Tuesday 31 July 2012

From Scotch to Ale

Continuing our journey down the eastern side of the British Isle we crossed into England and soon found ourselves at the sizable and recently restored Bamburgh Castle. Spanning nine acres of land and perched high on a rocky plateau, Bamburgh is one of those imposing, "that's not a castle ... this is a castle!" kind of places, unsurpisingly one of the largest inhabited castles in the country. We went for a much needed walk and I found myself setting up the tripod on the dunes.

Beach Dunes at Bamburgh Castle
Off the coast we could see the Farne Islands and Longstone Lighthouse which stood out in the seemingly ever-present rain.

Rain over Longstone Lighthouse
It was late when we arrive at the tiny town of Embleton and accommodation seemed rather sparse. Lacking our usual wifi-seeking laptop setup, we sought advice the old fashioned way - from the barmaid at the local inn. She quickly jumped on the phone to a neighbour a few doors down who ran a B&B, which was closed as the young owner was about to go on holidays, but seeing our predicament she didn’t skip a beat and happily offered us one of her super comfortable luxurious rooms, topped off with a discounted rate. Score!

Dinner was at the local inn with the variety of ales on tap that the English do so well, enjoyed in the beer garden out the back. Jimmy had put his cloudy pint of Indian Pale Ale down and was inspecting the garden when barman ran out and asked us, "so who had the IPA?" My confusion as I pointed to the partially-drunk pint turned into bewilderment as the barman grabbed it, tossed the contents onto a nearby shrub of daisies, and walked back into the bar. Tia and I exchanged puzzled faces, and struggled to explain the situation when Jimmy came back to a empty dry tabletop and a sopping daisy shrub, saying “Where’s me beer?" Jimmy was getting thirsty again as we wondered what this strange behaviour implied, but our barman came back with a freshly filled pint in hand. "T'was the last pull from the cask," he explained, "does funny things to your stomach." Ah, we nodded sagely. These Englishmen take that their ale seriously.

Early morning sunrise at Cannonball beach with Dunstanburgh Castle in the background was one of the reasons why we stayed at Embleton. Like Buachaille Etive Mòr I first found this place in a book by Joe Cornish called First Light, which inspired me to get into photography. The tide was way out and there were no waves but it was a good morning to be out taking photos. If anyone is thinking of capturing this beautiful scene, I recommend wearing high cut hiking boots as the rocks are slippery and extremely hard to walk on. You will slip, so the boots will protect your ankles somewhat (unfortunately the same cannot be said for your backside).

The famous Dunstanburgh Castle taken from Cannon ball beach.

We headed past Newcastle and on to Whitby, a Northern Yorkshire seaside town that seemed to blend an historical abbey with trendy cafes and elements of the carnival. It was like walking into a fair with pirates trying to sell us boat rides, fortune tellers trying to sell us our fortune, and parking ticket machines stealing it all away anyway. Horror rides and all sorts of strange and wonderful things to see and spend your money on.

On to the North York Moors. Before arriving I had always imagined moors to be desolate places full of marshlands always shrouded in mist and rain. Perhaps a place dangerously easy to get lost in, never to be found again - the perfect setting for a murder mystery novel. I am now not sure where I got this impression from, but the actual place couldn’t have been any more different. There was no mist, not much rain (which was surprising for England), and no marshland. Arriving at Goathland, we parked at the train station, which had previously posed as Hogsmeade station in past Harry Potter films. Tia was kind of excited about this so we hung around to watch the steam train puff by, before setting off on another English walk to a pub. This time our destination was the cosy Birch hall Inn, hands-down the smallest pub we have ever been to. It's single room was no bigger than an office cubical with three small tables bordering the walls, and a window in the fourth wall framing the head and shoulders of the barman who pops up every now and again and takes drink orders (somewhat reminiscent of those moving portraits in the Harry Potter world). But what it lacked in size, the pub gained in charm, and it was easy to talk to the pub's other patrons.

Stunned rabbit caught in the light - Jimmy at Birch Hall Inn
Beers put away, it was a tough walk back up a steep hill with Jimmy rescuing sheep along the way, and then an easy drive back to Birmingham.

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