10 July 2022

And so, after Penelope’s great wasp adventure, we come to our excursion to the wilds of Northumberland – a four-night camping expedition with campervan and dog. And it was great. It is a beautiful county with gorgeous countryside, a plethora of castles and wide, wide dog-friendly sandy beaches. Indeed, everywhere was dog-friendly and Daisy found herself welcomed and admired just about everywhere we went. And, if that’s not enough, there was some great seafood!

The one downside of Northumberland – it’s a long, long way north. We set off bright if not especially early on Monday and five and a bit hours later, after several dog-compelled stoppages, we arrived at our campsite for the next two nights, Beadnell Bay. Campervan parked, awning erected and a leisurely stroll into the village of Beadnell for dinner at the Beadnell Towers Hotel. A very dog-friendly welcome – the waiter had a pocketful of doggy treats which he very kindly asked if he might offer Daisy one or two. Dinner was lovely and afterwards we wandered down to Beadnell Bay itself and gave Daisy her first real experience of romping around the beach unhindered by any restrictive leads. Back to the van, an episode of The Outlaws on the iPad and a solid, uninterrupted night’s sleep – even Daisy slept through until 7.00. She was as tired as we were.

Tuesday morning we set off early to drive up the coast a bit to the Holy Island of Lindisfarne. Lindisfarne is only accessible during the low tide and is approached along a causeway. A monastery was founded on the island in 634 by an Irish Monk, St Aidan and Lindisfarne became the base for Christian evangelism in the north of England. In 793 the Vikings carried out a particularly blood-thirsty raid on Lindisfarne killing or capturing many of the monks based in the priory. This incident was always one of the highlights of Year 2 History when I was teaching – the bloodier and gorier the incident the more engrossed the students were.

By about noon it was time to make our retreat in order to beat the incoming tide and we headed down the coast a bit to a lovely beach just south of Bamburgh Castle. Bamburgh was home to a succession of kings from Henry VI to James I and also the first castle to fall to gunpowder during the War of the Roses. The beach was glorious – sandy, wide and spacious with relatively few other people, each of whom seemed to have a dog running free. Daisy was in her element and romped with many of the other dogs. The older, more mature canines tended to ignore this rambunctious youngster but most were happy to have a run and a play. Daisy is still somewhat tentative about the water but in playing with her new-found friends she ended up in the drink on a couple of occasions. A late lunch at the Bamburgh Castle Inn in Seahouses was “OK” but nothing to write home about. Great location right on the harbour with a stunning view; mediocre food.

Back to the campsite for dinner and another episode of The Outlaws and another great, deep slumbering sleep.

Wednesday we had to break camp and head to our next destination, the Dunstan Hill campsite just down the coast a few miles. We had originally planned to stay all four nights at one of these campsites or the other but neither could accommodate us for the entirety of our visit. As it turned out, they were both very nice campsites but Dunstan Hill was the nicer of the two so we’re glad we got to visit both.

As we couldn’t “check in” to the campsite straight away we drove to Craster and made the trek along the coast to Dunstanburgh Castle. Craster is, of course, the home of the kipper and is a very pretty village with a lovely little harbour. The coastal path from Craster to Dunstanburgh Castle is about a mile and a half and thankfully the weather was glorious. Since the path is largely through farmland with grazing sheep and cattle, Daisy was on the lead the whole time which didn’t thrill her. However, she was delighted with the innumerable compliments and affection she received from virtually everyone we passed along the way. “Oh, she’s so adorable!” “Oh, she is so cute!” It got to the point where I wanted to say, “Yes, we know but we’ve got to press on!” We didn’t get anywhere particularly quickly with so many folks wanting to admire and give Daisy a stroke. It reached the point where, if someone didn’t stop to stroke and compliment her, she would sit down and stare at them as they receded. “WTF is the matter with you guys?”

Dunstanburgh Castle is stunning. The castle was built at a time when relations between King Edward II and his most powerful baron, Earl Thomas of Lancaster, had become openly hostile. Lancaster began the fortress in 1313, and the latest archaeological research indicates that he built it on a far grander scale than was originally recognised, perhaps more as a symbol of his opposition to the king than as a military stronghold.

Unfortunately, the earl failed to reach Dunstanburgh when his rebellion was defeated, and was taken and executed in 1322. Thereafter the castle passed eventually to John of Gaunt, who strengthened it against the Scots by converting the great twin towered gatehouse into a keep. The focus of fierce fighting during the Wars of the Roses, it was twice besieged and captured by Yorkist forces, but subsequently fell into decay.

After the walk to the castle and back again we settled in for a well-earned lunch at the Jolly Fisherman in Craster, another exceedingly dog-friendly pub. Devilled Crab Toast (crab with Monterey Jack cheese and jalapeños on toast) followed by the “Luxury Fish Pie” was delicious. The fish pie was, indeed, truly outstanding and I say this as one who lives with a chef who makes a fantastic fish pie. Naturally, I told Penny it was almost as good as hers.

Back up to the new campsite, check in, park the van and pitch the tent, a spot of dinner and another episode of The Outlaws and another solidly slumbering sleep. Magnificent.

Thursday, our last full day, we set off to Barter Books in Alnwick which friends had told us was not to be missed. I will repeat the admonishment – if you are ever in the area do not miss Barter Books – it is sensational. In April 1991, and in the face of a rather large overdraft, Mary Manley decided to open a second-hand bookshop – one that would be based on the swap system and called Barter Books. Her husband, Stuart, immediately took to the idea and suggested that Mary open the shop in the front room of what was then his small manufacturing plant, located in Alnwick’s magnificent old Victorian railway station. From that time a joint partnership was formed that would eventually result in what the New Statesman magazine would call ‘The British Library of second-hand bookshops’.

As you might expect, there is a mountainous number of second-hand books alongside several delightful reading areas, some of which have open fires in the winter months. There is also a full-fledged café and water bowls for the dogs aplenty. We had a quick breakfast and meandered about for a bit before heading off to the beach at Warkworth on the advice of a couple we met outside the station who stopped to admire, stroke and compliment Daisy.

A Country Living article about Barter Books, March 2020.

About a half hour later we had parked up and were striding along a path to the beach which may have been even more glorious than the one near Bamburgh Castle. Again, wide expanses of sand, very few other folks around and a handful of other dogs for Daisy to interact with. Fewer interruptions this time as there were fewer people to stop us and admire Daisy and we leisurely strolled along the beach. Daisy was delighted to discover that here she could dig to her heart’s content with no one telling her off! What a delight.

After the beach we made our way to Warkworth Castle, another rotten old ruin with a fascinating history. The castle was originally built in the 12th century to consolidate Henry II’s repossession of Northumberland. The castle was extended but came into its own when, in 1332, it passed to Henry Percy, 2nd Lord Percy who had been granted it by Edward III. At that time the Percy family was emerging as one of the most important in the north of England. The castle and barony of Alnwick remained the Percys’ chief holding in Northumberland throughout the Middle Ages, but Warkworth Castle was their favoured residence until the 17th century.

Henry Percy (1341–1408), 1st Earl of Northumberland, transformed the castle when he took it over. He was the first great landowner in the North to acquire a noble title, and he almost certainly celebrated this by building the great tower.

The 1st Earl played an active role in deposing Richard II in 1399, but he and his eldest son, known as Harry Hotspur (1364–1403), soon quarrelled with Henry IV, the king they had put on the throne in Richard’s place. Hotspur was killed at the Battle of Shrewsbury in 1403. After the earl joined an unsuccessful conspiracy in 1405, Henry IV marched north and laid siege to Warkworth with cannon, forcing its quick surrender.

Back to camp, dinner and another episode of The Outlaws and to bed.

Friday, we had to dismantle our campsite and head for home. Another long, long drive interrupted only by the excitement of the solar panel on top of the van disappearing! We’d been on the road for a couple of hours and Penny was driving when we heard this clattering noise seemingly from the top of the van. I thought perhaps something had fallen over in the cupboards in the van but the noise ceased and we carried on, intending to get off at the next service area to check things out.

As it happens, a couple of miles further down the motorway a car pulled alongside us and indicated that we should pull over, which we did. I climbed out to investigate and discovered, to my astonishment, that the solar panel (measuring about four feet by about eighteen inches) had parted company with the van. Vanished. Disappeared. Gone! Ah, so that’s what the clattering noise was all about. Nothing else for it but to carry on trying not to think too much about the impact on the cars which were following us. That’s got to be pretty worrying when a solar panel comes flying towards you! Thankfully, the van is under warranty and the solar panel has now been replaced and we’re all good to go. Where to next?

YCNMIU – Boris the Bullshitter has finally announced that he intends to resign. But, he also intends to stay on as PM until the Autumn! Jonathon Freedland had a terrific piece in the Guardian on Thursday: His Toxic Spell is Broken: Boris Johnson Trips Over His Own Lies. It’s a marvel how many Conservative MPs finally discovered some integrity once a handful of relatively important MPs – the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Health Secretary – resigned. The trickle became a torrent and suddenly almost no one wanted to be seen supporting the most corrupt and incompetent Prime Minister in history.

Do these people think of anything other than themselves? Take, for example, Michelle Donelan. When the Education Secretary (who has not resigned) was shunted across to become Chancellor, she was appointed Education Secretary, a position which she accepted with seemingly no qualms or reservations. Less than 48 hours later, after seeing which way the tide was running, she resigned saying she couldn’t support Boris any longer. Apparently, that’s the shortest ministerial tenure ever surpassing the 239-year-old record of a minister who served for four days during the government of Pitt the Younger. It’s not all bad news though. She is in line to receive a redundancy payment of £16,876 – not bad for 35 hours in the job.

Now the race begins to see which one of the Conservative dimwits the Conservative dimwits will choose to lead them (and the country). As someone wrote (I wish I could remember who):

Choosing the next leader of the Conservative Party is like choosing which portaloo to use at Glastonbury. They’re all full of s**t!

Finally, congratulations to Annabelle on what was reportedly an excellent performance in the Brownie/Rainbow end of term show. Penny went along on Wednesday and I am looking forward to seeing it this coming Wednesday.

And finally, finally, how about this photo of one of our handsome sons and his delightful daughter enjoying a morning out together?

And finally, finally, finally, Penelope’s wildflowers are looking pretty good!

And finally, finally, finally, finally – how can you tell when your puppy has been digging somewhere she shouldn’t?

When they lay their ears down flat they know they’ve been naughty!

Meanwhile, keep happy, keep smiling, be careful, wear a f**king facemask in crowded places and keep your distance. And keep safe. And be gentle to wasps and bees.

Lots of love to you all,

Greg

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