Knitting With A View: Hulne Park

This was my view for most of today. We were stewarding at a pleasure ride in Hulne Park. Horse riders were able to ride a set route through the Duke of Northumberland’s Estate here at Alnwick, either a shorter route of about 7 miles, or with an additional loop across the moors to give them a 10 mile ride. I mainly sat in the car and knitted while K pointed the riders in the right direction!

The estate is kept in pristine condition, with perfectly maintained fencing and immaculately mown verges. Some is kept as farmland with grazing sheep, but much of it is used for shooting: there are pheasants everywhere.

The park is open most days from 11am for visitors on foot. No vehicles (including cycles) are allowed (we had special permission) and no dogs are permitted (in case farm stock or game is disturbed) There are marked trails to follow. The park is occasionally closed to the public but details of closures are on the website.

Sometimes the views are just a little too perfect to be natural, then you remember that in the 18th Century the park was redesigned by Lancelot “Capability” Brown, who was famous for exactly that! There are beautiful specimen trees and well-constructed stone walls hidden in dips so they can can enclose farm stock without obscuring the view. The buildings are pretty special too, including Brizlee Tower, an 87 ft high, six storey gothic folly, designed by Robert Adam, and completed in 1783.

We were stationed at the point where riders had to decide on whether to take the long or short route. Apart from gusty winds, it was a lovely day, so most opted for the longer ride.

We saw everything from tiny children”s ponies to a massive Shire horse taking part, and everyone seemed to enjoy themselves.

There are worse places to spend a Sunday!

Have you visited anywhere interesting this weekend?

Alnwick Garden: A Rosy Treat

Last month Alnwick Garden invited bloggers to attend one of two days as part of their “Bloggers Week”. It was scaled down somewhat from the original event, but COVID – 19 had put paid to that. I was pleased that it had been rescheduled and it was nice to get a treat, so I booked my free ticket. I’ve been many times previously and used to have a members pass. I stopped that after they started a special offer which gave you entry for the year on a single admission ticket and haven’t been since, until this recent visit. It was also one of my first trips out to a public place since lockdown – it was going to be interesting to see what measures had been put in place and also how I felt about being in a busy location.

If you decide to visit, I strongly advise you to check the Alnwick Gardens website beforehand to check if advance booking is required and if there are any restrictions on opening hours or the facilities available. Everywhere is subject to quite rapidly changing guidelines in these difficult times.

As a disabled visitor I was able to show my blue badge use the designated forward parking area by the entrance. I had brought my own disability scooter, because the gardens own scooters and wheelchairs were not available for visitor use. A one- way system was in use to facilitate social distancing. which included a couple of small kerb bumps that in other circumstances I would have tried to avoid with the scooter, but they were not too bad and I got over them ok. As we approached the pavilion area it did seem more crowded, which did make me feel uneasy – Social distancing was just about manageable but I was still reaching for my mask! I think that this was mainly because the cafe was not open at the time, so more people were milling about – a couple of stalls were serving refreshments along the walkway to the left of the pavilion which seemed to add to the congestion. There were plenty of hand sanitiser points around.

The first sight of the cascade as you come through the pavilion courtyard remains as spectacular as ever. At regular intervals an additional sequence of fountains plays out, which is lovely to watch. Part of this is accompanied by the delighted shrieks of children trying to dodge the jets of water that shoot over the walkway in the centre of the cascade

The central cascade is flanked by hornbeam tunnels which have matured beautifully.

The one way system in the garden itself was not so easy to follow, especially when I’m used to following the easiest paths for the scooter . Most parts of the garden are reachable by scooter, with fairly gentle ramped paths throughout. Because of this we somehow bypassed the area of the garden which has a series of water features hidden from the rest of the garden by hedges.

July is my favourite time to visit when the Rose Garden is at its best. The scent is intoxicating. Out of interest I checked if I could still smell the roses with one my homemade masks on – I could not, so that’s an interesting test of their efficiency!. Until you visit a place like this it’s hard to imagine what variation in fragrance there is between different roses. Some are quite spicy, others have citrus notes. There are a stunning variety of different colours and forms too, from massive many-petalled blooms to sprays of tiny single flowers.

At the centre of the rose garden is a pergola covered in climbing roses and clematis, with an ornate urn. There are lilies here too.

in addition to the amazing planting and water features there are a few unexpected ornamental items, like this little frog statue, which I love.

Even the wrought iron gates are works of art

The path slopes upwards through the trees at one side of the cascade to the walled garden at the top. This is another feast for gardeners with stunning herbaceous borders that thrive in the shelter of the tall old brick walls. Earlier in the summer the delphiniums near the walled garden entrance are one of my favourite elements of this part of the garden, though the planting has highlights at all times of the year. They are past their best now but there are many other plants to enjoy, including a stunning bed of alstroemerias, in shades of red, orange and pink.

The centre of the walled garden has a formal layout with beds and paths bordered by clipped hedges, some low to show off the flowers inside, some high, like the ones surrounding this little secret garden with its central fountain

Following the path from here to the other side of the cascade we arrived at the cherry orchard, which is a vision of blossom in the spring. The path zig zags down through the trees (the corners are a little bit steep and the path is not a smooth as elsewhere in the garden but I managed (there is a steeper path with steps straight down the bank for those able to use it). In amongst the the trees are some swing seats for those whose want to stop for a breather here.

The path leads along past a large duckpond towards the poison garden, which has a fascinating collection of poisonous and medicinal plants. Visitors here are escorted by guides that begin their tours at regular intervals.

Between here and the pavilion there is another lovely border, planted in shades of blue and yellow. We grabbed a coffee from the stall here and sat watching the bumblebees visiting these electric blue and silver eryngiums.

The one-way system exited through the gift shop. I have to say this was the most stressful part of the visit. Even though my visit took place before masks became mandatory in shops, I felt safer wearing mine. Despite signage, few of those using the gift shop seemed to be observing social distancing and the route meandered through the shop displays and the shoppers, rather than directly to the exit door. The gift shop used to be in a separate building and visiting it was optional. It seemed ironic that we were corralled in this way at a time when social distancing is needed – rearrangement of shop fixtures would help.

With that exception, I enjoyed my visit. The gardens are as lovely as ever and there was plenty of space on the lawn for families to picnic and enjoy the space.

Just before we left we caught the climax of another fountain display. It ended with the large fountain in the lower pool getting higher and higher.

Have you visited the Garden? What did you think?

Knit and Natter Friday: 21 February (Part Two)

This afternoon was the weekly meeting of The Knit and Natter Group at Alnwick Medical Group, which is held every Friday from 2.30-4pm in the Lower Building Meeting Room.

This week’s completed charity knits include a hat, and some baby clothes, along with my twiddle mitts. We’ve also been working on some of our own projects, including socks, a baby cardigan for a group member’s first grandchild, due in May. One of the practice staff popped in for some advice on a top-down baby jacket they are about to start, also for an eagerly awaited first grandchild. There’s always some advice available and the little pink and turquoise top in the picture is a top-down construction too, so we had an example to show her!

I’d love to hear about any knit and natter or craft groups you are involved with.

Scone of the Week #8

Today’s Scone of the Week is from Bari Tea on Narrowgate, Alnwick. Bari (pronounced bar-ee) is a Northumbrian dialect word meaning” lovely” and this is indeed a lovely tea shop. They refer to it as a tea brewery and it really is all about the tea, whether you want to sit and drink it on the premises or buy some to enjoy at home.

Unlike some places, where the tables are crammed in, there is enough room to move around (especially when you rock up on a disability scooter as I did). They serve things like cakes and scones, soup, filter coffee and very nice hot chocolate……and a comprehensive range of teas – the tea menu is quite lengthy.

There are some quirks that make you smile when you visit Bari. The toilet is twinned with one in Kenya(!) and all the staff on duty are named on a blackboard.

It was a quiet weekday lunchtime so only the “Maitre T” and the “Teas Maid” on “Sconage Duty” were named.

Our scones were really good – we got the last cheese and mustard one, which had a lovely flavour and gorgeously crusty top, and a sweet sultana one with just the right amount of fruit. Both were good-sized rustic hunks of scone, soft and crumbly without being dry. They were served with pats of butter on a tiny dish, (no foil wraps to fiddle about with), though it was hard from the fridge and hard to spread. Another little dish held a generous dollop of strawberry jam.

Mum ordered a pot of breakfast tea, with arrived in an earthenware pot with a timer and a receptacle with tongs to remove the tea bag when the allotted brewing time had elapsed.

I am not (and never will be) a tea drinker – I simply don’t like the taste, so I opted for a hot chocolate (they also serve filter coffee). My drink was lovely too – a piece of proper chocolate on a stick (two kinds available), to melt into hot milk, served with grated chocolate on top and mini marshmallows on the saucer: heaven!

The staff were really helpful and friendly too.

Situated in the part of Alnwick that is popular with tourists, sometimes referred to as the Castle Quarter (close to Alnwick Castle and surrounded by other small independent shops), Bari Tea is well worth a visit if you are in town, especially if you like tea.

No Scone of the Week (but Good Cake)

There were no scones where we went today, but the cake looked good so we stayed and had some of that instead.

We were at the Paw Prints Coffee Shop at WCF Pet and Equestrian on South Road, Alnwick, close to the the Aldi supermarket. There aren’t many places for a cuppa and a snack in this part of Alnwick, away from the town centre and the tourist haunts. But being handy for Aldi and having it’s own car park should attract customers, even those who simply want a takeaway coffee (currently on offer for only £1).

Being inside a pet/equestrrian supplies shop, Paw Prints is of course dog-friendly. The menu is very limited however. They only serve hot and cold drinks, a small range of home-made cakes and pre-packaged biscuits, cereal bars and crisps. The staff were great – very helpful and friendly (and quite apologetic about the absence of scones).

We opted for coffee and walnut cake, which was lovely: home-made with a nice texture, just the right amount of icing and a a generous sprinkling of walnut pieces on top. It was served with proper cake forks too. Our drinks were fine. – filter coffee and hot chocolate, but nothing fancy (no whipped cream or marshmallows), though the tall, thin mugs with saucers looked quite elegant. It was all very reasonably priced too.

The cafe has been open since just before Christmas and they plan to expand the offer to include sandwiches (and scones, I hope!) It provides a low cost alternative to the town centre venues if you just want to get a quick snack to eat in or take out.

Do you have a favourite kind of cake?

Scone of the Week #5

First day after the bank holiday and everyone still seems to be off work or school. In Alnwick, in search of a scone, everywhere we looked was either packed with queues forming for tables (Barter Books) or closed (most of the rest). It really was a shame as there were lots of tourists about. Baileys, at the junction of Market Street and Bondgate Within, was open with vacant tables so that’s where we went for this week’s scone.

There are steps at the entrance and to get to the counter, so this is not the most accessible cafe. Inside, the decor is rather tired and I’m not a fan of the plastic tablecloths. The staff are very pleasant though and the place is dog-friendly: a very cute shih tzu was under the next table and there were water bowls dotted around.

After ordering at the counter, our scones and drinks arrived quite quickly. The scones were ok, though not very cheesy, with an almost sweet taste. They were served just warm, with a couple of plastic/foil covered butter pats (Lurpak) – nice butter, shame about the packaging. It was at room temperature and spread easily.

While my mum had a pot of tea, I had hot chocolate, which looked quite spectacular. I declined the optional marshmallows. My drink was served in a very tall mug with a long spoon, with a swirl of whipped cream and a dusting of chocolate powder. The cream kept its shape without melting away for quite a while.

Though not the best scone of the week we’ve tasted, it was fine. I applaud Baileys for opening on 2nd January, when many establishments didn’t bother and there were lots of potential customers about.

Have you been out to any cafes or restaurants over the holidays?

Scone of the Week #3- The Old Stables Tea Room

Today took us to the The Old Stables Tea Room, just outside Alnwick (on the roundabout just up from the Lion Bridge on the B6352). This lovely little cafe is situated in part of the stable block of a big old house.

Although they serve a lovely selection of yummy cakes and light lunches, we opted for our habitual cheese scones.

We were offered these slightly warmed and they arrived just warm enough to feel fresh from the oven, but not so hot as to melt the butter – perfect!. They were served with a very generous pot of butter, soft enough to spread easily (don’t you just hate trying to spread hard straight-from-the-fridge butter?) . The scones excellent: soft and very light with a little bit of cheese baked on the top. We accompanied them with a pot of tea for mum and hot chocolate (choice of milk or dark chocolate) for me, served with a big swirl of cream.

The cafe has a friendly team of staff and also includes a small shop area with a selection of cards and gifts. It’s usually quite full, especially in the summer holiday season and even today most of the empty tables were reserved when we arrived. It’s probably work booking in advance at busy times

As we were leaving, afternoon tea was being served to one table, complete with dainty sandwiches and cakes . It looked lovely – something to think about for another time.

What’s the nicest afternoon tea you’ve ever had?