 12th Duke of Northumberland (the Earldom turned into a Dukedom in the 18th century). It is the 6th Earl of Northumberland that I am most interested in though and one of the reasons I wanted to visit Alnwick Castle. Probably only my family knows this but I've been obsessed with Queen Anne Boleyn, 2nd wife of Henry VIII since I was about 13 years old and my mom handed me The Lady in the Tower by Jean Plaidy. Henry Percy, who would eventually become the 6th Earl of Northumberland was Anne Bolyen's first love. Their ill fated love story captured my tween imagination. The annotated version of the story is this: Anne and Henry met at court while Henry was in the household of Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, they fell in love and became betrothed, despite the fact that they were both intended for others. There is some debate as to whether Henry VIII himself already had designs on the young Anne at this point and wanted to interfer with this romance. Regardless, their relationship was forbidden and they were both banished to their ancestral homes to nurse broken hearts and resentments. Henry went on to marry Mary Talbot, daughter of the 4th Earl of Shrewsbury against his will and Anne went on to eventually become Queen, losing her head a mere 3 years after being crowned.
I've always had a soft spot for Henry Percy. We can't say for certain that he kept a torch for Anne after they parted ways, it is unlikely, but he was present at her trial sitting in judgement, and became overwhelmed after the verdict was read and had to be carried out. He had become ill sometime before Anne's trial so more than likely he was just ill, but the romantic in me likes to think that a part of him still loved her and was grieved at her sentence of death. Although he did not die at Alnwick Castle I was eager to see the ghost of his childhood and family memorabilia relating to him.
One of my absolute favorite photos that I took. Alnwick in the distance- so nice of the sheep to graze right there for me.
The other reason I was jazzed to go to Alnwick Castle is Harry Potter. Alnwick Castle was used as a filming location for Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets as well as Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone. The castle has broomstick training, outdoor screenings of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, and character impersonators, (you're encouraged to dress in costume to meet them). We pulled into the car park and I readied myself for the real possibility that I'd get up the courage to embarrass myself at broomstick training. Daniel had already told me that I was on my own for that one!
You know those moments when you are so caught up in your own thoughts that you fail to notice the obvious? Well this was one of those moments. We suddenly realized that we were the only car in a fairly large car park. We didn't have the benefit of the Internet in that moment but I did recall seeing a sign in the town of Alnwick that said something relating to the castle about the date of March 24th. We reasoned that that sign was telling us that Alnwick doesn't open until March 24th. It was March 15th and here we were, all the way from California feeling pretty foolish for not check ahead of time. I forget that outside of California things aren't open year round. Had I simply gone online the night before I would have known that there would be no broom rides for me. No Harry Percy and no Harry Potter, I was not a happy camper in that moment.
I have the most patient husband. I yelled "Stop!", he backed the car up and I ran across the road to get these pictures. Lovely Alnwick and it's grounds.
It was probably for the best that we didn't linger at Alnwick Castle that afternoon as that would have meant that we would have had to miss out on the village of Bamburgh and it's impressive castle on the hill. The drive to Bamburgh was beautiful. Winding roads and gentle hills- it reminded me of the Lincolnshire Wolds that I had fallen in love with. The great thing about letting someone else navigate are the surprises along the way. I knew that we were going to the Holy Island of Lindisfarne- I had specifically requested we go there on our way to Scotland, but what I didn't know about was stopping in Bamburgh along the way. It was a complete surprise when Bamburgh Castle appeared out of nowhere on the horizon. It truly looks like this sprawling castle is on it's own out in the middle of nowhere. It's only as you get closer that you see there is actually a small village (population 400) below the castle. I knew that there must be a story behind this remote structure. It didn't make sense to have such a large, impressive castle so isolated if it didn't serve an important purpose in it's history.
The view of Bambugh Castle looming in the distance. You could see it for miles.
The sign for the village of Bamburgh as we got closer. The sign says: Welcome to BAMBURGH Ancient Capital of Northumberland
The castle overlooking the village below.
The castle and our dirty windshield
The castle as we see it today was built by the Normans but there has been a fortification on the site since at least 547 AD when it was first written about and used as the seat for the Kings of Northumbria. The Vikings destroyed the original fortification in 993 AD. The new castle withstood a siege in 1095 by William II, but was surrendered to him in that year by the wife of Robert de Mowbray, Earl of Northumberland when he was captured and the king threatened to blind him if she didn't turn the castle over to him. Bamburgh then became property of the King and the Crown. The castle remained in possession of the Crown for some 400 years before granting ownership to Sir John Forster (1520-1602). In 1700 the Forster family lost ownership of the castle when their debts were settled and the castle was sold to the Bishop of Durham. There were various owners after the Bishop of Durham purchased the castle and many let it fall into disrepair and it became derelict, until restoration in the 19th century. Eventually it was purchased by William Armstrong, a Victorian Industrialist- his descendants still own the castle today. It is open to the public everyday from the months of February to October and weekends only from October to Febuary.
We pulled up at 3:55 and you guessed it- the castle closes at 4! We talked to the nice gentleman manning the car park who let us park and told us we could wander around as much as we wanted although we couldn't actually go up to the castle.
I think the motto of this trip should be, "a day late, a dollar short." I can't tell you how many "almosts" we had over our two weeks in the UK. Gates were shut as we walked up, doors locked, placards turned and tides rolled in- this is the downside to spontaneous itineraries and very limited access to an Internet connection. With a sense of urgency we hadn't felt earlier in the day, we left Bamburgh to try to reach the Holy Island before the tide came in and cut us off from the mainland.
The Holy Island of Lindisfarne is a tidal island which means that it is connected to the mainland by a causeway when the tide is out but becomes an island cut off from the coast when the tide comes in. If you read my previous post on Durham then you will have read about St. Cuthbert, who became Abbot of the monastery located on the island and also later became Bishop of Lindisfarne. He was buried on the Holy Island upon his death in 687 until his remains were removed by the monks during a Viking invasion in 995 and reburied in Durham.
You are warned several times to check the tide tables before heading out across the causeway. I had checked the night before and the morning of to see what the absolute latest we could get across and back would be. We had plenty of time to get from Bamburgh to Lindisfarne or so we thought. We hadn't considered the speed limit on the roads to get to the Holy Island. What should have taken 15 minutes in our minds took closer to 25 minutes, which doesn't seem like a lot of extra time but trust me when you're staring at the tide inching it's way closer to you that extra 10 minutes matters. We slowly, slowly made our way out to the village of Lindisfarne. Large puddles were forming across the road so we started to get anxious. According to the tide charts we still had an hour before the tide came in but it certainly looked like it was deciding to be early that day. I had visions of walking the Pilgrim's Crossing to the Holy Island meditating on the centuries of pilgrims who have walked it before but this was just not to be. We left it too late in the day, we spread ourselves too thin and tried to accomplish too much in one day. Instead we traveled by car, passing the little raised huts for those who have judged the tide incorrectly and need to escape the water coming in. When you have a reminder like that and signs repeatedly posted along the way with pictures of cars submerged in water you get a little panicky.
The Holy Island off in the misty distance
We arrived at the car park on the island and I got out of the car to take photos and wander the village a little bit. I really lamented not seeing the ruined Priory or walking out to the castle but I was more afraid of being stranded so we didn't linger. We'd come all that way and I was disappointed but I also realized that our safety was more important and I was grateful just to have come this close. We have already decided that we'll go back to Lindisfarne- we plan to stay in the village of Bamburgh and drive to Lindisfarne- next time giving ourselves plenty of time to linger and give the Holy Island it's due.
We entered the town of Berwick-upon-Tweed (Berwick is pronounced Bear-ick) with enough daylight left to find our country hotel. Daniel found Marshall Meadows Country House Hotel the night before while searching for places to stay. We stayed 2 nights in Berwick-upon-Tweed instead of one night there and a night in Edinburgh. Edinburgh was grim to be far more expensive and there was the issue of parking the car which we didn't fancy dealing with. What a lovely hotel the Marshall Meadows was and a bargain at 70 pounds ($93) a night. It was a shame that we didn't end up spending more time at the hotel itself- it had a lovey sitting room with a roaring fire and the staff was really friendly.
As nice as the hotel was it was challenging to find- that would be my only complaint. It was a combination of the GPS not being very accurate and the fact that the sign for the hotel is off the road a bit and isn't seen until you are basically passing the entrance. Had we arrived after dark we never would have found it. We ended up turning into the Marshall Meadows Farm across the A1 highway from the entrance to the hotel because it was the only driveway we saw. This must happen all of the time as there were signs that said it was for the farm only. We were so confused! It was only as we were trying to rejoin the A1 that Daniel spied the sign for the hotel directly across from us, slightly hidden from view.
We had room 3 which is the top two windows on the upper right of this photo. Our room overlooked the mostly empty car park but also the woods beyond. The hotel is on 15 acres of land, it's lovely and sprawling. We were less than half a mile from the Scottish Border at this point and you could feel it. The weather was different, the accents heavier- it was thrilling to think that we were so close to crossing the border. I'd wanted to go to Scotland since I found out about the Scottish ancestry on both my mom and dad's side of the family as a child so this had been a long time coming. I knew that we weren't going to have time to visit the Highlands, home of my mom's ancestors this trip but we were going to be able to visit the Bruce side of my dad's and that was exciting!
Side of the hotel. Our window was the top left window at the front of the building.
We checked out the market town of Berwick-upon-Tweed, picked up some groceries and did a little recon at the train station. Instead of driving the 56 miles north to Edinburgh we decided to leave our car at the train station and take the train into Edinburgh and spend the entire day there, catching the train back at night. We wanted to get the layout of the station and check out the parking situation to make sure there was 24 hour parking. Satisfied that we could get there quickly in the morning we took our food back to the hotel and had a relaxing evening in, musing over everything we'd seen that day.
In the morning I had a date with some ancestors and a castle.
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