Tuesday, August 9, 2011

What I did on my holidays (Part 2 - England)

This is my parents' back garden. Their house is nestled deep in rural Northumberland and it's our base while we're in England. Newcastle is just a short train ride away and Hadrian's Wall is literally just up the road. In fact, the whole region is packed full of Roman ruins, medieval castles and other places of historic interest and I try to visit as many of them as possible whenever I'm up there. Helen, however, is strangely lacking in enthusiasm for piles of stones in the middle of nowhere and is more than happy to spend her time relaxing in the conservatory (pictured) with a book and a pot of tea while the would-be Romans are off exploring.

All the above photos were actually taken by David, who appears to be both a budding photographer and keen botanist. Having helped Grandma plant all her new plants and fill up the bird feeders, he went around and recorded his handiwork in great detail. Shown here are just some of the thirty or forty photos he took.

This is Langley Castle, a fabulous building originally built in the Fourteenth Century and still in excellent condition thanks to Nineteenth Century restoration. It's actually used as a hotel and restaurant and it's almost always our first trip out as they do a fantastic afternoon tea and the plate of biscuits that comes with your pot of coffee will be remembered for many years to come.

This is the tea room, complete with tapestries, suits of armour and enough atmosphere to repel a siege. The castle even has its own ghost, but sadly she declined our invitation to join us.

Her we are waiting for our biscuits and Granddad has taken the opportunity to find out if he really can see all the way through James' head.

As well as a ghost the castle even has its own collection of peacocks, some of whom have clearly learned to take afternoon tea as well.

This little patch of river, a couple of miles or so from the house, is known as The Meeting of the Waters, or simply the confluence, and it's where the North and South Tyne rivers meet before flowing on through Newcastle and out to sea. While we were in Northumberland, James rather impressively took to accompanying his granddad on his regular early morning walks and this was one of their favourite ports of call.

 Here he is giving me the evil ninja death stare.

And here he is going through some ninja moves and most definitely not attempting a Morris dance.

And so to the Roman stuff. Here we are at Housesteads, one of the many forts built along Hadrian's Wall and although not our favourite site it's certainly one of the most impressive. You can clearly make out entire rooms, many still with doorways and good-sized walls and as the entire site is on a hill, you can stand at the top and get a great view of the entire fort and really understand the layout.

 Here David is showing you the underfloor heating system.

And here James is getting ready to join the Roman army...

...and carry out some manoevers.

And here are the professionals showing how it's really done.

This is the wall itself, with a fabulously well-preserved milecastle in the foreground. We stopped off here to look for a particularly famous little spot known as the Sycamore Gap and ended up walking up and down hills for a lot longer than we'd expected.

But we found it in the end. It's a stunning enough site anyway, but became even more famous when it was used for one of the scenes in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves with Kevin Costner and Morgan Freeman.

And here it is in all its glory.

This is another one of my favourites - medieval this time, not Roman. Aydon Castle dates from the Thirteenth Century and although technically it's a fortified manor house not a castle, it still has walls and battlements and is one of the finest examples of its kind still in existence.

Boy, I'm really starting to sound like a guide book now. However, it is a great place to visit, especially for the kids who spent a full half an hour or more, running up and down and round and round pretending they were medieval ninjas or whatever until they finally realised they were hungry for ice cream. We did try locking them away in what appeared to be a strong room, but the lack of bars on the window proved our undoing.

 Here are the Lord and Lady of the manor...

 ...and here are the revolting peasants.

 And this is where you go to hide when it all becomes too much.

So we did all this, and more, and shopping as well. Not bad for little over a week really. No wonder I now feel like I need a holiday to recover. Still, the boys are back at school now so I have my days to myself and plenty of time for all my little projects. After such a long break I was wondering how I would feel coming back to São Paulo and the truth is I was pleasantly surprised by how much it now feels like home. One week back and it's as if I never left.

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