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!

Gateshead Millennium Bridge — Wow!

Pittsburgh PA, you have met your match. Newcastle, England, like you, is a city of bridges and a former coal and steel center making a successful transformation into a technology center with an entrepreneurial spirit.

This innovative pivoting pedestrian bridge is a great symbol of the new Newcastle. Admire the Gateshead Millennium Bridge connecting pedestrians on the wharfs of sister cities Newcastle and Gateshead. These are two university towns with an abundance of pubs, many of them taking full advantage of the riverside waterfront.

#bridge, #Newcastle, #gateshead, #millenium, #pivot, #pedestrian, #transformation, #entrepreneurial, #university, #pubs, #travel
Gateshead Millennium Bridge on a summer day connects the wharfs in sister cities Newcastle and Gateshead, England.

The pedestrian bridge closes to foot traffic and pivots, lowering the high arch and raising the lower arch when a large vessel needs to pass through. Have you ever seen a bridge like this?

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.

Restoration of Lindisfarne Castle

There are times when we travel across the globe only to be hugely disappointed that the monument of our dreams is covered in scaffolding. The U. S. Capitol building in Washington D.C.? The Trevi Fountain in Rome? Well, this time it was Lindisfarne Castle on the Holy Island of Lindisfarne in England. I had admired photos of Lindisfarne Castle online with brilliant colors of sunrise or sunset and high tide surrounding the sky high castle. I had even bought a book on photography in the region.

Fortunately, the castle was reopened to the public on April 1, and I was able to walk the interior. A local shopkeeper told me the scaffolding is much less intrusive than it has been. This old castle gets quite a bit of wind and rain damage from its perch right on the North Sea.

#scaffolding, #fence, #restoration, #castle, #lindisfarne
My views were restricted and obstructed by construction fences, so I hope to return another time.

With a footnote that the above true photo was altered in Photoshop, here is my edited image. It helps us to imagine the site without scaffolding. The timing of my visit was 3pm.

#castle, #photoshopped, #imaginethis, #lindisfarne, #pastoral, #landscape #england
With scaffolding and fencing removed in Photoshop, the top of the castle is missing, but the scene regains its pastoral beauty.

 

 

Sheep on Lindisfarne

How appropriate that I should find sheep grazing on the Holy Island of Lindisfarne, since sheep are often used in Bible stories as symbols of the common man in need of a good shepherd. I was able to walk fairly close to this small herd and this one sheep who had wandered off. I must have looked more like a wolf than a shepherd, because the sheep were calling out, “Baaaaah.”

 

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Sheep need to avoid eating this beautiful blue flower, Viper’s Bugloss, that grows wild in England, because its burrs can become lodged in the throat, often creating the need for extraction or even surgery. Burrs aside, the flowers affect the sheep’s liver.

#echium, #echiumvulgaris, #vipersbugloss, #flowers, #sheep, #england, #wildflowers, #burr, #poison, #blue, #purple, #nature
This Viper’s Bugloss was growing alongside the Lindisfarne Castle. It’s not good for the sheep to eat

I learned about these beautiful yet troublesome flowers in the Poison Garden of Alnwick Castle, which is also located in Northumberland, on the northeast coast of England.