The British Staycation – Part Two Northumberland - Hadrian’s Wall

Hadrian’s Wall - Acomb, Northumberland


Our next destination was Acomb just near Hexham and Hadrian’s Wall.

We were sad to say good bye to Kielder but we were ready to explore a new part of Northumberland. We chose this spot so that we could go into Newcastle easily, explore Roman ruins, Hadrian’s Wall and two Abbeys.


First up, a visit to a market on our very roundabout, long loop from Acomb, Tynemouth, Lindisfarne and back. If it weren’t for the seals our children would have divorced us!


Northumberland – Hadrian’s Wall & the surrounding area

  1. Day One – Market, Lighthouse & Lindisfarne

  2. Tynemouth Market & surrounding area

  3. St Mary’s Lighthouse

  4. The Holy Island of Lindisfarne

  5. Day Two – Newcastle-Upon-Tyne

  6. Day Three – Hadrian’s Wall

  7. Hadrian’s Wall

  8. Vindolanda

  9. Day Four - Down time

  10. Day Five – Romain Ruins

  11. Chesters

  12. Corbridge

  13. Day six – Whitby, an Abbey & a tale of two men?

  14. Whitby and the Abbey

  15. Count Dracula

  16. Captain Cook Museum

  17. Accommodation

  18. Conclusion & Top Tips




Day One – Market, Lighthouse & Lindisfarne


Tynemouth Sunday Market & surrounding area


After a discussion about who wanted to do what, and with the weather looking to turn a bit rainy this week, we had two things on the agenda for Sunday.


First, the coastal town of Tynemouth. It has a very nice Arts & Craft market in the train station with food stalls. No seating due to COVID-19, so we had lunch standing up in the courtyard. We spent a very nice few hours gazing at all the lovely crafts. I even bought a ring made from sea glass.




Sea Glass


I really love sea glass and it can be found in many coastal areas, it is the salty sea water and the sand that creates this weathered frosted glass finish. Well, that and time, plenty of time. Something beautiful from our rubbish for a change!


If you like the idea of sea glass and want to go scavenging for some, here's a top tip, head to the beach in the town of Seaham, just south of Tynemouth. Seaham once had the largest glass bottle works in Britain.


Unfortunately, we had to save this for another trip. As always there was a decision to be made and we had decided to go North from Tynemouth, so North we went.



King Edwards Bay


On our way out of Tynemouth we had a quick walk around the beautiful King Edwards Bay.




This was a lovely walk along the sea. We admired the ruin on the hill – Tynemouth Priory and Castle.


We watched an intrepid swimmer with their red hat, float tied to their back and full wet suit head out to sea, or so it seemed to us, then back in the car to make to our next stop.







St Mary’s Lighthouse


Located on the northern end of Whitley Bay is the gorgeous St Mary’s Lighthouse, built on St Mary's Island. I do love a lighthouse, something magical about them. I couldn't resist putting in a few of my images. The small rocky tidal island on which the lighthouse stands is linked to the mainland by a short concrete causeway which is submerged at high tide.



If you want to go across, you can walk, there is a car park on the mainland side. You will need to look up the tide table so you arrival when the tide is out. But even if you miss the timing it is beautiful to stand on the shore opposite looking across the causeway. As you can see from my photos we didn't quite make it in time!


The Holy Island of Lindisfarne



Lindisfarne Priory, Holy Island, Lindisfarne Castle, band (no wait, that is something else again), about an hour and half by car from St Mary’s Lighthouse, is another amazing place and really a must-see spot. You will have to check the tides for this trip as well, the Holy Island is another place that can only be reached by a causeway submerged at high tide.







It was once one of the most important centres of early Christianity, with strong links to Ireland, in Anglo-Saxon England and was home to the famous Lindisfarne Gospels now located in the British Library. Below is a photo of the Lindisfarne Castle (my own) and one of the Priory - courtesy of English Heritage.



Founded by St Aidan (from Iona) in AD635, the site owes its fame to St Cuthbert, the greatest of Northumbrian holy men, who lived and died there. Stroll around the Monastic buildings which formed the living quarters of the monks, the remote setting adds to the unique atmosphere of the Priory.

This may look a familiar site, as you may have been to or come across a similar monastery on a rocky island. Two others come to mind, Mont Saint-Michel, in Normandy, France and another off the southwest coast of Ireland, Skellig Michael. There is a common theme here, all having been built around the 7th century, all on remote, hard to reach rocky perches. We have been lucky enough to see all three of these over the years of our explorations.


But for now, if you are UK based, Lindisfarne will give you all you need from a 7th century remote monastery, history (monks, viking raids, it was all going on), beautiful surroundings, a castle and, if you are lucky, seals! There are basking seals to be seen on the walk around the island, look out for them. The appearance of the seals did help make the drive worth it for our teenagers especially since the castle, café and, well, everything was closed when we got there in the late afternoon.


We loved this spot and I would go again in a heartbeat. My preferred option would be to stay on the Holy Island and watch the sunrise and set there.


Day Two – Newcastle-Upon-Tyne


My husband and I have been to Newcastle Upon-Tyne on many occasions, we love the size and feel of this gem of a city with is grand buildings. It has historic connects to Newcastle in Australia, where half my family are from (the other half are American with both sides, mostly, originating in Ireland).



Newcastle upon-Tyne also shares a bridge design, one of its ten bridges across the River Tyne, with the Harbour Bridge in Sydney, Australia. You might be interested to know the Australian one came first.


The city has a university right in the heart of it and many restaurants, cafes, and cultural & civic attractions, including a great nightlife (hopefully that will return soon). You need to book, as always, restricted visiting applies here as well.

©Catherine Riney


Museum - Baltic -Centre for Contemporary Art


Besides lunch, a bit of shopping and checking out the university for our daughter, we went to

The Baltic -Centre for Contemporary Art to see the only exhibition and the only area in the museum open, apart from the gift shop, due to COVID-19 restrictions.


It was an exhibition by Abel Rodriguez of his precise, botanical illustrations of the plants found in the Colombian Amazon of South America where he lives.


I recommend a visit if you have time to see whatever exhibition is on, it sits beside the river and is part of the iconic Tynemouth collection of buildings and bridges most associated with Newcastle.





After our city day, for us it was time to travel even further back and visit what the Romans left behind in Northumberland.


Day Three - Hadrian’s Wall & Vindolanda Roman Fort


Hadrian’s Wall


I first visited a portion of Hadrian’s Wall with my sister on our drive North to Edinburgh for the

festival years ago. I have always wanted to come back and walk part or all of it. So, we took the opportunity to have a day visiting the Vindolanda Roman Fortress and walking Hadrian’s Wall.




We did a 6.5 mile moderate circular walk taking us through the sycamore gap, probably one of the most photographed sycamores in the area, along Hadrian’s Wall and to the Vindolanda site & Museum.


It is an iconic tree, I must say!









Hadrian’s Wall, was built by the Roman’s in AD122 to keep the Picts in, what is now Scotland, or out, depending on your perspective, of what was then the Northern most outpost of the Roman Empire. Do you know the story? Fierce race who did not want to be Roman subjects.


Basically, the Roman's gave up going any further North, deciding instead to build and defend a walled barrier to their empire here in Northumberland.



But it was more than just a barricade;

” it was a vibrant and multi-cultural occupied military zone of castles, barracks, ramparts, forts and settlements; sprawling almost 80 miles in length from the North Sea to the Irish Sea. The building of the Wall required vision and an outstanding level of engineering skill. Set amongst the wild beauty of Cumbrian and Northumbrian landscapes, it still impresses today and stands as a testimony to the power and reach of the mighty Roman Empire.” Visit Hadrian's Wall | Official visitor information.

They also did it in true Roman style with heated baths and other innovations which were lost after the collapse of the Empire in about 476AD when the last Roman Emperor was deposed.


One day I would love to go back for a longer walk over days rather than hours, camping or staying somewhere along the way.


Vindolanda


We had just enough time left to get into the Vindolanda museum and Roman Fort before it closed after our walk. The museum had a fantastic display of artifacts from the Fort and the area, including, shoes and letters of what it was like in the early 1st century. When we were there they were doing some new excavations, I just had a look and there is more planned for 2021. A rich area of military and civilian life being rediscovered every year.



The museum also had a café and interactive displays which give you an insight into what life was like for the Roman’s living along Hadrian’s Wall.


Next on our list was the mandatory down day.


Day Four - Down time



©Catherine Riney


As per usual we built in our day to do as we each pleased, well, within reason! On this occasion the weather was wet and gray so it was a day of books, DVDs, looking out at the view of the valley through the wall of glass on one side of the barn for three of us, leaving my husband to go for a cycle ride through the valley, regardless of the wet weather.


I took the time to plan our return South. We wanted to see Whitby, a place that had always intrigued me but I had yet to visit.


It was the tale of the Count that drew me in😉. So, I got to booking the Abbey visit and low and behold discovered there was connection with Caption Cook, that British explorer who made it down under. I booked a slot for us to visit a place he once lived, now a museum, containing some very interesting artifacts from his explorations.


A good down day was had by all, together, but with space.


Day Five – Romain Ruins – Chesters & Corbridge


We decided we hadn’t quite seen enough of what the Roman’s had to offer so we spent another day visiting both Chesters and Corbridge, I’m a glutton for trying to fit everything in…


They are both managed by English Heritage and can be booked through their website. They are both part of the fortification and defense of Hadrian’s Wall but they are not the only ones, so have a look on the map above for others that you may want to visit.


However,

These are two very special ones. Chesters is the “best-preserved Roman cavalry fort in Britain” & has the “finest surviving Roman bath-house complex” and Corbridge is the “only place in Britain where you can walk the high street of a Roman town.”

Chesters


You may ask why another roman ruin, our teenagers certainly did! But as I said Chesters has an amazing example of a Roman bath-house & Calvary Fort, on the banks of the North Tyne River, for the weary Roman Calvary to relax and rejuvenate. It is located near Hexham and was built in about 124AD.


Images: Catherine Riney


It was rediscovered and excavated by John Clayton who inherited the estate in 1832 and played an important role in its preservation and that of Hadrian’s Wall. There is a museum near the site with artifacts he recovered. English Heritage call him "the man who saved Hadrian's Wall".


It feels like a story right out of the film, The Dig, which you might have seen recently about a landowner and a Viking burial site excavated by the land owner and whose artifacts are on display in the British Museum. Click on the link for the true story behind the film.


Corbridge


Luckily the second site wasn’t too far from the first and Corbridge (within sight of the Roman ruins) is a lovely "new" town for a quick snack before visiting its Roman side. Corbridge’s Roman town was founded well before Hadrian built his wall and was the most Northerly town in the whole of the Roman Empire.


It was once a bustling, vibrant town and supply base where Romans and civilians could pick up food and provisions. Amazingly, you can still walk through the town's streets and experience a time-capsule of Roman life.


The museum at Corbridge helps you explore the so called Corbidge Hoard, containing Roman armour and trinkets and is "one of the most significant finds in Roman history, providing us with a fascinating insight into the life of a soldier on the Wall". Here you can also see the Corbridge Collection, the largest of the Hadrian's Wall's collections.


All in all, a lovely day out beside the North Tyne river. Image: Catherine Riney.





Day six – Whitby, an Abbey & a tale of two men?


We packed up and said good bye to Northumberland, definitely hoping to come again. But all good things must come to an end, as they say, whoever “they” may be.


Whitby was our next stop to see the Abbey overlooking the sea, the Count and, as it turns out, Captain James Cook.



Whitby and the Abbey


Whitby is a fishing port straddling the river Esk, as you can see from the map, situated on the North East coast of England in the county of North Yorkshire. It is a village filled with narrow cobbled stone streets and amazing views of the North Sea with a rich history, great fish & chips and legends galore.




We spent the better part of a day here visiting the Abbey, Captain Cooks Museum and taking the 199 steps to the graveyard of St Mary's Church and the Abbey, mentioned in Bram Stoker’s Count Dracula.

Image: google maps.














It was busy on the streets leading up to the Abbey, we parked in the harbour, and we did feel compelled to don our masks briefly as the streets narrowed on the way up to the 199 steps but worth the effort going this way.






Whitby Abbey


Another site run by English Heritage (if you are doing these sites it might be worth your while to have a membership), and yes, we booked it in advance and had timed entry no matter the weather, which meant rain as we made our way across the grounds before it cleared for some spectacular views. You must take the 199 steps up to St. Mary’s church then walk around to the entrance to Whitby Abbey & grounds. The photos below show you why, it is just a breathtaking way to walk into the grounds and up to the Abbey.


©Catherine Riney


The history of the Abbey laid out in the museum, the former house of the Chomley family, on the site next to the ruined Abbey was fascinating. Briefly, it is a history of battles, religion and rebuilding.

The first monastery was founded in 657 AD by the Anglo-Saxon King Oswy (Oswiu) of Northumbria. He appointed Lady Hilda (a strong and wise woman by all accounts) as the founding abbess who was grand-niece of Edwin the first Christian king of Northumbria and the abbess of Hartlepool. A roman settlement had also once existed here, of course.

The Streoneshalh (Whitby’s earlier name) monastery was raided and laid waste to by the Danes in between 867 and 870 remained desolate for more than 200 years until a new Benedictine abbey was founded and rebuilt in 1220.


It lasted for centuries until good ole Henry VIII, in 1540, felt the need to destroy it during the reformation. What remained was then owned by the Cholmley and the Strickland families until it was taken over and preserved by English Heritage in 1920s. Unfortunately, it was also then bombed during WWI, what was left are the remains we see today.


Count Dracula


Now, you have heard of the legend of Count Dracula, no doubt. Well, Whitby is where he was rumored to have come ashore when he arrived in Britain from Bucharest to find a new source of blood, so the story goes.



This is in fact a complicated story as we have fact and fiction merging. We have the Irish writer, Bram Stoker’s book, Count Dracula, published in 1897, (the same year my Irish Grandfather was born, but he talked about fairies not vampires).


Bram Stoker was inspired by a visit to Whitby and the local library where he found a book published in 1820, recording the experiences of a British consul in Bucharest, William Wilkinson, in The Principalities of Wallachia and Moldavia (now in Romania). “Wilkinson’s history mentioned a 15th-century prince called Vlad Tepes who was said to have impaled his enemies on wooden stakes.” He was known as Dracula, translation from Wallachian means Devil.

Apparently, Stoker made a note of this name, along with the date and the Count was born. Dracula has never been out of print since.


Have you ever read it or watched a film?


Captain Cook Museum


As I have mentioned, this was an interesting discovery for me as I am half Australian and have lived in Sydney which is not far from Botany Bay where Captain Cook and the Endeavour landed in 1770. And to top it all, has connections to Greenwich where we now live, as he was appointed to Greenwich Hospital in 1775, a charitable home for retired sailors of the Royal Navy, still in existence today. So, we had to visit!


As usual we booked our slot to visit the museum which is in a house where he once boarded as an apprentice with the Quaker seafaring ship owning family called the Walkers. The following photos are of the inside of the house, a view from the window and Cook's voyages.



It is a lovely little house with an amazing set of artifacts, not just about Captain Cook, but also amazing drawings and paintings of plants, people, and landscapes of the South Seas. There is also a pastel portrait of the infamous, William Bligh, you know the one, Mutiny on the Bounty, as he served under Cook as Master on the Resolution and was there when Cook was killed in 1779.


One more interesting Southern Hemisphere seafaring story takes place in 1629 off the coast of what is now called Western Australia. So over 100 years before captain Cook “discovered” the Eastern coast of Australia the Dutch East India Company’s ship, Batavia, became wrecked off the coast and members of the crew did make it to the mainland while looking for water. I only recently came across this tale.



Have you heard of it?


It is pretty gruesome but fascinating tale about what happens when a group of people are shipwrecked on a small island, with intrigue, mutiny, death and rescue. Image on the left:

This engraving depicts three scenes associated with the loss of the Dutch ship Batavia in 1629. Top: Batavia approaches the Houtman Abrolhos Islands off Western Australia at night. Lower right: the vessel aground on a reef with the crew in boats attempting to refloat it. Lower left: the state of the Batavia the next day, and the passengers and crew abandoning the ship. ANMM Collection 00004993

If you are interested, the book I read was Batavia by Peter Fitzsimons (a friend in Perth, Australia sent me my copy). but there is also this one which I have put on my bookshop.org for easy reference.


Fish & Chips – no trip here is complete without a trip to one of the many fish and chip shops. We had a wonderful fish supper just as we were leaving and ate it in the harbour parking lot, as you do.


Then, the final leg was a stop to visit the Lucas’ of Beeston, aka parents, parents-in-law, grandparents, to name a few of their titles, before the final push for home.


A satisfying journey in two parts was had by all. Until our next outing...


Accommodation


We found a lovely barn conversion overlooking the valley near the town of Acomb. Which suited us for the days and nights, near Hadrian’s Wall.


Like anywhere, there are many options including my favourite, youth hostels. We are still members and there was a very nice looking one perched next to the abbey in Whitby I was tempted…next time.


Conclusion


Go and explore Northumberland you won’t be disappointed.


Top Tips – for more see Part One in my Staycation series - Northumberland


  1. Accommodation – I might advise an inland and a seaside stay in Northumberland if you can find the right place or camp as an alternative. But it can be wet and windy.

  2. Book in advance – because of COVID there are restricted numbers to all sites, museums, etc. So, don’t wait, book what you can before you go and continue booking when you are away.

  3. YHAs - Youth Hostels will always be my first love and I have done this as an adult with my family and friends. As I said above, I was very tempted by the one in Whitby YHA. We still hold a membership card and somewhere I have a book with stamps from many of my stays when I was travelling as a backpacker.


That concludes our two-week Staycation in August 2020. We thoroughly enjoyed it and still left large parts unexplored. I hope you enjoyed our tale and whether you are going soon, marking it for the future or you just want an arm chair voyage, thank you for reading to the end!


You can enjoy 10% off my travel log to record past journeys or save it for your future travels when we are back to a more open, travel friendly world. Use the code: 10%OURWORLD.

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