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Day 3 - June 14, 2008 - Newcastle, England, U.K.

By Brent Stephenson

TOUR ONE

Leaving shipside at 0800 hours, the two buses carrying guests on the tour to Lindisfarne Castle and Holy Island weaved their way alongside the River Tyne.  We were able to see all seven of the bridges that cross the river, joining the two cities of Newcastle and Gateshead.

Heading northwards, we were soon into the green rolling pastures of Northumberland County.  With much of the county being very good agricultural land, we were soon passing between fields of wheat, barley, and grazing sheep and cattle.  Stone walls and hedgerows crisscrossed the landscape, as our excellent guides gave us a running commentary on the history and local information.

Our first stop was overlooking Alnwick Castle, the second largest inhabited castle in England.  Construction of the castle first began in the 11th century, however, more recently this Castle has become famous because it was the location (‘Hogwarts’) for the filming of the first two Harry Potter movies.  We had stunning views of the castle across rolling fields, before driving past it, and into the town of Alnwick.  We then headed through the scenic coastal route, glimpsing the North Sea across the coastal sector, before arriving at the even more impressive Bamburgh Castle, set right above the dunes, and overlooking the North Sea with the Farne Islands laid out before us.  We all revelled in the scenery and took some time to enjoy the sunshine, before heading into the castle where our private tour started.  A Celtic two-piece played local tunes from times past, their performance made all the more special by the setting within the castle’s walls.  We were then given a guided tour of the castle, visiting displays of weapons, paintings, wall hangings, and other antiques.  Most of us who visited the dungeon were a little perturbed by the rather life-like displays!

We were then driven a short way into the town below the castle where we had an excellent lunch at The Lord Crewe – smoked salmon, local game stew and fresh strawberries and cream were on offer, and gratefully received after our morning’s activities.  Leaving the hotel, we drove slowly past the St Aidan’s churchyard where we saw the elaborate cenotaph erected in honour of Grace Darling, a Victorian heroine who, at the age of 22, helped rescue nine survivors during a shipwreck on the Farne Islands in 1838.  A short drive further northwards along the coast allowed us views of Holy Island and Lindisfarne Castle, our next stop.  Rather uniquely, this island is cut-off from the mainland only at high tide, with a three-mile tarmac causeway linking the mainland and island at low tide.  Having timed it just right, we headed directly across, and then made our way by foot to the Lindisfarne Priory, one of the most important centres of early Christianity in Anglo-Saxon England.  Founded by St Aidan in AD 635, we were able to see where St Cuthbert, perhaps the most famous of the priory’s holy men, was buried.

We then headed on foot along the shores of the island towards Lindisfarne Castle itself.  Built in the 16th century using stones from the demolished priory we had just visited, the castle was purchased and refurbished by Edward Hudson at the turn of the 20th century.  Now the castle is administered by the National Trust, and whilst itself being a spectacular feature of the landscape, gives grand views of the local coastline and Farne Islands.  Expedition staff was also on hand along the shoreline to point out birds and other wildlife, with Eider ducks, Eurasian oystercatchers, Curlews and gulls being seen.  On our way back across the causeway, we were very lucky to see several families of mother Eider ducks with recently hatched ducklings.

We then headed southwards on our way back towards the ship.

TOUR TWO

0800 With a forecast for showers, we boarded our bus decked out in our Silversea parkas.  Our first stop, a short drive north, was a large iron sculpture overlooking the city called “The Angel of the North”.  Perhaps it was this visit that brought us good weather for the rest of our tour.

0925 Along the road to Bowes museum, we stopped for a short time at Raby Castle where we saw herds of fallow and red deer, as well as English long-horn cattle, in a bucolic setting.  A short drive away was Barnard, where we made a quick photo stop at a church constructed over 500 years ago.  Twenty minutes later, we arrived at the Bowes museum.  This museum was built by John Bowes and his wife Josephine.  The museum represents the collections of the Bowes placed in a specially constructed French chateau-style building.  In the museum, we were treated to a snack of tea and scones with clotted cream and jam, while Jane Whittaker, the principal keeper, described the collections and effort to expand the display of the collections.  Next Mary House, a curator, gave us a personal tour of a special exhibition of the work of Alfred Sisley.  Sisley (October 30, 1839 – January 29, 1899) was an English Impressionist landscape painter who was born and spent most of his life in France. Sisley is recognized as perhaps the most consistent of the Impressionists, never deviating into figure painting or finding that the movement did not fulfil his artistic needs.  The exhibition was the first ever outside of London. 

A former director of the museum shared her wealth of knowledge of the extensive collections.  This tour ended with a display of the Silver Swan, a silver repousse’ automaton built in 1773.  This remarkable life-sized mechanical swan preened and caught a fish in its bill.  Because of its age, it is rarely shown.

1245 Lunch was in held in the museum.  Following lunch, we travelled to Blanchland, a medieval village where we spent some time exploring a fantastic old pub and hotel called the Crewes Coat of Arms.  Several guests discovered a quite remarkable ladies’ hat shop.  Here, one could purchase hats created by the Queen Mother’s hatmaker and priced as high as $1000. More than thirty minutes later, we made a brief stop outside an old church in Corebridge.  Some of the very same hats were worn by the participants and guests at a wedding that was exiting the church.

1600 We arrived at Chesters Fort anticipating views of Hadrian’s, and were quite surprised to find how well-preserved and present these excavations were.  The museum had stunning examples of carved stones used by the Romans in the first and second centuries.  Our local guide, Kate, did a remarkable job of making the history come alive.  She showed us where and how the Romans heated the water for the baths as wells as the floor and walls of the commandants’ house.  On our return to Newcastle and the Prince Albert II, we followed sections of Hadrian’s Wall, visible in certain areas of the towns through which we passed.

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