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Part 4 of a June Jaunt. Wales to Northumberland. The northern half of Northumberland!


Our home for Buzzbee this week was Ford Bridge Campsite, just a few miles from the Scottish border. It is located on the very interesting Ford and Etal estate in the River Till valley. Home to the Joicey family for over 100 years, it includes working farms, 2 castles, battlefields, a steam railway, flour mill, and very pretty villages. It is truly a hidden gem. (The campsite has about 20 pitches. The loos and shower are very clean, and in a portacabin so not luxurious, but they do the job. We really liked the site as the views were stunning, there were riverside walks from the site, and it was very peaceful. Well, apart from the friendly guineafowl! With EHU £24 per night.)

Pretty Ford village has a small but useful shop, and a castle which is not open to the public, but it's star is Lady Waterford's school. Lady Louisa commissioned the building as a school in 1860, and, as a well respected artist herself, she painted life size watercolour murals in the pre-raphaelite style of the day. Mainly biblical scenes, using local people as models, the project took 21 years to complete. The result is astonishing. Well worth a visit. (We also found out that Lady Louisa was the daughter of Lord Stuart de Rothesay, who built and owned Highcliffe castle in Dorset, just a few miles from our home. Many of Lady Louisa's smaller paintings are on display, one of which was thought to be a Dorset scene. We were able to confirm to the staff that it was, and also tell them exactly what was in the picture, and the spot it was painted from!)

Sunday lunch was booked at the Black Bull at Lowick, and it was excellent, and again, good value in these times of rampant inflation. The village of Etal, just a few miles away is even more charming, with a nice pub, the Black Bull, and a partly ruined castle. These castles were part of the border defences, built in the 14th century to repel the Scots. You needed a 'Licence to Crenellate' if you wanted to turn your manor into a castle! The Heatherslaw Light Railway runs to the station below the castle, so Chris had to pop down for some photos! The village was full with about 200 vintage Motorcycles finishing the annual Bamburgh run. Not much chance of getting near the bar in the pub, but oh my, the handmade chocolates on sale in the shop were delicious! Lastly we drove a few miles to the Flodden Field Battleground, where the English defeated the Scottish invaders in 1513, and over 10,000 Scots perished, over one third of their army. James IV of Scotland was killed, making him the last British monarch to die on a battlefield.

Day 2 saw us drive to Budle Bay and then walk along the lovely coast to Bamburgh. Great scenery as always. We had all visited interesting Bamburgh castle and the Grace Darling Museum before, so just had a restorative coffee in the excellent Wyndenwell cafe before our return walk. Then, back in the car for a drive to Chillingham castle. Wow. What a place! HHA members get free admission to this 13th century castle, owned by the Wakefield family ever since! A history of Royal visitors including Henry III, James I on his way to his coronation, and Edward VII. Capability Brown landscaped the grounds, and the castle has quietly crumbled throughout it all. Restoration costs a fortune, so they have turned the mediaeval interior to advantage, highlighting it's reputation of being haunted to offer ghost tours and stays! There is even a rather macabre torture chamber in the undercroft. It is stuffed with curios and memorabilia. The historic mingle with modern props, wartime relics and the downright peculiar! The tearoom is great, as are the staff, and we loved it. Just don't expect a National Trust style interior!

Next day we drove to one of our favourite places in Northumberland, Low Newton, and walked along one of Northumberland's huge sandy beaches to the Nanny Tern reserve. The RSPB wardens live in tents all summer and do a great job protecting rare little terns, and all the other birds, from people, dogs and, by doing night patrols, from other predators like stoats. This year, a rare American Black tern had moved in with the Arctic terns, so that was a good addition to our list. Next, we just had to visit the Ship Inn and Brewery for delicious Crab sandwiches before heading to Seahouses for our afternoon boat trip to the Farne Islands. this is where our blog takes on a sad twist. Reports of Bird Flu among coastal birds were beginning to become more frequent, but had not reached the Farnes at this point. Our boat trip, with Billy Shiel boats, took us around the Outer Farnes and then landed us on Inner Farne for unbelievably close up views of breeding puffin, Arctic tern, Guillemot, Razorbill and Kittiwake. We have been several times before, but it never fails to impress. Just two weeks after we returned from holiday, the islands have been closed to visitors , and large numbers of adult and fledgling birds are being found each day having succumbed to Avian flu. Goodness knows what the knock on effect of this will be.

Back at the campsite, our day ended with a game of Molkke, also known as Smite and a great game for people of all ages! We ended the day watching a beautiful Strawberry moon rising up over the fields.

We had another bird trip planned for the next day. It was an hours drive up to North Berwick on the Forth estuary in Scotland. Once a fashionable seaside resort for Edinburgh, it's more notorious past centres around witch trials. In 1590, trials were held in the Auld Kirk on the quay, and between 70 and 200 people sentenced to death as witches! Here we caught the boat from the Scottish Seabird Centre to Bass Rock, the largest Gannet colony in Europe and home to over 150,000 birds. The rock looks white, which is simply a combination of white birds and a lot of droppings! These magnificent birds nest on the tiniest of ledges and crags. They mate for life, getting separated in winter, but returning to find their partner on the rock in Spring, where they engage in beak tapping rituals. Unattached gannet stretch their neck and point their beak up into the air to signal availability! It was an incredible and unforgettable trip, but here there were signs the avian flu had arrived, as we saw a number of dead birds in the water. Wardens were hoping that the birds would breed and the fledglings depart before it took hold, but recently you may have seen on the news that it arrived too soon, and they think huge numbers will be wiped out.

On a happier note, Alandas Gelato ice cream shop at the top of the town serves a fantastic choice of delicious icecreams, which we had to sample of course! We also saw them starting to create the town's floral clock, ready for the summer. On our way home, we stopped at Dunbar, a coastal town with a pretty beach and fishing harbour, with a ruined castle guarding the entrance.

Thursday saw us heading to Berwick-upon Tweed where Alan was catching the coach back to Dorset. Berwick is a fascinating walled town. It has a Lowry trail, following the locations he used for the many paintings he did of the town. We had a coffee on the quay, and watched a group of local fishermen using a very traditional fishing technique looking for salmon. Acts to regulate the fishing have been in place since the 1200, and wild salmon from Berwick was pickled and sent to London in the 13th Century! Since the 18th Century, the only method of fishing here is by Net and Coble. the Coble is a small boat. This is what we saw. It can only be done under strict licence. Sadly, they didn't seem to have any luck today. After Alan left, we visited the Heatherslaw Corn Mill. It is a working mill, but is not in operation at the moment due to the serious lack of rain, meaning river levels are too low to operate the water wheel. This is in sharp contrast to the many occasions it has been flooded. Chris is standing next to the flood level marker, and he is 6ft tall! There is a small museum and shop where you can buy the flour.

Our afternoon was spent just over the border in Scotland at another hidden gem!

Paxton House is a stunningly symmetrical 18th century Palladian mansion on the English and Scottish border. The River Tweed runs at the bottom of the pretty gardens! We had never heard of it, but it was one of the most stunning, and interesting house interiors we have seen, created by Robert Adam, and furnished extensively by Chippendale. The then laird, Patrick Home, built it to woo a Prussian heiress, sadly unsuccessfully. The guided tour was excellent. No photos were allowed inside, but among the treasures were some Georgian costumes, found in a trunk quite recently, that are exquisite, and the colour and condition looks as if they were made yesterday! Pictures are from the guide book! Home to the Home family(!) for 230 years, in 1988, the last Laird gave the house and it's 80 acre estate to the nation, and today it is run by a Trust. HHA members get free admission. Definitely worth a visit.

Nearby is the incredible Union Chain Suspension bridge which spans the River Tweed. When it opened in 1820 it was the longest iron suspension bridge in the world, and the first in the UK to carry vehicles. It is currently closed for restoration, but should be open again soon. Weight limit 3 tonnes.

Finally we visited Norham Castle, next to the River Tweed, which was built in the 12th century, and was one of the largest defences here. Together with Ford, Etal, Wark and Berwick castles they constantly came under seige and changed hands multiple times. The ruins are quite extensive, with good views from the first floor. English Heritage but free admission for all.

Back to the campsite to prepare for our departure tomorrow and another lovely evening of good company, card playing and good food. What a lovely stay we have had in North Northumberland, a part we had never visited before but which has a lot to offer.

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