For our second anniversary, we (although sadly only 3 of us were able to make it) set off north towards Alnwick, the home of the most powerful northern barons during mediaeval times, the Earls of Northumberland. We parked near the Lodge and, although it was a before 11 a.m., we were allowed to enter Hulne Park, the Home Farm of the Percy estate.
The main access road stretched ahead of us, lined by the shapely outlines of the beautiful deciduous conifer, the swamp cypres; a strange tree for this location, but attractive nevertheless. We attempted to access the parkland up a steep track on our left, where logging operations had been taking place, only to be politely told that we should not be there ! So we retraced our steps to rejoin the main farm road, passed some open fields near the entrance to the Park Farm itself, and then turned left up the hill towards Brizlee.
The gothic style Tower came into sight on our right hand side, and we had a coffee sat around the base of this folly, which had been restored in 2007 by the estate. We had to rely on the internet translation of the Latin inscription around the first floor balcony : Look around! I have measured out all these things; they are my orders, it is my planting; many of these trees have even been planted by my hand. Words from Hugh Percy, the first Duke of Northumberland, who had this tower with its beacon designed for him by Robert (or his brother John) Adam in 1777 and built in 1781.
The next notable spot on our route was the new Percy family cemetery, looking over the valley towards Eglingham and the Scottish Borders. A remarkable set of wrought iron gates by blacksmith Stephen Lunn frame the entrance to the stone walled enclosure, with an intriguing tree sculpture in the centre of the cross shaped interior. A wonderful feature which fits into the landscape really well – the symbols on the gates echoing the wildlife to be found nearby; … and we were rewarded by seeing a buzzard circling above the trees to the north.
We returned down the track, past the monk’s statue, to the main farm road and walked further into the Park, towards East Brizlee Farm, and then crossed the two bridges over the River Aln and the Shipley Burn, at their confluence. Turning east now, we made our way along the flat pastures by the side of the river, until there was the steep little climb up to the ruins of Hulne Priory. We sat on a handy bench overlooking the valley to have our lunch – a lovely spot.
Having eaten well, we explored the remains of the Priory before heading off back down to the riverside walk – alas, no kingfishers, but we did see some dippers cavorting in the shallows. We crossed one bridge, but at the next, hoping to cross the river again to enjoy the walk along the opposite bank, a ‘No Access’ sign prevented us. A little further along however, a narrow footbridge enabled us to reach the eastern bank, and we then quickly attained the flat pastures near the impressive ruins of the Abbey Gatehouse.
Emerging onto the Wooler road, we entered Alnwick town, hoping that St. Michael’s church would be open. It was as their website had predicted though – closed. We browsed around the graveyard for a while, before moving on towards the Castle and our rendezvous with the girls for the celebratory coffee and cake. The Black Olive café was a short step away, and we arrived at the same time as our spouses to partake of Alnwick’s finest fare.
A lovely end to another good day’s walk, and a remembrance of all the enjoyable times we’ve shared over the last two years. Roll on the next walk !