A Castle Built into a Rock

On a soggy morn, we made the trek up the Royal Mile from our hotel for a tour of Edinburgh Castle. Rich in history and centuries of remodeling and rebuilding makes this accessible and interesting. Besides the shops and tearoom, there are people who work here in the government offices and museums.

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We opted to purchase the audio guide, and we’re glad we did (although if we hadn’t, we would have taken advantage of the free tours that are offered). Once you’re through the main gate and have your ticket, it’s up and up and up.

Besides the main attractions here—David’s Tower, St. Margaret’s Chapel, the Great Hall, the Royal Palace, the Prisons of War, the Mone Meg, Half-Moon Battery, and the scepter, sword, and crown, and the Stone of Destiny—there are museums for the Royal Dragoons and the Regimentals, the National War Museum, a pet cementary, and the Scottish National War Memorial. And although there isn’t much in the way of gardens, there are some scattered amongst the grounds.

The most impressive and best explained are those for the scepter, sword and crown, and, of course, the Stone of Destiny. They’ve had a storied past as important relics tend to have, and have gone missing and been rediscovered. We weren’t allowed to photograph them, but they are brilliant under a glass display case.

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In the palace, you can go into the small room in which Mary, Queen of Scots gave birth to James VI (later King James I in England), see her bedchamber, and visit the hall James used for official visits.

We spent more than three hours on site—there is that much to do and see.

After a quick trip to the Apple Store to get a new iPad keyboard (we’ve worn out the last one), we visited some of the cashmere and lambs wool shops and paid a visit to a pub for a quick lunch.

Tonight we’ll be attending a dinner and show at The Stables at Presonfield. Ta-ta for now.

A Sunday Drive Along the Wall in North Cumbria and Northumberland

Since it’s a travel day for us, we thought we’d make the most of it by making as many stops as we could on our way to dropping off the hired car and taking the train to Edinburgh. Little did we know just how many stops you can make!

IMG_4649We headed north from our bed and breakfast in Windermere-on-Bowness and had some spectacular scenery before stopping at Aira Force, a waterfall managed by the National Trust. It’s a bit of a hike to get there from the car park, but well worth it, if you don’t mind stairs. Lots of them.

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Then it was off to Carlisle and the beginning of Hadrian’s Wall. (Editor’s note: we really wanted to see Carlisle Castle, but our time was limited.) There are the ruins of  several Roman outposts and forts along the border of Northumberland and Cumbria, four of which are managed by the English Heritage.

Birdswaldo Roman Fort

At the Birdoswald Roman fort, the wall has its longest continuous stretch, so it’s where we started. The complex is in a rather remote setting given its historical importance, and we were a bit underwhelmed when we had our first site of the wall. This is a UNESCO World Heritage site, after all. Since we were taller than the wall, it just didn’t seem very defensible!

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Housesteads Roman Fort

About fifteen miles east, Housesteads is set high on a hill and is the most complete Roman fort in all of Britain. The hike to get up there is about a half-mile (see the people on the footpath?), so we cheated a bit.

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Chesters Roman Fort and Museum

The best preserved of all the forts, Chesters was impressive. It’s also just a few miles down the road, a scenic drive in Northumberland. Good signage documents every building foundation, and there are quite a number of them.

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Corbridge Roman Town

We saved the best for last, for Corbridge is located near Hexham (where the Duke of  Westhaven’s brother from The Epiphany of an Explorer is an archaeologist) and it has some of the best artifacts and even the remnants of columns.

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On to Newcastle

Our next stop was the Newcastle Airport, where we turned in the hired car (rental) and took the Metro to the train station. The Virgin train left for Edinburgh at 14:49 and we were there by 18:15 and at the Radisson Blu by 18:30!

We’ll be sleeping well (and sleeping in). Ta-ta for now!

A Cottage Fit for a Poet

At the edge of Grasmere in the Lake District sits a tiny white cottage. For eight years, William Wordsworth and his sister, Dorothy, lived in Dove Cottage. We had a guided tour of the house as well as visited the museum dedicated to the poet.

It’s hard to believe as many as nine people called this home at one point during the Wordworths’ stay. He got married to his sister’s best friend, Mary, three of his five children were born here, and then his fellow “Lake poets” Thomas de Quincey and Samuel Taylor Coleridge moved in at various times with some of their kin. The cottage is much the same as the way it was when he moved out in 1808 to larger lodgings in Rydal (just down the road).

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Despite being appointed poet laureate, Wordsworth didn’t write a single poem during his tenure.

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The museum features exhibits not only about Wordsworth but also on the other Lake poets. Paintings, papers, poems, and more are on display.

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And finally, there is a garden behind the modest cottage. We took a tour through it before making our way back to the bed and breakfast for our last night in Windermere.

Next up: We’ll be heading up to Hadrian’s Wall on the morrow. Ta-ta for now!

A Bronze Age Stone Circle

One of about 1300 stone circles in the United Kingdom, Castlerigg doesn’t have anything special going for it other than spectacular views.

None of the stones are particularly large, although they might have at one time stood much higher than they do now. We walked the perimeter and took photos of three or four at a time.

On a clear day, these would probably be more impressive, but the view was still stunning. We’re heading south next, to pay a visit to the home of a poet laureate.

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A Lady’s Castles

On what started as a drizzly morning here in Cumbria, we headed north to visit two of the four castles once owned by Lady Anne Clifford, Dowager Countess of Dorset, Pembroke, and Montgomery and 14th Baroness de Clifford. Having inherited her father’s barony, she spent a good deal of her life in legal wranglings to get what she was owed, but in the end, she prevailed. Although mostly in ruins, her castles (English Heritage sites) are a testament to her determination.

Brough Castle

There is no shop or ticket booth for Brough Castle, but you’ll find a delightful ice cream shop next to the gate (they make their own from cow’s milk, so it’s fresh and wonderful on a warm spring day) as well as playground equipment for the kiddies. You’ll have to go through several gates on your way up to the ruins, as they’re meant to keep the sheep in the meadow and not in the car park or on the castle grounds.

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There is far more here than you see in the photo above. Once you’re through the gate, other towers are evident, and there are plenty of helpful signs with the history of the place.

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With sweeping views of the Lake District (the national park is nearby), this is a castle with a view, and given it’s a ruin, probaby too many.

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Brougham Castle

Located a few miles north of Brough, Brougham was originally founded by Robert de Vieuxpont in the early 1200s. The two rivers near here, Eamont and Lowther, had the Romans building their fort, Brocavum, here first, though, so the entire site has been designated as an Ancient Monument.  With the outbreak of the Wars of Scottish Independence in 1296, this castle as well as Brough and others in Cumbria became important to the English. Edward I even visited Brougham in 1300 after Robert Clifford, 1st Baron de Clifford had fortified it for defense.

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Once, again, there’s more than meets the eye when you get through the intact gates and into the castle proper, including graffiti, stairways, and even an intact spiral staircase you can climb to get to the third story!  Because the roof of the gate is solid, the first story floor is still there (rare in ruins this old).

And despite the lack of formal gardens, there are still flowers to be found growing in the crevices and corners.

We took our leave of Brougham intending to visit Penrith Castle, but there was no place to park! Turns out, the castle is right across from the train station. We did a “drive by” visit, but it hardly counts (see below). Next up: We’re off to see some stone circles and visit a poet’s home. Ta-ta for now.

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A Castle for Kids

After such a satisfying visit to Sizergh Castle, we decided to try our luck on another castle. Located on the largest lake in England and built in 1840, Wray Castle is a family destination.

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The National Trust encourages visits by boat or bike as they have limited parking available. We elected to take the ferry, which does a 50-minute loop of the northern part of Bowness for £8.25. The stop for Wray is only 15 minutes away from the pier at Ambleside (northeast end of Bowness Lake).

A surgeon from Liverpool, James Dawson had the castle built using funds from his wife’s fortune (Editor’s note: there is a reason this is such a popular theme in fiction—wive’s fortunes are responsible for a good deal of what’s been erected in this country.) Neo-Gothic in styling, this Victorian castle has 54 rooms—and was built for two. As in any building this tall, be sure to look up!

Over the years, the furnishings and fixtures have been sold off or removed to the point that when the National Trust ended up with it, there weren’t any contents left. It’s housed non-profits and the merchant navy, been left empty, and now has found its niche as a kid’s castle. We learned why after a short introductory talk—most of the rooms have been painted or furnished with children’s activities in mind. There’s a room where they can play dress up, a room to have a Beatrix Potter birthday party, a room with tents for camping, another room for drawing. Even the tearoom looks like it was designed for children.

There are a couple of rooms furnished with contemporary couches and chairs, their walls painted with accent colors—but it all feels a bit wrong for a building that should be housing a collection of neo-Gothic furniture.

Outside is far more satisfying, with sweeping views and some rock walls. There’s not much in the way of florals, but they can be found.

We took the next ferry back to Ambleside to find a pub.

We have a week to go on our visit to the UK. With two more nights in Cumbria, we’ll be spending some time in the Lake District National Park. Ta-ta for now!

A Sizable Sizergh, Part 2

A sense of having visited a complete castle is one of the most satisfying aspects of visiting Sizergh—nothing’s been torn down (other than some stairs), there are gardens and all the outbuildings you expect of a place that’s been home to a family for over 750 years. When we completed the garden tours, we headed inside this impressive castle in the company of a tour guide. He regaled us with stories of the history of the Strickland family as well as some of the furnishings and paneling that can be found inside.

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Sizergh started as a solar tower—a typical castle tower, square, but far larger than you would find on a regular castle (it’s the tallest part of what your see above). On one side, an entry was added that allowed visitors to enter up a grand staircase into a massive first story (what you see in the middle). Wings were added on either side, one for the kitchens and servants quarters and the other for long galleries. The stairs were eventually removed and rebuilt on the inside so that horse-drawn carriages could enter the horse, drop off the guests, and exit out the other side. All that’s been closed up again so there’s a set of impressive doors in which to enter.

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Once inside, you know when you’re in the oldest part versus the Elizabethan and Victorian-era sections. The house is filled with treasures—including the original paneling from one room that had been sold off for display in the Victoria and Albert Museum and has since been returned and reinstalled. If walls could talk! It also features a number of pieces made by Gillows Furniture.

When we finally took our leave of this place, we had to pass by some more plantings—such a pleasant way to go! Next up: A castle for kids.