2015 will see the 120th anniversary of the founding of The National Trust. This organisation was founded in 1895 to save the nation’s heritage and open spaces and its full, grand title is, The National Trust for Places of Historic Interest or Natural Beauty. Quite a mouthful.
I have spent many a happy hour strolling round some of their properties and land. From humble beginnings, the statistics are now quite staggering. The Trust now has over 4 million members and 10 million visitors to it’s properties annually. It is largely run by 61,000 dedicated volunteers of all ages, who all have a love for their work. And some work it is, with responsibility for almost a quarter of a million hectares of land deemed to be of Outstanding Natural Beauty, over 742 miles of coastline, 6 World Heritage Sites, 350 historic houses, 160 gardens, 61 pubs, 49 churches and 28 castles. That is a hefty responsibility.
There are some quite amazingly beautiful sights amongst them as members of the Trust and visitors will know.
Now, for members AND non-members alike, there is an easy way to see several of these gems in one swoop, with like-minded, interesting people for good company and the opportunity to make new friends.
Partner to the National Trust is the well respected coach tour operator Just Go! Holidays, who have created 17 tours to National Trust properties throughout England, Northern Ireland, Jersey and an ‘off the grid’ trip to the Loire Valley in France. There are six festive breaks at exclusive National Trust properties too, which are well worth a look for superb Christmas trips. Many of the tours have a dedicated and experienced tour manager to ensure that your every need is catered for on these breaks, which are from three to eight days in length. There are price reductions for existing National Trust members so take your pick!
I joined the ‘Rugged Northumberland Tour’ for a five day trip around this beautiful and surprisingly wild part of Britain. There are pick-up points across the North of England for this tour, though some people prefer to drive themselves or take the train directly to the hotel where the holiday is based. The choice is yours. The people on this trip were a cross section of couples or friends, though some people were travelling independently. A jolly bunch!
In this case it was to the Marriott Gosforth Park, a modern four star hotel situated in twelve acres of parkland just to the north of Newcastle. This was an excellent place to base our party. With 173 rooms it has all the amenities one would expect, including a kidney shaped pool, spa, sauna, steam room, solarium, Jacuzzi, gym, business facilities and even a hairdressers shop. The room was a spacious modern en-suite with all the quality fitments and accoutrements one would expect. It was spotlessly clean and the bed was oh soooooooo comfortable. It was a struggle to leave it some mornings, though the thought of the excellent hot and cold buffet breakfast usually did the trick. Taken in ‘The Plate’ restaurant, breakfasts and superb three course dinners were high quality and varied. Chats cafe bar is an alternative to the more formal dining room and a monthly deal meant that Guinness lovers could be very happy at £2 a pint. It was easy to relax in the leather sofas and chairs in the evenings at candle-lit tables.
There are fitness walking or running trails through the parkland to work off those delicious restaurant meals.
Led by the jovial and knowledgeable tour guide Sue, ably aided and abetted by our friendly driver Marty, we boarded our brand new coach in high spirits for our first day’s excursion as a group to the home of the Duke of Northumberland, Alnwick Castle. Harry Potter fans may recognise it as Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry from the first two films. It was a delight to see children having such fun, practising their broomstick take-off routines led by characters in costume. Privately owned, the castle is a Grade 1 listed building which dates back to the 14th century. It is the second largest inhabited castle in England after Windsor, with so much to explore. The State Rooms are simply magnificent with lavish Italian Renaissance style décor and one of the finest private collections of art and furniture in the country. Paintings on view included works by Canaletto, Van Dyke, Turner, Titian and more.
Adjacent to the castle are Alnwick Gardens, at their best in the late Summer sunshine. Known as ‘the World’s most extraordinary contemporary garden’, they have been rescued in the last ten years from dereliction and neglect. The 42 acre site cost £42m to reclaim. Now with outstanding architectural features, there is a wonderful and ever changing hillside cascade fountain, bamboo labyrinth, formal gardens, and ornamental features. A highlight was an escorted tour of the locked ‘Poison Garden’. Undertaken with tight security, there are many common and unusual poisonous plant varieties from all over the world, as explained by the guide.
Possibly the sight of the day was the spectacular fairy-light adorned Treehouse Restaurant up high in the tree-tops, reached via rope bridges and wooden walkways, though wheelchair accessible too.
Day two presented us with a guided coach tour of the city of Newcastle, with commentary provided by a qualified Blue Badge Tour Guide. He kept us amused and informed with tales and stories of yesteryear. There is far more to the city than its industrial heritage and in the centre we saw the Castle Keep, one of the best preserved Norman castle keeps in Britain. Passing through time we visited the ancient city walls, Georgian and Victorian buildings and the modern day quayside, home to many historic bridges across the Tyne. There are many riverside restaurants, bars and coffee shops alongside the river where you can take in the views, including the Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art and the Millennium Bridge, the World’s only tilting bridge. A crowd-stopper when in operation as boats pass underneath.
After lunch we were whisked off to the National Trust’s most visited property at Cragside. Home to an ingenious Victorian inventor and philanthropist, Lord Armstrong, it is an inspiring building. Built into rock high above Debdon Burn in 1863, the house is crammed full of Victoriana and fascinating gadgets of the period. In their original setting are one of the World’s first hydraulic passenger lifts, the kitchen dumb waiter, the rotary spit, a fire alarm system and many others. All very much ahead of their time. It was the first house in the World to be lit by hydro-electricity, using lakes on the estate to generate electricity via a turbine. These supplied the power for Joseph Swan’s invention, the incandescent light bulb. The hydro power was reinstated in July this year when a new 56ft Archimedes screw was opened to harness water flowing from the lake, through the blades of the screw turbine, thereby generating electricity. This power generated is enough to light the 350 bulbs in the house. The past truly revisited and revived, a project Lord Armstrong would have approved of and maybe had a wry smile at.
With over 1000 acres of beautiful, rugged woodland and lakes and Britain’s tallest tree, a 140-year-old Scots pine measuring 131 feet, I could have stayed on, intrigued by the objects, greenhouses, bridges, pathways, gardens and spectacular views, but our evening meal was calling.
Our final day as a party was probably my favourite as we visited the wild and un-commercialised area of coastline at Holy Island. We took the scenic route there and as the island is only accessible by a tidal causeway twice a day at low tide, it pays not to be caught in the middle on a rising tide! The village of Lindisfarne sits on low-lying land on the island and has pubs and coffee shops from where you can take in the views of the golden wind swept sands in peace. Seals can often be seen basking on the shoreline. The ruins of 12th century Lindisfarne Priory, are a ghostly and haunting reminder of the harsh lives the Irish monks who founded the monastery which preceded it had. It was here between AD698 and 721 that one monk, Eadforth, beautifully illustrated and wrote the Lindisfarne Gospels. This book is with the British Library and can be seen online.
Around a twenty minute walk or a short shuttle-bus ride away, high on a volcanic rock plug is the former fort of Lindisfarne Castle. It has seen many guises over the years and was more recently an Edwardian holiday home designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens. The interiors reflect all of this beautiful castle’s history.
Around the harbour there are old, upturned herring boats on the shore, now used as fisherman’s stores, a wonderful photo opportunity. There was time to explore the village but all too soon (we had to beat the incoming tide) we were off again for our final night’s dinner at the hotel. The route home meandered through the Northumberland Coast Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, taking in the delights of Bamburgh Castle and the Farne Islands. Sue once again provided interesting and curious facts about the places we passed.
Our final evening meal in the restaurant was excellent once again and a convivial evening it was too, with new friendships forged and acquaintances made, we finally made our way to our rooms for a well deserved night’s rest in preparation for the journey home the following morning.
This was a fascinating holiday with so much to see and learn. The hotel was excellent, the tour guides and driver so pleasant and helpful, and with the benefit of a comfortable, modern coach to ferry us around. Everyone’s needs were catered for. What I particularly liked was the non-regimented approach. Apart from a timed booking for a guided tour of Alnwick Castle, we were given the freedom to wander off rather than be a contained group so that everyone could do their own thing at their leisure and at their own pace. Everyone agreed that it had been such a relaxing and interesting tour.
Just Go! Holidays have found a niche market and one that works extremely well.
Trust me. Just Go!
Silver Travel Advisor recommends Just Go! Holidays