Centre Holiday to Northumberland - May 2017

Nailsworth three, Stroud two, Gloucester six, Cheltenham 32 ! - not football nor yet rugby scores but the members of the Cheltenham and Gloucestershire National Trust Centre collected by Trevor in his Rover's coach at the various departure points for our visit to Durham and Northumberland on a dull and rather chilly morning but much brighter times were to follow.

It was clear from the initial planning that there would have to be both a short comfort stop and a longer lunch break during the journey north; the easiest and obvious solution would be to stop twice at motorway services. David and Adris had another excellent solution though. We took  a brief comfort stop at Trowell Services and then made for the quiet cathedral city of Ripon to have lunch and look round. 

Those of us who visited the cathedral (and I think it was most of the group) received the first of many extremely warm welcomes to the region from the cathedral guides- if not yet from the still cloudy sky and brisk wind. The cathedral's highlight for me were the glorious wood carvings which had inspired Robert Thompson, the mouseman, which I had long wanted to see, and the beautiful, small, polychrome alabaster carving in the crypt of The  Resurrection. Also the tale of the city Wakeman intrigued me- I had just enough time to discover it before we left. 

From Ripon we journeyed to Allensford and the Derwent Manor Hotel, our base for the holiday. We were greeted by the hotel manager and offered a welcome cup of tea or coffee while our rooms  were allocated and our cases taken to them. Dinner was at seven and as I unpacked and changed I tried but failed to work the small hot drinks making machine. It later transpired that failure was not mine alone! However, kettles were supplied the next day to all who requested one, just one example of the excellent, friendly service by the hotel staff throughout our stay. After a delicious and copious meal, typical of those we were to enjoy every evening, we retired for the night, aware that we needed to be on top form if we were to get the most from the next four days. 

Tuesday dawned bright and sunny and after eating our fill from the laden breakfast buffet we set off for Cragside, the first of our visits to a NT property. Described as 'the palace of a modern magician' there was almost too much to see and admire in the house and there was more in the grounds and formal gardens. No-one will ever forget the great marble fireplace while the Morris stained glass particularly appealed to me.

Then it was on to Seaton Delaval for a very different experience. Built between 1719-1732 for Admiral George Delaval to the design of Sir John Vanbrugh, it is now little more than a most impressive shell having suffered a disastrous The west wing survived and it was there that I saw on the beautiful embroidered linen 'cartoon' of c.1710  depicting a medieval tournament. And then there were the huge stables, the parterre, the privy garden and the old weeping ash tree to see, and the little bluebell wood just over the wall. This was an afternoon full of delight.

Next day, a sunny Wednesday,  to Durham -where our coach was met by a 'pointer' one of the volunteers who, in their pink gilets, stand out in the crowds, ready to advise and guide visitors to the city. Informed by his advice and armed with one of his city maps, we set off to explore on our own. Frances and I made our way to the cathedral which was gradually being reclaimed from a posse of film makers. Durham Cathedral is truly a great building; with so much to admire, it can be difficult to appreciate the detail. I was especially happy therefore when Dulcie indicated the gorgeous Tom Denny window which depicts the Transfiguration of Christ and I was able to marvel at its modern beauty. There was also time to visit 'Open Treasure' where the development of Christianity from Roman times to the present day and the life, work and legacy of Saint Cuthbert are, together with much else about the cathedral, explored in exhibitions of outstanding treasures from the collections.

Wallington Hall was our afternoon destination, with the drive there allowing us a quick glance of the impressive Angel of the North. Wallington Hall was the home for many generations of the Blackett and Trevelyan families and the life of the last family to live there forms the background to a visit today. Voices from the early 20thC  spoke to us from their travel trunks, ginger biscuits were baked for us in the kitchen and pipes were played to us in the remarkable central hall which  features a series of pre-Raphaelite painted scenes from Northumbrian history interspersed with botanical studies. And as if that were not enough, there was the most unusual shaped, pretty walled garden with its colourful flower beds and full greenhouses.

And so to Thursday, to  Alnwick Castle and gardens in the sunshine. Where to go first? Frances and I were lured into the secret cellars to hear a ghost story after a walk by the castle battlements, a peek inside the archeological museum and a look at Capability Brown's landscape over by the Lion Bridge.
We made our way from the cellars  to the castle's State Rooms where we joined a tour led by a most enthusiastic and well-informed guide. It was almost overwhelming, especially the collection of porcelain and it was a joy to retreat to the splendid gardens over which David had enthused during the coach journey there. The locked Poison Garden, the Grand Cascade, the Serpent Garden, Bamboo Labyrinth, the Ornamental Garden, the Woodland Walk, so much to explore. If only the roses had been in bloom...
The route back to the hotel took us along the coast, giving us the chance to experience another aspect of the region. David had a good shot at giving us a commentary and entertained us all. Was it on that journey that we saw a few stones from Hadrian's Wall?

Our last day, Friday, had come all too quickly. The thoughtful, obliging hotel staff, the spacious, comfortable rooms and the plentiful, tasty food had all contributed to the success of our stay at the Derwent Manor Hotel (and one or two of the group had also enjoyed the swimming pool) so it was a little regretfully that we set off under a grey sky on our journey back to Gloucestershire. 
However, one last and most unexpected treat lay in wait for us- a visit the Wynyard Hall. Now a luxury hotel and spa, this was once the ancestral home to the Londonderry family. Without the funds to maintain their estates, the family was obliged to sell them in the middle of the last century. Eventually Sir John Hall bought Wynyard House and began the task of its restoring it to its former splendour. All this and much more was explained to us by the friendly volunteers from the local history group who took us round the refurbished Hall and newly created gardens. A light lunch in the Mirror Room completed our visit. What a wonderful end to the holiday ! 


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