Lake District, UK – September 2007

Day 6 – excursions into Durham & Northumberland

Thursday 6th September

There are only so many points of interest dotted around the country that we would think of visiting. Buggy access and child-friendliness are amongst the factors that contrive to restrict this choice for us. As we’ve steadily exhausted what Cumbria has had to offer over the past five days, we’ve now been forced to venture farther out to find places worthy of our attention. It took a little more effort this time to determine where to go and what route to take but we eventually settled on a loop out of Cumbria, around Durham and Northumberland and back again via Hadrian’s Wall. Funny how we’ve come all the way up here to the Lake District and will probably end up leaving again having not once ventured out onto any of the lakes – this despite the fact that we’re situated less than a hundred meters from the shore of one of the biggest and prettiest, Lake Ullswater.

Each of our destinations today was separated by about an hour’s drive from the next. First up was Barnard Castle, located in the town of Barnard Castle. I admit it’s a bit strange for the town to actually be called ‘Barnard Castle’ but that’s the case nevertheless. The castle ruin itself is one of the best we’ve ever been to but our overall enjoyment was muted just a little by the fact that Joey was extremely cranky with a nasty case of nappy rash. This wasn’t immediately obvious and it was a bit frustrating trying to figure out what his problem was.

Having arrived in Barnard Castle, we quickly located the ruin and parked the car at the foot of one of its outer walls. The castle itself is perched on a very high, sheer embankment and overlooks the rest of the town and a wide stream. With the car parked at the very base of this embankment, I couldn’t help but think that was goes down must go up and what goes up (the double buggy, two kids and heaps of heavy ‘stuff’ we always carry around with us) must be pushed – by Daddy. It was a long and arduous shove along the very steep path around the castle wall up to the main entrance. I was huffing and puffing profusely by the time we’d reached the top. I’d like to say that the castle itself was well worth this colossal effort, and it was, but this sentiment was subdued ever so slightly by the sight of the car park immediately outside the castle entrance. I guess the next time we should carry on following the signs and not stop the car just because we caught site of the place we’re heading to.

All of the English Heritage sites that we visit are typically equipped with a ticket office and shop. Various sundries and touristy bits and bobs can be purchased there. We typically avoid these tourist trappings and just flash our membership cards but, for some reason, Sandy felt compelled today to go all out and by a few effects for the benefit of catching that oh-so-cute camera moment with the kids wearing knights clothing, a wooden sword or a maidens hood and so on. She managed to get Joey into a knight’s mock chain mail top with helmet for all of fifteen seconds before he managed to pull it all off again. I think he may very well be onto the fact that Mum keeps trying to put him into various poses for the benefit of the camera and is starting to wise up to it now. Whether she was fast enough with the camera this time is debatable. Still, I’m sure there’ll be other opportunities to dress him up in his knight’s attire so I can only hope that the money spend wasn’t a complete waste.

Barnard castle stands literally within a few meters of the small town centre that shares its name. We wandered briefly through it to pick up some provisions for lunch and sat back down again under the shade of a tree in the castle grounds to eat it picnic-style. It was another of those every so relaxing moments of carefree living under the summer’s sun with no worries on our minds – or at least it would have been if we hadn’t both been stressed out to the point of speaking at each other only through malevolent stares, having tried desperately to figure out what was making Joey so irritable and near constantly crying (we hadn’t yet discovered his nappy rash problem at this point).

We left Barnard Castle and managed to make the next hour’s leg of today’s journey all the way to Prudhoe Castle before we finally figure out what Joey’s problem was. He must have been in terrible pain for most of the morning. Picking him up for cuddles must have been making things worse for him, which explained a lot. We did our best to sort the problem out for him and decided to pander to him a lot more than usual to try to cheer him up and keep him happy. My earlier frustration with him melted into sorrow and even a little guilt when we finally hit upon what the problem was. Fortunately, the main building at Prudhoe had several rooms that were set up to cater for toddlers. Both kids enjoyed doing brass rubbings and spent some time playing with puzzles and colouring books. Prudhoe Castle is not terribly large and not particularly one of the better places we’ve seen. It was, however, nice for the kids to be able to play inside for a while.

Our final stop for the day was Lanecost Priory. We passed it the other day when we were exploring the length of Hadrian’s Wall but didn’t really notice it until we’d actually passed it and looked back at it in the rear view mirror. We had planned on going back to it that day but never got around to it. We arrived with barely fifteen minutes to spare before closing time but the extremely friendly and very talkative lady in the office was more than happy to keep the place open for as long as we wanted to wander around. Lanecost is a lovely place. It’s part ruin and part functional church. We’ve had extremely good luck with the weather again today and the secluded nature of the grounds meant that we were again able to explore the place with little worry for the kids getting into trouble or out of sight. We were much better at handling Joey now that we’d figured out what was ailing him but the truth is that it had been a very long day for everyone, with lots of driving to boot, and so we made our way home again, but not before having to negotiate a path through the ticket office and the very, very talkative but friendly lady again. Actually, she was able to suggest a few places that we could stop off on the way back down South on Saturday and for this we were thankful.

Since we’re now getting to the stage where we’re in serious danger of needing a holiday after the holiday, we’ve resolved to do much less driving for tomorrow. Let’s hope we can stick to that resolution.