Wednesday, 29 June 2016

Making a Chain

Absurd post title, given this is about links I want to keep for myself and thought I'd share. I blame Bill, his sideways thinking has rubbed off on me. Not a fan of 'linky love' and the like. In the past I've added blogs to my bloglist but never found the specific posts I liked so much again. 

So trying a different approach. 

Six Ways to a Slow Summer

Edible Landscaping


My New Year Starts Anytime I Want

Visiting London Soon

Every post deserves a picture

Friday, 24 June 2016


I thought about calling this 'The Wages of War', given that Cragside was built by William Armstrong, owner of a large munitions factory that shaped the west end of Newcastle for decades. 

He was a lawyer with an engineering mind and Cragside was the first house in the world lit by hydro-electricity. 

Funny that 'wage' means both the payment for services and the action of engaging in... 

Armstrong engaged in supplying the tools of war and it paid exceedingly well.

Not only is there a grand house to tour, the gardens - stuffed with rhododendrons and conifers - attract thousands of visitors. 

A couple of years ago Vivien and I visited another WI and the speaker was a volunteer at Cragside. 

My notes said 'rhods best 1st wk Jun'; I put this on my calendar and forgot about it.

When Jane and Chris (Bill's sister and brother-in-law) were here last week we meant to visit Seaton Delaval Hall, but it wasn't open when they were here, so we went to Cragside instead. 

I'd been before, but forgotten how impressive it was. The tour seems to emphasize the engineering, hydro-electric features of the house and downplay the source of this man's money. 

One of the many volunteers said he looked upon his role as one of 'defense and deterrent'. 

I still wonder if his gardens are large enough to bury all the bodies resulting from his business. 

Fortunately that wasn't my leading thought while wandering around his house. I was just thinking of all the beautiful objects I saw.

Of course the house itself and the gardens are also stunning. Somehow this provokes me to obsessive photo snapping, as though if I take enough pictures I might somehow own some of this beauty.

Wednesday, 22 June 2016

Prudhoe Castle

Helen was up from Manchester one weekend and proposed we meet up at Prudhoe Castle. Apparently this was a favourite haunt in Bill's previous life, when his children were young. I'd never been.

Prudhoe Castle is part of English Heritage, which mainly manages ruins. I'm not generally as interested in ruins as I am in stately homes, which is why we belong to the National Trust instead.

Charlotte is growing by leaps and bounds, as children do. She seemed much more comfortable around us, not nearly as shy. 

I didn't read the sign that described the castle, I just snapped a photo. No idea if I took pictures of the pertinent bits mentioned.

"This 12th century stronghold of the D'Umfravilles and Percys was the seat of the barony of Prudhoe. It has a turbulent history and is famous as the only castle in the north never to be taken by the Scots.

It has moat, a fine gateway and a Georgian manor house built on the site of the medieval buildings. 

The chapel

The chapel above the gateway contains the earliest known oriel window in England.

Georgian manor house

Northumberland tenant yeomanry were based at the castle and ammunition kept there until 1814. 

Inside the chapel...nope I missed that oriel window!

During the Napoleonic wars the house was occupied by William Laws who was the southern commissioner for the Duke of Northumberland. 

I love stairs that go nowhere.

At about this time the house was rebuilt by the architect David Stephenson (teacher of the great Newcastle architect John Dobson) and became the Georgian Manor house you can see today.

The other end of the chapel

The road to your right leads you to an old bridge which has on one side a rounded arch and on the other side a pointed arch. 

Ahead of you lies Orchard Hill, for centuries the castle's orchard. In 1174 King William of Scotland invaded England and having failed to capture the castle wreaked vengeance by laying waste to the surrounding area and even stripping the bark from the apple trees.

In front of you are the ruins of the last mill building on this site, as depicted in the painting opposite. It has a date stone which reads 1752.

The old millhouse

Water powered the mill wheel, flowing in a controlled stream from the millpond to your right. Using a series of smaller wheels or gears, the power from the mill wheel was used to turn the mill stones which would grind grain to make flour. An example of a mill stone is propped up against the wall and is dated 1786.

The villagers of Prudhoe all used the castle mill to grind their grain and paid for the use with a portion of their flour. Mills were valuable to the owners of the castle. When the lord of Prudhoe, Gilbert Umfraville, died in 1303 he owned two watermills which brought in £5 each year. This compares to the income he received from his 120 acres (49 ha) of farmland which brought in £3 each year. 

Painting from the 18th century showing the roof of the mill to the right of the castle."

After touring all the corners of the castle and manor house, we followed the outside path which led to a wonderful view of Prudhoe's leading employer, a toilet paper factory. I'm serious. I've even been inside to see how it's done. They in fact use recycled paper; the day I was visiting there were stacks of unused paper bags that were supposed to have contained sugar, but this was their fate instead. I think something about the juxtaposition of TP factory and castle may be one of the reasons I'd never visited.

It was a very pleasant afternoon out and as we parted Helen surprised me with a card and a gift for my upcoming birthday. A lovely surprise indeed.

Sunday, 19 June 2016

A Wedding

I used to work with Jamie and Bev and we kept in touch after I retired. 

Bill and I have been to a couple of house warming parties, they've been to our Thanksgiving and now we were honoured with a wedding invitation.

They have built themselves a stunning house on part of the farm that Jamie's parents own and the farm was the setting for the reception.

I could see all the same attention to detail given to the planning of the wedding that went into the building of their incredible house.

Homemade jam from the farm!

The weddings I've been to in Britain are beautiful affairs but they also remind me I'm in an alien culture. I'm sure a great deal has changed since I left the US and I may be telling about more than just my age when I observe:  

- There wasn't such a thing as 'hen nights' / weekends (!) back then. That's a 'stag do' for the bride. Costumes and alcohol are involved, but I've yet to hear about any strippers, thankfully.
- We had bridal showers in the US, but apparently not here. 
- Those 'save the date' things are new to me. Not a bad idea, but why not just send the invitations instead? I'm obviously missing something here.
- We had wedding rehearsals and rehearsal dinners for the parents to all meet if they hadn't before. I don't think anyone practices here. We met Sarah's future in-laws at a dinner at her house back in February (I'll soon have another wedding to report).
- Protestant weddings consisted of the ceremony followed by the reception where the couple and their families lined up after loads of photos were taken. You shook hands and congratulated the groom, not the bride; she got best wishes or something, you didn't want to imply she fought a hard won campaign. This reception line was on your way to a piece of the bride's and the groom's cake, usually served (in the Bible belt) with coffee, tea, lemonade. And that was it. Only Catholics seemed to have the big sit down dinners with dancing and all. Or maybe it was only rich people, I don't know. Of course the British church of state, Episcopalian, is as close as one can get to Catholicism in its rituals short of sidling up to the Pope. Well, 'high church' anyhow.  
- "In my day" a wedding held in a registry office was appropriate for second marriages and was a completely different arrangement to a church wedding. The bride wore a smart suit, there were only the witnesses present and it was all more along the lines of a dressy legal transaction than the full on 'new life' event associated with first marriages. I went to one of these once and was caught out in my choice of clothes. Lesson: never underestimate the British capacity for throwing a party at any excuse. And why not?

The ceremony was lovely and informal, the minister warm and funny. His small church was fully stuffed, which pleased him no end. I thought the service perfectly suited Jamie and Bev. 

I'd have taken a photo of the front, but frankly I couldn't walk on that field in high heels - and there was enough brown stuff around I wasn't about to go barefoot!

Going to other people's weddings is way more fun than any of my own. It's good for married couples to have a refresher course now and then, too! I felt positively mushy during this service, being reminded how lucky I am.

I got caught out by the offering plate at the back of the church; fortunately Bill was prepared with cash in hand. 

I understood that showering the couple with rice was banned because it was bad for birds, right? And confetti is just litter. Turns out now there is such a thing as bio-degradable stuff to throw, not that I had any with me. I'm not sure how many more children they intend to have, mind.

There were a few people from work I'd as soon not seen, but I managed to be polite; I just hoped I looked as relaxed and carefree as they looked stressed and hungover. (There is not a day in my life I regret being frugal.) However, I got to visit with several people I was genuinely pleased to see and to hear about how their careers and families were developing. Facebook just isn't the same as real life.

Jamie & Bev's reception was held in a tent, composed of two enormous teepees. 

This was in a field on the farm, from which the food was supplied. (A very subtle advert for their farm shop.)

Every table got a wood slab with a small beef roast, a lamb roast and chicken breasts. Baskets of rolls and huge bowls of organic vegetables were served; more food than I can ever remember being placed in front of me. Each table also got an apron for the carver, complete with the couple's names.

Farming was definitely a theme: I thought the best man's speech had rather a lot of farmyard humour in it as well.

We left about the time the music started; my bedtime was approaching. My party animal days are long gone.

Bill remarked the next day that the best thing was that the death eaters never showed up. I said ??? He said "Wedding in a the middle of a field..."

See what I mean about being lucky?

Friday, 17 June 2016

Catching Up

Gosh it's been busy since we got back from Ireland! We've been to a wedding, had Bill's sister and brother in law stay with us, been to Cragside and we'll soon be going to another wedding.

Makes me look back to my afternoon with Vivien with fondness. We just walked down to the beach for a meal at Riley's Fish Shack (two shipping containers on King Edward's Bay, one for the kitchen, the other for seating.) Of course we chatted non-stop, but it was restful all the same.

It was a beautiful day, but chilly. Our food was a while coming but well worth the wait. That said, I like to be warm and comfy when I eat, so I doubt I'll ever be a major fan of Riley's. But I've long been curious about this place, so it was good to have the experience. Box ticked!

Then we called into Lola Jeans on the way back, to have a leisurely cup of tea. I love the decor there.