My Absolute Favorite Castle, Alnwick

After touring Edinburgh Castle, Bamburgh Castle, Lindisfarne Castle, Durham Castle and Alnwick Castle in North England and Southern Scotland, my favorite one (hands down) was Alnwick Castle in England. All of them are interesting and worth a visit, and there are even more to see in the region — Stirling, Duane and more. I’ll tell you why I enjoyed Alnwick Castle the best.

#alnwick, #castle, #england, #besttour, #bestone, #uk, #northumberland, #downtonabby, #harrypotter
In addition to architectural beauty, Alnwick Castle offers multiple fascinating tours, which bring the castle to life.

Upon arrival on the castle grounds, I quickly joined the film tour where I heard fascinating details of the filming of Downton Abbey (Christmas scenes) and Harry Potter. Those are the recent ones, but other films include Mary Queen of Scots with Vanessa Redgrave, Elizabeth I, Robin Hood with Kevin Costner, and Hollowed Crown.

Soon after, I joined the History Tour where the guide explained which parts of the castle were built at what time, and the purpose of each. After the Norman Invasion of 1066, the English built huge stone castles. A substantial stone castle was built here in 1133. This castle was never taken by force.

#castle, #alnwick, #tour, #travel, #fascinating, #history, #films, #england. #northumbria
A restored section of the outer castle wall at Alnwick Castle. The grassy area is called the Bailey, and it would have had buildings on it in medieval times.

Next, I joined the tour of the castle interior where the Percy family has lived for the past 700 years. The interior was updated in 1750 and again in 1850.  Current residents are the 12th Duke and Duchess of Northumberland, who life here five months of the year, starting in October.  The public may only tour Alnwick when the Duke and Duchess are not in residence, in the summer months. (No photos allowed of the inside). I took copious notes throughout each tour, just so I could remember the information.

About 5 pm, I was still feeling curious and walked down to the gardens, just in time to join the last tour of the day, the Poison Garden.  The fenced in section contains numerous poison plants, and the guide shared even more fascinating stories.

With no break for lunch, I was hungry, and luckily was able to buy fish and chips near the garden around 6pm. What a full day!

From the top of Edinburgh Castle

Edinburgh Castle towers over today’s modern city of Edinburgh, Scotland from its perch atop Castle Rock. From the top on a clear day, you can enjoy a beautiful vista clear over to the harbor at the Firth of Forth.

#view, #vista, #edinburgh, #castle, #clearday, #travel, #castlerock
Fantastic view from Edinburgh Castle, looking east. Notice the 16 century dog cemetery in the lower right of the photo.

The Castle holds within its walls numerous buildings built from the 12th century to the 20th century. The oldest building is the tiny Saint Margaret’s Chapel, just large enough to hold about 10 people, if they aren’t too large.

#stmargaret, #edinburghcastle, #oldestbuilding, #edinburgh, #castle, #chapel
Tiny St. Margaret’s Chapel from the 12th century, restored in the 18th century.

The newest building is the Scottish National War Memorial, built after the First World War to commemorate the Scots who gave their lives in wartime.

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The Scottish National War Memorial, dedicated in 1927 features beautiful architecture and stained glass windows.

The Upper Ward and the huge cannon “Mons Meg” represent the 15th and 16th century, a period when the castle was the site of battles.

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The Scotland flag flies (featuring Saint Andrew’s cross), and the summer sun illuminates the 15th and 16th century buildings of the Upper Ward of Edinburgh Castle.

There is much more to discover in Edinburgh Castle, including the Crown Jewels (which may not be photographed), the Great Hall, a suffocating old prison and a military history museum.

#prison, #dark, #crowded, #history, #conditions, #edinburgh, #castle
Can you imagine living in filth in this old prison within Edinburgh Castle? How many men to a hammock?

Buy your tickets ahead of time online, and allow yourself plenty of time on what will hopefully be a clear day.

From Alnwick Castle: a gift to America

Touring the majestic Alnwick Castle in Northeast England, I expected to learn about the twelfth Duke and Duchess of Northumberland who currently live here and the history of the castle. What I never expected to learn was the story of their ancestors, which includes the gift that founded our American treasure, the Smithsonian Institution.

#alnwick, #duke, #duchess, #towers, #castle, #duchess, #northumberland, #keep, #smithson, #smithsonian, #percy
These tall towers fortify the entrance to the Keep of Alnwick Castle, home of the Duke and Duchess of Northumberland.

During the summer months when the Duke and Duchess live in their summer home near the Scotland border, the public may tour the Castle inside and out. Unfortunately, no photographs are allowed inside the private quarters. The Dining Room walls are filled with large painted portraits of the Percy family, one of whom is Hugh Smithson.

Hugh Smithson became the First Duke of Northumberland and with the Queen’s permission became a “Percy.”  Only the legitimate children of Hugh Smithson/Percy could take the name “Percy.”

James Macie, born in 1765 in France, is the illegitimate son of Elizabeth Keate Macie and Hugh Smithson. His mother had royal roots in France. At his mother’s death, James inherited her fortune and took his father’s name “Smithson.” James devoted his life to academia, studying science at Oxford University. When James died in 1829 without an heir to his fortune, his will revealed his wishes: to donate his estate to found an educational institution in a country that does not have an aristocracy and would never have a monarchy.

Here are a few more details about the founding of the Smithsonian from the Smithsonian Magazine:

Unsure of whether or not he had the authority to accept the gift, President Jackson sent the issue over to Congress where a spirited debate ensued.

“This is pre-Civil War, 1830s, and states rights versus federalism is a hugely hot issue,” Henson says. “Southerners vehemently oppose this because they believe it’s a violation of states’ rights to create such a nation entity but John Quincy Adams, really takes this on as his case and pushes it through and he eventually triumphs.” Congress authorized the U.S. to accept the bequest on July 1, 1836.

If agreeing to accept the money was complicated, deciding what to do with it was almost impossible. Smithson, who had never set foot in the United States while living, apparently never discussed the provision in his will or his plans for the Institution with anyone. So, for ten years, Congress debated what “increase and diffusion of knowledge” meant and what such an establishment would look like. Several ideas were suggested, including: a scientific institute, a teacher’s training institute, a school of natural history, a university for the classics, a national observatory, a national library and a national museum. Eventually, a political compromise was reached, which provided for many of the different ideas suggested, and the Smithsonian Institution was founded, signed into law by President James K. Polk on August 10, 1846, and funded.
Read more: https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smithsonian-institution/this-day-in-history-remembering-james-smithson-1765-1829-23450134/#gFQuEVceuvJi4Amz.99
Follow us: @SmithsonianMag on Twitter

 

Story of the Pineapple

Inside Durham Castle, where Durham University students live during the school year, photography is not allowed. That’s too bad in my opinion, because I’d love to share with you the beautiful Norman chapel,  14 century Great Hall and more. Instead, I can share a story with you.

#durham, #castle, #durhamcastle, #norman, #university, #stories, #pineapple, #stairs, #chapel, #history
Begun in 1072 and restored in the 1800s, Durham Castle once housed bishops but now houses University students.

The grand Black Staircase curiously has pineapples carved into the wooden banister. Pineapples in England? Yes, you see it was very hard to grow a pineapple in England, and so fresh pineapples were very expensive. Back in the day, you would do your guest a great honor to serve pineapple, while at the same time, the host would have his wealth and status on display. In fact, there were stories about the Prince Bishop who lived here displaying a real pineapple as a centerpiece, and then serving a fruit that resembled pineapple, in the hope that guests might assume it was pineapple. In fact, the carved pineapple doesn’t really look much like a pineapple, so perhaps the artist had never seen one.

Finding this tale rather humorous, I asked our guide if this grand gesture of honoring a guest by serving pineapple might be the origin of the pineapple as a symbol of welcome or hospitality. (The pineapple is described this way in Newport, Rhode Island, where it also serves as a symbol of the town.) Our castle guide didn’t know the answer, but I have a good hunch about it.

Have you heard of a Prince Bishop? As the story goes, there were three earls in Northumberland. Two earls dueled and killed each other, and the third one rebelled against the king, so the English King Henry VIII had the great idea to appoint bishops as princes, give them taxing authority. They minted coins and organized an army.  Not surprisingly, the bishops were fine with this idea.

For more stories, stay tuned. There is an interesting story tied to the door knocker of the Durham Cathedral, where again no photographs were permitted.

 

 

Walking Durham

I spent the day exploring Durham, England. I caught the train from Newcastle, and walked into town, finding the central square and market. Strolling up the road, I took some photos of lovely storefronts and stopped into a few shops. (I should have titled this piece “Shopping Durham,” as my “shopping” blog posts are the most popular!)

I explored the beautiful Castle and Cathedral – more on those in the next few blog posts! One of the outdoor cafe tables at Cafe on the Green, between the Castle and the Cathedral called my name. My guidebook and journal kept me company during lunch. Then, I had the good instinct to cross the River Wear and walk along the far side, looking up at the town and the Cathedral in its summer greenery. Why? I realized that the Cathedral facade would be lit by the afternoon sun.

#durham, #durhamcathedral, #durham, #wear, #riverwear, #riverside, #walk, #summer, #trees, #northumbria, #northumberland, #england, #travel, #travelphotography
This opening in the maple tree provided a natural vignette of Durham Cathedral.

I was even able to position myself just right so the construction cloth over the tower that is under restoration was blocked by the leaves. It was a beautiful and peaceful afternoon, part of an unusually sunny summer of 2018.

Bamburgh Castle Interior

Lord Armstrong did an amazing job restoring Bamburgh Castle and furnishing it with armor, paintings and antique furnishings. The Sony a7rII camera did an amazing job of photographing it in natural light too! (settings ISO 3200, 25mm lens at f/4 and 1/125 and 1/200 second, handheld)

#bamburgh, #castle, #lordarmstrong, #restored, #sony, #sonya7rII, #england
Magnificent wood ceiling of the Great Hall, Bamburgh Castle, July 2018.
#bamburgh, #castle, #northumberland, #northumbria, #england, #armstrong, #lordarmstrong, #interior, #art, #sony
Delicious detail in the sunlit interior of Bamburgh Castle, in Northumbria, England.

I would just like to say “thank you” for allowing photography in this beautiful castle.

English Castles on the Coast

Newcastle tycoon Lord Armstrong purchased and restored the mighty Bamburgh Castle in 1894, after the castle had suffered 400 years of neglect. The castle’s history includes coronations of the  Northumbrian kings between 1095 and 1464. (Eyewitness Travel: Great Britain.)

#bamburgh, #castle, #northumberland, #coast, #lordarmstrong, #restored
Bamburgh Castle had fallen into obscurity during the Middle Ages, but Lord Armstrong restored it and filled it with art treasures.
#bamburgh, #castle, #lordarmstrong, #grave, #northsea, #coast
You will find Lord Armstrong’s final resting place inside Bamburgh Castle. The castle wall borders the North Sea.