Our visit to the Northumberland coast seems a long time ago, probably because it was. I’ve only touched on what we did during our short break, sharing our fabulous apartment by the sea and a perfect day exploring Seahouses. Fancy hearing a bit more?
“Shall we go to Chillingham Castle today?” Dougie suggested.
“What’s it got?” I replied, conscious we had two teens to entertain and the weather wasn’t looking brilliant.
“The only wild cattle in the world,” he announced, knowing this might interest me, as much for potential blogging material as anything.
“Tell me more,” I replied.
“Chillingham Castle, a 12th century stronghold, was the basecamp for the 1298 attack on William Wallace by King Edward I.”
“Ooh, Braveheart!” I was interested now. “Go on!”
“Park designed by Capability Brown in 1752.”
“Like that. But what about the cows?”
“Sole survivors of herds of cattle that once roamed the forests of England. Far rarer than the Giant Panda. Completely untamed. Never been touched by human hand. Potentially dangerous. Can only be visited with a warden.”
Despite this last nugget of information, it got the thumbs up and we all clambered into the car. As the castle didn’t open until midday, we decided to see the cattle first. The car park was situated up a fairly steep, narrow path. There were only two other cars there and, looking at the map at the gate, the meeting point for the warden was some distance across a field.
It wasn’t looking good. We weren’t in the right garb for a start. My shoes were fairly sturdy but suede and Rory’s girlfriend, Juliana, was wearing the flimsiest sandals known to man – just a couple of thin strips of turquoise leather. I was hungry and needed the loo.
Dougie strode on across the field and the rest of us followed in his wake, shooing away the flies and dodging the sheep droppings. We reached the hemmel (a hut where we would meet the warden for the tour). There were no toilets. I had envisaged being transported on a covered trailer but it looked like this was a walking tour. Another couple were waiting and looked better prepared: walking boots and cagoules.
We had two minutes to decide whether to stick it out and wait for the warden or do a runner back through the field. We chose the latter, aware that we were probably missing a unique opportunity to see the magnificent wild beasts but that there was likely to be a mutiny if we stayed.
It was only 11am so we were still far too early for the castle opening. A change of plan was necessary. Luckily Alnwick was near so we had a show of hands as to whether to see its castle (the setting for Hogwarts in the Harry Potter movies) or the garden. As we’d taken Rory to Alnwick Castle on a Harry Potter day many years before, we opted for Alnwick Garden, despite the rain beginning to spit.
The Alnwick Garden is a contemporary garden, designed by the Duchess of Northumberland, and can be visited if wearing sandals. With a large, colourful map of the garden in our hand we tried to plan the next few hours so we could see all of the different parts of the garden and make sure we caught the half-hourly displays from the Grand Cascade. But first, food.
We headed towards the Treehouse, a gorgeous part of the garden – all wobbly rope-bridges and wooden structures. I’ve heard The Treehouse Restaurant is excellent for proper meals but we just wanted something quick so The Potting Shed was perfect for us: cosy, informal and serving the most delicious sausage sandwiches.
The rain stopped just after we’d finished eating (there is a god) so a very pleasant time was spent mooching around the rest of the fascinating garden. We loved the mirrored stainless-steel water sculptures in the Serpent Garden but, all agreed, our favourite bit was a visit to the Poisoned Garden where guide, Bridget, took small groups of us into a locked part of the grounds where many highly poisonous plants were growing. Children in the group were mesmerised by her talk, open-mouthed at how long it would take to die, and how gruesome a death it would be, if you ingested various berries and leaves.
I think we were safe, gobbling up a few Krispy Kreme doughnuts from The Pavilion, another excellent eatery in the garden. We sat on the terrace, oohing and aahing as the fountains on the Grand Cascade came to life, and watched little children ride around at its base on John Deere mini-tractors.
Funny how a day can start one way, plans change and yet it can all work out for the best. I still want to see the potentially dangerous cattle and I know Dougie wants to return to Chillingham Castle, if only to paint his face blue, don his kilt and stand on the ramparts shouting, “FREEDOM!”
|Wish I’d been small enough to have a go on the tractors.
Grand Cascade, The Alnwick Garden
|What can you see through the arched window?
(Memories of Play School anyone?)
|The wobbly rope bridge from The Treehouse|
|A warm welcome in The Potting Shed|