Two wet days in Alnwick

When we booked accommodation several weeks ago to spend a couple of nights in Alnwick, we had no idea that Storm Babet would be with us. It was forecast to be much more severe further north so we set off in heavy rain and some high winds that eased once we were south of Berwick upon Tweed. Leaving the A1 and heading into the town, the first thing we came to was Alnwick Garden. The staff there said that the rain had ceased at 9am. The garden was created by the Duchess of Northumberland in 2001 and is a registered charity which does a lot for the local community. A flower arranging talk was underway during our visit. The entry passes through a modern building which holds the shop and café.

As you enter you are opposite the large fountain.

There are smaller fountains in the surrounding woods

and statues plus items for Halloween which was only a couple of weeks away.

Many plants have ceased flowering but there were white roses


and autumn leaves.

There is a pond with some ducks.

Along the side were some very large redwoods.

There is also the small but deadly Poison Garden filled exclusively with around 100 toxic, intoxicating, and narcotic plants. The boundaries of the Poison Garden are kept behind black iron gates, only open on guided tours so we took one.

The first plants we saw were nettles and hellebores but there were others in cages

and a giant hogweed which had been beheaded.

On the rear wall were tiles identifying some of the most serious poisoners in Britain.

On leaving the garden the rain had returned so we drove down to Barter Books which we had last visited several years ago.

The shop was opened in 1991 in what was the second station in Alnwick. It was built in 1887 to replace the smaller one built in 1850. The station closed in 1968 during the Beeching cuts. Barter Books is one of the largest secondhand bookshops in Britain with over 350,000 books in a wide variety of subjects plus DVDs, CDs, LPS and maps. I found another volume for my New Naturalist collection. There is food available: a buffet and an ice cream parlour plus a children’s room and plenty of seating.

A model train runs around a track above the front of the shop. It was raining heavily when we left so we checked into our accommodation and relaxed. The following morning was windy but drier so we walked into town. We passed the Tenantry Column which was erected in 1816 by the tenants of the second duke of Northumberland thanking him for his reduction of their rents during the post-Napoleonic Depression. It is a Doric column standing 83 feet tall and surmounted by a lion en passant, the symbol of the Percy family.

Alnwick was a market town dating back to the 7th century. It developed considerably after the castle was acquired by the Percy family in 1309.  After Scottish raids, a high wall was built around the town with four gates of which only two remain. One has been turned into a holiday home after having been rebuilt in gothic style in 1768.

Several medieval churches were constructed over time too including the church of St Michael. In the 18th and 19th centuries, the town was an important staging point on the Great North Road and many inns and pubs were opened to accommodate and feed travellers. Textiles and leather were important industries here and other crafts including rope making and fishing tackle were common. The castle is now the second largest inhabited one in the UK and is currently the home of the Duke and Duchess of Northumberland. Harry Potter movies were filmed there. We were going to visit the castle but due to the adverse weather a lot of it was closed and tours were cancelled so we decided to leave it for another time. There were several tour buses parked outside the one gate that was open so I could not even take a photograph. We popped into a café for coffee and looked in a few shops including the other secondhand bookshop in town.

The rain returned so it was time to get back inside. It was due to ease off the next morning for our journey home.

Redhouse Castle

Redhouse Castle sits between the railway and the B1377, about two miles east of Longniddry in East Lothian. We pass it every time we are heading into Edinburgh but this time decided to stop by. Our neighbours were on their way out as we entered. The castle was built on the lands of Reid Spittal in the 16th century although a previous version which is thought to have been a religious building, perhaps a hospice for pilgrims and travellers had been built on the site. It has been owned by Andrew Laing, Lord of Session before 1600 who bought it in 1607. His heiress married Sir John Hamilton, brother of the First Earl of Haddington who extended the keep. After the Jacobite Rebellion it remained empty until 1755 when Lord Elibank purchased it. He continued to live in Edinburgh but the market garden was created and remained a going concern. In the mid 19th century it was eventually incorporated into the estate of the Earl of Wemyss  who lived in Gosford House. The castle had become ruined by 1913/14 when artist Robert Noble painted it surrounded by fruit trees. The painting is now in John Muir House, Haddington.

It reopened as a nursery in 2013 inside the garden walls created for the former market garden.

Car parking is adjacent to it and the entrance from the B road is currently being enlarged. There is a farm house nearby whose cat was patrolling the greenhouse when we were paying for our purchases and there is a line of 19th century cottages near the way in for walkers and cyclists. There are polytunnels where they grow many of their plants, greenhouses and a good selection of plants outside

and trees.

In the greenhouse are houseplants, bulbs, tools and other gardening essentials. Outside are larger ceramic pots.

There is a tearoom which also has an outside seating area.

They supply Fairtrade coffee and serve breakfast, coffees, brunch and lunch. Certainly, we will drop in more frequently now when we are passing. We may provide some company for the lonely skeleton sitting nearby.