Perhaps my dream of a self-sufficient smallholding isn’t really for me if my reaction at a farming event, when meeting and greeting the animals, is “Oh, how cute” and “Hello, if I had a bigger garden, you could come and live in it and help cut my grass”. No wonder Simon had a wry smile on his face!
Perhaps I should stick with my pigs * and chickens!
We were visiting Masham after a morning at Ripon and Thornborough in Yorkshire. We had no expectations of any type of event but it so happened that it was the day of Masham Sheep Fair.
Who knew there were so many different type of goats or sheep? Or that a very clever collie could successfully herd a group of gaggling geese?
We bought some tasty goat and sheep cheeses at a stall and watched a very entertaining sheep show, learning about the different breeds.
The craft stalls were inspiring and I felt so motivated, I bought myself a knitting pack, with wools and needles.
During the winter nights, I could knit some gloves – that’s the aim anyway. I haven’t knitted since I was about 10!
Saltfleetby-Theddlethorpe Dunes, near Louth in Lincolnshire, is a very peaceful seaside spot. Instead of sandcastles, ice cream and sunbathers, there are mudflats and ponds, salt marshes, wildflowers and sand dunes.
Natural England manages the 556-hectare National Nature Reserve section, while Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust manages the remainder of the area.
When we first entered the reserve, we walked along a path through wildflower-rich grassland, encountering ponds en route. This walkway took us to the dunes and saltmarsh.
It is an important site for wildlife. We didn’t see any Natterjack toads but did come across many insects, including grasshoppers, butterflies and dragonflies.
By holding out a stragically placed stick, Simon rescued a struggling dragonfly who was in danger of drowning in one of the ponds.
We also came across two discarded dragonfly larval cases – they weren’t dead, they were skins of two nymphs (juvenile). Once the juvenile is ready to become an adult, they cast off their old skin. They are well prepared for this life-changing event, with a new skin underneath.
As well as nature’s dramas, the remnants of military history can be found on this reserve, in particular the beach… Today we can still see a corroded Comet tank and a ruined pillbox, dating from the Second World War.
The Air Ministry bought the site in the 1930s and old vehicles, that had been driven onto the beach, were used as targets. The dunes were mined and pillbox built during the Second World War as an anti-invasion defence.
Being here reveals how the landscape changes over time. It is thought that the dunes began forming in the 1200s after large storms blew sand and shingle and, even now, the tides and wind is changing the landscape slowly but surely. New saltmarsh and dunes are still being created today and Simon told me he saw a difference from the last time he was there.
At certain times of the year, seals can be found with their pups along the coast. The adult seals don’t look as cute as you might think, being big and clumsy and even a little violent with each other (the males at least). The babies are very cute but, of course, it is advisable not to go near and disturb them.
In July though, there are no seals but we did come across this poignant sight… A seal’s skull.
It is a lovely quiet area, I even came across a comment on an internet beach forum saying it was an ideal place to go for a naked walk and skinny dipping!
When one thinks of rural Scotland, the Munros and the Highlands, the islands and the lochs may all spring to mind, but there is beautiful countryside nearer to England.
And if the gentle farming countryside – complete with romantic medieval castle – isn’t all that far from the bright lights of Edinburgh, so much the better for those who want ‘the best of two worlds’.
The Stair Arms Hotel, just outside Pathhead, in Midlothian, is one such location. The Victorian coaching inn dates from 1831 and was commissioned by Lord and Lady Stair – hence the name. It is very handy for those of us who live in England. Pathhead village, a conservation area, is located a mere 12 miles south of Edinburgh.
We came by train for a one-night stay. Our relatives lived nearby so it was a useful stop-over. From Preston, the trains to Edinburgh go frequently and from there it was a train to Eskbank and a taxi ride on to the hotel.
There is also an hourly bus from Edinburgh to Pathhead.
If you go by car, then it is easily found on the A68, a main road which takes you from the North East of England to Edinburgh.
There are 12 rooms in all, with a family room and two suites.
Our twin room was elegantly and smartly furnished with a calming grey shade.
It was clean and had everything you would expect from a hotel room – tea, coffee, TV and so on. The bathroom, in the same style as the bedroom, was roomy with all the facilities needed.
After our train journey, we were famished so it was pleasing to hear we could choose our time to dine in the restaurant. We decided on 6pm, a good choice considering how ready we were to eat.
The comfortable and recently refurbished restaurant boasts a roaring log fire in winter. There is also a cafe area with a range of home baking.
The menu offers an ample selection of locally sourced dishes, some with a distinctive Scottish flavour such as Cullen skink, Lady Stair – bread of chicken stuffed with haggis – and haggis fritters.
We were given a tasty pre-starter of warm bread and dips. Mum chose scotch broth for her starter and I opted for a Cullen skink. This dish was made with potato, cream and smoked haddock. I hadn’t heard of this creamy soup-like starter before but it was delicious.
Haddock and chips and a steak and ale pie were our main courses. They were big meals, scrumptious, but we were both very full by the end. Too full for a dessert unfortunately.
The following day, breakfast was a choice of cereals and then a waitress took our orders, there was a good choice but after our large evening meals, poached egg on toast seemed a fairly light option.
Crichton Castle is the nearest tourist attraction to the hotel and is within walking distance.
Handily, after checking-out, we were able to leave our luggage behind at the hotel for this walk.
The route to the medieval landmark is along a country road and, according to the sign, it is two miles from Pathhead.
The castle, which overlooks the Tyne Valley, is certainly worth a visit. It is both historical, as all castles are, and very unusual.
Architecturally, the castle has a number of notable points. The courtyard, when remodelled in the 1580s, was inspired by Italian buildings and is decorated with diamond-shaped stonework. It is very Mediterranean looking and unique for a Scottish castle.
The first known scale-and-platt stair (straight staircase) in Scotland is also found here, again dating from the 1500s. Up to this point, castles had spiral staircases.
Historically, the castle was begun in the late 1300s/1400s and was first lived in by the Crichton family, later passing to the Hepburn earls of Bothwell.
Mary Queen of Scots celebrated her brother’s wedding at Crichton in 1562. Five years later, she married the castle’s owner.
The castle has also found fame within the lines of the poem Marmion, by Sir Walter Scott.
The nearby church was founded by William Crichton in 1449.
After our morning of medieval time-travelling, we ventured back to the Stair Arms where we had lunch – fishcake and haddock goujons and a lovely big pot of tea. Haddock appears a popular option here!
The Stair Arms is a small family-run hotel, run by the Ramsay family for the past 25 years. We found the service warm and helpful.
The hotel also has two function rooms and caters for weddings.
One of the function rooms opens out to a picturesque garden – perfect for wedding photos.
But if you’re just looking for a place to stay while exploring the attractions of Edinburgh and the wider Midlothian area – including the Pentland Hills, Vogrie Country Park and Rossyln Chapel – the Stair Arms is a very handy and comfortable place to stay.
Anglesey is an island separated from mainland Wales by the Menai Strait and connected by two road bridges – Britannia Bridge and the Menai Suspension Bridge. Like many islands, it is sparsely populated. Apparently the number of people who live here (69,751 people) is fewer than the population of the medium-sized city I live in! So very rural, underrated and beautiful. And as for the history, well… Simon and I stayed on the outskirts of Anglesey for a week and here are three of the sights we saw.
I hadn’t realised how impressive or fascinating Bryn Celli would actually be but it is certainly worth a visit. It is reminiscent of, but smaller than, the Irish monument in Newgrange. We meant to return on the Summer Solstice but got the dates wrong.
To be honest, I liked the idea of seeing the sun rise but wasn’t very keen on the thought of getting up at 3am to travel there!
We did return however as there was an archeology day at the site, full of interesting stalls with experts who could tell us about neolithic food and tools and so on… We also listened to a talk about another archaeological dig in the next field where more ancient finds are waiting to be discovered.
According to CADW’s Anglesey: AGuide to Ancient Monuments on the Isle ofAnglesey, Bryn Celli, the Mound of The Dark Grove, is one ‘of the most evocative archaeological sites in Britain’. It was excavated in 1928/29 and it appears that it started off as a henge (ritual enclosure) in Neolithic times before making way for a passage grave. A stone burial chamber was then constructed and covered by a mound.
It is believed that the entrance could have been important for ceremonial reasons. A platform of white quartz pebbles were discovered here. Other finds in the chamber and passage included human bones, flint arrowheads and mussel shells.
A ‘Pattern Stone’ was also discovered at the back of the chamber. It can now be found in the National Museum and Gallery, Cardiff – a replica (pictured above) has been set up at the site.
Barclodiad Y Gawres Burial Chamber
Our second neolithic visit was Barclodiad Y Gawres burial chamber at Cable (Trecastell) Bay, along the cliff path. Apparently, a key can be collected at a shop in Llanfaelog but we did not know this until later. If you have a torch, you will still be able to see the stones from outside.
Curiously, the name means ‘the Giantess’s Apronful’, and is believed to come from local tradition.
Five of the stones were decorated, including spirals, zig-zags and lozenges. These designs are also found in the Irish tombs.
Our third trip to the past was to a tiny island off Newborough Beach. Llanddwyn is a tidal island so most of the time, except for the highest tides, it is quite possible to walk across to this island which, to me, feels quite magical.
It is also fascinating in terms of geology and nature (it forms part of the National Nature Reserve of Newborough Warren).
We came across a cross, the ruined St Dwynwen’s Church – built in the 1500s on the site of the original chapel – and a lighthouse in this delightfully idyllic setting.
The island is associated with St Dwynwen, the Welsh patron saint of lovers (like a Celtic St Valentine) and sick animals, who lived during the 5th century. The island’s name means the church of St Dwynwen and her church here was an important shrine during the Middle Ages. The Celtic cross was a much more recent addition, dating from 1903.
I don’t know if it was St Dwynwen’s influence or just the stunning natural setting, but this amazing spot really did feel magical and a place well worth going to on a pilgrimage to.
Information courtesy of Anglesey:AGuideto Ancient Monuments ontheIsleofAnglesey and Wikipedia
Back in the 1960s, there was a cult TV programme called The Prisoner.
Up until this year, I had only watched one episode (I wasn’t around in the 60s and somehow missed the repeats in later years), and my impression was that it was rather surreal and was about a man (played by Patrick McGoohan) who finds himself trapped in a peculiar but colourful place named only as The Village.
He has resigned from the Foreign Office and it appears that he is involved in espionage, but now, having been kidnapped one night, he finds himself in a seemingly never-ending Kafkaesque nightmare.
Now Number 6, he no longer has an identity or a name. No matter how many times he proclaims, ‘I am not a number!’
But there are questions… Why is he there? Why did he resign? More importantly, how can he escape?
Before our visit to Bethesda in Wales, we realised that the town isn’t that far from Portmeirion, which is actually where The Prisoner was set.
Simon bought DVDs of the series and we watched one episode a night on our holiday to get in the right mood for our visit to the mysterious ‘The Village’.
Funnily, my black and white spring coat, which I had bought from a charity shop a couple of years before, thinking it looked smart, seemed rather reminiscent of the jacket Patrick McGoohan (aka The Prisoner aka Number 6) wore. When I wore it in The Village, I wondered if I would be seen as a ‘super fan’! You can actually buy jackets in Portmeirion just like the one Number 6 wore!
I expected Portmeirion to play on the fact an iconic 60s series was filmed there, but apart from The Prisoner shop (pictured above), it was more about the architecture, atmosphere, nature and the man behind this curious and unique holiday village.
The architect was Clough Williams-Ellis and he acquired the site – then a ‘neglected wilderness’ for under £5,000 in 1925. The area itself – previously called Aber Iau – dates from at least 1188, with a mention of two stone castles by Gerald of Wales. Over time, it gained a foundry, small shipyard and some cottages.
Clough designed his holiday village from 1925 to 1939 and completed the finer details between 1954 and 1976.
As a whole, the village has a feeling of the Italian Riveria. When one looks more closely at the buildings, one sees classical, Arts and Crafts style, Palladian, and so on, with many buildings salvaged from demolition sites.
The Dome is the most memorable, built in 1960/61, and is a listed Grade II monument. There is also The Bell Tower, also called The Campanile, which housed a turret clock from a demolished brewery in London. The Piazza is the centrepiece of the holiday village and can be seen in The Prisoner.
I don’t have space to go into detail about all the beautiful architecture, suffice to say, the more we looked, the more we found. Little details, statues, carvings…
Obviously these quaint, colourful buildings are attractive enough in their own right but there is a beach (also seen in The Prisoner) and a picturesque and varied tree trail, from the Persian Ironwood Tree (apparently its wood is used as toothpicks in Iran) to the St Helena Island Weeping Willow (from a cutting taken from the weeping willow at Napoleon’s Tomb on St Helena) – there is even a Dancing Tree (New Zealand Papauma Broadleaf)!
Disappointingly, it doesn’t really dance, but the nickname is fabulous. Every time he passed the tree, Sir Clough Williams-Ellis thought the rustling shiny leaves sounded like dancing music – and so it became known as the Dancing Tree.
There are other nature walks too, including one to the Ghost Garden! No ghosts though, it was so named to commemorate the garden of the ferry cottage which was once located there.
These days, 200,000 visitors per year flock to Portmeirion. We were day visitors, of which I think most people are, but it is possible to stay at the hotel or in one of the buildings for a holiday. Not the cheapest of places but it would certainly be a unique stay.
I went to Portmeirion thinking of it as a set piece for a 1960s TV series. But I left feeling it was so much more, with something for lovers of architecture, nature, beaches and beautiful places… For The Prisoner, The Village was a hellish experience but for visitors of Portmeirion, it is quite the opposite. We were in no hurry to escape from ‘The Village’!
Be seeing you! 😀 (As they say in The Prisoner’s ‘Village’!)
Fact of the Day
Did you know playwright Noel Coward wrote Blithe Spirit while staying at Portmeirion?
Background information for this post comes from the guide books, Portmeirion from Robin Llywelyn and Portmeirion Tree Trail
Could I get up this morning after a gruelling 26-mile canal walk? Well, with the help of plasters (three) over blisters on my left foot and a bandage over another foot (the blister was too big for a plaster), it was possible to gingerly climb down the stairs to the breakfast room of our b&b.
It was a bank holiday so, even though Worksop isn’t generally seen as a holiday destination, there were quite a few guests having breakfast at Acorn Lodge.
After our filling cereal and full English breakfast, we got ready, paid up and headed back to the canal. Acorn Lodge was a good stopping off point for a rest but it was time to move on.
Simon got a text from his dad saying if we wanted a lift back this morning to give him a ring. Tempting (that’s how tired I was) but no, we would continue. 17 miles today, Simon said.
My trusty pole came in handy!
Our walk started off sometime between 9.30 and 10am, later than yesterday.
En route to the canal we came across a fascinating church/former priory, I would have liked to have explored but my legs were determined to conserve as much energy as possible. Simon looked in and took this photo of a very unusual yew door.
Another treat was in store before we left Worksop. We expected the canal to be in a much more urban setting than previous. What was not expected was the sight of a kingfisher (my second sighting in a fortnight!) It was standing on a ledge on top of the canal, before swooping in and grabbing a fish breakfast.
After this great start, we moved onwards. Only once did we nearly get lost when thankfully a resident gardening noticed us ambling along and pointed us in the right direction, over the bridge and across the canal.
An elderly man on an old-fashioned bike told us ‘not too long to get there’, of course, he told us this before he heard where we were going.
We passed Shireoaks Marina, where many boats were moored, stopping off at the village for painkillers for my feet. The marina was actually built on the site of the colliery basin, used to load boats until 1947. It is surprising how many scenic places have an industrial past.
We reached Turnerwood, a pleasant little hamlet which looked like it might have a cafe…. But no time for a cup of tea, alas.
Past Turnerwood and we arrive at an engineering fan or canal lover’s dream – the land of double and triple locks. It is also a very scenic, wooded section, on the other side of the tow path is Old Spring Wood and Hawks Wood.
The Thorpe flight of locks includes two treble and two double staircases within its 15 locks.
Along with the Turnerwood flight (seven locks), the canal passes through 22 locks in just over a mile. The canal also flows over ‘a three arched aqueduct above the River Ryton which passes from Yorkshire to Nottinghamshire’ (The Chesterfield Canal Guidebook, Chesterfield Canal Trust).
We passed by the site of the wharf where the stone for the Houses of Parliament was loaded. Yes, did you know that the stone used for the famous political arena was transported from Chesterfield Canal all the way to London (via the Trent, Humber, North Sea and Thames)?
While we walked, we decided that, depending on how we would feel after another couple of miles, we might take Simon’s parents up on their offer of a lift back – but not until we reached Norwood Tunnel at the very least.
Time was ticking on, and although normally we could walk three miles in an hour, possibly more, at this rate we were slowly ambling along at two miles an hour. We might end up getting to the end of the canal in Chesterfield at midnight at this rate!
At Kiveton Park, we carried on to the portal of Norwood Tunnel, where the canal seemingly ends. From here, via Kiveton Waters (the site of the old Kiveton Colliery) we continued above the Norwood Tunnel, going under the M1 at one point. The tunnel was once the equal longest tunnel in England, 12 feet high and 9 feet 3 inches wide. Because of mining subsidence, one part collapsed in the 1800s and closed in 1907.
A couple of stretches of the canal reappears, at one point partly overgrown with plantation. And then it disappears – and we realised that the fenced-in gardens were actually built on the line of the canal.
From Killamarsh it is possible to walk to the end of the canal – but with a four mile or so non-canal detour. (The Canal Trust is working on restoration).
Earlier we had made the decision to go back once we reached Killamarsh so, at 4pm and 12 miles on, we got a lift back from The Crown pub in Killamarsh.
I didn’t feel as disappointed as I thought I would. Yes, we cut our walk short by about eight miles but we did walk about 12 miles today and 26 yesterday so 38 altogether. Much of the trek was achieved. We also hiked along the most attractive section. Had we continued, we would have trudged another four miles just to get back to the canal at Staveley Town Basin – and then another four or so miles from there to Chesterfield. As Simon said, we walked the full length of the existing canal from West Stockwith to Killamarsh.
We saw many sights, some of the wildlife I forgot to mention earlier included the migrant chiff chaff, house martin, swallow and goldfinches. We also heard a chaffinch and reed warbler.
It took four days for my legs to get back to normal but I felt happy with my achievement – my first marathon really! And I felt impressed with myself for walking 38 miles in two days.
Here’s to the next challenge…
Facts of the Day
1. Work on the Chesterfield Canal started in 1771 and was completed in 1777.
2. The main trade was coal but stone, iron, corn, timber, lime and lead were also carried.
3. The final commercial cargo was carried in 1956. The canal could have closed if it hadn’t have been for campaigning by the Retford and Worksop Boat Club.
Thanks to their members, Chesterfield Canal Trust and other volunteers and campaigners, we were able to walk along this beautiful part of Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire.
9am. We started off at West Stockwith, where the picturesque canal basin connects with the River Trent. It was once a boat building centre where the Chesterfield Canal narrow boats – nicknamed cuckoos – were built.
I had a sense of high optimism about today’s journey, yes, it would be about 20 miles (actually it was 26!) but it was on the flat. No hills, no mountains. I could walk for ages on the flat, yes?
Hmm, let’s see.
We passed boats and dog walkers and attractive housing overlooking the canal. Our first locks – upper and lower – were at Misterton. Both bridges and locks had numbers which, when I got tired, I counted to keep my morale up. There were also milestones too but some seemed to be absent.
The time we embarked on our journey coincided with Duckling Season. We came across many mallards, one had 10 youngsters close by while another sadly only had one. I told myself the others were hiding.
We passed a former brickyard and wharfs, quiet farmland, Gringley-on-the-Hill – probably the only hill we saw on our walk, and Drakeholes tunnel, pictured below, (unfortunately the nearby 1700s pub, The White Swan, closed some time ago, despite its ideal location. Hopefully it will reopen one day). We also passed an ornamental bridge – with an age-worn face on either side – at Wiseton estate.
Clayworth was our first rest stop, it appeared to be a haven for moored boats on either side. Sitting at an outside bench, our cheese sandwiches and water tasted good.
Alas, time ticked on. It was after noon and we were behind schedule – the plan was to stop off at Retford for lunch but at this rate it would be 2pm.
Keep striding ahead, don’t think too much of the time, as long as we get to Worksop before it dark…
My previous ‘dilly-dallying’ became more purposeful, although I kept feeling as if I had a blister on my foot. Our scenery was delightfully quiet and rural and we passed a quirky-named lock called Whitsunday Pie Lock. A strange and slightly eerie sight from across the water greeted us – of what seemed like tombstones dotted around…
We spoke of Eddie Izzard, a British celebrity, he ran 26 marathons in 26 days!! (How is that even possible?!) Well, if he can do that, I can surely walk 26 miles along a canal in one day…
… And 20 miles the next day.
Retford was supposed to be our half way point but it turned out it was actually two-thirds of the way. This cheered me up at the time but little did I know how weary my legs would feel after leaving this stop. That, although we had walked 15 miles to reach this point, the next 10 miles would feel even more of an endurance.
For time and tiredness reasons, we opted to just get a drink in the nearest pub or cafe to the canal rather than venture into town. This turned out to be The Packet Inn (the inn was named after the passenger boats arriving on market days). The landlord of this down-to-earth pub was surprised to be asked for a cup of tea and two lemonades.
‘A cup of tea?!’
But he served those drinks and very reasonably priced they were too. It was just what was needed. The lemonade was heavenly.
Back on track, we checked my feet, no apparent blisters could be seen.
We saw swathes of hawthorn, a few swan nests along the way and a highlight was a kestrel swooping down into a nearby field for his/her dinner.
The terrain varied, I had concerns that this would be a unvaried walk, one that may possibly bore Simon but we were spoilt with different scenery, woodland, farmland, industrial…
Our next main village was Ranby, it must only have been about five or so miles on from Retford but my legs said differently. My feet, once again, insisted they were covered in blisters.
I was tempted to enter a village pub and order a taxi straight to the B&B. But there was no village pub within easy reach of the canal even though we could see the A1.
We carried on.
At Osberton, we walked past several fields with horses, an equestrian centre or some kind.
We reached another bridge. I had been counting the numbers of bridges, locks and milestones but had long stopped. I was merely focusing on putting one foot in front of the other.
But this bridge was different. An elderly man, out for a walk with his dog, was looking over it. We hadn’t come across many fellow travellers in the last few miles.
Simon raced ahead to ask this gentleman a very important question, ‘how far is it to Worksop?’
‘A mile and a half’, he replied. It was music to my ears.
True, it felt longer as we trudged on into an ever-increasing urban environment. Even when I saw the big b&q store or warehouse (never, did I think I would be happy to see such ugly industrial and retail buildings!) Worksop did not seem much nearer.
Eventually we reached the right bridge, it took us to a main road, on which was a restaurant Simon had mentioned as being ‘not too far from the guesthouse’. I think it took us 20 minutes from the canal to the accommodation.
We finally arrived at 7.30pm. Such a relief to lie down on a bed! We ordered a pizza takeaway, my legs were now officially on strike. Oh, and the blisters – all four of them – had developed on my feet.
The pizza tasted stodgy. The garlic bread had no flavour, no garlic. Baywatch will never win an Oscar, but to lie down eating and watching TV was simply blissful.
The only question is: would I be able to walk tomorrow?
One evening in January, while having an evening meal in a pleasant pub along Lancaster Canal, Simon and I discussed having a semi-long distance canal walking adventure.
Canal walking sounded good to me, a challenge with no hills could be relatively easy in comparison to some of our more difficult hill-walking hikes.
So I thought…
Lancaster Canal, in Lancashire, turned out to be 57 miles in length. Chesterfield Canal, Nottinghamshire, was a ‘mere’ 46 miles in comparison.
Maybe a slightly easier walk then. I liked the idea of an ‘easier’ challenge!
A three-day hike, I said.
Two days at most, Simon replied.
Err, okay, right.
So, at the start of May, Simon and I embarked on a 46-mile walk along the Chesterfield Canal.
In two days.
I had done some walking (mostly six-mile or less with a few intermittent longer treks of 9 or 8 miles) and two Zumba classes in the last two months.
But was it really enough for a 46-mile trek (in two days!)?
But it would be flat so, I mean, it must be quite easy, right?
We will see…
This walk, from West Stockwith to Chesterfield (or vice versa), is one of wildlife, history, beautiful scenery, geography and industry. It’s called The Cuckoo Way because that was what the old horse-drawn boats were called. No-one knows for certain why.
It starts in the River Rother, Chesterfield, Derbyshire, and ends at West Stockwith, Nottinghamshire. Or vice versa, which was the way we did it.
Simon got a cheap Ordnance Survey map early March and the B&B in Worksop was booked on March 19.
On Saturday, May 4, we would get a lift to the start of the walk from Simon’s parents and our adventure would begin….
Fancy being beamed back in time? Well, Beamish is the way to go…
My mum and I went on a weekend trip to Durham and Beamish in March this year.
Technically I suppose Beamish is a museum, but it’s no old-fashioned establishment, with glass cases and labels, it is more like taking a trip back into time.
When I was little, my favourite museum was Wigan Pier (the title may appear familiar because it is a title of a famous George Orwell book). Unfortunately it has since closed down, but back in the 1980s, and to my young eyes, it brought the past to life. It was both interactive and realistic and it felt like stepping back in time. The 1800s classroom with its realistic Victorian lesson was my favourite although I was a little intimidated by the strict teacher and the cane! (Don’t worry, it was never used!)
Beamish is an open air museum, its title is The Living Museum of the North. Divided into four main sections on a 350-acre site, it’s possible to walk around the whole site or catch a free old-fashioned tram or bus. It is a circular site, well signposted and near impossible to get lost.
Our first visit was to the 1900s colliery, it’s amazing to think how mining and its subsequent landscape and culture was dominant in a lot of Britain not all that long ago. In fact, the site of Beamish was actually part of Durham’s coalfield.
Mining provided jobs but it was also very dangerous and, according to my Beamish Guidebook, in 1913, a miner was killed or injured every five minutes on average. In that year, more than 1,000 miners died.
We didn’t go down the mahogany drift mine, which was open to visitors, but the site is an authentic view of what a colliery may have been like in those days, with its lamp cabin (and its collection of safety lamps), winding engine house, engine shed, waggons, railway and powder house.
No spitting allowed in the lamp cabin!
Next to the colliery is the 1900s pit village, with its pit pony stables, chapel, silver band hall, fried fish shop, school and terraced houses.
The 1940s Farm is near by, showing life in the North East during the Second World War – farms were important during that time as there were fears imported supplies could be cut off because of the war. So here we have the cottages, tractors and machines and animals. Of course, I loved to see the free range chickens wandering about!
We realised that time was ticking on and there was still much to see. Luckily a tram was waiting at a tram stop, so on it we went, heading for the 1900s town which shows shops, businesses and houses of that era.
Stores include a drapery, grocery and co-op. The printer, stationery and newspaper branch office is also prominent on the main street, as is The Sun Inn.
The town stables can be visited – horses were still the main form of transport in the early 1900s. Curiously, the Beamish Motor & Cycle Works is also in the 1900s town. This must have been an interesting time to live, with both horse and motor transport. Of course, later on, the car took over from the horse. My guide book says the motor ‘industry was still in its infancy, with little standardisation of car design, components and manufacture’. How different to today’s world where we take cars for granted.
We had a very quick visit to the 1820s, with the late Georgian landscape reflecting the changing face of industrialisation. According to my trusty guidebook, in those days, fields were ploughed into ‘ridges and furrows, before mechanised farm machinery’, there would be traditional breeds of animal such as the Durham Shorthand cattle and the horse-powered whim gin was used to raise coal and men out of mines in the 1700s and early 1800s. Examples are seen at Beamish, as is an 1820s waggonway. Back in the day, it would have taken coal to the River Tyne or Wear.
A more creepy sight is the gibbet!
Alas, we didn’t have time to visit 1820s Pockerley Old Hall or see much of Rowley Railway Station in the 1900s Town. And there was so much else to see in the 1900s town centre which we missed but I think that shows how Beamish is absolutely jam-packed with fascinating history. And they are also planning to reconstruct a 1950s town!
We spent four hours there, but eight hours could easily be spent.
Well, I guess we will just have to ask Beamish to ‘beam us back in time again’!