Monday, 28 April 2008

What We Did On Our Hols: Part One

I had a splendid time in York with my chums. We visited the Yorkshire Museum,which had an exhibition called The Fingerprints of Time all about dating artefacts by various methods which were explained so that we could enjoy guessing the ages of various things from meteorites to a Kit-Kat bar. We didn't do at all well (don't ask).

Then it was off to magnificent York Minster where we explored the Undercroft, looking at the remains of the Roman legionary fortress and basilica and of the Norman cathedral that preceded the current building, finishing with a model of the rescue of the great central tower which was in danger of collapse in the late 1960s.

A denizen of York looking distinctly unimpressed at being talked down to by Constantine the Great

Passing Betty's Cafe Tea Rooms (no time for a Yorkshire Fat Rascal and a cup of tea this visit), we arrived at Melton's Restaurant where we enjoyed a delicious meal. Just look at the menu! I had Whitby smoked salmon, bubble and squeak with poached duck egg and white chocolate parfait with rhubarb compote.

Next day was the Historical Novel Society Conference (see previous post) and the day after that Mondeo Man arrived to whisk me off to Northumberland for a few days.

We stayed at the splendid Battlesteads Hotel, Wark, which is a few miles north of Hadrian's Wall in barbarian country. Not really - it was very comfortable and quite civilised, really. The food was scrumptious, using locally-sourced produce (the black pudding at breakfast was out of this world - but really out of Walton's, the Wark butcher's shop). We discovered that the proprietress is a chocolatier and she just happened to have made a batch of chocolates for sale whilst we were there. Say no more!

When we weren't busy filling our tummies, we found a great many things to do. For a start, we visited the Roman fort of Vindolanda to get the latest news on the current excavations (the remains of two fine granaries in the stone fort and some interesting developments in the civilian township).

The aim for this and the next few years is to "attempt to address the specific question 'was there a great divide between those who lived inside and those who lived outside the walls of the Roman fort at Vindolanda in the 3rd and 4th centuries?'". They seem to be doing very well indeed, despite the weather.

We also visited three historical homes: Wallington Hall, Cragside and Cherryburn.

Wallington Hall was the home of the Northumbrian Blacketts, who built it in the Palladian style, then it came through marriage to the Trevelyans, family of the historian G M Trevelyan. Highlights are the walled garden and the house's central hall which is decorated with the

pre-Raphaelite painter William Bell Scott's murals depicting the history of Northumberland from Roman times to the Industrial Revolution.

G M Trevelyan's uncle was Thomas Babington Macaulay, historian, Whig politician and author of The Lays of Ancient Rome. Part of his library is at Wallington.

William Bell Scott: Building the Roman Wall

Cragside, near Rothbury, was built by the industrialist William Armstrong (1810-1900), shipbuilder and armaments manufacturer in Newcastle upon Tyne. The library at Cragside was the first room in the world to be lit by electric light using the incandescent bulbs invented by Joseph Swan of Newcastle. Armstrong invented all manner of domestic mod cons for his country home, including a dishwasher, rotisserie and lift, all powered by hydroelectricity generated on his estate. The gardens are magnificent, glorious with rhododendrons and there's an enormous rock garden and miles of paths to walk.

And finally, rather less of a stately pile is Cherryburn, birthplace of Thomas Bewick (1753-1828), the engraver best known for his History of British Birds. There's a museum with portraits and items associated with Bewick, a print shop showing how Bewick made his blocks from boxwood and printed the engravings. There's also a shop selling prints made from his original blocks.

Behind the museum is the cottage where he was born and from there you can walk down to the South Tyne and wander along the river banks where he roamed as a boy learning to observe the
the local wildlife with all the fine attention to detail he brought to his later work.

No comments: