Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Happy birthday to me

Gee thanks everyone for the birthday wishes - I have been getting them for the last couple of days - nice to know that you all remember who I am! In fact, I /we are missing everyone heaps. I think that Facebook has gone into overdrive today as that is how many have sent messages - and Telstra is safe for the moment with the messages and texts to our mobile.

We left The Smithy this morning quite reluctantly. It was nice to have a 'home' base for a couple of days and the area offered plenty to see and do. Laura has been lovely to us and I was again rewarded with a visit from the red squirrel this morning and managed to get a little closer for photos. Each time we had driven in to Penrith we had passed a field full of grazing sheep. Nothing new - but, this field was ploughed and full of white lumps that we could not identify - were they rocks, or mushrooms, or ? We stopped to get a pic and discovered that the lumps were actually turnips!! Yep and the sheep were nibbling them and eating the new shoots growing out of them.

After going into Penrith for fuel, we headed back through Langwathby and further into the Penines and east for a little way. We have decided to not follow the motorway to get the 21 or so miles to Carlisle in favour of the more scenic back roads. Hence we find ourselves climbing up to the Hartside summit of at 1903 feet. This area has been awarded AONB status - this means that it is recognised as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and we pull in to one of the scarce wider areas of the road for a photo so we can share the view with you all. Trouble is that the whole area is so lovely that choosing the photo to upload is hard!

The wind is horrendous on the summit and even as I sit in the car waiting for Michael to finish a fag after we have a cuppa in the cafe, the car is rocking in the wind. The lady serving us told us they had snow and sleet last night and I don't doubt her - the cold is coming off snow somewhere! The Hartside Cafe on the top is a favourite bikers destination and as the climb back down into the valleys on the other side is full of steep drops, winding roads and hairpin turns, it reminds us a little of the route up to Mt Nebo from Dotty's place.

Once we reach the peak, we are out on the top of the Alston Moor - a rather open, wind-buffeted and bleak landscape - stark but still beautiful in its own way. Down the northern side of the Penines there are many more fir forests planted. And they are so dense and dark that it is easy to see how believable the story of Hansel and Gretel would be to children in England. I can imagine that many would find these forests very very scary places indeed.

At Alston we pass a signpost that directed people to Newcastle and Hexham - we have a good laugh given that Hexham and Newcastle, New South Wales are about the same distance apart as the towns here are.

When we reach the bottom of the hills and again are travelling along the valleys we turn a corner and come upon the most amazing sight - Langley Castle - now an up-market hotel. Stuck out here I think that it must have been constructed as a show of wealth more than to protect anything other than someone's ego!

And then we are over to Vindolanda - the remains of a Roman Fort and barracks near a hamlet called Scroggwood. This was a huge barracks in its day with about 1,600 soldiers stationed here at its peak dating back to AD 85. Much of the barracks were constructed from the local stone (of which there is plenty) and so, many of the foundations can still be seen. Excavations continue and today there is an archaelogist working. Michael spends almost 2.5 hours in a daze, camera going non-stop as he marches out the settlement. So oblivious is he to what is happening around him that a blackbird manages to take his dorky blue beanie right off his head and fly away with it! The archaelogist just laughs heartily - don't think he had had such good entertainment in a long time!

Hadrian's Wall had been the main drawcard to this area for us and the fort and associated museum were an additional little bit of cream on the cake today. Built on the order of Emporer Hadrian after the fort had been completed, it covers 70 something miles and crosses cliffs, hills and lower lands. Mind you, why on earth anyone would feel the need to build any sort of defensive structure across the top of hard dolorite cliffs beats me - you can still see any invading force from about 40 miles away,then they have to scale the hard cliffs before they get to the wall that in this part can be a low as 3 feet high! Guess he must have been a little paranoid!

Mind you, to think that the wall is 2000 years old and much of it is still standing today bears testament to the skill and determination of those early romans. We hope to see a little more tomorrow as well.

Tonight we are at the String of Horses Hotel in a hamlet called Faugh just outside Carlisle. It was once a staging hotel for the stagecoaches that travelled the country. The oldest part of the hotel dates back to 1659, so it is pretty old.

We have dinner in the hotel restaurant and are surprised with a fantastic culinary delight.
Seafood Frito (Prawns, mussels and crab meat sauteed in Chili and garlic oil in a tomato sauce) Michael
Breaded King Prawns (served with Harissa Dip) Maria
Lamb Banquet (Tender marinated half shoulder lamb with homemade mint gravy) Michael
Local Cumberland Sausage (Grilled local sausage with creamed potatoes and gravy) Maria
Both are served with a generous serve of fresh steamed vegetables - green beans, carrots, cauliflower
Ice Cream Sundae (with toffee sauce) Michael
Cheese plate - Maria. I have drunk the better part of a bottle of a Spanish Red - Alcorta (2005 Crianza) as well!!
The food was just wonderful and we exchange recipes with Jill (the chef)!
Had a great chat with some locals while we ate and they all sang happy birthday - so the day ended on a high, as it had started.

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