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It is only about an hour's drive to the border with England. The road is good for half the journey but then as it gets nearer and nearer to what was a real national boundary once upon a time but which is now little more than a signpost and a couple of flags, it narrows and becomes a slower 'countrified' journey altogether.
But it IS a journey worth making! Northumberland, the most northernmost county of England is an interesting place with a unique story and we grasped the opportunity of going down when our current guests, who had arrived just the day before, showed an interest in visiting a famous garden there.
Most of Northumbria's history that is visible today only dates back to the immediate aftermath of William the Conqueror's taking of England from King Harold back in 1066. The Northumbrians were, in his view at least, disobedient and dangerous, and needed to be taught a damned good lesson, one they would not forget. He marched his army up from London and set about a "scorched earth" policy, raising every building to the ground, killing every man, woman and child as well as every animal they came across, even burning farm implements and household items like ploughts and water buckets. Little escaped the terrible wrath of William's men. Now of course, it's a comfortable, well-stocked and very friendly corner of the country. Some would say (and I agree with them) it is one of the most friendly.
For centuries the whole county lay desolated, empty almost, and little disturbed what had remained in tact after William's terrible onslaught. A few cattle, however, managed to stay out of harms way in a remote area of moorland around what had been the village of Chillingham. They somehow found a way to survive and, today, their descendants, the wild cattle of Chillingham, are perhaps the only cows of their type in all Europe. But they were not on our list of sights which we had gone south to see.
A little of the pre-Norman history that one can still see is found on the island of Lindisfarne, a causeway's drive of maybe two miles out into the North Sea, just south of the border with Scotland. About 1,500 years ago, St Aidan, and then in his footsteps, St Cuthbert, brought their particular brand of Celtic Christianity to this part of England from Scotland. It prospered and spread throughout the north of England down into what was to become Yorkshire. Even today, one finds numerous, archaic symbols of their work almost everywhere.....in villages, churches and even schools, as well as in the many other landmarks all over Northumberland and southward into Co Durham. Aidan, Cuthbert and later many other saints, like the great Bede, had a huge influence on the area and made it the specialplace it is today.
Duke William of Normandy, by now King William 1 of England maintained his power and control over all areas of his new realm, none more so than here. He built many castles in this part of England not only to warn the few remaining natives and let them see who was now the boss, but also as a bulwark against the threat of Viking invasions from across the North Sea.
Bamburgh Castle is perhaps today one of the most perfect examples of Norman castles and is well worth a visit in itself. Look carefully and one can see a complete replica of the Norman Keep so ominously powerful inside London's own "Tower", also built by William. Bamburgh sits surrounded by high walls, on top of cliffs, looking down on one side to its pretty village of Bamburgh and then, from its wild and windswept North Sea vantage point out towards Norway. The perceived threat of further Viking invasions was held back by its magnificent lowering presence; it is, today, the first sighting of England when on the ferry from Bergen, Norway, to Newcastle.
Inland, not 15 miles away, sits the altogether much more sedate Alnwick Castle and its pretty market town. This was the main centre of power in Northumbria before the industrial revolution that brought coalmining, steelmaking, shipbuilding and engineering together in what has become the largest city of the region, Newcastle. Alnwick remains the county town and is a quiet, pretty market square overlooked by its houses and shops, surrounded by beautiful countryside with lovely vistas in all directions.
The trip south for our two guests culminated with a visit to Alnwick Castle's rose garden set in a recently planned and spectacularly diverse garden. It was a surprise to learn that this appears to be more famous in Japan than here in UK.....at least for me as I hadn't heard of its importance until the visit. The rose garden is indeed wonderful with its many varieties/species of rose on display, well cared for and in obvious good health. It was a trip well worth the time and effort for us all; we enjoyed it very much.
It was the kind of a journey Kayoko and I had wanted to make just to "run in" our new car. We decided to downsize last month and had bought a small Renault Clio which had not been out of the garage very often at all since we bought it. Going down to England doubled the milage almost and we were able to see also that it wasn't as cramped as we'd worried about beforehand.
The escape from the recent terrible, wet weather Edinburgh has been suffering from did us good too; we were able to verify what we suspected all along-rainclouds hang over the city permanently while all around us other districts are getting sunny and warm weather far more abundantly! I don't know what God has against us but Heaven, this year, is not being very good to us rand we feel as if we are being punished!!!