Today was the last visiting day of my holiday. It started with a quick visit of a Roman Fort near Hexham.
Then I headed north to the Northumbrian coast, where I parked in the pretty seaside port of Craster, and walked along the coast to visit the ruins of Dunstanburgh Castle. In its time (it was built in the 14th century) it must have been huge, and rivalled neighbouring Bamburgh Castle. The castle suffered badly during repeated sieges in the War of the Roses when it changed hands several times between Lancastrian and Yorkist forces. There is not much left now, but it was still impressive, with great views over steep cliffs and the sea.
On one of the cliffs I noticed some cute, teddy-sized, penguin-like birds, which a quick search of the internet revealed were Auks. I would have gone to say hello, but the cliff looked very steep, so I took photos from a safe distance.
Back at the port, I enjoyed fresh crab sandwiches and a drink in the local pub, looking over the sea. From Craster I drove north along the coast road; it was a sunny Sunday afternoon and a lot of others had had the same idea. I stopped briefly in Bamburgh for coffee and to admire the huge castle from the outside. Parts of the castle date from the 11th century and Norman times and it is amazingly well-preserved. Unfortunately I didn’t have time to visit, but given the Sunday crowds this might not have been such a good idea anyway.
From Bamburgh I headed further up north to Holy Island, home of the famous ruined abbey of Lindisfarne. This was established as a monastery in 634AD and was a leading centre of learning and religion for all northern England. The monastery was probably the first ever place in Europe to be raided by the Vikings, in 793. Holy Island can only be reached during low tide, and many road signs advise you of safe crossing times and the perils of getting your timing wrong. There isn’t much left of the abbey any more – yet another ruined abbey to add to my list for this holiday – but the site still somehow has a special feeling to it, and is very photogenic, with a 15th century castle looming on a hill in the background.
After Lindisfarne, it was time to head on to my next hotel. On the way I passed two other famous castles, Alnwick and Warkworth, but didn’t have time to visit. The whole area is rich in history – the many castles are a legacy of England’s turbulent relations with the Scots and also the struggle for power between local northern barons and the king. Appropriately, my last hotel was also a castle – Lumley Castle, built by Sir Ralph Lumsley in 1389. Sadly Sir Ralph backed the wrong side during one of medieval England’s many power struggles and lost his head shortly after the castle was finished. I ended my holiday in style with a room in the very oldest part of the castle.
The next day was the end of my holiday, and I completed the long drive back down to London. It was a very varied and interesting holiday, despite indifferent weather and Coronavirus restrictions. I will definitely return to Northumberland the Scottish borders – there are easily enough castles and walks to fill a good week of holiday and in two days I only scratched the surface of these little-known destinations. The Lake District was just as beautiful as I remembered it – despite my policy of not visiting the same place many times, I’ll keep my book of Lake District walks, just in case. After all I still haven’t climbed Scafell Pike, England’s highest mountain.