Here’s lookin’ at you, kid!

What is it about something that makes you just stop and have to take the photo?  I’m not sure, but this little guy and his crab friend have it.  I was heading into our railway station when the mural caught my eye.  I’ve created a small square to fit Becky’s challenge, In the Pink.  It’s such a very nice representation of Hartlepool Headland, with its pastel houses.  Below you can see the whole.  Am I pushing my luck to say Small is Beautiful?

Jo’s Monday walk : A Tale of three Castles- 3. Dunstanburgh

Our last day on the Northumberland coast got off to a gloomy start.  Persistent drizzle clung to the windows and rooftops.  Worse yet, my husband announced, limping down to breakfast, that he thought his gout might have returned.  The medication was something I had neglected to pack, this being just a short break.  We had planned to drive further up the coast to Alnmouth, where we last stayed when our son was small.  And, selfishly, I could not bear to be this close to Dunstanburgh Castle without at least taking a look.  Armed with the golf brolly, he agreed to give it a go!

Alnmouth, though charming, did not invite us to linger, despite the determinedly cheery exterior of the Sun Inn.  Memories of sitting amongst the dunes, in strong sunlight, warmly wrapped against the breeze, and with a small, ‘happy as a sand’ boy, seemed very far distant.

Given the situation, driving was easier than walking.  The wide ranging views I’d hoped for were swallowed up in the gloom, but a surprising number of people were parked in the tiny village of Craster.  The walk along the coast, from here to Dunstanburgh, is deservedly well known.  I had scarcely left the car park when I was captivated by the soft webbing of droplets, clinging to these hardy plants.

It was obvious that he could not limp far but, given a slight break in the rain, I was keen to walk this dramatic coast.  We agreed that I should sprint ahead, while he took it at his own pace, hanging on to the umbrella for support. There, in the distance, was the prize.

The sheep were quite oblivious to its beauty, us walkers far more susceptible to charm.  On the shoreline a sequence of cairns had me hovering with camera for a while.  A mother and daughter, close by, were gleeful in their discoveries.

Almost there now, it’s time for a little history.  Dunstanburgh Castle was built by Earl Thomas of Lancaster, the most powerful baron at the time of Edward II.  Begun in 1313, it was a mighty statement of Lancaster’s intent.  Unfortunately for him, the earl failed to reach the safety of Dunstanburgh when his rebellion was defeated.  Kings not being very forgiving in those days, he was executed in 1322.  John of Gaunt, 4th son of Edward III, inherited the castle on marriage, in 1362.  He subsequently strengthened the castle, converting the twin-towered gatehouse into a keep.  Fierce fighting took place during the Wars of the Roses and the castle was twice besieged, falling into Yorkist hands.  In the late 15th/16th century Dunstanburgh fell into disrepair, too far from the Scottish border and a main road to be of strategic importance.  Over time it became a romantic ruin, famously painted by landscape artist Turner.

Although I’ve done this walk before, I had never been inside the castle ruins.  The sky had brightened for a little while and I simply had to grab the opportunity, while I could.  The layout and scale of the site took me completely by surprise.

Climbing gently away from the gatehouse, you come to Lilburn Tower, with sweeping views across the fine sands of Embleton Bay.  The curtain wall along the coast is still largely intact.  Beyond it a steep cliff drops to shore, then tapers down to meet the sea.

Again I’m taken with the droplets of rain, this time on wildflowers scrambling along the top of the wall.  It turns at right angles, and climbs back up to the keep.  I am amused to see a notice suggesting we take care not to step on the frogs.  Sure enough, there in a puddle, a lively looking chap!

Just time to scoot up the tower, and then I need to get back down and find the other half.  It’s starting to mizzle again, and he’s got the brolly.

That’s quite enough of ‘weather’, for a while, isn’t it?  And probably of castles too.  Today English Heritage manages the castle and National Trust are responsible for the coastline.  Full details of opening times and how to get there are available on the link.  Oh, heck!  No cake this week.

Many thanks to all of you for trekking out with me, in all weathers.  It’s very much appreciated.  Time to put the kettle on and settle in to read some more great walks.  Join me whenever you can, here on Jo’s Monday walks.  You’ll always be welcome.


Tales around the campfire first, with lovely Miriam :

Walhalla Walkabout

Followed by a gentle riverside walk with Alice :

Following the towpath

While Banactee shares a natural bridge, connecting 2 countries :

Pravcicka Brana- Gate to Czech Switzerland

A little fashion, a little cooking, an air show… a typical week with Jackie :

Drinking stories

Nicole loves hiking with her Dad.  Why not join them?

Superior Hiking Trail: Hike to Leveaux Mountain

Mel is into her last day or two of walking in Italy.  There’ve been highlights!

Day 32 Via Francigena, Radicofani to Acquapendente, 25.7km

A link to a beautiful part of the world, about which I know very little.  Please meet Subhasree :

HAMPI- Morning Tea by the Tungabhadra

Shazza’s been jangling a few of my memory chords.  I’d so love a canal cruise!

A stroll along the Crinan Canal, Britain’s most beautiful shortcut

A walk through truly ancient history, with Candy :

The Path of the Megaliths, Erdeven

While Carol’s Canadian exploits take her to beautiful Butchart Gardens :

For the Love of Flowers

Yay!  Denzil’s back, with a new look and some interesting facts about ‘under the radar’ Belgium :

How to spend a day in Diest

And lastly, Cathy, though still doing a grand job on the Camino, takes us to Navajo territory :

A hike in Hovenweep National Monument

I’m off to Liverpool on Wednesday, so next week’s walk could well be there.  Hoping for sunshine, but anything other than rain will do.  A word of warning that next Monday’s walk will be my last for a little while, so if you have a walk you’d like to share please do it this week.  I’ll be in the Algarve from the end of the month.  Meanwhile, have yourself a great week!

Six word Saturday

Counting apples on Heritage Open Day

And a few pears too!  I was at Durham Old Gardens.  Where better for a Heritage event than with these ancient fruit trees and an old stone wall?

Midway through Becky’s September Squares challenge.  Hope you are all In the Pink!  It’s my ambition in life to be two steps behind Debbie.  She takes Six Words to the loveliest heights.  Wishing you all a great Saturday!

For the love of Brancepeth

I had not intended to share another castle with you today, in the midst of my castle trilogy of walks, but the owners of Brancepeth Castle touched me deeply.  How can such a monumental castle remain so unknown?  And how much more effort can a man and wife put into the preservation of their home?  Had it not been for the Heritage Open Day events, I should never have known this story.

Brancepeth is a tiny and delightful village, just 5 miles south-west of Durham City.  A Norman castle was built here, on a fine lookout point across the valley.  It was rebuilt by the Neville family in the late 14th century, then confiscated by the Crown, in 1569, for their involvement in the Rising of the North.  A succession of owners followed, the last major restoration at the hands of the architect Anthony Salvin in the mid-19th century.  The castle has never seen conflict, but in 1939 became the headquarters of the Durham Light Infantry.  They left in 1962.  And then the current poignant phase of the castle’s history began.

In 1978, Margaret Dobson, wife of publisher Dennis Dobson, bought the castle to store the company’s stock of books, the lease on their Notting Hill property having expired.  Her husband died before the move north, but she and her 7 children inhabited the castle.  Mrs. Dobson did much to restore fabric and interiors but, you can imagine, such a property is a money pit.  The lead roof had been stripped by a previous tenant.  The resourceful lady refurbished the main function rooms to generate income from craft fairs and auctions.  Shakespearean plays were staged in the courtyard, and rooms let to students at Durham University.  Since her death, aged 86, in October 2014, family have carried on the work as best they can.  Her daughter, who led the tour, explained that metal supports had been used in the most recent restoration.  The rusting of these necessitated rebuilding, at the cost of £86,000 for just one of the vital towers.

The building is astounding. Everything from the huge chapel to original medieval vaults below ground.  The contrast between the beauty I’ve shown you, and the incredible amount of work still to be done couldn’t be greater.  Ceilings and paintwork peel, draughty corridors and flights of stairs proliferate.  But the building is loved, and nurtured, by a couple no longer young, but dedicated.  I wish them well.  Please go and attend one of their events, if you can.

The cause must have its champions up and down the country, but none is more committed than Becky.  As another Heritage Open Day weekend begins, join her In the Pink, and then get yourself out and find something interesting in your area.

Jo’s Monday walk : A tale of three castles- 2. Alnwick

I knew it was too good to last!  Last week’s walk in beautiful Warkworth was the start of a wonderful weekend.  But our friendly landlord in the Hermitage Inn wasn’t wrong with his weather warning.  Gentle drizzle gave way to big, fat splodges of rain!  So, we ate a hearty breakfast, grabbed the golfing umbrella, and off we went.  It was the day of our wedding anniversary and we had a date with a very fine castle, not to mention water gardens!  A little rain wasn’t going to spoil it.

‘A day out to fire the imagination’ is how Alnwick Castle describes itself.  I wouldn’t argue.  That someone has a sense of humour and playfulness is evident the second you set foot on the estate.  Sadly it all looked a little grim from beneath that umbrella.

No worries!  The castle opened its doors to visitors at 10.30, and for the first hour or more I was lost in a world of grandeur and elegance.  Not for nothing was this place selected as the setting for the TV drama ‘Downton Abbey’.  A sweep of softly carpeted stairway led up to the State Rooms.  I gaped in wonder at the richly carved ceilings and the sumptuous furnishings.  Exquisite Chinese cabinets vied for attention with the most imposing of fireplaces.  Porcelain from Meissen glowed with colour.  The long dining room was just that, and the library… it’s no wonder that the family should choose to spend time in such opulent comfort.  Best of all, for me, the Canalettos gracing the walls.  I have never felt closer to perfection.  You’ll have to use your imagination, or visit the website because, of course, indoor photographs were forbidden.

Alnwick Castle has been home to the Percy family for over 700 years.  You may remember them from my Warkworth post.  They owned that castle too.  Like Warkworth, Alnwick Castle overlooks a river. The Aln, this time, but there the similarities end.  Begun in 1096, following the Norman Conquest, it has been remodelled numerous times since Henry Percy bought it in 1309, as a simple motte and bailey.  In the next 40 years he and his son converted it into a mighty border fortress, with strong gatehouse and towers.  A full history can be read here. Today it is a castle that earns it’s keep magnificently.

The grounds were all set up for Medieval games and the antics of a jester or two.  Sadly they did not transpire.  Alnwick Castle-0, Weather-1!  But still, we refused to be disheartened.  There were nooks and crannies to explore around the walls, and a lot more history to get to grips with.  Children couldn’t fail to be happy here.  Their very own Dragon Quest to take on, broomstick lessons and dressing up!  Harry Potter seems to have left a little magic behind.  An activity trail should keep them interested, while you look around.

I found the museums within the castle walls very interesting, with the advantage that you could take photos.  An illustrated ballad of the Hermit of Warkworth caught my eye, and a circular ‘cursing stone’, believed to be from the island of Inishmurray- one of 16 places in Ireland where prayers were said whilst on pilgrimage.  The respective roles of the Percy family and what they brought to the castle over time are the main focus.

The view from the walls of this Capability Brown designed landscape should be beautiful, but I didn’t see it at it’s best.  I had planned to walk to the Lion Bridge but, as the rain puddled around me, I abandoned the idea.  Time for a change of scene.

What next?  Water gardens, of course!  I last visited The Alnwick Garden on a rainy day, soon after it opened in 2001.  Jane Percy, the current Duchess of Northumberland, has a visionary approach to the restoration of the gardens, laid down in 1750 by the 1st Duke, with Capability Brown as his gardener.  During the Second World War, supporting the slogan ‘Dig for Food’, the gardens were turned over to production.  With no money to renew them, they subsequently fell into disrepair, and closed in 1950.

With the ground breaking Grand Cascade at it’s heart, the Alnwick Garden covers approximately 12 acres of a carefully nurtured vision.  We started our visit with a garden tour, during which a very pleasant young man explained the ethos of the garden.  Let’s start, as he did, in the rose garden.

The rain battered roses still clung to their fragile beauty, and isn’t that clematis an amethyst jewel?  We stopped off to enjoy the stained glass irises on the Duchess’s gate, then on to the Ornamental Garden, up beyond the Cascade and the water gardens.  Remember Playing with Patterns?

Up at the top, we wait patiently for the fountains to begin their light-hearted dance.  In prime position this year, the ‘Tommies’, commemorating the centenary of the end of the First World War with ‘There but not there’.  They are in place till 11th November, Armistice Day.

All the elements of fantasy are held in this garden, but there are strong ethics too.  The Poison Garden is used to warn our young people of the dangers of drug abuse, and how easy it is to find the wrong path in life.  Though beautiful, some of these plants are deadly.

There is an inclusiveness to these gardens that I find very endearing.  It has classical style in abundance, whilst not forgetting the community that surrounds it, and the issues of today.  Though an expensive day out, I felt that the money was well spent for the joy it brings.

And like all the very best days, it ended with cake!  I hope you’ve enjoyed this special day with me.  Full details, including how to get there, are in The Alnwick Garden.  Definitely time to put that kettle on!

Many thanks to you all.  I have some great walks to share.  Join me any time here on Jo’s Monday walk.  You’ll always be welcome.


Fabulous start!  I’ve got a part 2 from Debbie, about an amazing place :

Salt of the earth

And then, some wonderful paper sculpture, from Lisa :

“Rock Paper Scissors” at the Tower of David Museum

And some beautiful Norwegian sculpture from Rupali :

A walk in Vigeland Sculpture Park

Mundane, and yet not, from Jackie!

A taste of the theatrical

No matter how many times you see this, it’s always beautiful.  Thanks, Alice!

A walk in Central Park from 8th-5th Ave

I do like a smile on a Monday!  I expect you do too!

Fun downtown Tucson murals

Whoopee!  A walk I’ve actually done.  Lucky lady got sunshine.  It rained on me!

Randonee/Hike to Aira Force, Lake District

No walk is too short or too long to appear here.  Here’s a nice gentle one :

Enjoying a Little Stroll at Mattick’s Farm

But I’m still keeping track of Mel, romping long distance in Italy :

Day 22 Via Francigena, Avenza to Pietrasanta, 31km

And the calm, morning scenes at Irene’s place :

One Sunrise, One Morning

Next I’d like to introduce you to Dawn-Marie.  She’s new to me and has a beautiful blog :

Hiking Ben Arthur (The Cobbler)

Privileged to present a wonderful piece of history, from Tish.  The telling is as much of a treat as the place itself :

Traces Of The Past ~ An English Moated Farmhouse and why it’s still here

While Eunice takes advantage of the Heritage Open Days to take us ‘behind the scenes’ :

An attic tour and a bit of bell ringing

Carol has found me my perfect new home.  I’m restless again!  🙂

A Change of Plans

Lovely Cathy keeps on trekking!  Our thoughts are with her on the Camino this week :

The Owachomo Bridge Trail at Natural Bridges National Monument

A little grey today, but I’m hoping for better as I head out with my walker friends.  Wishing you all a great week!

Six word Saturday

The eccentricity of an English summer

Last Sunday we attended a charity event in the magnificent grounds of Aske Hall, in North Yorkshire.  Situated in beautiful countryside, near the village of West Gilling, we had no idea of the high jinks in store.  Meet the cast!

The view down to the lake.  It’s quite a place, and incidentally, was open for the Heritage Open Days this week.  One of many, isn’t it, Becky?  Just three pink squares this week.  Did you spot them?  I’m worn out with climbing all the stairs, but Debbie’s having great fun.  Hope you’ve got your Six Words ready?  Have a happy Saturday, everyone!

Train spotting

When our son was small we spent many an hour at model railway exhibitions.  I cannot say that it’s the most exciting hobby in the world, but even today I can’t resist taking a peak.  Books are an abiding passion of mine, so when I found that I could combine the two at Barter Books in Alnwick, I was quite excited.  You could spot the newcomers as, like me, they gazed at the overhead tracks as the trains rattled by.  Regulars were simply curled up in an aged chair, with a book or three.

Not everybody’s idea of action, I have to admit, but a great way to spend a rainy afternoon.  Patti is hosting the Lens-Artists Photo Challenge this week.  Are you taking part?