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.

East & North

East to the north side of Nottingham to deliver Christmas presents and visit my aunt and uncle and stay with my aunt in Hucknall. She recommended a very good Thai restaurant and we all crashed out fairly early. Before we left in the morning, my decluttering attempts failed again when she gave me several bound copies of the National Geographic (1948 through to the 1950s). James was very keen to go the the huge Newark antique fair so we headed northeast, passing Southwell (worth another look at some point) and found the fair. It is huge and another thing ticked off in ‘A thousand things to see before you die’. I was not tempted but James found a lovely vintage silk tie. The storm was approaching fast and traders began packing up as we left, with things starting to fly all over the place. We had not been tracking its progress as we had not had the TV, computer or radio on at Aunty Mary’s. We decided that small roads (more likely to have fallen trees) were best avoided and headed up the A1 to our planned stop in Alnwick. Needless to say we made very slow progress until we got past the M62. Southbound there was a truck on its side but no explanation for our very slow progress northbound. Eventually we arrived to a very warm welcome. Had dinner in town and the weather had unfortunately put a chill on the late night Christmas shopping Alnwick had planned. Very few people around but, as the first customers in one shop – not only did we sip some mulled wine but they were so pleased to see us they gave us a discount on the gift we bought. Will keep quiet about what it was in case the recipient reads this. Tomorrow the spending might be more and decluttering will not apply as I hit Barter Books in the old station before heading up to Edinburgh.