Monday, 25 August 2014

Dear sir, your Czech has been returned.
Our Czech friend, Helena, has made a return visit to the United Kingdom this week so I have not been out walking with the lads. I'm not sure they have been out walking either as some are still on holiday and some have family events to attend.
I am entertaining our guest and this blog is a free advert for some of the places worth a visit in the north east of England.

Saturday August 16th.
Although Helena has seen the Roman Wall before I decided to take her to Housesteads, the fort on the wall itself and known to the Romans as Vercovicium or Vercovicivm to be precise. An English Heritage /National Trust site, therefore entry is free to members of those organisations and £5.80 to concessions like us. The car park is £4 for the day but you can pay with a credit card and even better, you can use the ticket at any of the National Trust car parks along the wall.
There is a museum/visitor centre selling serious books about the wall, fun books about the wall, plastic swords and armour and essentials like chocolate. Plus a lot of pressure to join the National trust and display the sticker on your car to show you like a bit of culture.
A Roman soldier, Flavius Monthius, in full kit with pilus and gladius announced he would be giving a short talk on life on the wall if we would like to accompany him to the fort itself, so we did.
                                          Flavius has a little trouble with his helmet, it was a windy day.
Flavius was pretty good, describing how, although in the army, he had spent a lot of his time building the wall, drinking local beers and carousing with the local women. He gave a demonstration of a one man, Roman style, tortoise with his shield and explained clearly the use of the Roman short sword, used mainly for thrusting in very close combat. The pilus was thrown but the head then broke off to prevent the enemy returning it. Crafty Romans, what have they ever done for us?
 The foundations of the grain store at Housesteads, underfloor heating kept the supplies dry.
                                                The wall near Steel Rigg.
The best bit of the wall, Crag Lough taken from
Steel Rigg. The wall runs along the cliff edges, almost.
Leaving Housesteads we drove to Steel Rigg.We walked a short way along the wall but it was very windy so we moved on, or back, to Brocolitia to have a look at the Mithraum there. Mithras was a favourite with the soldiers, his temples were small and on a windy day probably best examined in the Great North Museum in Newcastle.
From the wall we went to Hexham, ancient market town and site of a fine Abbey. Much of it is recycled stone from the wall, it has Saxon origins (c675), was sacked by the Danes  in 876 and rebuilt by Augustinians in 1113. It is dedicated to St Andrew, of course it has a visitors shop selling serious books, fun books and serious ice cream.
In the evening we went to see an open air production of Pride and Prejudice performed by Heartbreak Productions in Jesmond Dene. Five actors/actresses performed all parts with much gusto and costume changes. They were brilliant, Mr. Darcy emerged from the audience looking damp, just like Colin Firth. Mr Wilkins was hilarious and Lizzy got her man. Mrs B swooned, screamed and worried. Great night and it only rained twice. The woman in front of me insisted on taking lots of photos and videos on her ipad thing, why can't she just watch the play?

Outside and inside views of Hexham Abbey. The font, out of view is possibly a Roman Bowl.
We were shown round by a very kind and helpful guide whose accent was a bit too much for Helena.

Sunday August 17th.
In the morning we paid a visit to "Northumberlandia", the worlds largest earth form. A  vast work just outside Cramlington this fairly new attraction consists of a rather big girl. She was built from the stone and earth extracted from the nearby Shotton Opencast Mine. She has several miles of paths to walk and from her head there are good views towards the sea, the airport and the Cheviots, plus the Shotton Mine. Northumberlandia has a visitor centre which sells a few souvenirs and refreshments, none of them serious.
                                       View from the top of Northumbria's head.
                                            The mine from which she came
                                                   Northumberlandia, sleeping goddess.
In the afternoon Helena went shopping in Newcastle, my wife and I went to watch Newcastle United lose to Manchester City, but they played well and have a shop.
Monday August 18th.
Today's trip was to Durham. There is very little I can add in praise of this World Heritage site. The cathedral, which houses the tomb of St. Cuthbert and also of the Venerable Bede, is a must for anyone coming to the north east of England. Climb the central tower and look over the town, county and prison. Gaze at the cloisters that stood in for Hogwarts. Find the mistake,(hint; it's on a pillar in the south transept). And enjoy the visitor centre which has really, really serious books, fun books, souvenirs and a small restaurant, plus a Lego model of the cathedral under construction.

 Durham Cathedral, World Heritage Site and so it should be.
                                            Helena reaches out to hold the sanctuary knocker 
                                         and claim 37 days of grace to prove her innocence.
Moving on from the Cathedral we visited the Durham Heritage museum in an old church on North Baileyjust behind the cathedral. Originally the parish church of St. Mary le Bow (why does anybody need a church so close to the cathedral?) it now houses a display of life in Durham. Photographs of mining villages, a replica of a prison cell and a mock up of a 1940s kitchen with poss tub and wash board! Great but no shop.
Tuesday August 19th
By Metro to St. Peter's Church at Monkwearmouth across the river from Sunderland centre. This church is one of the oldest in England,  Built about 673 by Benedict Biscop, sacked by the Vikings, neglected for years, covered partly in ballast from ships in the Wear,  the west tower is the only part left of the original building. Our guide, another with an accent difficult for Helena to follow, showed us a Saxon lead coffin with toes! We went through the tower, in the footsteps of St Benedict, the Venerable Bede who started his career here before moving on to St. Peter's at Jarrow, and possibly St. Cuthbert and St. Wilfred. No shop though.
                                                Saxon Tower at St. Peter's
                                                 Carving in the tower, possibly a heron
                                              The Victorian ceiling in the church, badly
                                              damaged in 1984 by an arsonist but carefully

Crossing the bridge we visited the Sunderland Glass Museum, Sunderland Museum and Winter Gardens.  In the glass museum we watched a demonstration of glass blowing, remarkable but hot work.

All glass
                                               Art outside Sunderland Museum
                                                       A tree on the riverside
                                                                                                                                                         Not surprisingly the museum reflects the industry of Wearside, ship- building, engineering, glass making and, of course, mining. The Winter Gardens are a mini version of one of the hot houses at Kew with banana trees and a whole variety of plants fro foreign climes. And there is a shop for souvenirs and serious books too, plus a cafe. And it's free! (The museum that is)

Wednesday, August 20th
In the morning the ladies went shopping in Marks and Spencers, as ladies do. In the afternoon we went to the Bowes Museum at Barnard Castle. (£5,80 for concessions, free parking)
The  museum was built by the Bowes family in the 19th century to house their collection of Arts and Crafts. Built in the style of a French Chateau its star attraction is the Silver Swan, an automaton which is wound up at 2pm everyday and performs. Totally mechanical and beautifully made it is the centre piece in a hall which also contains works by Canaletto. (Yes Venice) There are rooms devoted to painting, including a display of the art of the Pitmen Painters. There are rooms devoted to porcelain and china from around the world, although mostly France and Germany but three pieces from Bohemia, mistakenly labelled slovakia on the cabinet. Look carefully and you can see that Czech has been cleaned off, leaving the other half with a lower case letter. And of course there is a shop selling serious books, fun books and other souvenirs. 
                                                        The famous silver swan
                                                     Bowes Museum
Thursday August 21
 I drove Helena to Leeds where we met Graham, her host for the next few days. He and his family took her to Knaresborough and Sutton Bank before handing her over to his parents in Durham where I picked her up on Sunday August 24th. Next day was going home day after a good holiday, I hope.