Holiday to Northumbria
 We left Marlow at 8.30 am with Tony at the wheel of his immaculate Britannia coach.  Just like St Cuthbert, who was carefully carried cross-country to his final resting place at Durham, we were in safe hands! After a ‘pit-stop’ at Warwick Services, we were soon tucking into shepherd’s pie in the refectory-style restaurant at Renishaw Hall. The Sitwell Family was famous for its hospitality and our visit to their home in Derbyshire, proved no exception. A tour of the house then followed, with an excellent guide who told us about the eccentric family that has lived there for nearly 400 years. We heard about the current owner, Alexandra; her parents, the late Sir Reresby and Penelope, Lady Sitwell, who brought the house into the 20th century; the ‘literary trio‘ of Edith, Osbert and Sacheverell; their coterie of clever friends, like Rex Whistler and John Piper, whose works are on display; and earlier generations.  A walk in the lovely Italianate gardens was long enough for an ice cream in the sunshine, but too short to linger on the lawns, before we continued our journey north. Around 6pm we checked into the comfortable Best Western Gibside Hotel at Whickham, outside Newcastle, where we enjoyed a generous helping of Geordie hospitality. 
Kristian Perry
Friday 29th September: After a good breakfast we were raring to go, despite the rain which was to be expected as we were ‘oop north’. When we arrived at Beamish we were even given a waterproof map! We soon forgot about the weather while we explored the old town. The staff were so enthusiastic and eager to impart their knowledge. The dentist told us about the dentures, which were passed down through the family – hence “she has her mother’s smile”. The printer explained that The Times was the first newspaper to initiate new types of printing – hence “keeping up with The Times”. When we got to Durham the sun was shining and we had a very informative tour around the city by coach and then on foot. One interesting fact we learned was that historically the Mayor had 15 bodyguards. Nowadays,15 Freeman of the City perform that duty. The Angel of the North was not very aesthetically pleasing with its arms looking like rusty bi-plane wings. However, something rather nice happened when a young man proposed and was accepted by his ‘Angel of the North’.
Jean & Rob Stanger
Saturday 30th September: Tom Keating, our guide on board for the day, gave us an informative history of Northumberland as we travelled further up the A1 for our visit to Bamburgh Castle. Interesting facts learned: among the 2000 artefacts in the Castle we saw a Venetian mirror so precious it was given a seat on the plane and in 1781 John Sharp created a pioneering coastguard system from Bamburgh Castle. Proceeding to the tidal Holy Island of Lindisfarne where in 635AD St Aidan founded his monastery. Another factoid: St Cuthbert initiated conservation legislation in the 7th century for Eider ducks. We then returned via Newcastle-upon-Tyne for an intricate and fascinating coach tour of the city centre. One reflection of our day: if your surname happens to be Armstrong, Maxwell, Johnston, Graham, Bell, Scott, Nixon, Kerr, Crozier, or Robson; you may well be descended from Northumberland reiving stock. During the 14th to 17th centuries every family from labourer to peer of the realm went “a-reiving” with no social stigma attached!
Julia & Len Stacey
Sunday 1st October: A damp misty autumnal morning began with us still talking about Newcastle and our discovery that it was not just a football club but an elegant city. Alnwick Castle was our first stop with its stunning gardens and home of the wealthy Duke and Duchess of Northumberland with their 700 years of family residency. The modern Grand Cascade with its timed fountains could easily have graced one of Louis X1V’s minor chateaux. Lofty tunnels and church-like rooms formed out of beech and with small rivulets ran alongside the cascade. The Ornamental formal garden, reached by climbing many steps, was worth the effort. The bamboo labyrinth displayed some gravity-challenging stainless-steel water features. We puzzled as to how curtains of water could fall so beautifully. The scientific explanation left us cold. The Tree House was huge with restaurant and cafe. Looked impossible to maintain. Onto the medieval castle and the State apartments decorated in the 19th century in the Italianate Style. The knowledgeable guide painted a colourful history of the family. We drove over wild moorland to a complete contrast - Wallington Hall (NT). More a house with a family atmosphere and on a much smaller scale than Alnwick. In 1928 Charles and Mary Trevelyan and their 6 children moved into a rundown house, restored it and shared it with friends, family artists and politicians. Charles, head of this unconventional family, did not believe in private ownership of land and considered himself a trustee of Wallington for the community.
Lyn & Dick Rimmer
Monday 2nd October: We left our comfortable and friendly Gibside Hotel for our journey southwards. Despite a motorway holdup and a lorry in a ditch, requiring the coach to take a roundabout route, we drove through Kedleston’s beautifully landscaped parkland to marvel at the spectacular Neo-classical mansion ahead of us. Here, we said our 'goodbyes' and ‘thankyous’ to our careful and capable driver Tony and ‘hello’ to Eric. Kedleston Hall is a spectacular 18th-century mansion with Adams interiors and parkland. The Curzon family lived there from the 12th century, accumulating sculptures, furnishings, paintings and more. Lord Curzon was Viceroy of India and acquired treasure displayed in an Eastern Museum. A wonderful end to a full few days thanks to Alison and Angela.
Edna & John