Sunday, November 24, 2013

Day 20: Alnwick Castle & Edinburgh

Writing this on the next day. We left Newcastle at 9:45 and I fretted as the rain started in. Mercifully, by the time we reached Alnwick, the rain gave way to blue skies streaked with clouds.

We doubted the satnav but after we passed under a stone arch in the town (had to let another car through the narrow opening first) we found the entrance to Alnwick Castle. After parking for free on the road, we entered and decided on a historic tour but were unsure if we should partake in broomstick lessons (Alnwick Castle is where Harry Potter first rode a broomstick!!).

We gazed up at a statue of Harry Hotspur (some legendary ancestor dude in the Percy family - they’ve lived there for 700 years and counting!) upon leaving the ticket office. In our search for the inner bailey and keep, we passed the gift shop and went under an arch, finding ourselves beneath the clock tower (we found out later it used to be the water tower).

Hogwarts! I mean, er, Alnwick Castle's keep.

Here was the keep, large and surrounded by a gully in the grass (in its previous life this gully was a stake moat - pleasant!). A grassy part of this area was roped off (for the Duke’s second daughter’s wedding in a couple of month's time) and here we saw a very large, very fluffy black and white cat who appeared to be lord and master of Alnwick Castle. It chilled out near where Daniel Radcliffe had stood many, many years ago!

“Is that cat from Harry Potter?” a cute girl asked her mother nearby.

Crookshanks's dapper tuxedo-wearing cousin.

We walked under another arch to the other side of the keep and were talked into taking a ticket/slot (free) for The Lost Cellars. The state rooms were still closed and the historic tour was not until 11:30 so we explored the area, climbing the curtain wall and enjoying the view of the surrounding countryside before closing in on the state rooms and taking photos of the medieval well. A casually dressed man in jeans and a cream-coloured jumper emerged from a nearby door marked "private" and headed for a black Land Rover. 

We paid him no heed, leaving that courtyard and heading back out. The black car followed us and continued on, presumably heading outside the castle. I wondered if he was a member of the Duke’s family because I’d seen a nearby sign stating “family vehicles only beyond this point”.

The Lost Cellars vendor informed us that we’d just seen the Duke of Northumberland! A Percy!

The courtyard sans the aforementioned Duke.
The tour was very informative (the guide pointed out circles on the ground that marked the underground Whistling Tunnel - it kept the food warm between the kitchens and the tables. The servants had to whistle to prove they weren’t eating the food!). I particularly enjoyed the guide’s tales about the first Duchess (the Percys started as Lords, then Earls) - what a character!

As we went back to the broomstick area, we saw young kids waddling around with brooms between their legs - I’m glad we didn’t do that! The guide led us to the Barbican (a very old entry gate which was so scary no one tried to barge in through there - portcullis, murder holes, etc). Then, as we were finishing up, a red Ranger Rover left the state room courtyard, driven by a woman. This was the current Duchess!

The Barbican's second door - never breeched by marauding Scotsmen.

Parts of the curtain wall date to Norman times. The castle started its life as a wooden motte-and-bailey design. The current heir (he remains Earl until he’s Duke) is single! We discovered this vital piece of information in the state rooms - we crammed that visit in. The state rooms had family areas which included a chapel which has not used since the 1970s. Mostly these rooms are a showcase of collections and family photos.

We dashed to the cellars for the silly ghost performance. The actors were okay but it wasn’t scary. They relied on screens to provide images of ghosts and one of the actors pretended to be mysteriously interested in blood before being  revealed - surprise! - as a vampire. 

Cazy and I recovered in the cafe and then spent too much in the gift shop. I had to buy The Ballad of Chevy Chase for the amusement factor. We had spent almost three hours there when we left, crossing over a bridge belonging to the castle. 

The bridge.

I napped but awoke for the crossing into Scotland! Holyrood Park rose like a sleeping giant before we even got close to Edinburgh. Jaw dropping beauty. So vast, more impressive than a castle. I too would choose to put a city here!

After a maze of roads and a naughty satnav (we ended turning around outside Holyrood Palace - and the Scottish Parliament!) we found the hotel. 

I did a load of washing and visited an odeon (we bought 2 tickets for a later session of Iron Man 3) and a convenience store. A chubby Scotsman in his 20s packed our groceries and, after eyeing the large quantities of fruit, remarked, “This is the healthiest shop I’ve ever seen.” 

That night I managed to break the washing machine. Defeated, I retired to bed.

And tomorrow has already happened!

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