Sometimes it feels like this house, once home to our four children, is now more like a staging post. They come, those children, bearing washing, clobber for storage, pets to be minded and we have a few wonderful hours or days, and then they go again. Now let me make it clear, I wouldn't have it any other way. They fill the house with laughter and fun, ask for help and advice - yes apparently we still know 'stuff', bring their husbands and friends - and they empty the fridge. And after years of quipping that my tombstone will bear the mantra "Laundry is My Life" I now know that happiness is an overflowing laundry bin! Really! Because it means they're home.
Add to this, my beloved's absentee worklife, skitting from Stamford to Dublin via Finland and it means there's a lot of rattling about this house on my own with only two dogs to keep me company. So I am turning into a bit of a globe-trotter now myself. Usually if it's a quiet week I can find a home-from-home somewhere with children or friends - Stamford, London, Edinburgh, Guernsey and so on. But this week the available options were a bit limited - my beloved was in Finland, number 1 in Florence, number 2 working in London (no time for playing with me), number 3 in Aberdeen and number 4 in Bangkok. What to do? Not fancying a whole week of my own company - I need no encouragement to talk to myself as it is - I decided that the dog (the actual resident dog rather than dog of daughter) and I would go on an adventure.
Initially my idea was to indulge my Potter-mania with a trip to Alnwick Castle https://www.alnwickcastle.com which is Hogwarts as any Potter fan knows, but, as it turns out, this is not a dog-friendly zone and Alnwick itself is a busy place in August. But Northumberland has so much to offer those on either end of the leash that I booked anyway and, despite the worst possible weather forecasts, headed North on Tuesday morning with Bobbie, the spaniel.
Our first stop was Craster where I had planned a spectacular walk past Dunstanburgh Castle along the cliffs. Despite the promise of two days of rain, there was actually no rain at all and the views were simply stunning. I was conscious that the small dog had never been to the seaside and although she is massively water-averse ("don't make me go out there - it's raining!") I thought she might like to dip her paws in the sea. Wrong! She staged a one-dog, stand-up (because the sand was wet so she wouldn't sit down) strike. But the beach was glorious and the walk gave me a massive appetite for Craster's famous crab sandwiches.
Then on to Alnwick where I was told very firmly that there was not a square inch of Castle or Garden where Bobbie the dog would be welcome. But at Barter Books she most definitely was! https://www.barterbooks.co.uk This place is an absolute gem! I love browsing a bookshop at the best of times but this magnificent emporium of second hand books encased in an old train station is just the best! From the model train that chugs its way round the store above our heads to the quotes and poems written on the walls and shelve-ends, the store is full of surprises and treats and, as it turned out, very dog-friendly folk. And I had to buy something in appreciation of the lovely time I was having so I picked up an anthology of Robert Frost's poems to remind me of a dear friend who introduced me to The Road Not Taken https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/44272/the-road-not-taken
Our-home-from-home was the dog-friendly Eshott Hall http://www.eshotthall.co.uk which was very nice indeed and whereas I had thought of booking a rather basic room above a pub, my beloved had treated me to a four poster bed, roll top bath and view of the tennis court. Yes, it was lovely and I would have had a most excellent night's sleep were it not for the snoring spaniel. I've never slept with her before and the snoring combined with a small-hours perambulation round the bedroom in the dark crashing into unfamiliar furniture made for a rather disturbed night. However this was redeemed by a top notch breakfast and then we were on our way again.
I had originally planned a big walk from Alnwick but given that the town was awash with would-be broomstick-bearing Gryffindors, Slytherins, Ravenclaws and Hufflepuffs and their parents and I had already queued once to get into the town the previous afternoon, we headed instead to Warkworth Castle http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/warkworth-castle-and-hermitage/ which proved a great choice. I love a bit of castling having been brought up within a few miles of both Warwick and Kenilworth Castles and there was lots going on there for children - and me, as it turned out! The barber surgeon was very entertaining and probably could have done stand-up at the Edinburgh Fringe and the swordsmen turned out to come from Warwick Castle and let me wave a sword or two about and try some chainmail. Dog definitely not impressed at this point!
Then off to Cragside, billed the home of hydro-electricity. Clearly the house was out of bounds to paws but there are 42 miles of beautiful woodland and lakeside paths and we made the most of it. Around every corner were stunning views and yes, we will definitely be returning.
So we're back home now and so glad that we took ourselves off to explore on our own mini adventure. How easy is it to do this with a dog? Well, apart from Alnwick Castle where we were spoken to rather brusquely by a staff member when I asked about the dog, everyone was charming. We had a slight hiatus when we woke up on Wednesday morning and both of us needed the loo and whereas my problem was easily sorted, the front door was locked and we had to find a fire door to get into the garden...hmmm. And Eshott Hall was lovely but I hadn't expected to be surcharged for the dog - I didn't complain because some hairy hounds (unlike mine) must make for extra cleaning but there was no reference to it when we booked and I can't find anything on the website. But everyone does talk to you when you're accompanied by a very attractive spaniel and we will definitely be doing it again. I have a plan...
Postscript: Low Graythwaite Hall, finest b&b in the Lake District and home to our friends Basil (Four Candles) and Sybil (Boadicea) will no longer be on our list of great places to visit as Basil and Sybil are moving on. We have had some absolutely top times there, eating amazing food, playing ridiculous games at the kitchen table, drinking too much and walking off the effects in the stunning scenery all around. It's been a joy - thank you!