03 May 2012

Learning How to Fly a Broomstick

On this trip to the UK rather than spend the weekend in London (I mean I've been twice already, *obviously* I've seen everything) my friend and I took a trip to Northumberland to go castle hunting. First stop was the seat of the Duke and Duchess of Northumberland, Alnwick Castle.

Alnwick Castle (pronounced  A-nick) is not only rich in interesting history, but has been the site of several movies including Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves; a movie I love despite Kevin Costner's attempt to ruin it with his atrocious acting; and Harry Potter! HARRY POTTER!! And appropriately enough, our journey from London began at King's Cross Station.

Our train did not leave from Platform 9 3/4 but that didn't stop me from trying!

A four-ish hour train ride later, we settled into our room at the Oakes Inn on the outskirts of Alnwick and the very nice proprietor gave us a lift to the castle where we were greeted by this character.

Harry Hotspur, famous teenage knight of the Percy family 1364-1403.

Then you walk through the outer bailey and BAM! CASTLE!

The sun played peekaboo with us all day but it was largely overcast, rainy, and flipping cold. I had packed for the Middle Easter, not for northern England which apparently had not realized that it was the end of April and therefore spring.

View of the keep from the inner bailey.

Entrance to the estate rooms. This is a working castle which means that the family still lives here.

The tours we went on included some really interesting information. For example, not only did we learn that the Duke and Duchess still actually live here (which was evident in that the library not only includes tombs of well cared for books and first editions, but also a flat screen TV and fuse ball table) but that they have to ask for permission to use their own things! The family evidently need written permission to use certain rooms in the castle, including the library, so that conservationists can keep track of wear and tear on the furniture.

The 14 GBP entrance was well worth it. In addition to the historical tour, the estate room tour, and the tour of the Lost Caves (oohh spooky), there were plenty of activities to keep you busy. One of the most fun was the Dragon's Quest area where you put your skills to the test! Ok perhaps it was largely for kids but it was still fun. You get to dress up in period costumes and play games and make crafty things (there were even adult size costumes-which we put on).

What you can't see (because I took no pictures) is the Dragon's Quest lair which was like a mini fun/horror house with fun house mirrors, monsters, skeletons, etc. We thoroughly enjoyed it.

And the best part-Harry Potter activities. The castle does different Harry Potter things throughout the month and we happened to be there on the weekend they were doing broomstick Flying lessons. So if you remember your Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone movie, this is where their first flying lesson was filmed!

With a poster to mark the spot!

So it's possible that flying lesson was me, my friend, and six-seven kids who ranged from about 18 months to maybe nine...but it was still fun. The lesson involved: learning how to mount the broom (which wasn't even three feet long), making 'whooshing' noises while running up and down the wet, muddy bailey, having a relay race, and playing stop-and-go. It's possible that we were the same age as some of the fondly watching parents but I was still glad to do it. And everyone was paying so much attention to the cute little toddler that no one really seemed to notice my giant self :)

The best part of the lesson? I have photographic proof that I can both make a broomstick respond to my Up command and that I can fly.

Yes that is me flying.

After a day of tromping about the castle grounds we crossed to the other side of what I think was the Aln River to get a good full view of the castle.

Sheep are freaking everywhere!

Another one of those interesting facts we learned during our tour was that the first Duchess of Northumberland, Elizabeth Percy, turned the castle, which had been used almost exclusively before her as a garrison, into an actual home. That includes tearing down part of the curtain wall (i.e. the tall wall that surrounds the castle) and MOVING THE RIVER so she could see it from the lawn when she wanted to picnic.

You can see the short wall there-that's the curtain wall the first Duchess had torn down and above that is where she would picnic.

She moved the river. I'm still not over that.

After we left the castle we walked back to the hotel through the village, which, despite the cold and severe overcast sky, was very charming.

With day one of castle hunting done we went to be early so as to prepare ourselves for day two and the trip to Bamburgh a little farther north.

No comments: