Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Shakespeare, Hexham, Hadrian's Wall and all points north...

Hadrian's Wall - a small garden ornament designed to keep out vast hoards of marauding Picts.  Surprisingly effective. Seen here in excellent weather and with a distinct lack of sheep poo.

It was to be an excursion north.  My sister Cathy, is a graphic designer and does a lot of work for a Shakespearean group who have their base in Northumberland.  She and her husband, Julian, had been invited up to this neck of the woods for a party to celebrate Shakespeare's birthday/death day (depending on how you look at it).  She had mentioned to them that I dress up as a big Tudor Jessie and they were keen for me to come along and join in the fun, as I was assured many other of the guests would similarly be dressed up.  Oh yes, I was assured...
We drove up on the Thursday morning, up along the A68 which was the very same route I took way back in 1987 on my first ever trip to the Edinburgh Festival.  Ah!  This time, instead of sharing a clapped out Ford Transit minibus, I was in my sister's humongous Jeep Grand Cherokee, a car roughly the same size as the USS Nimitz, which was lucky considering the vast amount of baggage we were bringing with us, as well as Cath and Julian's dogs, Charlie and Oona.  We were staying just outside Hexham in the delightful hamlet of Juniper in a restored pre-Victorian chapel nestling next to a flowing river.  Beautiful - even in the weather we endured, which was damp with a capital "splash".  Check it out here: http://www.theriversidechapel.co.uk/  and go and visit it!  It's lovely!  We had a lovely lazy first evening, drinking wine, and eating chicken and chips - very classy.
On the Friday we drove up to Hadrian's Wall, a site I have driven past so many times over the years but had yet to visit.  We headed up to Housesteads Roman Fort where you park up, and enter via the site shop.  You are lulled into a false sense of security by the gentle path that leads out of the back of the shop, this then slopes down before suddenly rearing up like the north face of the Eiger.  I was overtaken by one very pensionable looking chap which made me feel great about my current fitness levels. But we got there in the end and had a look round the interesting museum, then had a good wander round the site which had more sheep poo than you could honestly shake a stick at.  I did my usual trick of visiting an ancient monument by taking some time to kick over a few molehills to see if anything cropped up - and they did!  First I found a nice bit of Roman grey ware pottery, then a very nice fragment of Samian pottery and finally the remnant of a rusted nail - possibly too small to be a roof nail, but possibly from a Roman shoe.  I handed that one into the museum and they seemed genuinely pleased to receive it.  Little things...  We drove back to our chapel via the charming little town of Haltwhistle, where we picked up a very nice steak pie for our din dins that evening from a local butcher's.
Saturday was the day of the Shakespeare bash - in the nearby little town/village of Allendale.  As it turned out I was the only person in costume, nothing new for me to be honest, but I was also the youngest person there by about 20 years.  It was an interesting day - readings from various plays and sonnets, traditional songs and also some lovely folk music.  We were given almost industrial amounts of wine to drink, which was very welcome, and after about 3 hours it was time to leave, probably before we slipped into an alcohol induced coma.
Sunday was another day out, this time driving over to Temple Sowerby, near Penrith to visit my lovely friends Andy and Kate Blundell and their children Daisy and Dylan.  The drive over was via the town of Alston on the A686 which I can thoroughly recommend - stunning scenery and some beautiful houses.  It was great to see Andy and Kate again and we sat in their garden drinking tea and watching young Dylan demolish a chocolate cake all by himself.  Good lad.  Andy took us over to their antiques showroom later - such wonderful stuff!  Have a look here: http://www.phoenixantiquesbarn.co.uk/ at what they can offer.  We drove back to the Chapel for our last night, stopping on the way to pick up a take away curry and some more wine for our final blow out.
The drive back on the Monday morning was hard work for Julian, he did most of the driving.  I have to admit I slept most of the way!  The weather was mostly dreadful with heavy sheets of rain lashing down.  My plan to hurtle off back down to Somerset was thwarted as I had to come to Essex and look after James for a couple of days as Amanda is ill with severe bronchitis at the moment.  But, hey, any excuse to spend some happy time with my lovely son is to be cherished.  So I am not complaining!  It has been a lovely long weekend away, but I would really love to see Juniper and the Old Riverside Chapel in nice weather as it must be stunning.  It was good enough in filthy weather!

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