Friday, April 24, 2009

Wish us luck as we wave you goodbye

So today we leave Scotland after a wonderful month touring around and meeting people. At the start of this journey we had only planned to spend 1 month touring all of the UK, but you know how the Aussie saying goes "when you are on a good thing, stick to it". As we have remarked before, Scotland has been a wonderful surprise to us - we really didn't know what to expect and it has just been the best month. The people are just so warm and friendly, the food is fabulous and the scenery is stupendous. And the staff of the De Vere Venues Barony Castle have been no exception to this! So Tapadh leibh, slàn leibh to all our new Scottish friends (thank you, goodbye to the uninitiated!)

One our way south we make a last couple of stops in the Scottish world. The first was to see the memorial site where legend has it Thomas the Rhymer was spirited away from under the Eildon Tree to Elfland for seven years, after which he returned with the gift of prophecy in rhyme in the 13th Century. Now, while we do have a passing interest in the other-world stories, our real interest lay in the fact that Thomas the Ryhmer is the subject of a Steeleye Span song - one of our favourite bands! Here is a little of the song (and a link for those who would know more!)
Thomas the Rhymer by Steeleye Span
True Thomas sat on Huntley Bank
and he beheld a lady gay
A lady that was brisk and bold
come riding o'er the ferny brae

Her skirt was of the grass green silk,
her mantle of the velvet fine
At every lock of her horse's mane
hung fifty silver bells and nine

True Thomas, he pulled off his cap
and bowed him low down to his knee
`All hail, thou mighty queen of heaven
your like on earth I ne'er did see.'

The memorial is simple, but nice. Then it is further south. We are headed for Piercesbridge, a distance of only 144 miles from Edinburgh. Trouble is, there are all these things that take our interest along the way! Our next pause is at the site of the Roman Fort - Trimontium, which means 'Triple Mountain'. The fort was built to keep the hostile Caledonians at bay around 100AD under the watchful gaze of the three Eildon Hills. Regrettably, very little exists of the fort today with the exception of a few depressions, information boards and the 'Trimontium Stone' which marks the spot where the main gates stood. But the walk to and around the fort perimeter was most enjoyable.

The area which the fort occupied is now under freehold pastoral land, however you can appreciate the enormity of the encampment by walking round to each of the five information boards. I only managed to reach two of them - but time was at a premium, so I couldn't tarry. The largest of the Roman Scotland forts, it housed up to 2500 men at one point in the second century. The view from the site is a reward for any lack of physical evidence of the fort. Situated above the River Tweed the view is commanding over the outling vistas and the Leaderfoot railway viaduct.

Then back on to the A68 where we passed the Wellington Memorial in the distance - tried unsuccessfully to find a road to go up and take a look. The in Jedburgh we stop at the site where Mary Queen of Scots spent some time. The museum they have is really well done and puts forward her case as the contender for the British Crown. There are furnishings as would have been in the building during her visit including a tapestry that was there and where souvenir collectors of long ago have cut small pieces from the bottom hem! There is also a small piece of a lock of here hair and a shoe she wore while there and left because the heel broke!

As we leave Jedburgh, we look to our right and see the ruin of the Jedburgh Abbey, a 12th century Augustinian Abbey. Such a sight! And although in ruins it's indeed an impressive edifice. Our visit was rather hurried, but well worth the haste as the view from the bell tower, overlooking the aisle is just amazing. The architectural beauty of this abbey is evident even after the ravages of the Reformation. It never fails to amaze me that right up to the modern day, peopls differing religious beliefs are held as the reason for wreaking absolute destruction - will we never learn?

Only foundations remain of the Cloister and the Chapter House, however, the visitor's centre provides patrons with an elevated view of this area. Only with the aid of this vantage point, can one appreciate the area occupied by the abbey and its west range. Surely in its day it must have been one of the most beautiful churches of its time.

Continuing down the A68 we finally cross the border from Scotland back in to England at Carter Bar. High on the moors in the Northumberland National Park, it was windswept and a good couple of degrees chillier. Not sure whether it was Scotland wreaking its anger at our going, or England giving us a cool welcome! And while we have seen part of this area before, the open scenery and vast space in countries where space is usually crammed with built structures still takes the breath away (or maybe it is just that cold wind). We wind our way down, at times (like a number of times) travelling down 12% to 15% slopes. And where there are 15% sloped down, well in the opposite direction, those slopes have to come up. Could not help but smirk when we passed a Rolls Royce broken down on the side of the road, bonnet up, exposing itself to the world. Nice to know that even the wealthy can experience the same as us plebs.

So we are now very close to Hexham and Newcastle which like the same cities in New South Wales back in Australia are only about 11 miles
apart. On the map we are using there are some of the attractions noted - certainly not all of them, but some. We see that there is a Saxon Church nearby, so we follow the signs (ok, ok, I had found it first on Google Earth when I was planning the route between hotels). It is in the middle of a residential area that has grown up around it and so kinda looks out of place. When we get there we find the gate has a padlock on it but there is a note on the gate to day the key can be collected from a chain at one of the nearby homes. So collect it Michael did. And we are glad we did. The oldest part of the church dates back to 700 AD (yep, its old!) and the oldest gravestone we find has been moved into the vestibule of the church - it dates back to 1628 and the oldest one in situ in the graveyard dates to 1720 AD - some of the oldest we have seen to date.

For the last little while as we have been travelling the A68 we have been getting glimpses of an amazing viaduct. Trouble was that one minute we could see it and the next we couldn't as we went up hill and down dale. As we are coming down the hill to the Saxon Church at Escomb we see it much closer. Stopped and got a couple of (obscured) photos and then thought that as it was so close, we would go find it. We finally found it just as we are about to give up and turn around. We come down another hill into Bishop Auckland (strange town names - but by far not the strangest - like what were they thinking when they named Snod's End!) and all of a sudden there it is - and it is a road bridge, but heading away from where we want to go. This is an old bridge with a new deck on it. So we just stop briefly to get a pic or three and then push on the Piercebridge where we have accommodation for the night at The George Hotel. This is the home of the clock that inspired the song 'My Grandfather's Clock' - want to know more? Click on the link and read for yourself!

Found this one on also. This has been a great source of finding accommodation - particularly when you want something a little different, or in an out of the way area. It lives up to its reviews as we drive in - a stunning location on the Tees River. And to add to the appeal, there are the ruins of a Roman Fort and a Roman Bridge here as well.

It must be the season for weddings as there is one in progress here when we arrive. But it did not affect other guests and we book in for dinner at 7 pm. We ask in the bar if we just take a seat, and they advise they have booked us in to the restaurant. So directions received we turn another corridor and find a very stylishly decorated restaurant with a fantastic view. Service was wonderful and the meals really delicious. It is amazing what quality you can find in rural England!
Soup of the Day (Potato and Leek) Michael
Golden Breaded Brie (served with a mixed tossed salad and accompanied by a cranberry compote - not thos little packet things, a lovely large wedge cut fresh froma wheel - so more cheese, less breadcrumbs - mm, mmm) Maria
Steak and ale pie (Ale marinated pieces of steak and onion bound with rich gravy topped with a puff pastry lid) Michael
Pork medallions (Served on a poached apple and white wine cream) Maria
Both came with jacket roasted potato and fresh vegetables - heaps of them!
Banoffi Pie (Banana and toffee in a pastry case with freshly whipped cream) Michael
Creme brulee (Vanilla, silken and creamy) Maria

And the sunset was just beautiful. So off to our comfy bed. Now, we know that there are a few people who are hurting back home for a whole range of reasons - it is times like these that we wish we were back there with you all. Know that we remember you, care for you, love you (and OK miss you!) Take care everyone. And take care of each other!!

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