Newcastle upon Tyne is one of the places in England where we were lucky enough to have and meet family while we’re visiting the UK. Mum has done a bit of ancestry searching and been in touch with cousins in England for over the last year or so, on Facebook. We took a train from King’s Cross in London up to Newcastle and were picked up and greeted by Mum’s second cousin and her husband and I have to say – they are a couple of the most delightful people I have ever met!
With a cooler full of road trip food at the ready they drove us to Stanhope, a small village where my great-grandparents lived. Being heavily into ancestry in her own right, Mum’s cousin had profound knowledge and brought us right to the home they lived in, above the quarry where Great G-pa blew his hand off. We took a quick trip around the rest of the village, visiting the train station, cemetery, and dropping in on my grandmother’s cousin.
We drove north to see Bramburgh Castle, Dunes, and the coast. This was officially our first time seeing the ocean while in England and it was extraordinary! After a week in London and being surrounded by thousands of people every day, this was quiet, serene, and perfect. We stopped in for lunch for some authentic seafood straight from the harbour before heading off to Alnwick Castle.
Alnwick Castle has been home to the Percy family for over 700 years and remains a family home today for the 12th Duke and Duchess and their children. The Percys arrived from France with William the Conqueror in the 11th century and over the centuries they have survived charges of treason, loss of land and property, rebellion, revolution, political intrigue, difficult economic circumstance and a rapidly changing social climate.
What I was most excited to see was the library, housing nearly 15,000 books, it occupies the principal floor of the large tower that was added to the keep during the 19th century restoration. Unfortunately, photos of the State Rooms weren’t allowed. Best known for its starring role as Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry in the first two Harry Potter films, Alnwick Castle has also made many appearances in film and television, featuring in Downton Abbey, Blackadder, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves and many more.
While we were there we also drove out to see a part of Hadrian’s Wall. Built on the orders of Hadrian after he became Roman emperor and visited by him in AD122, the Wall defined the north-west frontier of the Roman Empire, covering 73 miles from east to west. It boasted 80 milecastles with two turrets between each, 17 larger forts and a defensive earthwork, the Vallum, to the south. Abandoned briefly shortly after it was built, it was in active use for some 300 years and garrisoned by auxiliary soldiers from across the Empire. When the Rome gave up Britain, the Wall’s stones were repurposed to build homes and other buildings.
One particular spot on the wall is really popular, the Sycamore Tree which stands in the middle of a break in the wall served as a filming location in Prince of Theives and is also known as ‘Robin Hood’s Tree’.
Back in Newcastle we headed downtown for dinner at a pub and took a walk down the river where I was flabbergasted to see 7 bridges, one after another, all in a row. Almost as crazy as their “beach”, which Mum and I teased was a sandbox built-into the sidewalk for the summer. But let’s be fair, what is family if we don’t tease each other a bit?
Another castle was added to our list while visiting and I believe it was my first time seeing a proper ruined castle. Warkworth was really neat to see, especially because it stood at the “side of the road” when you walked around it but it also looked eerie. If the weather had been darker and gloomier that day, it legit would have looked haunted. Which is just cool.
Our family also hosted a bit of a family gathering one evening where got to meet cousin-siblings, spouses and even their Mum! It was really fun to sit in a room with nearly a dozen family members you’ve never met but knowing they’re family. (Sidenote: I was sick during this leg of the trip, living off of ginger and lemon tea, sleeping, and stealing every box of Kleenex in the house. Anyone who knows me knows that I am a giant baby when I’m sick so I think it’s a real testament to our hosts that I came out of this smiling and not wanting to change a thing)!
Mum and I agreed as we were on our train leaving Newcastle that we wish we had more time there. Luckily, we get to see them again in Cornwall later in our trip when we have a HUGE family “reunion” at the end of the month and meet more family in southern England!
Northern England is beautiful!