Belsay Hall, Castle & Gardens
near Ponteland, Northumberland

Belsay Hall
There's lots to explore at Belsay, from the Greek style Hall to the medieval castle with its attached Jacobean Mansion. Even the Quarry Gardens are lovely to wander through en-route to the castle.
The Hall dates back to the early 1800s and is built in the 'Greek Doric' style that was popular with the landed gentry at that time. It was lived in by the Middleton family, who lived on this site for 700 years until quite recently and has stood empty and left in a state of slow decay since the 1960s.
It's really interesting walking around the building, although there's no furniture or paintings the rooms still have their fireplaces and built in features so it's pretty easy to imagine the rooms as they would of looked when the hall was occupied.
The impressive 'Pillar Hall' entrance way with it's beautiful metal work stair balustrades is my most favourite feature of the Hall. I'm also quite fond of the 'bed-cots' in some of the bedrooms and it's interesting to see remnants of the old wallpaper in the odd places. There's also a massive cellar, which was used for wine & beer storage, amongst other things however we all agree it's just a little bit creepy down there...don't say I didn't warn you! It's a shame that not much remains of the servants wing, but you do get a feel of how much smaller the living areas were compared to that of the main Hall.

Belsay Castle
The fantastic 14th century Castle started out as a 'Pele tower' and was built to protect the family and livestock from the invading Scots and dangerous Border Reivers. In the 1600s Thomas Middleton added a mansion to the side of the castle to improve living conditions for the family and modernize the place, I suppose it's a bit like keeping up with the Jones's!  Although the castle is totally empty now you can see how small the rooms are so living in the mansion must of been a great improvement! You can climb right to the top of the castle and look over the battlements, however be aware that its a steep climb up several floors of uneven spiral staircase.
The adjoining Jacobean mansion is now a ruined shell, however the kitchen 'range' oven is still in place, I've noticed in quite a lot of old buildings that the 'range' seems to survive relatively well, they were obviously built to last!
The family abandoned the castle/mansion in the early 19th century, stripping out everything so they could use it as a garden folly and picnic place! How the other half live!
Behind the castle are the fanciest Kennels I've ever seen complete with fireplaces to keep the doggies warm!

Quarry Garden
Belsay has a lovely traditional formal garden up by the main Hall, but the best  by far is the 'Jurassic Park' style garden built in the old quarry. Its quite an adventure walking through the giant rhubarb and ferns, colourful rhododendrons and magnolias and secret pools & hiding places carved into the rocks. I once read a Stephen King book, the title escapes me, where a lady buys a painting of a garden and she magically ends up inside it, walking through the quarry garden always reminds me of how the painting was described!
Belsay Hall is regularly used as an art venue and over the years I've seen quite a few different displays & events most notably the Crystal Horse, which was moved to different locations over the years but was sadly no where to be seen on my last visit.
More recently we enjoyed a display of medieval costumes, with some fantastic and sumptuous dresses designed with Elizabeth the first & Anne Boleyn in mind.
A trip to Belsay is certainly a great budget day out, take a picnic with you and you can spend the whole day enjoying all that this fantastic historic site has to offer.

All content, words & photos are covered by copyright ©AngeGraham(the vintage-pirate) and may not be reproduced.
Some of these photos provided with kind thanks by ©Stephen Harrison.

Skidby Mill
Near Cottingham, East Yorkshire

Skidby Windmill
End of term for The Evil Genius at Hull University was an ideal excuse to finally visit Skidby Windmill. We've drove past signs for the mill many times en-route to the campus & The Evil Genius enjoys regular weekend walks to it. So on 'Jubilee Tuesday' we walked past the famous 'underground reservoir' and 'bunny paradise' to the mill.

Skidby Mill was built in the early 1800 and was used as a flour mill then an animal feed mill until the early 20th Century. Its a four-sailed tower windmill and still has its original out building attached. Nowadays these are used to house the Museum of East Riding Rural Life as the mill is owned by the local council.
Apparently they still make flour in the mill Wednesday to Sunday but we visited on a Tuesday so no mill action was happening. The admission fee was very reasonable and we thought the museum overall was very good.
There were displays of farming equipment which were easy to understand, there were some interactive milling displays and also a reconstructed workshop on the next floor up. I think we were able to visit 3 floors, the higher floors where the milling machinery is housed is only open when the miller is present on a flour making day.
There was an old blacksmiths workshop outside in the courtyard and also a lovely old cart in one of the barns.
We enjoyed a lovely cup of coffee from the courtyard cafe and sat outside for  an impressive view of the mill.
The windmill is set in quite a small site behind a pub and next to some private houses so other than the displays inside the actual mill there's nothing else to see here but we filled in a good hour or so before heading back to pack up & bring The Evil Genius home for the summer.
It's interesting to read about the connection between Skidby Mill and Thompson & Sons of Alford Mill in Lincolnshire.
We also visited Alford Mill earlier this year and we all enjoyed it very much.

Alford Windmill
Alford Windmill in Lincolnshire, was built in 1837. It's over 30metres tall, has 5 sails, 6 floors and is a fully functioning flour mill ( I bought a bag to bake some special cupcakes! ).
We climbed up steep wooden 'ladders' right to the top of the windmill, each room smaller than the last, so it may not be suitable for the feint of heart!
On your visit do have a delicious cake from the tearoom and on a sunny day its nice to sit out in the garden & enjoy your coffee while the windmill creaks & turns in front of you...aaahhh lovely!
Its an absolutely beautiful windmill and I'd like to thank the man who let us go into the mill on a day I've since discovered it wasn't suppose to be open to the public. Thank you kind sir, very much appreciated!


Brinkburn Priory & Manor House
near Rothbury, Northumberland

perfect peaceful picnic place
I've passed the signpost for Brinkburn Priory on many occasion en-route to nearby Cragside House but my only previous attempt to visit inconveniently coincided with the gates closing time!  However on a beautiful sunny Sunday in late May we eventually managed a successful visit to what turned out to be one of the nicest, most peaceful places I've ever had a picnic.
The car park is set at the top of the road away from the Priory & Manor House and its a fair walk down an uneven road to get to the site. However it's definitely worth 10 minutes of gravely walk to reach this picturesque riverside haven.
Unusually for this type of property, the 12th century Priory has actually been renovated and is fully 'roofed' and 'windowed' after apparently being in a ruinous state for a couple of hundred years! There were many pretty and ornate stained glass windows on the priory and we were greeted by the tuneful songs of a local women's choir rehearsing for a show later that day which definitely added to our experience. But I have to confess that I prefer my priories to be ruins left to the mercy of nature and the elements and I prefer to guess what it might of been like in days of long ago, instead I found the Priory to little too 'churchy' and not being a particularly religious type of person the building wasn't as appealing to me in its 'restored' condition.

Brinkburn Manor House
On the other hand the Manor House was fantastic! Previously the building had been totaly renovated in the 1800s and in its current state of partial ruin it was very interesting to see the layers of history visible in the brick work inside the house.
You could see the faded grandeur of what was obviously once a very substantial & impressive Manor House but as the plaster was stripped away in many areas you could easily see where 'other' things had been. The main parts of the house that impressed me the most was the initial entrance hall with its grand staircase & ornate door architraves, and then the huge 'range' fire place found on the lower floor, which was not only pretty but so intact it looked like it could be lit and reused at any given moment.
The overall site had a large grassy area with lots of wild flowers and the river, although fenced off (and I didn't notice a way to actually reach it!) runs alongside making it a very peaceful & relaxing place. We did find what looked like some kind of small tunnel hidden away in the trees, but we weren't too sure what that was all about..perhaps a troll lives there! There is also a pretty building at the bottom of the site right next to the river which was once a mill. Although totally changed in style and now owned by the Landmark Trust this building was once a thatched watermill and features in a painting by JMW Turner.
There were a few art installations, which I enjoyed, namely a large bell to the rear of the Priory and a huge cute bird to the side of the Manor House.
There was a holiday property situated just outside of the site boundary which I remarked I would love to stay in sometime and would be an ideal 'get-away-from-it-all' location.
All in all it was a lovely place and I would definitely picnic there again. Well worth a visit indeed!


Corbridge Roman Site & Chesters Roman Fort
Corbridge & Chollerford
Hadrians Wall

Corbridge Roman Site
As a nice mothers day trip we decided to head north in search of Hadrians Wall... Now even though I am a Northerner I'm ashamed to say I haven't had a lot to do with Hadrians Wall as such I sort of thought (niavely) that we would happen upon a large wall, maybe in a field, with a big sign pointing to it saying 'welcome to Hadrians Wall' but that wasn't what happened at all...
First port of call for the day was Corbridge Roman Site which is just on the outskirts of the pretty town of Corbridge. (A town requiring further exploration!) The Roman site was apparently a thriving garrison town in its hayday, situated on the main roman road of Dere Street. Today the site includes the remains of foundations of buildings and some impressive remnants of columns & the hypocaust underfloor heating system that the romans favoured so much. It does make you think they must of been pretty cold in  the depths of a harsh northern winter in their little skirts, so no wonder they invented underfloor heating!
We had our first ourdoor picnic of 2012 here with beautiful scenery all around us, including the gorgeous Beaufort Castle which is sadly (for me) privately owned and not open to the public. The children greatly enjoyed running around and exploring the remains, enjoying the glorous sunshine and they enjoyed looking for the lions in the little onsite museum. After a few hours of explorations we decided to head off in search of 'the wall'... we did happen to see a short length of wall, in a field, with a sign post, but unfortunatly there was no handy parking place, so we drove past and carried on until we came across Chesters Roman Fort.

Chesters Roman Fort
First of all I would like to say thankyou to the lovely man at Chesters Fort (I'm sorry I didnt get your name but you know who you are!) It would seem my beloved English Heritage membership cards had expired in Februrary and me like a total divvy had forgotten to pick the new ones up! D'oh! Obviously my cards still scan as I am indeed a fully paid up member but I was mortally embarrased by the whole ordeal, but the lovely man organised some temporary cards for me, very kind indeed.
I was very impressed by Chesters Roman Fort. Its a surprisingly large site, with all the parts individually fenced off and everything is sort of low down so it seems you climb into each section. Even though its 2000years since the garrison was here I really got a feel for the place & it was easy to imagine Roman soldiers going about their daily buisness. Its a very pretty riverside location with some parts of Hadrians Wall tantalisingly visible on the opposite river bank but I saw no easy way to reach there so it remained frustratingly unexplored. I even managed to 'spot' some oystercatchers in the river from the handy veiwing platform. There is a nice little victorian museum housing a lot of stone work & interesting artifacts that have been found on site.
We did pass another part of 'the wall' on our homeward journey so our next Hadrians Wall adventure will start at Brunton Turret but this time we'll be armed with a proper map & more of an idea where we're actually going!!

Both Corbridge Roman Site and Chesters Roman Fort are English Heritage owned so free entry for members but there's an admission charge for non-members. Both have plenty of parking although there is a charge at Chesters Roman Fort however you do get refunded if you're a member.
All content words & photographs are copyright ©Ange Graham (the vintage-pirate) and may not be reproduced.

Fountains Abbey & Studley Royal Water Gardens
Near Ripon, North Yorkshire

Fountains Abbey
Fountains Abbey is a beautiful world heritage set on 800acres of land and it holds such a special place in my heart, I love to visit here whenever I can.
You can quite easily fill in a whole day here and not see everything the place has to offer. Infact we have camped near here on many occasions and I still dont feel like I've completely seen everything!
If you haven't visited a historic property before then this would be a great place to start.
The Abbey was built in 1132 by Cistercian monks but has been a ruin for a good 300 years or so there are plenty of nooks&crannies for young adventurers to explore! On your explorations of the abbey look out for the very pretty vaulted ceiling, my favourite angel & the green man. There's also lots of remants of smaller buildings surrounding the abbey and there's a little river (complete with ducks & fish) which runs directly underneath in some parts.
There's also a Mill which is about 800 years old. Inside you can have a little go at making your own flour & see the water wheel working & be sure to give the bell a ring before you leave! There's an interesting display all about Fountains Abbey inside the newly renovated Porters Lodge and there's often some hands on family workshops in the Swanley Grange buildings and dont miss the fabulous 'rocking sheep' while you're there!

Fountains Hall
Fountains Hall is a lovely Jacobean mansion dating back to the early 1600's. There's often art displays inside here but as the building houses 2 holiday apartments there's not a great deal of the building open to look at.
St Mary's is a victorian gothic style church that has amazing painted ceilings & gold inlaid walls & doors. Its usually only open on an afternoon and its a nice walk through the deer park to get there. Speaking of deers, there's hundereds of them so you should definately see some on your visit! There's a lovely veiw of Ripon Cathedral from the church, and there's also the impressive Chorister's House which is a former Music school but now a holiday let (which I some day hope to stay in!)  As well as 3 types of deer, there's also an abundance of pheasants, squirrels, rabbits & the biggest dragonflies I've ever seen in my life to be spotted as you stroll through parkland, past the lake and down to the gorgeous 18th century water gardens. You could quite easily spend a whole day just walking round Studly Royal water gardens. There's a pretty veiw around every corner. The Temple of Piety next to the crescent lakes is probably the best know of the little follies in the garden but there are plenty more. The Octagon Tower is probably my favourite & to reach it you can go through the spooky Serpentine Tunnel ( its very dark so take a torch, or get a torch app for that! ) The Banqueting House is very nice if you manage to visit on a day when its open to the public and its definately worth the walk up to Anne Boleyn's Seat to take in the impressive overall veiw of the abbey.

Studley Royal Water Garden
The site is both National Trust & English Heritage owned so members get in free. There's free parking at the main car park at the Visitors Centre but there's a charge to park in the Deer Park carpark, however if you display a membership car sticker its free!
There's plenty of places to buy ice-creams & there's a big restaurant at the visitor centre & also a tearoom at Studley Royal Lake. There's 2 shops to buy a souvenir, book or something for your garden.
They host lots of special events, walks, talks & crafts here too. Every year in October the abbey is floodlit on a weekend evening which adds a new dimension to your visit also in December the abbey is floodlit with multi coloured lights & they have carol singers & mincepies which is super christmassy and one of my favourite times to visit!

All content, words & photographs are subject to copyright © Ange Graham (the-vintage-pirate) and may not be reproduced.