Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Alnwick & York (Easter Weekend)

  
Easter Weekend brought us our first opportunity for an overnight stay.  Given the short time frame to plan, I wanted something relatively close but worthwhile.  I'd heard a few good things about Alnwick (pronounced "Annick") which is about 3.5 hours away.  I didn't think that was worth 4 days we so also coupled that with York (only 1.5 hours away).  We did 2 days in each.

Click here to see on a map.  Derby is pretty much in the geographical middle of England.  We are about 4.5 hours from Scotland and a few hours to the coast on either side.  I think it's about 4-5 hours to the southern coast as well.

The big draw in Alnwick is the castle which was in parts of the first two Harry Potter movies (as well as Robin Hood Prince of Thieves).  It is the second largest inhabited castle in England (next to Windsor) and has been in the Percy family for 700 years. 

700 years!


The grounds outside the castle were colorful as you can see above.  The kids enjoyed the Harry Potter tour as well as going through the house looking for easter bunnies (always more fun than looking at a boring old castle).

The gardens also had a special exhibit for poisonous plants.  We learned about all the plants that can make you sick or even kill you.  (cool).  They had a nice cherry tree garden as well.  That was neat since I've never made it to DC at the right time of year.

We stayed in a nice bed & breakfast called Alndyke Farm.  And, yes, it was on a farm.  Good food and a nice experience.  We had to get two rooms which is bad on the budget but good for family harmony.  :-)

Holy Island (Day 2)

On Day 2 we ventured even further north with a day trip to Holy Island (Lindisfarne).  There is a causeway out to the island that gets flooded at high tide.  Fortunately, the tides cooperated and we could schedule a normal day.

After parking and walking towards town, we had one of those cool random moments that end up making memories.  There was a wild bird rescue group that had set up shop and the kids got their photos taken with an owl (Nicole's favorite animal).  [That's actually a happy face for Alex.  He freezes up when he has to pose.  :-) ] 


Holy Island gets its name because of a monastery there that dates back to 635 AD.  St. Aidan essentially started the spread of Christianity for northern England from there.  Another monk, St. Cuthbert, picked up the work and was said to have performed many miracles.  St. Cuthbert's body may have been even more famous.  It's been all over the place.

The original monastery is long gone but a stone priory was started in 1150.  When Henry VIII decided that he should head the Church of England (to make his own rules and collect the money) he had the priory closed in the 1500s.  Early recycling (i.e. looting) led to its demise.

You wouldn't think walking around a bunch of old stones would be interesting but it was.  They also had 8 monks (2' wooden statues) hidden around that the kids had to find.


The ultimate slap in the face was that Henry VIII wanted a castle built for defense purposes on the island and they used much of the stone from the priory.  [This is considered a "new"castle, btw.]  The English Heritage guide at the priory was still bitter!  Here's the castle in the background.  It was owned by a string of rich bachelors in the 20th century until it was given to the National Trust.  [Only bachelors could afford it! -- quote from the guide, not me!]
We ended the day with a nice walk down to the rocky beach and we previously had a picnic by the North Sea.  (Okay, maybe Nicole wasn't so keen on the beach walk.)



We had our best meal of the trip at Louis Steakhouse back in Alnwick.  We found some good British beef!

York (Days 3-4)

On to York for Easter Sunday and Monday.  York is rich in history though I had a hard time soaking it all in.  This led me to buy a few Horrible History books "for the kids" and I later order a 20-book box set.  I'm still in the Stone Age so I'll have to let you know how things turn out!  It would have been nice to have a little more background beforehand, but we still were able to figure a few things out.


The city center ("centre") is mostly enclosed by city walls.  One of the main entrances "bars" is shown above (Micklegate Bar).  The walls are large enough to walk on -- and that's what we did (all the way around).


We ended the first day in York by having "High Tea" at Bettys (see below), which is a famous tea shop.  It was good to try all the little sandwiches and desserts but I was ready for another meal afterwards.
On Monday the York Minster [cathedral] was open again so we had a nice tour.  It's a big place with loads of history.  It took 50 years to build starting in the 1200's.  It sits upon the previous Norman church which sits upon an original Roman foundation!  You can see all three foundations in the basement.  

This picture (link) is better than any I took, but I did snap one of the stain glass windows.


We tried to get a better feel for the history by visiting the Yorkshire Museum, but we were a little disappointed with the layout and presentation.

All in all, it was a great "holiday" and we look forward to going back when we can.  It was good to get home and the next trip was only a few days away . . .

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