Monday, 23 August 2010


Where to begin...

I was kind of thinking that I'd like to tell you all about our wonderful holiday. I really shouldn't've been so lazy, and should have blogged while we were away, since we had broadband in our lovely house, and I had plenty of free time in the evenings. But for some reason my body and mind were in agreement about me needing some proper recharging, and they conspired together to force me into vegging on the couch and watching films and telly every night. There was absolutely nothing I could do.

Good thing is that I'm itching to write now - I have this blog entry to do, I have two letters to write, and I have my book manuscript to finish. If I could bottle this feeling of motivation, and perhaps concentrate it so that I could just take a sniff of it for it to work, like smelling salts, I could get so much done. Of course, then I'd be motivated enough to become an entrepreneur and I'd produce large quantities of my concentrated motivation, and I'd sell it all over the world. But would it start to become a problem, would I become addicted to it, and would I become over-motivated? What would happen to a person who had too much motivation? Would they burn out perhaps? Would their brain run at a faster speed than their body, and would they mentally age prematurely, maybe? Or would the brain's reaction to the motivation induce a physical response also, so that the body could keep up with the brain, and mean that there was a sharp decrease in life expectancy? Or perhaps the concentrated motivation would allow a person to think at a faster speed, so that the person would seem to have more hours in the day and it wouldn't really matter that they had less years to live. If a person had more hours in a day, and a brain working at a faster speed, I wonder whether the person would start to be more intelligent, and I wonder if the person would start to access the large areas of the brain that lay dormant. And I wonder if the person would actually be able to start to use telekinetic powers and become a Jedi? Mmm, I think it is decidedly so. I will start to work on bottling my motivation right away.

That's the biggest digression I've ever taken, I think. Sorry.

Our holiday in Northumberland
We are still getting used to being in a place where the rain stays. We made good use of our waterproofs in Northumberland, but the rain comes in torrential bursts over there. The clouds move so fast that rain showers are over before you've even had time to fasten your raincoat or put up your umbrella. You might as well just get soaked and get used to it :) The sun comes right out and dries you up pretty quickly anyway. But we were really pretty lucky weatherwise, and have been since we got back to Lancaster too - so much so, that I'm almost tempted to make small talk with people about how good the weather's been this summer, except that most people beat me to it and tell me all about the rain they've been experiencing, and then I feel rather sheepish and guilty and daren't tell them that I've had sunshine following me around for six weeks!

Now then, I don't think it's going to be a good idea for me to sit here and go through the list of places we visited in Northumberland and give you an hour by hour debriefing (no, I do not mean anything to do with taking clothes off!) about everything we did and saw, complete with photos and captions. I think you would soon lose interest, after you'd fumed for a while in green-eyed bitterness, and you would perhaps decide not to bother being my friend anymore if all I could think of to write was braggings about my perfect holiday and my perfect family. So I will just keep it quite brief (I always say that, and then I always go on for reams!), and I will post a few pictures of the best places we visited. If you will bear with me while I get this post out of the way, then we will return to my normal ramblings from tomorrow :)

(Edit: I have now finished this post, and as usual, I did not manage to keep it brief at all - apologies. If you cannot be bothered with photos and captions, please feel free to leave now :) )

Right, this is one of the views of Alnwick itself. Alnwick is where we stayed, in a beautiful terraced house in a street just parallel to the main street. Alnwick is beautiful, and we love it with all our hearts, and we want to live there. The boys want to live there too, and James particularly said that he wanted to move all of his toys from our house in Lancaster to our house in Alnwick. But it doesn't have a Waterstone's, and that is its only flaw :( It's quite a serious flaw - I don't know if I can live without a Waterstone's. I know they sell online, but it's really not the same!

This is a picture taken by James, of the Trincomalee. It's pretty big, but as far as tall ships are concerned, actually rather small. I loved this ship, loved walking around the lower decks, imagining the people who lived and worked on it, imagining the smells and the sounds (lots of which would not have been pleasant!) and the places that it visited two hundred years ago. Quite an amazing experience, if you're willing to let your imagination run free, and not just see the Trincomalee as a boring old ship. When we visited another place later on in our holiday I saw some children flouncing around a museum saying 'ugh, another boring room, another boring bit of pottery, ugh!' and felt sad for them that they were not getting more out of their day/lives. I'm feeling very smug right now that my children enjoy museums and are interested in what they're seeing, and try to understand what I'm telling them (in my pidgin history) about Romans and pirates and Victorians and so on. My poor children, I'm determined that they shall be geeks!
Us having a look at a typical meal aboard the Trincomalee.

I found myself taking a lot of pictures of the ship's rigging, and many of masts from different angles. I'm going to make a collage of them, because it's all very beautiful, very romantic and evocative of the great swathes of maritime history and stories that abound in our country (and in many others, I'm sure!). I mean, I know they're not trees, but I did find myself possessed of a powerful urge to climb the ladders, and shout 'Avast' a lot. I know absolutely nothing about sailing, as is perfectly obvious, and I was ashamed that I didn't even know port from starboard (or even if port and starboard are real terms, or just myths!).

The Tyne Tunnel. Mmm.

This is a bit of Alnmouth. Beautiful little coastal town. We only spent a couple of hours there, but will have to go again next time.

This is what we got to do at a little gem of a place called The Barn at Beal. The Barn at Beal is a small raptor sanctuary, just across the causeway from the Holy Island of Lindisfarne :) It's got spectacular views of Holy Island, and you can see the cars crossing the causeway when the tide's low. The birds at the Barn are very happy, very well cared for, and love to fly for their admirers. Thomas and James held several of the birds. Matthew wasn't so keen, but did poke one owl with his finger once. In this picture you can just about see the rain starting to come in - a few minutes later, BLACK clouds came across from Lindisfarne and drenched us, and then the sun came out.

Thomas with Tinko. I can't remember this species of bird, but Thomas was left holding him for ages, until his arm was really rather achey :)

Aaah, this is the inside of one of the shops at Beamish. Beamish is an incredible place, and I think everyone should see it. I've already provided a link to its website in the previous post, but here it is again. I would quite like to live in Beamish, but that's not possible of course. I could get a job there though, and show people tiny hundred-and-thirty-year-old shoes all day. You can see the teeny little shoes in this photo - generally speaking, people were smaller in centuries gone by you know! It's true!

Thomas in the schoolroom in the Pit Village. That schoolroom was incredible. We spent a long time there, soaking up the atmosphere. The boys were fascinated by the writing slates and the ink pens and ink wells (we bought some ink pens for them to use at home - they were very patient with them, and can write very well :) ). They also liked the pickled snake and the pickled frog on display in a cabinet.

Writing with ink pens, and using blotting paper :D We used blotting paper when I was at school - ahh, memories. Who remembers those scratchy blue fountain pens that Mr Liptrott gave us to use, and we always had to go up to the front to get new cartridges because we weren't allowed to change them ourselves, and the pens always got clogged up and Mr Liptrott spent most of his time shaking them fiercely and getting ink splatters on his desk? Mr Liptrott really hated his job sometimes I think!

In the playground on the schoolhouse, trying to figure out this hoop and stick contraption worked. I got it once, but then couldn't get it going again. The boys couldn't really figure it out at all, but just spent a long time scraping the hoop on the floor because it was VERY loud, and that was fun enough :)

Berwick ramparts. We went to Berwick specifically to fly kites on the ramparts. We did fly kites on the ramparts for about twenty minutes, and then the rain came in and we had to give up! But it was very nice to see Berwick again - Berwick does not have a Waterstone's, but it has a WHSmith that sells quite a lot of books :) Not quite good enough to make me like Berwick more than Alnwick though. Alnwick's got a magnificent castle, which is always going to trump a WHSmith.
Oh, something weird happened to me in Berwick, and I became incredibly and pathetically scared of heights. Last time we were on the ramparts I was fine - they're very high, and any of my kids could have plummeted to their deaths if they'd leaned over the edge, but I was never remotely scared of that happening. But this time I couldn't really stand for anyone to go anywhere near the edge - I had nightmares about it that night, after we'd got back safely to Alnwick. Kev worked out that it's because Matthew is a holy terror and runs off very quickly the minute he's allowed out of the pram or to let go of mine or Kev's hand. He's a right tearaway, and I was subconsciously convinced that Matthew's number was up that day in Berwick - I knew that if one of us was going to perish by dropping off the edge of a grassy banking, it was going to be Matthew. Well, we all made it back alive, phew.

Did you know that when ducks and geese eat corn out of your hand it really tickles?

The Washington branch of the Wildfowl and Wetland Trust was excellent. We had a great day just enjoying some fresh air, and roaming free. We can't proclaim to be proper bird watchers, mainly because the boys can't be quiet enough, but we had a restful day here. A beautiful place.
This one's a crane. The boys knew what it was because there's a crane in Kung Fu Panda. Hmm. Maybe Disney/Dreamworks DVDs are educational after all.

The Alnwick Garden is a place of wonders! Well, okay, maybe a little exaggeration. It's a very lovely place. But my opinion of it was soured somewhat on this visit. Noomski and Jessica came to stay with us for a couple of nights, and we decided that we'd show them the Alnwick Garden. Lots of people now know that I love to climb trees, and the Alnwick Garden has the most incredible climbing tree. I was excited about finding it again and showing it to Noomski - he would definitely challenge himself to climb higher than any of the rest of us! Imagine our absolute horror when we found the tree but there was a dirty great sign next to it saying, in a whingey, whiney voice 'don't climb me please, I'm very old and might get damaged'. Pah! Pardon me, but are climbing trees not supposed to be climbed?! Disgusting.
Well, never mind. The rest of the garden was great. Thomas, Noomski and Matthew got drenched in one of the water sculptures, and Matthew spent the rest of the day shivering. We're very cruel - we could have gone right home and got him some dry clothes, because the castle was only five minutes from our house, but we were just too lazy.

This is another gem of a place. It's the Sanctuary, at Ulgham, near Morpeth. It's just a little tiny place, probably only an acre or two. It's home to some goats, some ponies, some owls and a few other raptors, a couple of foxes and one mammoth pig. That pig was the biggest pig I have ever seen. It was a right pig. Whoever reckons pigs are cute has not seen this fat bloater!

Isn't it nice when your kids stop being frightened of feeding animals on farms and things :) Here's James, and a donkey.

Bamburgh beach - now officially one of my favourite places in the world. I'm definitely going here again, oh yes. It's the most perfect beach, with the most perfect view, and the most perfect weather. Here you can see some darkish clouds, but some blue sky in the distance - look, I'm pointing it out to you! And it's got great waves - some people were body boarding, and some had bigger surf boards. I'd imagine that later in the year the waves get much better. They were good enough for Matthew at this time of year though, and he got swept off his feet a couple of times - it's alright Mum, I had a firm hold of his arms :D

Some blue sky a few minutes later. Ahhh, refreshing, revitalising, invigorating. Look at that - it's not every beach that has a view like that. Proper cracking little place is Bamburgh Castle. (For anyone who reads my blog and is a fan of Anne of Green Gables, and who has seen the Megan Follows films, these grassy dunes are just exactly like those on Prince Edward Island where Anne drops her manuscript and the pages all go blowing about in the wind, and then she meets Morgan Harris! I was looking for him here, but he didn't turn up - perhaps because I hadn't brought my manuscript with me to chuck about.)

Rainbow. We were treated to an excellent rainbow display on this day, really rather spectacular. The world at work, in a very visual and drenching way. If you don't like rain, I'd recommend playing in the middle of a nice big shower on Bamburgh beach, and you might well change your mind - it's well fun!

The absolutely real and genuinely proper Professor Dumbledore and Hagrid. Taking the mick out of Kev :) This is Alnwick Castle, backdrop of Hogwarts in Harry Potter, of course. This is also officially one of my favourite places in the world - aside from being steeped in magic, courtesy of JK Rowling, it's also a beautiful castle, with 700 years' worth of history all of its own. I look forward to spending some time in it by myself in a few years' time, when I can learn some of its history properly and look at some of the incredible paintings for longer than seven seconds.

Imagine this bit of the castle with a lake in front of it, and some turrets and more windows, and being a lot cleaner, and surrounded by a dark forest, and there you have Hogwarts.

This is us saying goodbye to Alnwick, having a little walk around the town and trying to fix the buildings in our minds. Thomas here is doing some sword fighting, with the sword he got from Alnwick Castle, against some invisible invading baddies that have come to occupy our town.

On our way back to Lancaster (see, I can't quite bring myself to say 'on our way home' because I want to live in Alnwick!) we went to Vindolanda, another open air museum. It's a big site, and you can see some of it here. It was absolutely fascinating to walk down a roman street, and to see the size of the buildings that were inhabited and worked in by people almost two thousand years ago. The indoor museum, which houses some of the finds from the site, was quite staggering really. There has been a tremendous amount of archaeology unearthed at Vindolanda, because the conditions over the centuries have remained perfect for preservation. Read about the Vindolanda tablets here. As far as the boys were concerned though, Vindolanda was a great place to run around and climb :D (I'm not at all sure that we were allowed to climb all over the walls, but everyone else was doing it, so we just guessed that it was alright :oS .) It's a place at which I'd like to spend quite a lot more time.

So that's a bit of a glimpse of our holiday. Hope you're still awake. Sorry for being dull, but I've had a bit of an OCD about this post, and needed to get it written so that I could move on!

Almost Christmas!

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