Thursday, 21 February 2019

Alnmouth - Part I

Of course I have more photos than words, but I always manage to witter on, don't I? The place we stayed was up a little one-way lane called Garden something. The house had a name, Sunnybrae. You run into that term a lot here but I've never looked it up before coming to write this: brae means 'steep bank or hillside'. 

It was a lovely semi-detached house that still had the original stained glass windows, at least at the front. 

The front door.

The cupboard under the stairs; how ever did I manage to grow up without this hiding place? Wait! There was one at Grandmother's house on 31st Street, with a glass door. I hadn't a deprived childhood after all.

In the downstairs hall.

My favourite feature of our room (apart from the en suite loo).

The house next door had modern PVC windows and suffered in comparison. 

My other favourite feature: genuinely old.

We had part of a flat, I'm guessing. We were upstairs and there was a second door that looked to open into more than the two bedrooms we were using. This sort of arrangement doesn't seem to be uncommon.

Ignore the dishes, they got done. Sarah always manages to have flowers.

I was selective in the photos I took of the house. 

View from our room.

Had to zoom in on that dragon weathervane!

Sarah apologised for the disorder, but since Bill and I manage to destroy any hotel room within 15 minutes of arrival I couldn't complain. 

One of the main reasons to visit.

Being tidy on holiday with an 11-month-old baby (who is teething and a little bit grumpy) isn't everyone's priority. It's not really even mine with a 70-year-old, but I do get picky about disarray in the motor home as I get sick of stepping over stuff left out. 

The living room - loved the leather sofas and that window seat.

View out the back. That skeletal structure on the back of the house is the conservatory, with a view of the river, the fields, and possibly the sea.

A gas fire, but nice all the same.

Bill said the house has been 'sympathetically' renovated. I guess he is right since it still had an olde-house feel with loads of features to enjoy. Of course I liked the views out of the windows. I'm always up for snooping at what other people have. 

As I said, food was a major feature of this visit. After a sizeable burger at Barter Books (minus one side of the bun) we had chilli and rice for dinner as well as dessert. It was some kind of tart with vanilla custard (from Aldi) on it. I wasn't happy to learn that Aldi carried such wicked stuff. We played a very competitive game of Uno after dinner, which I really enjoyed. Bill hates playing cards with me, claiming it isn't as much fun with just two people. He might be right about that - or he may just get tired of getting beat. I've played a lot of gin and rummy in my time as well as spades and hearts and a little bit of bridge. I shuffle the deck like a pro, which I figure is only fair. I didn't win, forgetting I was to say 'Uno' and having to pick up more cards than I could hold well in my hand. It was fun all the same. 

Grandad time!

I fnd myself increasingly reluctant to leave my own home and go visiting, but our visits with Sarah, Gareth and Struan seem to turn out to be very relaxing. 

Saturday, 16 February 2019


We found our way to the place Sarah and Gareth had rented for a week in Alnmouth. We were only going to be there one night but we managed to fill two days quite well, mostly with food. 

After stowing our gear and packing up baby supplies we headed off to Barter Books (in Alnwick, yes I have that right). I've written about this place before - yikes, 10 years ago! What has changed is that the entry area which used to 'only' have a coffee spot (with honesty box) and a coal burning fire now is filled with shelves of books. As usual, I forgot to look through this section, forgot it was there, until we were leaving.

The main change is that they 'found' another room that has become their cafe. Now, it looks like a series of rooms to me, as they are all tiled in different colours and about every other one has its own fireplace. The food is pretty decent as well but it is a busy place. You may have to queue for a table then queue to order. If you are on your own or with small children you may find it difficult to hold down a table. It's that sort of busy.

I knew I had photos from the last visit here, with my friend Pat, so I didn't snap any. Neither did I find any books I wanted which was a surprise (and a relief). I did photograph the Percy Lion across the road while waiting for Struan's pram to be unfolded and filled up. 

You can always tell the Percy Lion from any other because the tail sticks straight out at the back; I've never been able to decide if this is wildly impressive or just ludicrous.

The Percy name is all over this area, probably all over Britain. The Percy's are the family who live in Alnwick Castle and own a great deal of land around here. My house is built on land once owned by the Duke of Northumberland (but I own it now, freehold). Many properties are terms 'leasehold' and you pay a 'peppercorn rent' for the land. I expect it all adds up, however, and a buyer of a leasehold property will want to look at the period remaining on the lease, usually arranged for something like 99 years at a time. I excluded any leasehold properties when I was searching, just because I didn't want the extra complication. 

I have just got lost in reading about the Percy's over on Wikipedia. They are firmly entrenched in British history of course. Two that I have run across in my reading are Henry Percy, the sixth Earl of Northumberland was the accepted suitor of Anne Boleyn before Henry the VIIIth spotted her. Another Henry, 9th Earl of Northumberland, spent 16 years in the Tower of London, having been implicated in the Gunpowder Plot to overthrow James I. The real culprit was a Percy cousin, Thomas Percy, who was killed in his flight from the Sheriff and whose head was displayed outside Parliament. I was pleased to see that this Henry was born at Tynemouth Castle, where his father was governor. 

They must have found a way back into royal favour in spite of remaining Catholic, probably during the English Civil War, as they were promoted from Earls to Dukes. The present Duke of Northumberland, Ralph (12th Duke), was born in the same year as I was. His wife is known for creating Alnwick Garden, as much a tourist site as the Castle (which is not part of the National Trust). The Garden is, I gather, a charity in itself (I've always said that charity in Britain is Big Business). Apparently its creation caused quite a bit of turmoil. Loads of info in this article. Interesting stuff, but somehow I don't think her garden will be remembered as one of the major accomplishments of the Percy line. There were reportedly seven historic gardens discovered and destroyed in the making of the new which makes me think it will have a limited lifespan. Must get up there this summer when everything is in bloom!

Wednesday, 13 February 2019


We had the honour of being invited by Sarah and Gareth to join them at a holiday let in Alnmouth for a bit. Correct me if in future I say Alnwick, I seem to get the two confused. Alnwick is the location of the famous Harry Potter flying lesson location of Alnwick Castle. I've visited the gardens there once, but not on a day when the Castle was open to tour. Must do that one day. It's not that far away, only about an hour perhaps.

Alnmouth is the place where the River Aln enters the North Sea. Also the finish of the dastardly 14(or so)-mile Coastal Race from Beadnall to Alnmouth (across three beaches and mileage varies with the tide table). But today I'm going to show you Warwick Warkworth (I get those two confused as well - both have castles I suppose)  from the car window anyhow.

I have attempted to snap this castle any number of times and am pleased to say I finally nailed it. I'll not mention how many dud photos I've deleted. 

I do have a talent for catching the moment when the tree/bush perfectly screens the object of interest. 

This aptitude requires burying one's camera strategically out of reach, having a knackered machine where pressing the button doesn't always work and also possessing the skill of knitting or crochet and thus being distracted.

There was a brilliant programme on the telly last week on BBC One about this place, touted as a 'perfect medieval village'. Sadly I didn't take notes so can't really tell you why it is so perfect - but you can kind of tell just by looking at it, right?

I do remember two things from the programme. One was about burgage plots, something I'd not met yet. I'll let you read about them. I quite envied people who had these, sort of like having your own allotment garden (maybe you should read about those as well). I think I've written about them before.

The other fun thing in the programme was that there was a row of houses that had extended back yards where livestock were raised, but with no rear exit, so the back door aligned directly with the front door and people ran the cattle through their hallway to remove the animals. 

I recall them saying the floors were on a downhill slope to aid in sluicing out any unwanted wastes... sounds really messy, eh? I wonder what sort of air freshener they used after market day.

I am doubtful that many cattle are reared by these homeowners these days, but I could be mistaken.
There was also something about the marketplace, the location of which is shown in the photo above, where the road divides. 

I'm thinking this is a day-out destination to add to the list!

I hadn't realised that a marketplace was such a special feature, it seems to me I run across them fairly frequently. Morpeth, South Shields and Barnard Castle all come to mind with ease. Perhaps the North is more blessed than elsewhere, just as Northumberland has so many brilliant castles?

Did I mention we got a new-to-us car in December? Not as racy as the last one, but quite comfortable and perhaps a bit more practical. I'm hoping it will be easier to take photos, though I didn't think to try this went I did the test drive. 

Warkworth Castle is a very picturesque ruin that I remember Bill's kids climbing all over on past visits. I've been a few other times with various friends and enjoyed exploring the quaint tearooms and the views from the bridge, probably all in the days prior to owning a digital camera. 

As I recall the views from that stone bridge are quite stunning.

I was pleased that this shot-across Bill's arms out the driver's side caught the lovely blue of the North Sea on this fine, sunny day. I can report that his jumper (pullover sweater) was almost exactly this same shade of blue.

Saturday, 9 February 2019

Keel Row Books

Another walk I took one day as a mini-reward to myself was to visit Keel Row Books on the way to Morrisons supermarket to pick up a few groceries. This was making a 1.7 round trip into something more like 3 miles, which was part of the point.

I was sure I'd written about this place before and sure enough I had, but without a camera. It only took me eight years to follow up on that intent in this previous post. February seems to be the time of year for me to drop in there.

Along the way I snapped a photo of the new hours listed on the gate at Tynemouth Architectural Salvage. It's been a while since I browsed (went 'window-licking') there (eight years again?). Another salvage place, Huscrofts, in North Shields is 'decorative' salvage. Both places are equally fun to visit.

I browsed the books at Keel Row, beginning with the front window. I couldn't get a good photo of the complete set (6 for £75) of The Modern Baker Confectioner and Caterer because of the glare of the glass, but I did find a number of these on I'm none of the words in the title but I do love the cover design.

Inside I looked through the sewing and crafting section but found nothing there I couldn't live without. The fiction section, I noticed, included some novels by Robert B. Parker. I've discovered Ace Atkin's revival of the Spenser detective series at the library and enjoyed them. I may try the original Parker version at some point. 

I never noticed the little bird who stole the 'O'.

I was wishing I had my book list with me and I didn't really know what I was looking for. 

On the other hand it is always an intense pleasure just to be surrounded by books. The other night at the WI the speaker had his books for sale. I saw one purchaser open her new book and sniff as she sat back down. It made me smile. Old books have their own scent - perhaps it is accumulated dust, I don't know - but beyond the olfactory input just the sheer volume of possibilities in a room full of books as yet unread by me is almost brain-food in itself.

I stumbled upon a Laura Ingalls Wilder omnibus, containing her first three books. I knew she was on my list, having never watched the TV series or read the books before (late to most parties, me). 

The lady at the check out was clearly a Wilder fan, being so enthusiastic about my purchase and telling me there were three more of her books if I liked them. I did, more than I expected I would.  

I picked up a leaflet about a book fair in Durham and snapped a photo of the Edinburgh book fair for the WI book group and the bookshop's hours for my own reference. 

The main thing I love about Keel Row Books is that you can see it was once a house and that whole house is now absolutely crammed full of books. It is a semi-detached and the other semi- is on the market. The house for sale is disappointingly modern in decor (I snooped online - don't you love being able to do that!?). It occurs to me that if I could afford the other half of our semi I would want to do just that: turn the other half into a 'library', or maybe an antique shop (where nothing is for sale) or would it be about fabric? Hard so say.

Across the road: Christ Church (Anglican), 350 years old this year. North Shields Embroiderers' Guild meet there.

On my way to Morrisons I photographed another couple of houses for sale to snoop. I noted an odd feature in someone's garden and discovered I could see a tower in Preston Village from the main road, a feature I've long wondered about. With a bit of research I discovered someone else has written about it. I must go back sometime and try to get a better photo, though most of it is now obscured with greenery and I'm pretty sure that some of the grounds have now been developed.

Not a path, not yet a border, no stream it just for decoration?

I can't recall what I bought at Morrisons but I do remember having a heavy, lumpy backpack for my journey home. All part of the exercise regime.

See tower of house behind, upper left? That's 'Preston Cottage'!

Wednesday, 6 February 2019

Jamieson's of Cullercoats

If I can I try to make my hour-long walks serve a purpose. One day Bill pointed out a van with lettering that announced a fruit and veg shop in Cullercoats, a village that neighbours ours. We'd neither one ever heard of the place. We looked it up and found it on one of our later walks. Bill pointed out that there was free parking in the street just outside. I noticed it was just across from the Cullercoats library and Metro station. I didn't think, though, to find out what hours they kept and never could find this information online.

So another day I walked back, this time on my own. It was one of the autumnal days before the recent cold snap but the wind was brisk enough I took the sheltered route behind the Boating Lake. I snapped a photo of the Clock Tower Cafe and the bowling green at Tynemouth Park. I wanted to remind myself to check out the coffee shop there - and turns out there is also a bar for parents whose kids are playing putt-putt golf or whatever. I tend to avoid child-friendly type places but maybe in the dead of winter it might be safe. I've strolled around the Boating Lake any number of times, but never visited the cafe. I'm compiling of list of cafe's and coffee shops to which I can drag Bill during dry months. 

I took the time to try to 'compose' the photo, lining up with the tree, but it is the many shades of blue in the sky that catch my eye first, reminding me one of the things I like about winter here, seeing everything from pale turquoise to darkest grey in the sky. 

I was amused to find a barber shop called Van Gogh. I found myself being thankful Bill shaves his own head a few times a year. Brits pronounce his name VanGoff, which took me a while to get used to.

I had a good look around Jamieson's and a chat with the man himself behind the counter. I didn't take much note of the fruit and veg prices but saw there were many interesting items along the lines of unusual sauces and products bearing names suggesting local manufacture. It struck me that this would be a great place to come when we next shop for our Christmas hampers. 

Love the location, the produce and the stained glass windows!

As I walked away I realised I was still none the wiser about his hours and he let me take a photo of his poster for my own reference.

Supporting local shops is high on my agenda these days. I hope it is on yours as well.

Sunday, 3 February 2019

A North Shields Walk

It's funny how much more one sees when carrying a camera with intent. Bill generally gets bored looking at the same things but, with or without camera, I am rarely so. Partly because so much goes on inside my head I could probably sit alone in an empty room and wear myself out thinking. However, carrying a camera pulls me out of my own thoughts and helps me focus more outward. 

I noticed another apple-tree-in-the-wild. With Brexit only weeks away I'm more aware of possible food sources though of course autumn is a long way away. I'm told that in the olden days the weeks when winter stores dwindled and crops hadn't quite grown enough were the hungry time, just when the weather looked so promising. I read somewhere that it is the 7-8 weeks post Brexit that the UK is most likely to be short of fresh foods. We shall see if that is right, I guess, should Brexit actually happen - I still can't really believe it, silly me.

Bill and I both admired the elegant doorways of this side street in North Shields. The end building used to be an office for the Labour party but it appears to be empty now. The lovely curving  and large windows and the curve around to the south make me think it could make nice apartments. Loads of empty pubs and office space finally seem to be being made over into housing to fill some of the shortage. 

Development of existing buildings in North Tyneside doesn't seem to have the same priority as new build for some reason. I'm guessing there may not be as much money in it.

As we turned the corner I found myself admiring a lovely building high up in the southwest sun. 

Bill pointed out it wasn't a home but the Register Office , a former shipping office, where we got married...duh. I'm told there is a wild plum or damson tree somewhere near there but if so it is likely well out of reach. 

The Wooden Dolly has quite the history. Don't believe I've ever been in.

As we walked along the quay I suddenly noticed that I could see both the High Light and the Low Light towers from this opposite direction. 

If anything they are ten times more obvious than when looking up river. Another duh...  The scaffolding may not have been there the last time we passed this way. Wonder how long that development will take?

And then we came to one of my favourite renovations along the fish quay. I gather from a talk last month? at the Tynemouth Historical Society that this was once part of the old Clifford's Fort. I'm told the glass windows are re-claimed windscreens from old lorries (haulage trucks). And then the relative newcomer, the Fishermen's Memorial. 

Then along the small beach and car park where people sit in their cars to eat their fish and chips and look out to sea. There are always plenty of gulls around savaging. The river was unusually blue rather than grey, but then it always reflects the sky and clear blue sky is common enough here in winter an into spring. It's terribly deceptive all that sunshine and flowers you see out the window. 

We climbed the hill then turned our backs to the river to continued home.