Blackpool beside the sea

Blackpool Illuminations along the Promenade

Blackpool Illuminations along the Promenade

One of the places that brings back fond memories of childhood for my husband is the city of Blackpool on the northwest coast of England. Blackpool was and is a very popular place to take your family for a summer holiday, seaside towns being a big draw for the British. Blackpool has been a big attraction since the early Victorian era and really boomed once the trains came. There are miles of beaches and three piers were built out over the sea. The piers contain games, rides, market stalls where you can buy kitchy souvenirs and a bucket and spade for sand architecture. There are lots of food stalls as well.

Along the promenade, the road that follows the seafront, and in the general vicinity are hotels, guesthouses, bars and restaurants, exhibitions and Bingo halls, theatres, shops, and lots of other things for the average holiday maker to do and see. There’s a large theme park at the south end, called the Pleasure Beach. Trams traverse the coast back and forth, and on the beach, the kids can get donkey rides. It really can be quite a tourist trap, but I will admit there’s a lot of things to do as a family, there can be some really good entertainment featured as well and who doesn’t like the beach and the fresh, sea air?

Blackpool Tower on the Promenade, rife with attractions

Blackpool Tower on the Promenade, rife with attractions

I mentioned early in the summer that we were planning a day trip here on my recent visit to the UK. My husband’s family spent many a holiday week in Blackpool and he has fond memories of it. I have to confess, I find it a bit over the top and tacky but it does have it’s pluses, too. The Blackpool Tower is pretty neat and I always like to go up in towers and high places. It has a beautiful Victorian ballroom as well where you can still go for a cup of tea and a dance around the room, accompanied by a cheerful bloke playing a massive pipe organ.  If you like arcades or scary rides, (which I don’t!) then you will be oversaturated by choice. There’s also some world class theatres and venues where  you can attend shows, concerts and gigs.

Blackpool is only 60 miles from the Manchester area so it’s very easy to do a day trip there which is what we did early in September during my visit to the UK. One other thing that Blackpool has is the annual Illuminations and I really did fancy seeing those.  Blackpool city council erected what may have been the first electric street lighting in 1879. It was an event that nearly 100,000 people came to witness. In 1912, to mark a Royal visit to open a new section of the promenade, a display of lights was erected along the street. This was in May and it was so popular that they did it again in September. It was hugely popular and they did it again the next year but World War I put a halt to it until it was revived in the 1920s and aside from a 10 year break through WWII and post-war economics, it has been a yearly tradition, growing bigger and bolder every year. It stretches 6 miles along the Promenade.

Since we planned to stay late to see the lights, we didn’t head out until mid morning, arriving close to lunchtime so that was our first order of business. Food. I don’t know why we picked a pub on the Promenade because I’m sure there were probably much better ones away from the main “drag” where the food was better. This one, a Weatherspoon’s franchise, was very Meh and disappointing. We should have known better, restaurants in the thick of the tourist area generally aren’t the best places to eat. Mind you, most of Blackpool is a tourist area but I think venturing back from the main Promenade will give you better choice and quality. Lessons learned.

We walked behind the Tower (having been up there on one other previous visit) because I wanted to see the Victorian Winter Garden. The Winter Garden was built in 1878. It’s got several venues in it, with theatres, a ballroom, restaurants and exhibition space. We couldn’t go into the ballroom and there was an inside illuminations exhibit also going on which we didn’t visit. We walked through the lobby and up into the main concourse to see the glass roof and dome and peek into the Spanish section which is all done up like the interior of a Spanish pirate ship. It was very nice, what we did get to see of it. Outside, along one of the exterior, less decorated walls of the building were panels of street art which were all interesting to see. Not always sure what the artists were getting at but it was still neat.

From Blackpool Central Pier to the South Pier and Pleasure Beach rides

From Blackpool Central Pier to the South Pier and Pleasure Beach rides

We then walked down by the beach, watching the children get donkey rides and then went over onto the Central Pier to walk out to the end. School is back in so Blackpool was fairly quiet and most of the rides were still or only had one or two people on them. There were still quite a lot of people but not that many families or children. The pier is lined with a wooden bench built into the sides with old white painted wrought iron bench backs. They are often worn through and rusted and the wooden seats are in very bad repair and I’m sure can’t be very safe. I suppose it would cost a lot of money to restore all this.

As we got near the end of the pier, we noticed a guy running hell bent for leather across the vast expanse of beach to the water’s edge. Graham reckoned the beach was so wide he’d be exhausted by the time he actually reached the sea! About 10 feet before the edge, he stopped and stripped off his swimming trunks and charged into the water, completely naked! Graham shook his head mournfully and said “On behalf of the entire Northwest of England, I apologize”. The guy’s friends were running along behind him and one of them stopped and picked up his trunks, eliciting an angry response by the swimmer. What did he expect? He later came out, covering his bits with his hands, to join his group and no doubt, persuade them to give him back his swim gear.

We had a drink and sat in the sun for a bit and then decided to take the bus to the far northern end of the city, where the illuminations began. We thought we could hang out there for awhile, have our evening meal and then make our way back once the sun set, enjoying the lights, even if we hopped on and off the bus to go ahead a few stops at a time. We got there, and discovered there really isn’t much there to do. It’s all larger hotels, no shops or anything to look at. We had a drink in one pub we found and decided what we’d do is get the back all the way back to the Pleasure Beach where we’d parked the car. We could find somewhere there for our dinner and by that time, the sun would be going down. We would then drive the “strip” to see the lights from the car. All the traffic goes along there slowly so people can get a good look and we would be able to as well.

It’s all right, planning, but plans don’t always go the way you expect. We missed the last bus, which apparently stopped at 6. Doh! Never mind, the tram was still running but they won’t take our all day bus pass so we had to buy tickets. We found a little Indian curry house near where we parked. We were ready for it, too, and it was quickly getting chilly so we were glad of a warm place to sit! The food was good and cheap, what else can you ask for?

The slow drive along the Promenade, with the iPod hooked up to the car stereo for a soundtrack, was fun. There are a variety of light displays, more traditional bulbs, and LED lights, tableaux, signs and two of the old fashioned trams were decorated up elaborately, one like a ship and one like a train. Very good! The far north end had lots of scenes lit up either by spot lights or were made from the lights themselves. Four styles of a sun, Daleks and the Tardis, Alice in Wonderland, American Natives, Dancing girls, a haunted house and more. I think I liked this section the best. It was difficult to photograph from the car, though. I did get some good photos and I did some video clips as well. We enjoyed the ride so much we turned around and came back down the other way and then headed home.

Travel Theme: Below

This week’s travel theme from Where’s My Backpack is Below.

First, looking below me from a hotel window in Copenhagen:

 

Then, looking below me from the CN Tower in Toronto towards Toronto’s City airport

And looking up at the CN Tower from below! (not taken on the same day)

DP – Extraordinary

In my travels, I see a lot of things that impress and astound me, things that move me and make me go Wow! Many are items in museums but other things that I love are buildings/architecture, or a spectacular view as we drive over the crest of a hill. When trying to decide what to choose for the Daily Post challenge, Extraordinary, I was spoiled for choice and I could have picked quite a few things.  I chose these two.

This first is a shot I took out the window of a tour bus while traveling through the Scottish Highlands. It’s near Rannoch Moor and I couldn’t believe my eyes, a rainbow in the mist *on the ground*, rather than a arc overhead. I’ve been told that it comes out this way due to a few things, including the height above sea level and the angle of the sun at that time of the day (late morning). What you are seeing is the top of the rainbow arc, apparently. I took the chance at a few photos out of the window of the moving bus and captured it enough that you could tell what it was. The photo was taken on film, through a window,  has deteriorated some,  and scanned a long time ago so the resolution isn’t great.

Rainbow in the Highlands, near Glencoe.  The "Hail Mary" lucky shot through the bus window

Rainbow in the Highlands, near Glencoe.
The “Hail Mary” lucky shot through the bus window

This is an illuminated copy of two pages of the Canterbury Tales along with, underneath in the case, another plain undecorated copy, both from the 15th century. Seen in the John Rylands Library, Manchester. The decorated sheets are from the Oxford Manuscript. The other book is a 1476 first edition. It’s amazing that something so fragile is still preserved. The Ryland Library also has a fragment of  the gospel of John, dated to about 200 A.D. written on papyrus.

Canterbury Tales, Illuminated and plain, below it.

Visiting Alnwick Castle and Gardens

Alnwick Castle

Alnwick Castle

Alnwick Castle has been the home of the Percy family for 700 years. When the line descended to a female, the man she married took on the Percy name so that it wouldn’t die out. The Percy family themselves have been in England since just after the Norman Invasion so they’ve been around a very long time. They were the Earls of Northumberland until the end of the 17th century and after the male line died out there, married into the Dukes of Somerset, and after a couple of generations, the Earldom was restored/created by George III in 1766 and the numbering system restarted. They were the couple that returned to Alnwick which had fallen into disuse. Sir Hugh and Lady Elizabeth Percy restored, revamped, landscaped and rebuilt Alnwick into a luxurious palace. The castle has been further renovated and restored in the Victoria era to the Italianate decor we see in many of the State rooms now. The current Duke is the 12th.

The castle has been open to the public since 1950 and is currently open to the public during the spring, summer and early fall months. The family still lives there in the winter and you can see lots of evidence of this as you tour the State rooms, where there are family photos, beanbags for the dogs to lie on and a large flat screen television in the library. The castle sees 800,000 visitors a year. I would expect some of that stems from the use of the castle for some exterior shots in the first few Harry Potter movies. There are many types of souvenirs related to the movies in the gift shop, including wands, costumes, sorting hats, “house” scarves, etc. The castle was more recently used for a Downton Abbey episode in 2014 and will be used again in the final season of the series for an episode. Those scenes included inside shots in the State Rooms. I always enjoy seeing places on television and in movies where I’ve visited!

Alnwick Castle Gardens

Alnwick Castle Gardens

Also on the estate is the Alnwick Garden, a garden with many different areas in it. Some of the sections will be nicer during different times of the year than others. For instance, there’s a large cherry tree orchard. We visited in September but in the spring, with the cherry blossoms in bloom, it would be really beautiful. Otherwise, they’re just trees so we didn’t bother.

The gardens were designed by two Belgians, Jacques and Peter Wirtz. The Duchess of Northumberland was instrumental in spearheading the project and the result is a very interesting place to wander and explore.

We checked out of our hotel after breakfast and drove the half hour or so south along the coast to Alnwick. We found a parking lot in the town centre next to the gardens and surprisingly enough, it was free! It was also nearly full so we were lucky to find a spot. The official castle/gardens parking area wasn’t too far from there, I discovered after coming home, and it doesn’t cost very much to park all day. Free is better. Since the sun was out but the overall forecast was dubious, we decided to do the garden first, just in case. The whole main garden with all the smaller sub-gardens is walled in, with an atrium style cafe at the entrance. We didn’t go through the whole thing for two reasons, one being the weather, two being that there were parts of it we didn’t think would be worth it (see comments about the cherry orchard). We were also driving back across to Manchester and we wanted to fit in the castle before heading on the road and we didn’t want to be driving at all hours.

Alnwick Castle Gardens, the "tree tunnels"

Alnwick Castle Gardens, the “tree tunnels”

So the garden, first. The main central feature is a large cascading fountain with the jets shooting from either side in timed fashion. Along the sides and top of it are what looks like tunnels made of trees which, upon closer inspection, are shrubberies or something like it, growing over a metal frame. You can walk through these tunnels and there are some benches in there as well for a place to sit. Near the entrance there’s a labyrinth made of bamboo trees and branches. We had a scoot through that and managed not to get lost in it. We passed through the rose garden but those blooms were pretty much passed their prime.

One garden we did quite enjoy was called a serpent garden. It was filled with S-shaped topiaries made of holly that curved and circled around a series of water sculptures each with frameworks of highly polished stainless steel. It’s a bit hard to explain but they were all really interesting. One of them used gravity from a pond further up a hill which fed the fountain as it filled up and poured out. Another had water flowing over the edge of a circular frame and it was as clear as glass. It was all about how water moves, relying on various aspects of physics. It was really interesting.

Alnwick Castle Gardens, the Ornamental Garden

Alnwick Castle Gardens, the Ornamental Garden

The only other part we took in was an ornamental, more formal garden at the top end of the fountain. G. and M. wanted to rest their feet for a bit and weren’t as interested in looking at flowers and plants and sculpture so they sat on the garden benches while I had a lovely look around, taking photos and looking at everything. There was still a lot in bloom but it must have been spectacular in July.

Alnwick Castle Courtyard

Alnwick Castle Courtyard

We decided that was enough and headed down to the castle. The castle walls are high but instead of a moat, there are now sheep grazing in the fields and low hills surrounding. As impressive as the castle is as you approach it from across the park, it’s even more so when you go through the gates and enter a courtyard with the cobbled stones under foot and the high, imposing walls of the keep and the inner castle walls surrounding you. You look up. Your jaw drops down. It’s not majestic as such, and not impossibly high, it just takes you by surprise.

When you enter, you’re in a room that has pretty much every inch of the walls covered in arms, armaments, guns, swords, and the like. You cannot take photos inside the castle and there are security cameras everywhere so I didn’t even risk a “Hail Mary” shot from the waist! There are guides in all the rooms, both to watch for cameras and to answer questions. They all know the history of the castle and the Percy family really well. You can ask them pretty much anything and they’re happy, and enthusiastic to talk about it all.

There’s a grand staircase to climb, with fancy plaster work, paintings and gorgeous antiques and artifacts all around you. At the top, you can look over a viewpoint into the chapel which is lovely. You then traverse through all the State Rooms including a gorgeous library that is filled with groupings of comfortable chairs and sofas, two storey high walls lined with books, walls and tables containing family photos and pictures. It looks very much like it’s still lived in and enjoyed by the family. There are drawing rooms, reception rooms, and an extravagant dining room. The paintings are priceless as is some of the furniture and we were told later by the woman in a small shop there that one pair of cabinets is the most expensive set of furniture in the world. French, one of the Louis kings, I forget if it was XIV, XV or XVI. I spied at least one Canaletto on the walls, a painter whose work I do like.

As the castle was used for Downton Abbey last year, there are poster boards through some of the rooms with photos from scenes that were filmed there, with background information and displays of some of the props and costumes, as well. You will also see some exhibits on various members of the family that served in World War I, II, and even as far back as the Napoleonic wars. There’s a small gift shop in this area but a larger one over by another courtyard where there are a couple of restaurants as well. In that area there was also a video presentation on the filming of Downton Abbey and over in an alcove is the magnificent Percy family State Carraige which was recently restored to be used for the wedding of the daughter of the current Duke and Duchess a couple of years ago.

Alnwick Castle

Alnwick Castle

Even though it was a bit chilly, we sat and had a cup of tea/coffee and a piece of cake out in the courtyard. We had a mooch through the gift shop and decided, since the clouds were descending and the rain was imminent, we would not take the extra time to see some of the smaller museums in the gates around the castle walls. They have a lot to see, including activities put on for kids (broom flying lessons!) and for families through the summer. You could spend all day there even without going through the gardens.

Another really neat place to eat, though we didn’t do it, is a tree house restaurant just outside the walls of the gardens. You can also walk through the treetops on ramps and rope bridges. We thought we better hit the road, since we still had a few hours’ drive ahead of us. All in all, though, it was a lovely day, surrounded by history and beautiful things.

Travel Theme: Letters

Markings on the wall, Tower of London. You can see one is dated 1570. They aren’t there from tourists being cheeky, these markings are covered in plexiglass to preserve them. They are apparently original from various people that were held prisoner in the Tower.

This week’s travel theme from Where’s My Backpack is Letters. I’ve tried to select photos that weren’t just an ordinary sign. What do you think?

Camden, London. Tattoists make all sorts of markings, letters, pictures.

Lakeland Motor Museum in the Lake District, England. Replica of an old garage with the vintage signs.

Visiting the Holy Island, Lindisfarne

Causeway to Holy Island/Lindisfarne. Low Tide

Causeway to Holy Island/Lindisfarne. Low Tide

In spite of weather forecasts that predicted doom, gloom and rain for today, the sun was out, the sky was blue and it proved to be a spectacular day for touring around the Holy Island/Lindisfarne, a small island off the northeast coast of England.

We stayed in a hotel on the harbourfront of a small fishing town called Seahouses. We really did just use it as a base, and didn’t seem much of the town itself other than driving in and out. There was a nice old pub next to the inn but the night we tried to go there, it was full up and we hadn’t booked a table. Seemed odd that you needed to book a table in a pub but there you are. It wasn’t even a Friday night, either. I guess this part of the country isn’t rife with hotels so it gets busy. It might be the middle of September but it’s still more or less high season.

The northeast has a lot of historic sites as well as nature reserves and sites. We’re in it for the history and our outing today is a small island up the coast about 15 minutes. It’s connected to the mainland by a causeway rather than a bridge so you have to watch for the tide times. When the tide is in, the road is inaccessible. There’s a small emergency tower half way across, raised quite high up off the road which gives you a better idea how high the tides can get. We did check and the causeway was clear from about 9:30 am until just after 3 p.m.

One person I know suggested that we should head over just before the tide came in and spend the hours on the island while it’s cut off. There are far fewer tourists on the island then and it’s quieter. We decided against that, preferring to go in the morning anyway. There aren’t too many places to eat in the village on the island and one of the older pubs already had a sign up that said they were fully booked for the evening meal, for those that were planning on staying on the island during the high tide period. They planned ahead for it, clearly.

Bamburgh Castle

Bamburgh Castle

We drove up the coast, stopping outside of Bamburgh Castle for some photos. That’s a very old castle and has lots to offer a visitor, apparently but we were there before it opened. I didn’t really think that there was as much to see there as there is, something I found out after I came back home. We probably could have dropped in there after returning from Lindisfarne. Never mind.

The sky was blue, the sun was warm (but not too hot) and there was hardly a breeze, a perfect day for it. You park in a lot just outside the village, a pay and display lot of course. There is parking further in the village but you need to have a disabled sticker to qualify. The village of Lindisfarne isn’t very big but it’s quite pretty. We parked, paid and walked the few minutes into the village.

Lindisfarne Harbour at low tide

Lindisfarne Harbour at low tide

The Holy Island of Lindisfarne has long been a centre for Christianity, as far back as the 6th century. The monastery there was founded by Saint Aidan who journeyed to the northeast of England from the Isle of Iona, off the west coast of Scotland. Later, it became the base for Saint Cuthbert, an important bishop. In the 8th century, York was established as an archbishopric and Lindisfarne was one of only three bishoprics under it. It is also famous for a set of illuminated gospels dating to the 8th century. They are outstanding in beauty and now reside in the British Library in London.

There is one other more notorious event for which Lindisfarne is famous; the island was one of the first places the Vikings raided, at the very end of the 8th century. Raids continued on and off throughout the east of England and the monks eventually abandoned Lindisfarne in the 9th century. The Priory was reestablished in 1093 and remained and flourished until Henry VIII had his wicked ways with the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1536. The ruins that are there now are from the later priory, not the earliest one.

View of Lindisfarne Castle

View of Lindisfarne Castle

The castle on a high rise of land at the end of the harbour was built in 1550. It’s odd looking, with the surrounding land being fairly flat, just a few low hills but the ground that the castle is built on sticks up high, almost as if it was man made. It was extensively renovated inside in 1901. There’s a little walled garden on the north side a little way away, a bit of a hike over from the main road.

We decided our first destination would be the castle out at the head of the island overlooking the harbour. It was quite a walk but relatively flat. We didn’t fancy climbing up the steep inclines to go into the castle proper but we made our way out to the base of it where the disabled parking is. They even had a bagpiper there for the entertainment of the tourists. There were a lot of people walking out when we went but it looked like even more were heading out when we were walking back into the village. There are a lot of great photo ops along the way, too, looking over the harbour, over the fields on the small island and across, in the distance on a good day, you can see Bamburgh Castle.

When we got back to the village, we were ready for a coffee/tea break and found a cafe. Malcom and I nabbed a table outside while Graham stood in the very long queue inside. He came out armed with hot drinks and cheese scones which I loved but they weren’t too keen.

Lindisfarne Priory

Lindisfarne Priory

Fed and watered, it’s on to the ruins of the Priory. I had a two for one voucher from Britain magazine that was good for English Heritage run sites which this was. We perused the displays in the visitor center first, that told the story of the priory on this little island off the northeast coast of England (see above) then it was back outside in the sunshine to climb around the ruins.

The ruins are interesting with superb views over the harbour to the castle. We sat on a bench in a warm, sunny spot for a while and made friends with a local cat who walked right past one other couple to us. There was a breeze off the water but there among the ruins, it was sheltered and really warm.

We then had a look in nearby St. Mary’s parish church that had some nice stained glass and Celtic designs on altar cloths and kneelers.

After that, we decided we and our feet had had enough walking. There’s a bit more to see on the island, though. There’s a display or museum about the Lindisfarne Gospels, something similar to the Irish Book of Kells. They also have a visitor center where you can buy Lindisfarne Mead. We walked back to the car, stopping at a little stall set up just along there, selling preserves and local fruit and veg. I bought a couple of jars, just the thing for toast.

We drove back to the hotel. It wasn’t very late and we decided to sit in the sun in the beer garden overlooking the harbour for an hour or so. The views out over the sea to the Farne islands was great. We saw a bus load of tourists lining up for a tour boat that goes out around the islands where you can see lots of birds and seals.

Tomorrow, we’re heading back to Manchester but we’re going to visit Alnwick Castle and Gardens first. More on that another time.

Lindisfarne Castle from the Priory ruins

Lindisfarne Castle from the Priory ruins

Travel Theme: Paint

Ailsa’s weekly travel theme this week is Paint. You don’t realize how much you see paint everywhere. Buildings freshly painted or old with the paint peeling off, graffitti, signs, works of art of all types, face paint, makeup, murals, frescos. One of the most famous works of art using paint is the Sistine Chapel with the ceiling and front wall covered in paintings. Many churches, castles, palaces and other large buildings have painted ceilings, too. Some may consider graffiti as art and in many cases it is where the creator turned it into a wall mural rather than just defacing something with scrawls and words.

Here’s a few photos featuring paint in many forms. The first is a train in Belgium where, in Brussels, we saw graffiti absolutely everywhere and most of it was definitely not art.

Belgian train

Over the past decade or so, something that’s become popular for a fund raiser is having a blank figure that can be painted and decorated. They are distributed around a city and after a few weeks, are auctioned off for charity. I’ve seen cows, dolphins, bears and, in my own city of Halifax, Nova Scotia, we’ve had ship figureheads and these, lobsters.

Charity lobsters

Zombies have become really popular and zombie walks (or lurches) through a city have been happening just for fun. This is a wonderful example of creative face paint/makeup for one we had here a few years ago.

Zombie!

Another local building, The Black Market, has their exterior very colourfully painted

Black Market, Halifax

Everyone knows I love Coronation Street, a long time British serial drama. I took this photo on a tour of the set last year. This house was covered in stone cladding in about 1990 or thereabouts, and was later painted in blue and yellow.

Number 9 Coronation Street

One last photo, one of those amazing painted ceilings from Chatsworth House, in the Peak District of England.

Chatsworth House, The Painted Hall

Chatsworth House, The Painted Hall

Friends, Romans, Countrymen

Housesteads Roman Fort from above. Photo from the English Heritage website

Housesteads Roman Fort from above. Photo from the English Heritage website

While I was in the UK recently, my husband and I and his best friend went on a three day road trip to the northeast area of Northumberland. Our friend, Mal, had been there before but neither of us had been and there are quite a lot of interesting historical things to see. It was Mal’s suggestion and we thought it was a fine one. I knew, after doing some high level research, that we’d only make a bare glimpse at what the area has to offer but a little taste is better than nothing. Now, what can we put on the “To Do” list?

One place I’d always wanted to see was Hadrian’s Wall. The Roman occupying forces built it, all 73 miles of it, just below what is now the border between England and Scotland, a narrow “neck” of the island of Great Britain. It stretches from present day Carlisle in the northwest to Corbridge in the northeast, which is not far from the city of Newcastle. Emperor Hadrian came to Britian in 122 A.D. and the construction began shortly after. The plans were to build a guarded gate, or Milecastle, at every mile with observation towers between. In all 14 forts were built. There were large ditches on the sides of the walls, which were built of stone and sometimes turf. The plans changed with the addition of a handful of forts for extra protection and it took about 6 years to complete. There’s a pretty good overall history of the wall On the English Heritage website.

The wall was manned and staffed for the next few hundred years until the Roman Empire started to fall. Mainly, the wall and forts were abandoned, with the stone removed for local building over the centuries. What was left was the subject of a campaign of protection by historians and archeologists from the Victorian era forward. There are a number of sites remaining, some of which have been restored and preserved. We looked at the guide books and websites and decided on the Housesteads Fort as the one we wanted to visit. A number of them are situated off the road and a bit of a hike into the hills. In many areas, you can see the turf rising. There isn’t a lot of actual stone wall left but there are sites where you can see it and Housesteads is one of those, having quite a lot of the foundations of the fort and settlement along with a good stretch of the actual wall. Chesters Roman Fort is another very good site as is Birdoswald.

Housesteads it is, then. It was a few hours’ drive from Manchester after picking up Mal. We arrived around lunchtime on a cool day. It had been raining a bit all morning but had stopped just before we got there. We had brought a picnic though it wasn’t a great day for it. Never mind. We had our sandwiches and bought our entry tickets for the site. Remember I said a lot of the sites are a hike up into the hills? This is one of them. We went round the back of the visitor centre to face a path that climbed up for what we were told was a half mile uphill all the way. It might not have been a half mile (just under 1 KM) but it was bloody close. I’m definitely not one of the agile, and most definitely not fit but I was determined. I made the men go on ahead without me and took my time walking up the hill, 50 steps at a time, stop, rest the legs, take a few pictures, continue, 50 steps, repeat. Finally, I got to the top!

There are plenty of information boards around to tell you what you’re looking at and there’s a small interpretive museum and a gift shop just outside the ruins as well. The fort sits on the top of a hill with a ditch plummeting down behind the back wall. The views over the rolling hills are amazing, even under dark and threatening skies. The sheep certainly don’t mind. The wall appears to have been built to keep the incoming “barbarians” from what is now Scotland out, traditionally because they couldn’t be conquered. That probably isn’t exactly the case. They probably just decided that was the far border of the empire as they saw it.

To the left inside the garrison walls are the barracks. There’s the remains of the commander’s quarters, the headquarters building, what is probably a hospital and a granary, with the foundations of what would have been a raised floor to keep the damp from the grain. On the front left corner there is what they say is the remains of a latrine, too. We had a walk through the site and stood looking out north over the beautiful landscape, imagining the hordes of angry Scots/Pictish warrior storming the ramparts. My husband quipped that the Romans were probably standing there in their leather skirts, knees knocking in fear and in the cold north winds. He commented that the Scots were way “harder” than the Italians, after all. A nearby couple overheard him and chuckled to themselves.

We spent some time there then looked into the museum but really didn’t get a good look. It was crowded with a group of school kids and was too small for that many people. We left them to it. I had a quick browse through the gift shop and I wished I had bought a fridge magnet there because the visitor centre back down at the parking area didn’t have any nice ones. We partook of the facilities and headed back on the road, northeast to the little town of Seahouses on the coast, our base for the next two nights.

More about Hadrian’s Wall here.

More of my photos here.

Travel Theme: Intense

Where’s My Backpack has a weekly travel challenge, this week’s is Intense.

The first photo was taken, not on my travels, but here in Halifax where we used to have annual Highland Games. You could find this in many places that hold the games, however, including their home country of Scotland. This fellow is about to throw a very long wooden pole called a caber. It’s got to flip on its end and flip over, in a straight line from the person throwing it, not veering off to one side.

Intense concentration

Playing a five-masted guitar in one go has got to be intense rock and roll! Rick Nielson of the band Cheap Trick.

Rick Nielson, Cheap Trick

Muppets are usually pretty laid back but the most intense Muppet has to be Animal, the drummer of the house band on The Muppet Show.

Animal, from the Muppet Show