Monday, October 1, 2012

Romans and Potter and Percy, Oh My!!

Well, I actually decided to do some wandering this weekend! Saturday was spent in the country side, and Sunday was spent in a castle.

Saturday 29 September 2012

Destination: Roman Vindolanda Museum
Megan and I got off the train at Bardon Mill, and I was reminded of the scene from The Chronicles of Narnia where the children get off the train in the middle of nowhere and just stand on the platform as the train chugs away. Except there was no horse and cart to pick us up, and as our train was not steam powered there was no chugging. We wandered into the sleepy town of Bardon Mill rather unsure of which direction to take, so I pulled out my ipad and pinned our location on my google map. I think investing in 4G was definitely a wise decision, and fortunately England is well equipped with cellular towers and satellites. We wanted to find an information center with a map, but when I say Bardon Mill was a sleepy town I am not exaggerating. It was about 1:00 in the afternoon and there was no one in sight. Even the pub looked closed! Since there was no location map to be found we just picked a direction and started walking. Relying on instinct isn't always the worst thing in the world; fortunately it was the right direction. We toodled through a gap in the hedge, ran across a busy motorway and found a sign pointing up hill: "Vindolanda 2" 
   ...   except we aren't sure if that's 2 miles, or 2 kilometers. Further down the road we saw more signs that said 2 1/2 miles, so we weren't sure if we were getting further away, or closer, but they were the only signs we saw! On a side note, google maps informed me that the route we took was 3.2 miles. So someone is confused here.

The Roman Vindolanda Museum is a working archaeological site where students can go partake in excavations every summer. The artifacts are displayed in a small museum at the bottom of a valley. At the top of the hill surrounded by farm fields are the foundations of a Roman village and military fort. Rome was well on it's way to conquering all of England and to ensure the loyalty of the English tribes they took the sons of families at a certain age and enlisted them in the military. Situated close to Hadrian's Wall it would have served as an outpost for troops to easily deploy to kick the Picts back over the wall into Scotland. When their service term was up they were released from military duty and allowed to return home to their families. This type of contracting, as well as the fort/ village operation is well depicted in the 2004 film King Arthur with Clive Owen. Those soldiers who were trained down in Londinium were versed in the new Christian doctrines, however it was very apparent that Christianity took a little bit longer to get up to the wall. There are several temples dedicated to Roman Gods that have been discovered at Vindolanda, however we did not see any evidence of a church.

After we meandered through the museum we left out the back door and took the short cut back to the train station. This cut a good mile out of our journey and was all down hill. It was a pretty windy
walk, but nothing could beat the view we had the whole way down! There were a lot of sheep and cattle, and we met a nice farmer with a sweet little laberdoodle on our way up the hill. We felt like we were trying to stay just one step ahead of the rain the whole time.

We made it back to the train station with 10 minutes to spare, which was lucky because we had completely forgotten to check the return times! We figured our all around walking distance was about 7 miles. Not to shabby for a Saturday, and I'm glad I got my sneakers!

Sunday 30 September 2012

Destination: Alnwick Castle (pronounced ANN-ick)
Megan and I were joined by Cata from Columbia, and Tony from Russia on this journey. We hoped on the bus at 9:45 in the morning and alighted in the town of Alnwick somewhere around 10:30. Scattered showers were predicted for the day, which meant we were under constant threat by a blanket of dark grey clouds. Good thing I had my new rain coat and umbrella with me! Alnwick seemed to just be waking up, after all it was a Sunday and pubs were open generally from 12-2pm for Sunday roasts (lunch). The castle walls are snuggled right up next to a main road in town. I almost missed it because the stone work in the rest of the town was slightly similar.
When we walked out into the first courtyard we immediately recognized it as the courtyard in which Harry, Hermoine and Ron all have their first flying lesson in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. I couldn't stop grinning, and looking around for the statue with the sword that Neville got caught on on when he fell off his broom ... that part was computer generated apparently. Sad. The managers at Alnwick Castle have certainly capitalized on the fact that Harry Potter was there, and they have made it a major kid friendly attraction by giving "flying lessons" every hour or so! We watched part of one such lesson being given, and I couldn't stop smiling at the little boy with Harry Potter glasses painted around his eyes, a lightening bolt painted on his forehead, and a little robe tied around his neck, taking his broom stick and wand very seriously.
Unfortunately you can't see him above because the munchkin in the read jacket is standing in the way, and I didn't want to be creepy and keep taking pictures of the same kids! And in this picture the flying instructors are demonstrating the correct way to "MOUNT" your broomstick. When you do so, you must yell "MOUNT!" in as loud and ridiculous a voice as you can possibly manage. I will point out that you can see an adorable little girl with blonde braids wearing her little wizards robe on the far right of the picture. She was very concerned about holding on to her broomstick as well.

This one was to confuse the enemies with how small it is and
then take them out at the shins.

Alnwick is a working, residential castle. One of the very few left, and the Percy family is working very, very hard to keep it that way. The current Mr. Percy, who holds the title "Duke of Northumbria," is working very hard to keep the castle and its artifacts well preserved and open to the public. The family feels very privileged to have a historic monument as their home, so for six months out of the year they let people stomp through their foyer, chapel, library, china cabinets, study, drawing room and formal dinning room. The dinning room boasts a beautiful working fireplace made from Carara Marble brought all the way up from Rome. It was a gift to one of their ancestors. My favorite room was the library. Not only does it have that beautiful old book smell, but we had a nice talk with the curator in the room who had a jolly time demonstrating her knowledge about the family and the room. We learned that the eldest daughter, who recently was married, is a mechanical engineer who could take apart and put back together a motorbike at the age of 12. She also has a patent on a sighting device for a gun, because she didn't like the one that came on hers. The eldest son, who holds the title of Earl, is championing research in alternative energy and the green movement. There are two other children, one of whom is still in school and the other just graduated and isn't sure what to do with himself yet. But isn't that the story of most of our lives? Their mother, the Duchess of Northumbria, has made restoring the castle gardens her pet project and has started research on building a garden for the blind. She feels very strongly about how gardens are currently very biased towards able bodied people, and has started working towards making the Alnwick Castle gardens more disabled friendly by building new wheelchair paths that go all the way up to the top of the hill and down again. I found a really good article on the duchess and her garden from the NY Times, so if you want to learn more about it you can read it for yourself. The link is below my last photo.

This one is not poisonous. I smelled it, and it was beautiful.

I also found her garden of poisonous plants to be quite fascinating. She is championing drug awareness, possibly a result of her brother in law (the former Duke of Northumberland) being found dead in his hotel room from an overdose of amphetamines. You can take a guided tour through the garden, and after doing that I don't think I will ever pick so much as a raspberry and eat it again (you never know what's growing around it)! It's all grocery store and farmers markets for me from now on!
Unfortunately my camera died halfway through the gardens, but I did get a couple nice shots.