Hello once again and welcome back to what was turning from a four day trip into something of a Northern saga. Still, if landing on the gorgeous Northumbrian coast and moving inland was good enough for the Vikings I reckon it was good enough for me. I do hope you are enjoying reading about it half as much as I enjoyed doing it. In the previous post I had promised you a bit of a tour of Morpeth so, if you fancy it, let’s go for a walk.
As I did not have to check out and had nothing particular to do (as usual on the road) I had awarded myself a lie-in but not a major one and on waking I took a look out the window where heart dropped slightly as it was the most dismal, dreary, wet day you can imagine. Well, it wasn’t going to stop me as I had my trusty leather bike jacket with me which is both pretty waterproof and very warm, it weighs a ton. I was glad of it when I ventured outside as, not only was it drizzling but it really wasn’t that warm, it was difficult to believe we were only a couple of days away from June but that is the British weather for you especially the further North you travel. The image of the main street shows just how foul the conditions were.
Risking the elements I headed out and I knew that if I got a move on I would be in time for another breakfast in the Electrical Wizard. I had debated the remaining cold pizza from the night before but I thought that could wait.
I took a different route from the previous day and was rewarded by the sight of this magnificent Baroque building which was formerly the Town Hall. I suppose it should be impressive as it was designed by John Vanbrugh who is often credited as the originator of the English Baroque style and also designed Blenheim Palace and Castle Howard. This building was the commission of the 3rd Earl of Carlisle and was completed in 1714.
The building served as the Town Hall from 1835 when Morpeth became a Municipal Borough due to rapid expansion of the population but sadly the building burned down in 1869 so what you see today is a reconstruction built to exactly recreate the original at the expense of the 8th Earl of Carlisle. The building remained in the Carlisle family until 1917 when the 11th Earl sold it to James Joicey aka 1st Baron Joicey who was a coal mining magnate and was obviously very philanthropic as he immediately presented it to the town who used it as the offices of the Morpeth Town Council until they moved their offices elsewhere in 1939.
Whilst it was no longer the administrative centre it was still used for civic events and theatrical productions and was also the office of the Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages or, as I have heard it rather crudely described the office of being hatched, matched and dispatched. It is now licensed to hold weddings and if you were to get married (a trap I never fell into) then I reckon this is a very classy place to do it. Come on, we have a pub to get to before they stop serving breakfast at 1130.
I didn’t actually get immediately to the pub as I stopped for a look at another fine public structure, the Clock Tower. The Tower was built sometime between 1604 – 1634 probably using recycled stone from Newminster Abbey which had been torn down following the dissolution of the monasteries but it is the bells that really interest me.
The bells were cast in the Whitechapel Bell Foundry which is less than a mile from my home in the East End of London and was, at the time of it’s closure, the longest continuously functioning maunufactory in the UK. It cast Big Ben and the Liberty Bell but was eventually sold by the family who had run it for generations to American developers. Despite massive local and national protest and a public enquiry a decision was reached in May 2021 and if you are British you can probably guess the result.
Housing Minister Tom Hall, who should be publicly flogged along Whitechapel Road, gave permission to turn this Grade II listed building into a “boutique hotel” even if I have never understood what that term actually means. In a case of irreplaceable British heritage vs. foreign money there is only ever going to be one winner on the principle that “he with the biggest chequebook wins”. I wonder how much Mr. Hall and his boss Robert Jennick made out of that particular disgrace. Let’s get back to Morpeth before I depress myself too much.
I made it to the pub after that and opted for the small English breakfast as a change from my more usual American. It is basically the same thing but the pancakes and syrup are replaced by the very traditionally British baked beans and very good it was too. Wetherspoons really do a good breakfast. The other image I have included here is basically for my British readers, especially those living in London and the Home Counties as they will be amazed at the prices. I am a cider drinker (anyone remember Adge Cutler and the Wurzels?) and a pint of Stowford Press, which is a very decent drop, for £1:99 is an absolute steal. I’d be lucky to get a pint of soda water and lime for two quid in a central London bar.
After a few pleasant hours relaxing in the Wizard I decided I was going to go for a bit of a walk, lousy weather or no. I decided to go for a wander along the River Wansbeck and headed down that way as I knew there was a path through a park there. There was a Chinese food truck doing a roaring trade although the adjacent ice cream outlet had obviously decided it wasn’t worth it due to the weather.
I came to a sign at the end of a footbridge telling me I was entering Carlisle Park, so let me tell you about that. It was opened in 1929 by the Earl of Carlisle (who else) and has numerous features most of which I didn’t see a) because I couldn’t walk too far and b) because I didn’t know they were there and even if I had the weather really was not conducive. I’ll bet it is a lovely place on a fine summer day.
As I crossed the bridge I did take a couple of images of the Wansbeck both up and downstream and turned left to bring me back towards the town. I really didn’t want to wander too far away. I didn’t manage to see the William Turner Garden, named for the man dubbed the Father of English Botany and who was born in the town in 1508.
There is also a statue to Emily Wilding Davison, who was not from the town herself although both her parents were. She achieved fame or notoriety, depending on your point of view, as she was a prominent suffragette with conviction for assaulting police, criminal damage and assaulting police but it is the manner of her death she is best remembered for. During the 1913 Epsom Derby she walked onto the racecourse and collided with the King’s horse Anmar. At the time and for years after it was regarded by the public and press as suicide although the Coroner’s verdict was misadventure but this is now questioned. After a massive funeral in London her body, escorted by a suffragette escort party, was taken by train to Morpeth where she was interred in the family plot in nearby St. Mary the Virgin Church.
What I did manage to see was the Pavilion, opened in 1951 but apparently shut on this day and a bowling green, understandably deserted and one of several in the park.
The next place of interest I came to was a weir but it was a weir with a difference as you can hopefully see in the images. It is called the Oliver’s Mill Fish Pass, a concept I am not sure I had heard of before. Salmon and sea trout migrate up the Wansbeck and this process is obviously seriously hampered by obstructions like weirs so the fish pass was constructed as a number of pools which allows the fish to jump from pool to pool and continue their onward journey.
I came to the end of the park, feeling a little weary by now and was greeted by the very welcome sight you can see above, The Joiners Arms – that’ll do me. It is even guarded by it’s own cannon just across the road! I was surprised that on a Sunday evening the place was just about totally deserted but that’s OK, it led to quick and friendly service which is very much the Northumbrian way. I settled in and stayed for a couple of pints before moving on, although not far and about 50 yards to be precise.
On my way into the Joiners I had seen the very nearby Waterford Lodge so it had to be done really, again purely in the name of research for the blog. Honest! As soon as I approached it I got the impression that this was rather more of a function venue than a straightforward pub and this turned out to be the case although the bar area was perfectly comfortable as such. Although it was marginally fuller than the Joiners had been there were still only a few people and service was quick and the pint decent.
I only stayed for the one as a remarkable thing had happened in that I was feeling a bit peckish so it was back into town for me. This was the best my appetite had been for a long while and I was heartily grateful for it, I just wish it had lasted beyond this trip. My journey involved walking across the Telford Bridge, named for the famous engineer although the connection is slightly tenuous.
Whilst he chose the site and oversaw the work the bridge itself is believed to be to the design of local architect John Dobson. It carries the A192 road from here to North Shields near Newcastle and I can well understand why the local worthies wanted to name the bridge after Telford as he was one of the most prolific and brilliant of the architects of his day specialising in roads and canals. There is even a town named for him in Shropshire.
The rather attractive church you can see in the image is St. Georges URC, built in 1860, although as it was obviously closed I didn’t stop but made my way back to the Electrical Wizard where I set up my “office” (i.e. my laptop) to do a bit of work on this blog. I have “offices like this all over the world. You can just see my meal in the image so I have included a better one of it, a Madras curry with chips which is totally wrong I know but rice completely bloats me.
As well as excellent breakfasts Wetherspoons do a very fine curry, especially on a Thursday night which is the Curry Club where they offer a selection of six ranging from the mild to the positively volcanic but it is served with a load of accompaniments which would have been way too much for me but this is what they call a simple curry served with rice or chips and I can just about manage that, this one was delicious. I even managed to follow it with a crumble and custard. After that it was time for bed.
In the next instalment I get back on the road, well technically the rails, but as usual I am not going to tell you where I go. If you want to know you will just have to stay tuned.