Post 5 June Jaunt. Homeward Bound via Yorkshire and Norfolk!
So sad this morning to be leaving our friends and lovely North Northumberland to begin our journey south. We have cherry picked some places to see on the way that will dictate our overnight stops.
Usually, when we are away, we eat out 2 or 3 times a week if somewhere takes our fancy. That is just as likely to be a small tapas bar or a seafood van on the beach if they have a good reputation for fresh, homemade food. However on this trip, we have cooked in the van almost every day, so, we decided to combine all the money we had 'saved' and go for one amazing meal. In the village of Wall, not surprisingly near Hadrian's Wall, is the Restaurant Hjem, which holds a Michelin star. The Swedish chef, not a bit like the one in Sesame Street, and his Northumbrian wife offer an incredible 18 course tasting menu. We had managed to get a table for lunch, so off we went. We love meals where there are lots of tiny courses. It solves the problem of finding it difficult to know what to choose. You get to try everything! And every mouthful of that menu was amazing, all created championing local produce. What a treat. It is very much a family concern, and the service was superb. I even got a stool for my handbag!! Thank you!
From here we took a leisurely drive to Barnard Castle, stopping at beautiful Hexham Abbey on the way. Founded in 674 it has been attacked, destroyed and rebuilt on numerous occasions by Vikings, Scots, Henry VIII, and a partial collapse in 1828! Its treasures include an Anglo-Saxon crypt, the tombstone of a Roman soldier, a Bishops chair over 1300 years old and the beautiful Mediaeval Rood Screen paintings and panels.
In Barnard Castle we stayed at the very nice CCC clubsite, which was £24 pn with our age concession discount! We were perfectly placed next morning to visit the incredible Bowes Museum. This immensely grand building would not look out of place in Paris! It calls itself an art gallery, but I think this gives the wrong impression. It holds amazing collections of furniture, furnishings, fashion, ceramics, silverware and more. Art Fund members get in free, and an annual pass is less than a day admission! Do watch the film about it's history. John Bowes, a local businessman, moved to France, where he bought a Theatre and met Josephine, an actress. They married and she became a patron of the arts. Collecting many treasures, they returned to Teesdale, and built the museum specifically as a gift to the area. They filled it with their collection of art treasures, and left a trust for it's continued use. The rooms filled with their Parisian furniture are a delight, and Josephine was herself an accomplished artist, as you can see from her paintings.
The jewel of the museum is a fantastic silver swan. First seen at a Paris exhibition in 1867, the swan was made by James Cox in 1773. He was a silver and Goldsmith who specialised in making mechanical curios, mostly sold to China. The silver swan is a full size replica with over 2,000 moving parts, including 113 articulated silver neck rings which allow the swan to move it's head and neck in a very realistic way thanks to the clockwork mechanisms within. It sits in a shimmering pool, and at one point appears to bend and catch a fish. It is exquisitely decorated, and, at 250 years old, looks amazing!
From here, we headed south to Rievaulx Abbey. (Free to English Heritage members). Built in 1132 as a Cistercian Monastery, it was, like so many others, seized by Henry VIII and fell into disrepair. It would have been a bustling community, with 640 men living here in 1160. The tanning vats are still visible, and the museum contains some interesting artefacts, including these beautiful 12th century chess pieces made of jet and an ox bone.
Rievaulx is close to the charming market town of Helmsley, and here we ran into yet another Motor Bike Rally! We visited the castle ruins, first built 900 years ago, and extended and improved over the centuries. (Free to English Heritage members).
Next on to our campsite for the night in Thorganby, south of York. It was a small, peaceful, adults only site called Country Living, and with EHU was £20pn, with a handy pub down the road! Our stay here was because we wanted to visit York Air Museum at Elvington. As we arrived... guess what we found? A rally! Not of Motorbikes this time, but Daimler Cars. A very impressive turnout too. Our reason for visiting was because a very good friend of ours was a Flight Engineer in Halifax Bombers during WW2. This museum houses the only complete Halifax on view in the UK. It was delivered to the Squadron here on Friday 13th so that became it's name. and the airmen painted a skull and crossbones, a scythe, an upside down horseshoe and a white headstone on the side! In fact it was incredibly lucky, and flew more missions - 128 - than any other Halifax. However, after it's first few flights, the control tower told them to paint out the headstone, as it's bright white paint would be a great target when picked up in a search light! What we hadn't realised was that this was our friend's actual base in 77 Squadron, and we found several photos of him in the Squadron room. We also learned that he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross. While on a mission over France, a 30lb incendiary bomb entered the plane through the fuselage door. He picked it up and threw it out, saving the plane and it's occupants.
Other highlights were a Dakota, which was laid out as a Paratroop carrier, but advised that each seat could only take a maximum of 13 stone in weight. Obviously the upper limit for a paratrooper to weigh! Interestingly, the plane had belonged to Jersey Airlines, and Chris thinks he may have flown in it to the Channel islands as a child. Slightly better seating I hope! Among the many aircraft on display from all eras, there was the rather eerie Nimrod reconnaissance aircraft, and the Lusty Lady Victor Tanker which refuelled the Vulcan bombers during the long distance flights to the Falklands. All around the museum are special displays marking the 40th anniversary of the Falklands War. The final picture are some rather scary bombs, including the aptly named Tall Boy. One of it's testing sites was in the New Forest, and it weighed 12,000lb. Invented by Barnes Wallace, it was an Earthquake Bomb, and was 12 times more powerful than the largest bomb the RAF had at the time. (It was later eclipsed by the Grand Slam bomb weighing 22,000lb, and which was so expensive, if it wasn't dropped on a mission, the planes were told to bring it home.... imagine landing with that underneath you!!)
Our drive south took us over the 1.4 mile long Humber Bridge, an engineering marvel. It is designed to tolerate constant motion, and bends more than 3 metres in 80mph winds! The towers are 1.4 inches further apart at the top than the bottom to take account of the curvature of the earth! We didn't notice any movement as we crossed and drove south through the Lincolnshire Wolds and the Fens to RSPB Frampton Marsh on the Wash. This site always turns up a few birding surprises for us, and today it was Spoonbill, and a male Ruff in breeding plumage. The light was very bad by this time, so apologies for the photo.
Another hour saw us in one of our favourite areas, North Norfolk, and on a favourite site, The Garden site at Barmer. An independent site, £24 for the night with all facilities, and well situated for exploring in all directions. We had just 1 day left, so we decided to revisit some of our favourite walks. We love the creeks, marshes and huge skies here. RSPB Titchwell was a must, and a walk out to the amazing beach via the bird hides. Then a walk from Thornham out to the sea along the sleepy creeks, where we spotted this Oyster Catcher with a very interesting nest site! No risk of flooding!
Onto Brancaster Staithe and wonderful Seafood Rolls and cockles from the Crab hut, followed by an ice cream, and a 6 mile walk along the coast path to Burnham Overy Staithe, where, after a swift drink in the pub, we caught the excellent hourly coastal hopper bus back.
Next day we headed home, stopping at 2 bird reserves on the way. Weeting Heath to see the very rare Stone curlew, and then RSPB Lakenheath Fen where a long, and very hot walk was rewarded with seeing Bittern flying past, and Otter in the stream. Brilliant. Our final birdlist was a record for us in the Uk on one trip. 125 different species. Another lovely trip in Buzzbee. Now to start planning the next one!
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Thank you. see you soon!