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Sunny D to Northumberland 21/04/12
  Off to Northumberland for a book fair, a bit of what-the-Romans-did-for-us and a luxury castle hotel deep in the blood-soaked historic Scotland England invasion battlegrounds.

The Husband and I opted for the Z4, most appropriate given the circumstances, and set off for England.  We're anticipating a particularly intellectual, top drawer, high class weekend experience.

For extra interest, novelty factor and because it's the obvious route to take (check the map), The Husband takes us down the scenic route A68, a road we've never travelled before.

Over the Lammermuir Hills, down through the Scottish Borders, into England at Carter Bar, through the Northumberland National Park, then reaching the general area of our Northumberland target.

We're booked into Langley Castle Hotel but first we check out Corbridge as this is where we're planning on attending the first Forum Books Weekender, an off-shoot of the Hexham Book Festival.
  Langley Castle with proper banana battlementsWe find Corbridge easily enough, and the book festival venue, The Parish Church Hall, which is just along the street from the Parish Church.  That's us sorted for later, foresooth, make ready the horses squire, quoth I, me thinketh with  merriment and revelry...and...lets just the castle!  Coconut shells, a la Monty Python would work well at this point.

The Langley Castle Hotel is everything you'd expect from a medieval fortified castle hotel, most acceptable.  There's centuries of history in this 1350s tower, with it's 7 foot thick walls and banana battlements(*), I mean castellations, and not made of banana (that would be neither historically correct nor functional...they'd be well brown by now), but right and proper all the same.

Of course it's been a burnt out shell at one time or another way back in the mists of time, as most of them have been, but it's 19th century restoration maintained the historical integrity and it's a delight to behold.

We dropped our bags off in room 4 AKA The Josephine Room then headed back out to attend our first ever public literary engagement.  Back to Corbridge.
  (* it's a Starry Towers in-joke from the great Russell Brand & Noel Fielding Big Fat Quiz Of The Year 2007)
  Corbridge noir 24/04/12
  Corbridge is abuzz with anticipation, for there be authors in the area...if by abuzz I mean there were a few retired ladies and gentlemen converging, slowly, on the Parish Hall and a higher number of cyclists evident by their bicycles, helmets and rainproof jackets.  We take drinks and strawberries with cream two doors down at the cafe Il Piccolo as we ponder the unusually high concentration of sweaty-arsed lycra shorts.

At the Forum Book Shop event in the Parish Hall the bike thing is explained by a sign telling of the speaker list.  Prior to the event we're attending, there's a talk by Ned Boulting, author of 'How I Won the Yellow Jumper'.  That explains that.
  And so, strawberries consumed and cyclists in retreat, it's our book time.  Regular readers will be well aware of my favourite author, Mr Douglas Lindsay, check him out, he's brilliant and Scottish, and keeps being nice to me with signed books and such like.  I'm his self-proclaimed greatest fan.  Mr Lindsay has recently signed up with the new Scottish ePublisher Blasted Heath...Google it...and one of the Blasted Heathens is Allan Guthrie, also a very fine Scottish author of crime noir.  Mr Guthrie is appearing at Corbridge with fellow Scottish crime writer Stuart MacBride.  And Mr Guthrie tell's me on The Twitter that he's arranged for free tickets at the door for me and Mr Starry Towers.  How very special is that?  Via this world wide widget that is t'internet I've been privy to an inordinate amount of cheery good-will from the book community.  Now, if I can only translate that to the fashion-sphere, I'd be quids in.
  We rock up to the Corbridge Parish Hall which usually hosts such community activities as badminton, dance, art and exercise classes, the Women's Institute, choir practice and such like, a wide variety of stuff going down in Corbridge, it's a busy place.  As promised the tickets are waiting.  The door-lady produces a single envelope and brings forth tickets times two with my name on.  She gestures them in my direction saying something along the lines of, here they are, and this is me giving them to you, and taking them back.  That's the way they play it, you don't even get a keep-sake stub...disappointed, but she didn't look like an argument was on the cards.  Inside we take seats on the second from front row and shortly, the authors arrive and take their stage places.smug boys

Allan Guthrie seems genuinely lovely, and slimmer about the face than some pictures I've seen.  He has a quietly semi-famous demeanour.  His stage-mate Macbride is on the smug side, and I think you'll find David Robinson of the Scotsman agrees.

JOKING!  If you ever pay me the compliment of checking out my website, I'm just joining in with your humour Mr MacBride.

I wish I'd taken photies, but was just too shy to produce the G10 and snap away uninvited, seems an impolite intrusive thing to just do.  Afterwards, I wished I'd asked prior permission, but I didn't, too late.

Anyways, after the meet-the-author and book-readings from the tartan (noir) lads, some of which was very funny, The Husband is a Guthrie newbie fan and I find myself requesting the Dementia Granddad Rape book from Mr MacBride.  How often does a person have a reason to say..."I want the Granddad Rape one"?  Practically never.  I buy that MacBride and The Husband goes with 3 Guthries, all signed by the authors.  I'm loving a signed noir.  When we get back to Starry Towers we're online purchasing the Amazon Kindle versions so the paper books can go in plastic protective covers and remain pristine forever, or at least till The Boy sells them on eBay when everyone else involved is dead.
  Romans - 2000 years ago 21/04/12
After the book thing The Husband and I are back in the Zed and exploring what the Romans did for us, from what I could see, it involved stones, stones and rocks.  Though when it comes to history I'm the first to applaud them that built in stone, most of the non-stone stuff is gone of course.

I did my research before leaving home, and had picked our fort already, it's a tough call, with at least three very local options.

We forgo Corstopitum (Corbridge Fort), in favour of Cilurnum (Chesters Fort), but I could be wrong, I've only got Wallsend to compare it to, Wallsend at Newcastle is flat, about one half-buried-stone high, it's more a floor-plan of a fort than a fort.  All the Corbridge area forts are better than Wallsend.

Chesters Fort has loads of stones and bits of walls, some taller than me.  It has the remains of a complex bathhouse, with hot, cold and steam baths, and the communal changing room with the alcoves clearly obvious.  There's also a latrine with the popular-back-then multiple-person feature, making for ease of really getting to know your garrison mates as you shoot the shit together.

Chesters Fort, built in AD123, is the best-preserved Roman Cavalry Fort in Britain.  Built to guard the bridge that carried a military road and Hadrian's Wall over the river Tyne.  I find it difficult to get my head round the 2000 years ago idea.  The best thing about being in Roman situ is you're own imagination, helps to focus the mind on the history, the human race, our development, our place in time.

After the stony ruins we visit their museum for loads more stony history, but along the intricate details line, with the happy addition of metal bits, leather items, pottery, coins, glass and a human skull.  This is a little gem of a museum, unguarded, we were free to explore without the hindrance of the watchful eye, and photography was very much an option.

The story behind the museum and excavation of the the early 19th century Nathaniel Clayton, owner of Chesters House and Estate, was doing some gardening and had hundreds of tons of earth moved to cover over the last remains of the obviously unsightly fort that was blotting his landscape.  In his favour, before attempting to obliterate the pesky fort, he did collect and preserve a number of Roman artefacts.  His son and noted antiquarian, John Clayton, later undid all his Dad's efforts to tidy up the garden and excavated the site.  He also commissioned and established the museum, opened in 1903.

We ended our tour of Chesters back in the shop speaking to a lovely chap while I downed three of their taster samples of Thistle Wine, lovely, and one shot of Ginger Wine, too gingery for me.  I also tried something on cake, was it lemon curd?  The Thistle Wine is all I really remember of the freebie samples.  The Husband, being vastly more sensible than I (and the designated driver of this marriage), didn't partake of any English Heritage hospitality and purchased two of their umbrellas instead.  The umbrellas are disappointing, the bit at the bottom of the handle of my one fell off before I got back to Sunny D.  I've superglued it back on to extend my usage.  We're keeping them in the boot of the Z4, but I won't be using unless I'm in England at the time, simply couldn't bring myself to use it on Scottish soil, I'd rather get soaked through.
  Next up on our Roman itinerary is right good bit of Hadrian's Wall.  I ask the man with the free wine, he suggests Housesteads Fort, just ten minutes along the road and a strenuous ten minute walk up a hill from the car park.  No, where else I ask.  It wasn't just the walk up the hill that put me off, it's now 6pm and Chesters is closing, I'm imagining Housesteads must be too.  He suggests a further short drive along the same road, to Steel Rig.
the view from Steel Rig
Signs in the Steel Rig car park instruct to pay the machine, I do not pay machines, and this late in the afternoon, there's no one around to argue with me.  From somewhere off behind us there's the sound of bagpipes, no really, we're not lost in time and history, fertile imaginations running off with us, someone's actually playing bagpipe music.  Perhaps a local castle hotel is hosting a wedding or something.

Ahhh, Steel Rig, a right good stretch of wall and an impressive view of Housesteads Fort high up on the awesome escarpment Whin Sill.

At Steel Rig I touch Hadrian's Wall for the first time, and imagine, with the right tools and a big trailer, this could be The Starry Towers estate new front wall.  I (re-)name you...Marilyn's Wall.
  Books of blood - check
Roman Fort - check
Roman stuff in a museum - check
Touch Hadrian's Wall - check
View of Fort on impressive escarpment - check
  This means we can retire to our country pile for the night, we're enthusiastic about that. 
  Langley Castle 21/04/12 and 22/04/12
  This is a wonderful place to spend a night, fine dining, 7 foot thick walls, a roof top chapel, simply tonnes of history to explore.  Relaxed and friendly, not too-Geordie staff.
view from the top floor in the guardrobe tower
We're in The Josephine Room, named after Josephine d'Echarvines, wife of the local historian Cadwallader John Bates. Bates purchased the castle in 1882, and set about with a massive restoration project, which unfortunately, he died in 1902 before completing. Josephine carried on with the job of restoring, living on alone in the castle for the next 30 years, until her death in 1932.

The castle bedrooms are grand, retaining the historic feel, a touch of the modern introduced only in the bathrooms.

I was recalling the tastes of dinner, in a good way, days later.  I can still bring to mind the blackpudding puree with my panfried collops of monkfish, my crispy pancetta, my tempured cauliflower, my pea shoots, then last and also coincidently, least, my light curry foam.  And that was just my main.

The food's delicious from the two AA Rosette awarded restaurant's Table d’Hôte Dinner Menu.  As you relax by the huge fireplace in the lounge pre-dinner, glass of wine, we were surprised by the arrival of a small plate of hors dourves each.  Three dainty but intricate morsels apiece, and soon we are invited to our table in the candle lit Josephine Restaurant.  As we're in the Josephine Room we are led to the Josephine Table in the Josephine Restaurant.

Starter, Chef's soup of the day served in a demitasse cup, main meal, Chef's pre-dessert and dessert.  For sweet I had the dark chocolate mousse cake, candied fennel root with salted caramel ice cream, delicious.

Down side is they love their weddings, they tend to put a dent in the peaceful tranquil refuge romantic getaway that Langley Castle should be.

The next morning breakfast is well and truly enjoyed, back at the Josephine Table in the Josephine Restaurant.  It's an all you wish to eat choice of everything you might want in a breakfast.
Langley Castle Chapel
After breakfast I've requested to go on the roof.  If you ask nicely, a member of staff will take you up to the roof to visit the chapel in the south turret.  After
Cadwallader Bates died, his wife Josephine met with Pope Leo X111 and received his permission to create the original Chapel on the roof of Langley Castle, which she dedicated to her husband's memory.


The Chapel includes stained glass windows featuring Saints Cadwallader and Josephat and the Blessed Thomas Percy, a descendent of Henry Percy, Earl of Northumberland, a previous owner of Langley.


The Chapel was completed in 1914.  It again fell into disrepair but happily was restored in 2006 by the castle's present owner.



I insist you see the chapel if you have the chance, would be ridiculous not to.

  The Derwentwater Monument 22/04/12
The Derwentwater Monument inscriptionHere's another interesting Cadwallader Bates fact.

The leading Northumbrian historian also erected this monument on a roadside close to the castle.

Dedicated to two Jacobite supporter brothers with Langley Castle history who both fought on the Scottish side and were victims of over-zealous English royalist beheading-enthusiasts.  Seems to indicate Bates had a strong and perhaps somewhat mischievous  character.

From what I've read on the www, Bates did this at a time of heightened English national patriotism.  This Victorian mock-Goth Celtic design cross commemorates the executed Radcliffe brothers and is reported to be the only known monument to the Jacobite Cause in England.

The inscription reads 'To the memory of James and Charles Radcliffe, Earls of Derwentwater, Viscounts Langley, beheaded on Tower Hill, 24 February, 1716 and 8 December, 1746 for loyalty to their lawful sovereign'. 

A garland of fresh white roses, the White Cockade, a symbol of Jacobite support back in the day, was tied to the cross the day we were there.  Who places them there I do not know.  I reckon I'll email Langley Castle and ask.

 Danger! Danger! A68 22/04/12
 sharp bends and sudden crests

On our travels we find ourselves a few times on an A68 blackspot stretch of road.

This section of the A68, close to Corbridge, is remarkable: for one, it seems to attract many exceptionally dangerous drivers; for two, it's a fabulous road for a good driver if that driver is the only vehicle permitted on the road at that time; and for three, it has a road sign I've never seen before.  Another sign proclaims 75 accidents in the last three years.

The sign that attracts my attention warns of surprisingly sharp bends and suddenly steep crests.  I read the words, at a glance, sharp bends sudden crests.  In my mind it all went bendy and I can't remember the right words till I see the sign the next time, sneaky pointy and strangely high bits, and is that the same as a hidden dip?  Set my mind a-racing so it did.  On our third drive-by we were focused enough to get a picture.

 Corbridge 22/04/12  
 Vicar's Pele TowerOn the Sunday we visit Corbridge again.  This time for a look at St Andrew's Church and the rather more intriguing, Vicar's Pele Tower.  I didn't know what a Pele (or Peel) Tower is, obviously it's an old tower, but the details, I needed the details.

There's been a consecrated church here since 676AD in Saxon times.  The current church is a mixture of bits from through the ages.  In the churchyard is the 1318 built Pele Tower with it's extremely solid 1.3 metres (4 ft) thick walls.  With walls that deep the interior must be like the opposite of the Tardis.

Built largely from sandstone taken from the nearby Roman fortress the Tower served as a vicarage for the adjacent church until the early 17th century.  It was also part of a 15th century attack early warning system.  An Act Of Parliament in 1455 required that fires would be lit on top these towers when the Scots came a calling.  By the way, the Scottish Borders had the same system, for when the English came aplundering.

Another Corbridge attraction I want to check out is the bridge of cor.
Corbridge Bridge
The original bridge of cor was built in 1235, I'm just disappointed they missed the opportunity to go for 1234, but such is the way of people who don't put importance on quirky things.

Unfortunately this isn't the 1235 bridge, that was replaced in 1674. 

I have to say, I'm still impressed, this 1674 replacement bridge of cor is a sturdy fully functioning, in no fear of falling down bridge, it's well good.

This seven arches of stone across the River Tyne is reported to be the only Tyne bridge to withstand the great flood of 1771.  The bridge of cor we see today was widened by three feet in 1881, by all reports its appearance was not spoilt by said traffic management measures.
 Going home and Dobbies 22/04/12  
 flower sinks
After this we head back up the road, via Carlisle.

Closer to home we drop in for ice-cream at the Sunny D branch of Dobbies.

Toilets have featured this weekend, the garderobe tower with 4 toilets on each floor at Langley Castle, and the Roman communal latrines at Chesters Fort, and now the Dobbies ceramic flowers.  A while back The Husband got me photies of the men's flower urinals at the Sunny D Dobbies.  Today I make a point of visiting the ladies loos for the matching sinks.
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mmmm  mmmm