Otherwise Known As: The Trip Where Everything Was Closed
Destination: Northumberland, England
Date of Travel: November 2011
Travel By: Car
Length of Trip: 5 Days total, 3 full days of sightseeing
Travellers: a Mom, a Dad, an OlderBoy (age 7), a YoungerBoy (age 3)
Hadrian's Wall path
Initial Itinerary: Hadrian's Wall, Alnwick Castle & Gardens, Dunstanburgh Castle, Bamburgh Castle, Newcastle upon Tyne. We knew it would be chilly in November, but did not realize that all the castles would be closed or have limited opening times!
Base Camp: We rented a small but lovely converted barn/cottage in the city of Warkworth. We found this was a good base for getting to all the sites we wanted to see, and the city itself had ruins of a castle we could walk to see from the cottage.
Our cottage in Warkworth
Trip Report: On our first full day of sightseeing, we headed out for a walk along Hadrian's Wall, and we were lucky that it was sunny and beautiful to make up for the November chill. We left our car at the car park and started at the English Heritage site of Housesteads Roman Fort. We explored the fort before travelling along the wall (left from the fort) towards the Steel Rigg Car Park, which was probably a walk of around 3.5 miles. The walk does not actually require you to walk on top of the wall - mostly, you are next to the wall on the grass - although there are some parts where you can. There are many hills along the way, but nothing too steep - my 7 year old clambered up and over them with no problem. However, sometimes the steps going up the hill are very rocky, so we would give our 3 year old a hand with those (much to his dismay). Also, the very last hill down towards the Steel Rigg Car Park is quite steep - it took me awhile to figure out how to get my 3 year old down it and I thought there should have been rails of some sort. If it was raining, it would have been a real problem.
Starting the walk on top of Hadrian's Wall. Swords are not optional.
The walk leads onto crags and overlooks the lake Crag Lough (held on to the kids hands for this part!) and goes by the famous Robin Hood Tree, officially known as Sycamore Gap. The tree was used in the movie Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves - the part where Kevin Costner and Morgan Freeman are walking along the stone steps and little boy runs up a tree to escape from the Sheriff of Nottingham's soldiers? Yeah, it's that tree!
Morgan Freeman, Kevin Costner and I all stood under this tree. Not at the same time.
Once we ended our walk at Steel Rigg car park, we had to figure out how to get back to our car which was over at Housesteads. I believe there are some buses that will take you back, but in the end, my husband just ran the entire way back, got the car, and picked us up. I should mention that a) he's a runner b) he's a little nutty and c) he headed back just before we noticed the last hill to get down to the car park where I had to help the 3 year old. It took that long!
On our second day of sightseeing, we started off the day by heading to Dunstanburgh Castle, also an English Heritage site. This is a ruined castle, perched on top of a hill overlooking the North Sea. We parked some distance away and took a path that was marked just off a golf course that lead towards the castle. Once we reached the base of the castle, we walked up the hill, only to get to the top and find out the castle was closed! However, the walk was fun and the views were incredible, so the journey was well worth it. On our way back, my husband and older son took the rocky walk along the coast while I chased the younger boy back down the grassy path we originally had taken.
Walking towards Dunstanburgh Castle
Since this castle trip was cut a bit short, we decided to head to another nearby castle, Bamburgh Castle. This castle claims to be open all year, however starting in November, it's only open on the weekends. We did not visit on a weekend.
Bamburgh Castle, Not Quite Open All Year
Next up, Alnwick Castle, also closed starting in November. The gardens on the castle grounds were open, but some of the exhibits were closed and the price did not seem worth it to visit (especially since it was cold). But on the grounds is a Treehouse Restaurant, where we had lunch. The boys thought this we neat (okay, we all thought it was neat!) and the food was very good (kids menu included). Not more than 5 minutes away from the castle is a pretty well-known used bookstore, Barter Books. It's large, has lots of kids books, and a toy train that moves along the tops of the bookcases. We all enjoyed our visit and stocked up. (I also learned later that the "Keep Calm and Carry On" poster was a lost English propaganda poster during World War 2 that was never used and was found here - neat!)
Alnwick Castle, also used for the Sheriff of Nottingham's Castle and partly filmed for Harry Potter
For our last full day of sightseeing, we headed up to Newcastle. We explored the city and headed over to the Millennium Bridge, because according to the website, it was going to tilt up at 11 am that day to allow boats to pass underneath it. But according to the schedule at the actual bridge, it was not scheduled to tilt that day at all.
Gateshead Millennium Bridge. Tilts, occasionally.
No worries, we visited what was left of the castle keep in the city, ate lunch at a sandwich shop and headed to see Tynemouth Priory ... which was closed. It was actually supposed to be open, but they were filming some sort of documentary that day and had closed it to the public. Honestly, we would have been surprised if it was open. But we realized that we were not far from the Metro Centre in Newcastle, a shopping center that is one of the largest in Europe and open until 9 pm. Having lived in a small town in England for awhile - where there is no major shopping mall and stores that all close around 6 pm - we decided to head over. We browsed, ate dinner at Wagamama's and stayed out LATE!
During the course of our days as we headed back to base camp, we explored the town of Warkworth. The castle was closed, but there was a wonderful walk around the castle, alongside the River Coquet. And not far from town is the coast of the North Sea, which perhaps during a month other than November would be suitable to swim in. But then again, this is England; to my American temperament, there is no time in England suitable to swim in the water.
Bridge over the River Coquet
This was supposed to spell out North Sea. But writing in the sand can be tiring.