On every cruise, there is at least one port where things just don’t go as planned. For this trip, it was Newcastle-on-Tyne. We had joined a taxi tour (group of 4) that would take us to a couple of the local castles. It was supposed to be a 3-hour excursion. We docked promptly at 8:00 am; we were supposed to meet our taxi driver, Clive, at 8:15 to 8:30. Typically, there is a short wait after docking in order to get the ramps set up; NCL also sets up a refreshment tent with water and juice. Today, it took an hour for the ship to be given clearance for the passengers to get off the ship. We had joined the queue at 8 am, assuming that it would just be a few minutes wait, but ended up standing in the stairwell for an hour.
Finally we were able to leave. We found Clive and he told us that the reason we had to wait was that since this is not a usual stop for NCL, there had been a special ceremony for the captain to receive a plaque from the port authorities. Seems to me that this could’ve been done at a later time! Anyhow, John and Cyndi quickly joined us and we walked over to our taxi. Unfortunately, the taxi was a compact-sized car. No big deal, but there were 5 large adults to fit into it (John is 6’5″!). Clive and John took the front; Clayton, Cyndi and I crammed into the back. Since I was the smallest person I volunteered to sit in the middle. Let’s just say that it was a very, very uncomfortable ride.
Clive was a fount of information about the Newcastle area. We heard about its local heroes including the man who invented the turbine engine. We passed a statue of Stan Laurel who grew up here and lived here until he headed “across the pond” to seek fame and fortune in the USA. We heard about WWII history. We learned about the many shipwrecks that have taken place (up until the 1960’s) near the mouth of the river Tyne. We even learned that Sting grew up in the area. His father was a milkman. Those of us of a “certain age” may remember leaving our orders for dairy products in the mouth of one of the milk bottles. The song, “Message in a Bottle” was an homage to his father.
We briefly stopped at the Tynemouth Priory, a ruins of a former castle that was converted by monks into a priory. It is now a ruins and is located near the mouth of the river. You may notice that there are no pictures. Apparently the issue I am having transferring pictures has nothing to do with the software; when we returned from our tour I had exactly the same problem as before. When the card reader read the data on the SD card, instead of transferring it, it deleted it. I will be waiting until we get home to transfer pictures; I am pretty sure that the issue is with the laptop I brought on the trip so will transfer the pictures on my home computer. If that doesn’t work, I don’t know what to do!!! I won’t be posting any more port reports until our return home, either. (Update: I am home now and the geniuses at Kenmore Camera were able to recover my pictures, so am adding them to the blog post. It turns out it was my camera rather than my laptop, software or SD cards that was at fault. Bad camera!)
We made a photo stop at Seaton (meaning “house of”) Delavel Hall. This estate was used for POW’s during WWII (Italians and Germans, predominantly). This was an “open” prison, meaning prisoners were allowed to leave during the day as long as they were back by curfew. Many of them made toys for local children while in custody there. Quite a few of the prisoners remained in England after the war; they had no desire to return to Germany. They anglocized their names so as not to stand out as German.
Though we didn’t see it, Hadrian’s Wall is located in the Northumberland region. The wall was built to keep the Scottish savages out. Probably pretty effectively, too. The stone wall is 76 miles long, took 4.5 years to build and is 16 feet tall and 16 feet deep.
As we drove to our next castle ruins Clive told us about the design of English castles. This particular castle had a dry moat. Wild boards and wild dogs were kept there; they were not fed so they would attack anyone trying to cross the moat. A large solid drawbridge was raised and lowered for those that were allowed entry. For those trying to attack the castle there were several obstacles to overcome. The castle keep was in the middle; walls and turrets surrounded it. Attackers would try to destroy the castle walls first using catapults and trebuchets. This particular castle was too small to survive an extended siege and so is thought to have been used as a lookout castle.
The first line of defense for the castle was the drawbridge. Though I have no picture of it, you could see the inset in the stone where the drawbridge fit. Above the drawbridge sit three stones where boiling oil would be poured down upon the invaders. If that failed, there was another area just inside the archway of the door where more boiling oil could be poured. And if that failed, there was a third area just inside the castle walls where yet more boiling oil was used. There were crosses built into the stones of the castle walls. These were not decorative; they hid areas where archers shot their arrows. From the outside, they look very small, but the crosses concealed chambers where the archers had 180° views of their enemies. And, if all else failed, there were men with pikes and yet more archers inside the castle walls.
The problem with all of this was that the outside forces really just had to outwait the castle residents. Eventually, the inhabitants would run out of food and/or water and be forced to surrender. Speaking of food, there was something called a deep freeze which was a 50 foot tunnel built under the castle. This would be filled with snow during the winter and then sealed up. It was used to keep salted meats frozen; an early day freezer!
On to Alnwick! Back to being squished into the back seat of a small car! Have I mentioned how windy the roads are in this area? The British do seem to love their traffic circles…they were everywhere. I am prone to car-sickness, so was quite happy when we reached Alnwick castle, better known as Hogwarts from the first two Harry Potter movies. Clive stopped a bit away from the castle, home to the Duke of Northumberland (which he pronounced something like “northbun”!) until 1982 when he turned it over to the government. The upkeep on these castles and estates is quite horrendous so many of the British upper class no longer inhabit them.
We were then dropped off at the castle and told to call Clive when we were ready to move on. The castle itself was spectacular. They have done a nice job of balancing the historical along with taking advantage of the Harry Potter angle. In the Outer Bailey area (basically a large field) one can attempt Broomstick Training. We saw many children dressed up in their robes taking advantage of this opportunity. They also had a Knight’s Quest area where kids could dress up in period clothing and fight each other with swords, or be put in the stocks and have (fake) rotten vegetables thrown at them. We also saw something called “Dragon Quest” which might have cost extra, so we didn’t go through it.
We walked through the State Rooms to experience how the “other half” lived. Let’s just say, those living upstairs lived quite the lives of luxury. The downstairs staff, not so much. There was a castle museum (archeological artifacts) and a Fusilier’s Museum. One could also experience the dungeon. And, if you so choose, there are several places to eat. Clive had told us about a really cool bookstore in town that served a nice lunch so we didn’t have lunch at the castle.
Really, the most fun for me was just being in the castle where the first two Harry Potter movies were filmed. The castle is beautifully maintained. I liked looking up on the castle walls and seeing all of the figures (statues) that were posed there. They were intended to look like soldiers, protecting the castle.
Clive came to pick us up and we headed to Barter Books. This is a unique bookstore that was built from an old railway station. People are allowed to bring their dogs inside; there were many beautiful doggies browsing books with their owners. This is quite the popular spot; so popular that there was no table for us to sit at, so we decided to move on and try elsewhere for lunch.
In the town of Alnwick is the White Swan Hotel. Its claim to fame is that its dining room is taken from the Olympic, one of the two sister ships to Titanic. The lounge from the Olympic was installed in the hotel in 1927. It was really lovely; lots of ornate woodwork. Very classy! One can definitely imagine the room being in the first class section of a transatlantic ocean liner back in the day.
We crammed back in the car and decided to ask Clive to take us back to the ship. We could catch a late lunch there. At the start of the day, Clive had told us that we would be gone for 7-8 hours which was way longer than any of us had anticipated. By the time we had seen the castles, bookstore and hotel, we were ready to go back; no need to stretch out the tour any further. Unfortunately, we got stuck in stop-and-go traffic and it took nearly two hours for us to get back to the ship. Have I mentioned how uncomfortable it was in the back seat? And, that I get carsick? And that, by now, I was really hungry? I couldn’t wait to get out of that car when we finally made it back to the ship! And, to add insult to injury, to find that all of the wonderful pictures I had taken had once again disappeared.
We are headed back to Southampton to drop off the current set of passengers and pick up a new set. Our next cruise is 8-days long and will stop in Copenhagen, Oslo, Hamburg and Rotterdam. From there, we will travel by train around the U.K. and will be heading home in late September. I will be updating my blog then, hopefully after successfully transferring the rest of my pictures from my camera when we get home!