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A sense of belonging, despite info overload.


WE spent the royal wedding weekend in Northumberland. Lovely weather, stunning county. I've bought a hat, so that I can take it off and nod approvingly in your direction.

Here in Teesside, we have our share of beautiful places. Skinningrove, Loftus and Brotton to mention but three. And I'd urge all of you to take a weekend break around these before they become tourist hotspots. Believe me, it's only a matter of time.

However, accustomed as I am to breathtaking loveliness, I have to acknowledge Northumberland's magnificence.

We rented a cottage in Bamburgh, Cemento, our youngest and I. My two oldest are now over 18 and I can't force them to spend time with us, so it was just the three of us. I felt very at home at Bamburgh. I felt like I belonged. It's all dignified and classy and that.

We visited Seahouses. I told Cemento that she should feel at home at Seahouses. I am Bamburgh. She is Seahouses. I was born Seahouses and have moved, evolved as it were, to Bamburgh. Cemento was born sub-Seahouses. That's a caravan park to you and me. And she's remained Seahouses.

Bamburgh has signs outside its shops proclaiming "teas, coffees, lunches and gifts". Critically, the gifts cost over a tenner. That's class.

Seahouses has "big kites, rock and tat". They're physically close, but so different in every way. I give you Cemento and I. Bamburgh has a castle. You might want to write that down. Big one. You can't miss it. Seahouses has fish and chips. We visited Bamburgh Castle. We visited Alnwick Castle.

Northumberland is exceedingly castley. It is my view that if you've seen one castle, you've seen them all. I think I got Castle Blur, where one castle simply merges into another. We may have visited a third castle. I recall a lot of castles.

The castles have a significant number of Pouncing Staff. These are people who wait in dark corners around the castles and pounce on the visitors, giving them unnecessary and unwanted information about the history of the castle. They miss out none of the detail, no matter how small. They pounce on the vulnerable. The elderly visitor is particularly pounced upon. I was able to move away like an overweight gazelle, but still faster than the old dears with sticks. Pleasingly, Cemento was assaulted and given a comprehensive overview of a piece of furniture she was looking at. Old, lumpy and uncomfortable. But still, she's good with the kids.

The trouble is the staff are extremely pleasant, earnest and informed. They are full to the gills with earnest information and they want you to have a bit. And Cemento is, to the untrained eye, extremely polite herself, so she nodded and listened along to the history of the red chair, from 1820 until a week gone Saturday.

As well as to inform, the Pouncers are there to ensure you don't steal the castle and its belongings. Which, as I sit back and look at my extraordinary candelabra, they're not so hot at.

Some parts of a castle are more interesting than others. Then there's the pottery display. You don't want to be pounced upon as you're passing by the pottery. With a pickled pepper. Agonisingly, Cemento was. As I observed the light fading in Cemento's eyes whilst the Pottery Pouncer illuminated her, I felt an unusual bond with her. Between us we could have happily smashed every plate, milk jug, historical condiment set and so on and so forth in the entire county. Over the head of the Pouncer. Again and again. Plate by miserable plate. Eventually, the Pouncer breathed, and we escaped.

They should just show men the fighting stuff. Quick 20 minutes looking at the armour, swords and shields, and a bloke's happy. Leave the rest to the ladies. As we were leaving one of the castles, we passed a room, marked Private C34. I approached the Final Pouncer, there to check you didn't have a cushion up your jumper. Which I didn't, but my how he looked. And such cold hands. I asked him: "What's in C34?" He said he didn't know. I didn't believe him. I put in the comments book: "I looked in Room C34. I'm informing the police."

My enthusiasm for Northumberland was only increased when I considered the whole point and purpose of the castles. Which were to fight off the Scots. The savage animals. Coming down here pillaging and that. They had a right go at Alnwick. I'm subbing hundreds of years of history down as I've only got an inch of column left. Gave Alnwick a right dusting. The gardens were a clip after they left. And Seahouses still has the graffiti to show for it.

Next week. Holy Island and the Farne Islands. Anything magnificent, or less so, about Northumberland that I've missed?
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Publication:The Journal (Newcastle, England)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:May 13, 2011
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