diamond geezer

 Friday, June 22, 2007

Northumberland flag  Postcard from Northumberland
  Craster and Dunstanburgh

CrasterThe north Northumberland coast forms one of England's official Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty. There are no major towns or industrial estates along this coastline, just dunes and rocks and beaches and several tiny fishing villages. One of these is Craster (population 370), whose shell-shaped stone harbour is protected from the fiercest North Sea storms by a natural rocky breakwater. The local economy was based on the humble herring, unladen at the quayside and cured in smokehouses above the harbour. They still smoke Craster kippers here today, but the herring is imported (and the seafood restaurant nextdoor is unexpectedly unwelcoming). Almost all of the cottages along the harbour are now holiday homes, which is all very well at this time of year but sadly bleak and soulless during the windswept winter. It seems that we tourists are busy destroying the very communities we've come to see.

Dunstanburgh CastleA mile and a half north of Craster lie the ruins of Dunstanburgh Castle. You can't drive there, so the coastal footpath is awash with ambling tourists. A National Trust volunteer lies in wait at the start of the walk, eager to pounce on passers-by and sign them up for long-term heritage membership (direct debit preferred). It may be several minutes along the path, especially in misty weather, before the long wall of the castle appears spread across the headland in front of you. Don't get over-excited - this one long wall is all you're going to get. The rest of John of Gaunt's fortress was destroyed during two sieges in the Wars of the Roses, so the only buildings standing within the invisible ramparts are the ticket office and a couple of portaloos. A single spiral staircase ascends the crumbling gatehouse tower [photo], through whose arrow-slit windows dart hungry swifts in search of food. From the top storey you can look back along the coast to Craster, or maybe out across the pristine sandy curve of Embleton Bay (if the mist isn't too thick). Oh yes, this is truly Natural Beauty. Outstanding.

Also worth a visit...
Howick Hall:
Ancestral home of Earl Grey (yes, him, the Prime Minister who introduced bergamot-blend tea to Britain in the 1830s). The gardens are exquisite [photo], the new arboretum is extensive, and the tearoom serves proper Earl Grey. Unexpectedly adorable.

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