Ambling in Alnwick (3).

Hello there folks and welcome back to my ramblings which at least this time I did warn you about and not just go AWOL like I did before. The reason for this you can see in the header image for this piece which has absolutely nothing to do with what I am going to write about here although hopefully it will be covered in the future. There is a long way to go (physically and in a literary sense if this can be termed literature) so I suppose I had better crack on.

I had left you in Alnwick, Northumberland after having inspected various licensed premises which was all done in the interest of research for this blog you understand but I was up relatively early, well early by my standards, as I was being kicked out of my rather pleasant B&B. I hasten to add that it was not due to any misbehaviour on my part but merely that it was fully booked for the next several days and I am not surprised as it is excellent.

I had fallen somewhat in love with Alnwick which is a thing I tend to do rather easily and wished to stay another night or two. Fortunately a quick internet check had provided the solution in the form of Alnwick Youth Hostel which suited me fine. The great thing about my mode of travel is that I don’t need all mod cons, room service etc. as I am equally happy with a dorm bed and communal facilities. After over 50 years of doing it I am fairly used to it. All I need is somewhere to lay my head and somewhere to sluice my old bones with anything else like cooking and recreational facilities being a bonus and this hostel seemed to meet my requirements perfectly.

I knew I couldn’t check into the hostel until later on so you probably don’t need me to tell you what happened next. It was a bit more difficult with the luggage but at least the journey was downhill and I had already marked the places for a rest which I took full advantage of. When I say marked I do not mean marked as a dog would mark his territory as I thought the local constabulary would have taken a dim view, it is just a surveillance term for noting things.

I was looking for somewhere relatively close to the hostel and the Queens Head Hotel seemed to fit the bill so I went there for a few hours of writing up this blog and vaguely watching whatever sport may have been on the various screens about the place.

I packed up and headed out for the last short leg of the walk and on the way I spotted this beauty of a Mini which I could not resist taking an image of. I should stress that I am in no way a “petrolhead” and have never even held a licence for four wheels as I always rode motorbikes but I have rather a soft spot for Minis, especially the older ones.

I was probably within a couple of hundred yards of my destination and regular readers will probably have guessed what happened next. I was in a road called Hotspur Place, yes it is that Henry Percy aka Harry Hotspur again of whom I have written before, and came upon another pub called the Tanners Arms. Well, research is research so in I went and wasn’t quite expecting what I saw which was a tree growing right in the middle of the pub. At first I thought it was a very clever bit of interior design but it isn’t, it is a proper living tree.

The bar is not big and only comprises one room but it is a beauty. Apparently it had been closed for a while but re-opened in July 2021 and it is certainly a credit to whoever did that especially as they specialise in real ales and ciders from the local area which is a concept I love. The bar itself is well stocked and I think my favourite feature was the beautiful stained glass above it. I noticed that they also had regular live music so the Tanners really was my kind of place so I stayed for a couple of hours (and pints) but I had to reluctantly leave as check-in at the hostel closes at 1900.

Before you even enter the door you cannot be impressed by the building itself which is a fine example of Victorian architecture as I hope the images indicate. It was built in 1856 on the site of an old dilapidated candle factory. It is actually in two connected parts and for many years served as Courthouse, Police Station and town jail and almost inevitably with me, it has a fascinating history which I simply had to research. If you visit and do not want to research yourself there are a series of very good information boards in the corridors.

For a relatively small town the Courthouse here played a small part in changing British legal history and it is to do with the Edlingham Burglary case and I have attached a rather well researched document here which is definitely worth a read. If you don’t want to read the whole thing, although I suggest you do as it is fascinating, I shall precis it here briefly.

In 1879 two well-known local poachers called out Richardson and Edgell were out plying their illegal activity, both armed with shotguns. Richardson was physically huge, described as being “like a bull” and terrified the local populace and police alike as he was not averse to violence having previously been found not guilty of the murder of a police officer who tried to apprehend him poaching. Having had limited success with the rabbits they decided to burgle a local vicarage which was inhabited by the 77 year old vicar and his middle aged spinster daughter. Things went wrong and both residents were shot, thankfully not seriously.

Earlier in the night the police had stopped two Irishmen living in the town who were also known poachers but had the sense to hide their ill-gotten gains outside the town for later retrieval. The Irishmen were duly banged up in the building I was going to sleep in that night whilst the police started to build their case or rather they started to construct one.

The victims both positively identified the Irishmen even though it was pitch black and the incident lasted seconds and miraculously a huge amount of evidence started to appear in sufficient quantity to have them committed to Newcastle Assizes where they were duly sentenced to penal servitude for life.

The actual criminals appeared to have got away with it and indeed they did for nine and a half years which is how long the Irishmen spent in prison. Eventually, for reasons you can read about in the document Edgell confessed and agreed to give evidence against Richardson who eventually confessed to his part in the affair.

The legal problem at the time was that re-trials where someone had been convicted were not permitted and it required several questions in the Houses of Parliament and a petition to the Home Secretary before the Irishmen could be pardoned and released and another trial ordered. In contrast to the life sentence of the Irishmen the actual criminal only received five years apiece. As for the policemen who had invented the evidence, six were charged but none convicted.

The upshot of all this was eventually a massive change in the criminal appeals system and eventually our Court of Appeal which exists to this day. That is my precis as short as I can make it but I do encourage you to read the document, it is a great read.

The pleasant yard out the back used to be the prisoners exercise yard and you can still see the cells, complete with barred windows. Fortunately today’s residents are free to come and go as they please although a lot of the 21st century British prison seems to be run along these lines!

The hostel was everything I needed and I was lucky enough to get a bottom bunk which was handy but not difficult as there only appeared to be one other bed occupied. I had a quick look round the place and even by the much improved standards of hostels since I first used them in the 1970’s this was a prime example of what many of them are now. I’ll give you a quick tour.

The entire premises were immaculate, clean and tidy, nicely decorated and prove that even budget accommodation can be relatively luxurious and very comfortable. I had a quick look at the facilities which were spotless as you can see.

The common room, as it is called in hostel parlance is as good as many a lounge I have been in at guest-houses, complete with large screen TV and a wide selection of books and games to while away the evening. There did not seem tp be many people there so I was rather hoping there were no ghosts lurking about the place.

The kitchen was spacious and very well-equipped and adjacent to an equally spacious dining area as you can see. I promise you I have seen many a pub and restaurant kitchen that was not a fraction of the size of this place.

Comfortable as it looked, it was far too early to go there so I took off out to research some more places of liquid refreshment purely so I could tell my dear readers all about them – honestly!

I did find an absolute gem of a place called the Blue Bell Inn but I visited several times so I shall leave a full description for another post. If you want to find out about this excellent establishment and what else I got up to in Alnwick, you’ll just have to stay tuned.

Ambling in Alnwick (2).

Welcome back folks to my little series about a trip I took to the North of England and I do hope you are enjoying it. I know there are a few hardy souls who read most of the nonsense I write and I thank them but if you have not begun this particular adventure from the start, you can do so here.

If you have been reading from the beginning you will know that the whole trip began with what is called a Euromeet, a concept that began with a now tragically shut down travel website called Virtual Tourist. This is an annual event which this year was held in and around Newcastle-upon-Tyne and which was hugely enjoyable but I wasn’t quite ready to go home yet. Having been deprived of travel, which is one of my greatest delights, for so long I was having a great time and being a single man with no dependents there was nothing I specifically had to go home to London for.

I had decided on Alnwick as a destination for completely idiotic reasons and had arrived there after a bit of a palaver, got myself billeted in a lovely B&B, had a slow hobble round a small part of the town as my health was playing me up, and visited a few decent pubs. All told it had been a brilliant day out and after an unusually early night for me I was up and about bright and early and all ready to go.

My charming host bumped into me and asked if I wanted breakfast but it is a meal I rarely take these days so I politely declined and headed out to face the day which was, if not as utterly foul as the previous afternoon had been, still was not exactly bright and sunny but I wasn’t going to let that deter me.

Heading back into town I stopped for a look at a monument I had seen the previous day but not investigated and I didn’t actually go near it this day either as it sits on a decent sized rise which is fine for a monument but not much good for me. Everything I am going to tell you about it was gleaned from subsequent research. It is called the Tenantry Column and is an impressive 83 feet high with four lions at the base and another “en passant” surveying the surrounding area with his stone eyes. Someone has worked out that it’s tail points North towards Scotland and it’s head South towards England but what, if any, significance this may or may not hold is unclear. It is a Grade 1 listed building which is the highest grade of protection available for historic structures.

The monument is the work of David Stephenson from Newcastle, the first architect from that city to study in London and at the Royal Academy no less. The fairly low-born son of a carpenter he showed enough aptitude for his chosen profession to be one of the foremost architects in this region and designed many buildings in Newcastle, some of which still survive.

Stephenson’s skill brought him to the attention of the Duke of Northumberland hence his commission to design this edifice presumably as I am not sure whether or not the common working man of Percy’s estate in the early 19th century would have had the contacts to arrange such a project but back now to the lion.

I knew en passant was a heraldic term and, had I known more about the subject I would have known that this is the badge of the Percy family, yes we are back to them again. It was raised by the tenantry of Hugh Percy, the 2nd Duke of Northumberland in 1816 in gratitude for him lowering their rents in the appalling depression after the post-Napoleonic Wars.

I am by no means a socialist, far from it, but I find it a little unsavoury that the lower classes who formed the huge majority of the Army in that long and bloody campaign, which was effectively waged to protect the interests of the rich and powerful, were so piteously grateful for a small reduction in rent whilst they were slaving away to make the Percy family even wealthier. It should be noted that the Duke had doubled or even tripled rents during the agricultural boom of the War.

There is a reminder of the military association actually in the very structure of this monument. Built into the base of it is the regimental roll of the Percy Tenantry Volunteers, one of a large number of militia units raised due to the fear of an imminent French invasion when Napoleon was rampaging about all over Europe.

Whilst they were never deployed on the Continent due to militias generally being ill-trained and equipped peasants who would have been more of a hindrance that a help against Napoleon’s once all-conquering army, the were deployed on anti-smuggling duties in Kent (390 miles away at the other end of the country and where I am writing this) and Ireland.

Right, enough of the politics etc. (I’ll be reading Marx and Engels next!) and back to the walk.

Lest we forget.

I didn’t have too far to go before I came upon another rather impressive column, again the result of war as it is the Alnwick War Memorial. Regular readers will know I have a great interest in military history, including graves and War Memorials so I had to take an image of this.

I had actually seen it the night before when the lamp on the top was actually lit but with my tiny camera the results were rubbish. I have to say that this is not at all a common design and I don’t think I have ever before seen such a memorial with a lamp although I am sure there must be some but the fact that it is actually still functioning pleased me when so many other memorials are decaying.

There are three figures around the base (soldier, sailor and airman), all kitted out in First World War gear which is hardly surprising as they were sculpted in 1921 by. R. Hedley and the memorial was dedicated by the Bishop of Newcastle on 11th November (Armistice Day) 1922. Sadly the war to end all wars actually wasn’t and less than 17 years later we were back at it again which sadly led to another group of names having to be added. Let’s walk a bit further.

I knew there were a shedload of other pubs to drink in but my natural route took me back past the Queens Head Hotel and I had found it pleasant enough before so why not? Whilst talking to some of the locals later I did find out that it can get quite “lively” on a weekend night. I had a few pints in there and set off for a further exploration.

I have to say that Alnwick is a relatively easy place to see as it is not to spread out so even an old crock like me could see a lot of what I wanted to and, although I had not specifically set out to find it (as usual I had no map, no guidebook and no clue how to use a mapping system on my ‘phone), I stumbled on the old Town Hall which is a fine building as you can see.

It was not constructed in the uniform beige stone I have been writing about so much but rather seems to have been but together from a variety of stone types. Whether this is by accident or design I could not say. It is, quite rightly in my opinion, another Grade 1 listed building as half the town seems to be.

The fine structure you see in the image dates from 1731 but the concept of a municipal building on this site is much older than that so let me tell you about it.

The first building on the site was a brewery and was constructed and owned by guess who. You got it, the earl of Northumberland, the Percy family seems to have a finger in every pie in this area. He sold it off to a private owner but in 1585 the burgesses (basically the forerunners of modern day councillors) bought it over. They originally continued the brewing but then converted it to use as a tollbooth which is not exactly what you might think when you hear the term. You might think of a hut beside a road with a barrier where you had to pay to use the road but this was a more multi-purpose affair although it’s primary function was the same i.e. to collect revenue for the privileged.

The building eventually decayed to an extent that the burgesses decided to tear it down and build a new custom-built Town Hall which is what you see today. Sadly it is not accessible to the general public as it is used as a function space / art gallery / etc. My advice to you if you want a look inside is to go the Alnwick when the annual Beer Festival is on as it is held there! Let’s move on.

I also took an image of this lovely old building although I cannot for the life of me discover what it is. I vaguely remember someone telling me it was an old Guildhall or Market Hall which would certainly fit with it’s position right next to the market square. I just though I would share another image of the beautiful architecture in Alnwick.

Rather unusually for me I was feeling a little peckish although I knew there was no way I could eat a full meal, I can’t remember the last time I had a three course lunch, but a snack was definitely in order. Luckily enough I happened to walk past Lilburns bar / restaurant and a quick look at the menu and daily specials board sorted my problem for me.

No matter how bad my appetite is I can usually manage soup, which I love in all it’s myriad forms, and if there is one thing I like better than eating soup it is making it. Some of the concoctions I have made over the years would make a proper chef roll their eyes to the heavens but they generally turn out OK. The offer of daily home-made soup of the day with a roll seemed a perfect choice to me and the price was ludicrously cheap for what looked like a smart place with a very good menu so that was the plan.

I went in was met with what was indeed a very tidy bar with only one problem – the only other person there was the barmaid, it was completely empty. I went to the bar and ordered a pint, again at prices considerably less than I would expect to pay in London and also the soup after enquiring what it was. It didn’t really matter as I will eat just about any soup going until somebody comes up with an aubergine, courgette and artichoke version which I would not be a fan of. I do wish I could tell you what it was but it was a while ago and my old memory is not what it once was but I recall that when served piping warm, it was absolutely delicious and exactly what was required.

I thought it was time for another walk as I had seen so many pubs I had not yet visited and that was a situation that needed rectified so I hobbled a massive distance to the Pig in Muck pub which had taken me back into the market square. It must have been all of 70 yards!

It looked more gastro than pub if you use the gastropub term and apparently specialises in tapas and brunches with a pretty eclectic menu, tending towards Mediterranean cuisine, lots of chorizo, halloumi, cassoulets, truffle oil etc. Also, a word of warning, it closes at 2200 every evening so definitely not a place for a leisurely late evening meal.

This place was obviously not designed as a “tavern” although it has done it’s best to look old with the distressed furniture so popular with designers these days. It is part of a registered company called Curious Taverns Limited. Whose registered office is in nearby Morpeth but how many outlets they have I could not possibly tell you.

I went in and ordered a pint of cider (I believe Aspall’s was the offering) and was waiting for it to be poured when I saw the utterly appalling sign you can see in the image above. They have cleverly not displayed it outside as people like me would not have set foot across the threshold as a matter of principle. I find the practice of refusing to accept coin of the realm utterly repugnant and and yet another step on our road downhill. Instead of perfectly legal currency we are now forced to rely on foreign banks to deal with our financial matters.

I shall give you a quote form the Bank of England website (I can think of no better authority than that) which states that, “Debit cards, cheques and contactless aren’t legal tender anywhere”. In the interest of fair reporting, the same website also states that, “A shop owner can choose what payment they accept” which I suppose is their get out of jail card although I still find the practice repulsive and extremely unpatriotic. Presumably it is just there to save the staff from the responsibilities of their job as they have been for centuries. Enough.

Leaving aside my thoughts on the state of the country and world finance in general, the pub itself was fine if a little “trendy” for my liking. A group of women came in and sat at a reserved table beside me which did prove to be a bit noisy (obviously a celebration of some sort in the early part of the week) and had ordered a load of tapas which, I must say, looked rather good.

Eventually the inevitable happened and I needed to use the “facilities” so I asked the barman and was told, “Go out the door, turn left and left again into the alley and it is at the end”. What? I don’t think I have been in a pub with an outside loo for well over 30 years where I knew a number of pubs in Northern Ireland which had them. A trip down memory lane, not to mention the alley, for me although I do wonder what the residents of the upstairs maisonettes must have thought of the constant coming and going outside their premises, which had obviously cost a few quid.

Eventually, and really not too late at all, I decided it was time to make a move and so I took off again in the general direction of my B&B but I reckoned there was time for at least one more pit-stop to be had. It came in the form of the Fleece Inn which, as you can see form the image is in a street named Bondgate Without and I know this term, much in use in England, does create some perplexity amongst some foreign visitors so let me explain. I had limped along Bondgate Within, passed through the Bondgate itself and this gives you your answer really.

In days past and before the advent of decent artillery, the city walls of any settlement were it’s effective means of defence against marauders which, in this part of the country might have been Scottish raiders or even armies in times of war. The gates were locked at a certain hour (I know it was 1800 in London in the 17th century) and if you were outside, you stayed outside and vice versa. They were manned by watchmen / guards so the alarm could be quickly sounded in case of attack. Enough of the medieaval history and back to the Fleece.

It certainly looked very tidy from the outside and proved to be equally so on the inside (it is yet another listed building). The only problem with it was that it was just about empty but it was a Tuesday evening so probably not too surprising. There was no problem with the pint or the service and even with my verbosity I am really running out of ways to tell the reader what a refreshing change the attitude of those in the tertiary industries is up there compared to London. However, it was a bit quiet for my taste so I thought I would move on as I still had that hill and those stairs to negotiate.

I was “girding my loins” for the slog home but, less than 100 yards away I ran into another hurdle in the form of the Ale Gate. Oh dear, but duty called and in I went.

As the name suggests, there is a strong emphasis on real ale, specifically from local breweries which is a concept I admire although I was able to get a pint of very decent cider. This is a relatively new addition to the Alnwick pub scene, having opened in Spring 2019 but it is none the worse for that and has been well kitted out with all sorts of knick-knacks and curios.

Right, that is definitely me done for the day as I was sure there was not another pub except the Plough across the road but I thought that would do me. I did manage to get home and into my comfy bed for a great night’s sleep which is such a joy for me given my sleep problems.

There is more of Alnwick to come but it shall not happen for at least a week. I know I just dropped off the radar the last time I vanished which was frankly very bad behaviour on my part and I feel bad about it but I am composing this on the first night of the Broadstairs Folk Week and I am going to be manically busy for the next seven days. I have three gigs to play tomorrow! There will, therefore, be no blogging for that period but if you want more about this beautiful town give it a week and stay tuned.

Ambling in Alnwick (1).

Hello again folks and welcome back again, never mind a huge thanks to everyone for reading, liking and commentating. I know I say this often but it really is appreciated.

After what had been a brilliant weekend which constituted the Euromeet, instituted by the sadly now departed Virtual Tourist website and which had culminated in an utterly brilliant day out on the stunning Northumbrian coast (see my previous entry for full details), my plans were literally completely fluid which is the way I like to travel.

On my previous trip to the Northeast I had decided to go to Berwick-upon-Tweed for no better reason than that I had been over the railway bridge so many times on the London – Edinburgh line, risked looking down from it’s great height (I have vertigo) to see the very pleasant looking town below and always thought I would like to go there one day and so I did. It turned out to be a great call which you can read about here.

On another occasion I was drifting around Europe and decided to go to Dijon for no better reason than I wanted to buy some Dijon mustard for a foodie friend of mine. Again it was a brilliant experience and here is the story if you are interested. Despite my utterly random travel style which some would say verges on the ridiculous it rarely plays me false and I have discovered some fantastic places that way. If you read on you’ll find out about another example which certainly did nothing to dissuade me from my particular brand of flaneuring.

In a little teaser at the end of the previous post I had said that on my last night in Newcastle my friend Sarah had asked me if I was returning to London the following morning, to which I replied I wasn’t sure and she said, “I’ll take that as a no then”. She knows me too well. When I go away supposedly for a long weekend I don’t even bother buying a return train ticket because a) I have no idea where I will end up and b) a standard return only lasts for a month which I frequently exceed so it is a waste of money.

I wanted to stay in the Northeast as I was enjoying the friendliness, the scenery, the history and, frankly, the prices which continued to amaze me compared to London. I narrowed the search down to two places, Hexham and Alnwick, as always for the most ludicrous of reasons. Hexham was chosen as one of my favourite ever bands, Fairport Convention, sang a song called the Hexhamshire Lass many years ago in the days when I did not even know where Hexhamshire was! Alnwick was chosen purely because I liked the name, how crazy is that?

I looked for accommodation in Hexham and it the little that was available was way out of my price range and mostly a distance out of town which was no use to me. I don’t know if there was a meeting at the local racecourse or if it is just a well-heeled sort of place to go but it was out of the running (no racing pun intended) so Alnwick it was going to be.

I managed to secure a room in what looked like a very pleasant B&B within walking distance of the town so I was all set but that will wait until later in the post as we are not even out of Newcastle yet and I have an absolutely wonderful place to tell you about before we go North.

The place in question is the Centurion Bar which is the station bar in Newcastle Station and, in truth, it is not the first time I have mentioned it in my posts. I am not going to re-rehearse previous statements here so please do look at my previous entry here for full details of the history but I have included a few images to give you an idea of how utterly stunning the place is.

I had a good chat with the typically friendly Geordie barman who filled me on some of the finer details of the history of the bar, most of which I knew but some of which I didn’t. Since my original piece the insurance valuation of the tiles alone has now risen to £3.8 million so who knows what the whole place is insured for with all it’s period fixtures and fittings, it must be a hefty sum.

I must say that the Centurion, named for it’s proximity to the nearby Hadrian’s Wall if you are interested, are amongst the more expensive in Newcastle coming in at just over £5 for a pint of cider but I always think it is worth it just to sit and look at the glorious surroundings. The fact that the staff are genuinely friendly rather than the usual surly bartenders you get in most station bars is a bonus.

I had already ascertained that trains to Alnwick were fairly frequent and only take about half an hour so that was no problem and I savoured my excellent pint in one of the most impressive bars I know in the UK. When I say trains to Alnwick that is not strictly speaking correct as trains don’t go there any more as it was cut out of the system many years ago although there is a fine station still extant which we shall come to later.

Instead, I was deposited in good order, not even a delay, at Alnmouth station which apparently serves the village of Alnmouth although I never even got to see it, it is quite a hike. Back to my pet subject of toponymy and obviously Almouth is the place where the river Aln empties into the North Sea whilst Alnwick, where I was trying to get to, derives from the river name and the old English “wic” which means, amongst other things a settlement. There is an alternative suggestion that “wic” is itself a corruption of the Latin word vicus which meant the settlement outside a Roman military camp. I did tell you I love this subject!

So let me now tell you about Alnmouth station which I was going to describe as being in the back end of nowhere but it is truly way beyond that. I looked all round and could not see a single human habitation in any direction and not a soul to be seen at the station. I know I was the only person to get off the train and nobody had boarded, nor was there a soul waiting to board a Southbound train (quick Crosby and Nash reference there), the image below gives an idea.

Whilst I saw absolutely nothing I did hear a rooster / cockerel crowing loud and insistently and whilst it was not unpleasant as I love the country I specifically remember thinking “You stupid bird, are you not meant to do that at daybreak as it was now well into the afternoon. The rural atmosphere was only added to by the presence of a charming little bird box on one of the poles. Whilst all this was very charming it was not going to get me where I needed to go so that had to be sorted.

I looked around and saw a sign for “bus” pointing up a hill so I slogged up there and after a bit of a search I found a bus stop which indicated that there would not be one for some time, this place really is not a major transport hub so I decided to go to the station even though it had looked worryingly closed from the other platform and which brings me back to a point I made earlier in this series. There was absolutely no provision made for the mobility impaired, no footbridge, certainly no lifts and the only way from one platform to the other was to hump your way up that hill, cross a road bridge on quite a busy road with a fairly narrow pavement (pavement which proved to be difficult with even a small pullalong suitcase. After that it was down another hill to arrive at the station proper which was indeed closed.

I liked the birdbox if little else.

I have just had a look at the LNER website and here is a cut and paste from it.

Staff Help Available

Opening hours

Monday – Friday 06:40 – 18:15

Saturday 06:40 – 18:15

Sunday 10:20 – 21:00

This is a lie, nothing more and nothing less. The place was firmly locked up and not a member of staff to be seen (another blatant lie on the website). The information about accessibility is, to say the least, disingenuous. Another quote from the website.

“Level access to platform 1 from Station Car-park, access to platform 2 from council car-park also level. Lifts available 24 hrs”. What this really means is there is level access if you have a vehicle.

If there are lifts as the website claims, they must have been designed by snipers because I was damned if I could find them they were so well camouflaged and I certainly saw no signs.

The only vaguely redeeming feature of the station house was that it had a number of taxi numbers displayed on cards in the window. I tried one, no reply. I tried a second, similar result. This was getting a bit tedious now. The third call eventually produced a response and he said he was doing something but could be there in 30 – 40 minutes, that will do. I got the impression he was not a full time taxi driver and it was certainly not a proper firm. I suspect that he was a one man operation with the appropriate licence who did a bit of taxiing on the side.

In fairness to the guy he turned up when he said he would and after I had watched a train or two passing by and had a cigarette outside and I told him where I was going. No problem, he knew it and away we went. During the journey I appreciated why they needed a spur link to Alnwick, it is a fair old trek which I could have managed in my younger days carrying a heavy Bergen and a rifle but in 2022, not a chance. It had nearly slaughtered me getting across the bridge. How times change.

My driver was fine but I was told a day or two later that there were very few cabs in the Alnwick area and did he ever play on his relatively monopoly position. I have been speaking a lot in this series about how very inexpensive the Northeast is but taxis round Alnwick are most certainly not. I cannot remember exactly what he charged me but something in my hindbrain is saying £14. A journey of comparable distance in fairly central London would have cost me less and he wasn’t even negotiating traffic as it is not that busy there. Presumably I was not the first stranded traveller he had picked up due to the vagaries of the utterly broken rail system in the UK and I doubt I will be the last.

He did, however, deposit me safe and sound to my abode for the next leg of my already extended trip. The “ very pleasant B&B” I teased you with at the top of this post far exceeded the description externally at least. It is called Eveanna (why I have no idea and I very stupidly managed not to take an image of the exterior) but you can see it here on their website, it is stunning. Apparently it was built as a hotel for the very nearby Alnwick Station but was never actually utilised for that purpose. It was subsequently turned into three residences.

There were a few steps up leading to a charming garden where I was subsequently to sit a few times enjoying a smoke and generally feeling happy with the world. Beyond that was a door with no apparent signs of life but it was open so I went in, still puffing and panting a bit and called out a hello whereupon the owner, a delightful chap as it turned out, came down the stairs. He checked me in and showed me to my room which was another bit of a trek as it was a garret (attic room) and seemed to be up an interminable number of stairs.

The journey, however, was worth it as my single room was absolutely delightful as the images show and had everything I needed which isn’t actually a lot. I decided to have a quick lie down to recuperate and there were two reasons for this. Firstly, I needed the rest and secondly, the day which had been dull and overcast to start with, had degenerated into a full blown rainstorm as you can see in the image below of the rain running down the dormer window of my room.

When the rain subsided and I could breathe relatively easily again it was time for my first foray into Alnwick which was a bit of a wander but not insurmountable whilst unencumbered by kit. I also “marked” a few places where I could sit for a rest if required on future trips. This is sadly the way I have to operate these days and what should have been a ten minute walk turned into more like half an hour but that is just the way things are now. I am getting used to it mainly because I have no option or else I would never go out my front door!

Obviously I was searching for a pub and the first one I came upon was the Plough but, horror of horrors, it was shut. Then I happened on Hardy’s Bistro which looked way too posh for the likes of me so I pressed on. The reason I have included the two images above is not so much to illustrate the premises involved but rather to demonstrate the architecture. As I was to find out during my stay the majority of the old architecture in the town seems to be constructed of the same type of stone which is a lovely beige colour. My knowledge of geology is minimal and I do not know what it is so I am going to take a wild guess at sandstone. If any of my readers can enlighten me I would be most grateful and will amend this entry accordingly with due accreditation.

By this time I really did need a rest and I sat myself down on a public bench on what is one of the two “main” streets in town. I know I am often critical of local authorities, and with good reason I think, but I believe in credit where it is due and I really must commend whoever is responsible for the street furniture in Alnwick as there is certainly no shortage of benches for the weary to have a sit down.

As I was catching my breath my attention was drawn to something just across the pavement from me. It was an old-fashioned telephone kiosk but painted blue rather than the traditional pillar-box red. I had to investigate and you can see the results above. It was no longer being used solely for telecommunications but rather had been converted to a food larder by the good folk of Alnwick Mutual Aid, a charity formed in early 2020 in response to the pandemic.

Sadly, not everyone is as philanthropic as those of Mutual Aid and the larder had to be temporarily closed in early 2021 because some of the local yobs had stolen some produce from it and used it to criminally damage a nearby retail premises. I really don’t know how some people’s minds work, or more accurately why they don’t.

Whilst I was on my feet I took the opportunity of walking a bit further and soon taking an image of the Pottergate Tower, which you can see above. The Tower was originally part of the medieval defences of the town although the structure you see here only dates to 1786 and was built to the design of Henry Bell. It originally had a spire on it but this was removed in 1821. Believe it or not, you can actually stay in this lovely building as it is now a self-catering holiday let which looks gorgeous on the website although the steep, narrow stairs would prove a problem for me now.

I was enjoying my little hobble around Alnwick but I still had not had a pint so it was time to rectify that but before I did I had to take an image of this fine bronze of Sir Henry Percy aka “Harry Hotspur” who I mentioned in a previous post. It is an impressive 14 feet high and is the work of Northumberland sculptor Keith Maddison who was commissioned to produce it to celebrate the 700th anniversary of the Percy family’s presence in Alnwick in 2009 and was unveiled by the current Earl of Northumberland the next year.

The sculptor had a slight problem as there are no pictorial representations of Harry when he does not have his visor down so nobody knows what he really looked like. Help was at hand however in the form of Earl George Percy, a direct descendant who offered to sit so it is actually his face you see here.

Come on Fergy, the afternoon is wearing on and still no pub, get it sorted. Fortunately there was such an establishment just across the road in the form of the Dirty Bottles, a fine old structure believed to have been built in the 17th century. I know this is an odd thing to call a pub because such establishments normally trumpet their cleanliness so here is the story.

The pub has been a licensed premises for over 200 years and, back in it’s early days there were some old bottles sitting in a particular window. The landlord decided he would clear them out and began to do so whereupon he promptly dropped dead on the spot. His new widow declared that the same fate would befall anyone else who tried to move them and so they were encased behind a second window where they have remained ever since.

Originally the place was called Ye Olde Cross but the natives soon started referring to it as the Dirty Bottles which it remains to this day. The old painted sign which I discovered when I went out to the yard for a smoke bears testament to the old name. There is a heavy emphasis on food here, as must pubs require to survive these days and it is certainly one of the more expensive places in town but I quite liked it in there.

I decided to go a bit further although I did not have to go far until I came upon the George in Bondgate and that turned out to be a great find and a place I was to return to several times. I have commentated here before about how I form fairly instant opinions of both people and places, which may be a fault although I do not think so, and as soon as I stepped in the door that this was going to be my sort of pub.

The George was absolutely no frills although clean and tidy and was fairly full of what appeared to be working men, a proper local. There was live sport on the large screen TV and what later transpired to be a very comprehensive jukebox. I went to the bar where I was greeted by a very friendly barmaid (landlady?) who promptly served me up a decent pint.

Despite the efficiency of the service, she had barely had time to set my pint down on the bar before I had been engaged in conversation by a couple of guys who, upon hearing my accent, had obviously correctly guessed that I was not from those parts. They were nothing if not sociable in the George.

I would have loved to have stood and chatted for longer but standing for any length of time is no longer an option for me and there were no free stools at the bar so I made my apologies and went and sat down.

After a couple of pints it was time to move yet again. Whilst I did not know it at the time I have subsequently discovered that there are 47 licensed establishments in this town of a shade over 8,000 people, my kind of place. It proves that I still had a long way to go!

En route to my next port of call I paused to take an image of some random buildings to demonstrate how prevalent this beige stone, which I have probably erroneously chosen to call sandstone, is in Alnwick. The whole town seems made of it which is fine as it presents a very harmonious effect which I find aesthetically pleasing although I am certainly no expert.

I do like taking images of quirky little things for no better reason than they just appeal to me and the image above is a perfect demonstration of that. It is an utterly lovely bench in what I believe is the market square and is a clear nod to the extensive Viking influence in the area. Despite the utterly massive amount of information available online and my best efforts I cannot discover who was responsible for the design. I wish I could find the answer as they certainly deserve a name-check and if any of my knowledgeable readers can assist I would be most grateful.

The next pub that hove into sight off the starboard bow was the Queen’s Head Hotel so I was straight in there. I hadn’t noticed the sign on the way in but the Queen’s Head is part of the rather large Craft Union chain who recently scooped the Best Community Pub operator 2022 in the prestigious Publican Awards. It claims to be the oldest pub in Alnwick even though it is quite big inside which is not the norm for very old drinking houses and is exactly what I would expect from a CU pub with live sport on various large screen TV’s, numerous drink offers and the like but that is not what initially caught my eye.

You can see what did draw my attention in one of the images above, it was a huge Ukrainian flag attached to the bar and facing the main door so you certainly would not miss it. I do not know if the bar has any particular affiliation with that poor beleaguered country like a member of staff from there or whatever or if it was just yet another display of solidarity from the British public who seem to be completely behind them and completely opposed to the illegal and barbarous invasion from “The Bear” next door. Still, we Brits have always had a sense of fair play.

I decided that rather than go any further that evening I would sit tight as I was pretty exhausted after my exertions of the day and the prospect of a reasonable trek back to my digs meant I would need all my energy, not to mention those stairs when I got there! With a few rest stops on the way I did eventually make it home in good order for a relatively early night by my standards.

I was not too worried about the early night as I knew I had another couple of days in the town which was a prospect that pleased me as I was rapidly becoming quite enamoured with it. If you want to know what happened the next day you’ll just have to stay tuned.


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