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Thank-you to everyone who sent us congrats (personally, by email or by commenting on this blog) on our “wedding”.  The only thing that would have made the day better would have been to see our friends and family standing with us in the blacksmith’s shop.

You’re wondering – how do you top a great morning like the one we had at Gretna Green?  I am here to tell you that the whole day was one of the very best of my life.  Like couples of old, we didn’t stick around to play tourist in Scotland.  We hightailed it right back to England.  Now Fahbio and I have been to the very north of England before and we love it.  Personally, I would take the north over the south every time.  It is wild and beautiful and real.

Firstborn admires wild beauty of Cumbria

Firstborn admires wild beauty of Cumbria, on the same spot she stood as a toddler fifteen years ago

Next on our agenda was Hadrian’s Wall.  Call me an ignoramus but when I first came to this part of the world 15 years ago, I had never heard of Hadrian’s Wall.  And when I found out that it was built by ROMANS in ROMAN TIMES, I was gobsmacked.  It takes forever to drive in a modern car from Dover to the Scottish border so think of how it was in ROMAN times.  And they didn’t come from Dover, they came from ROME.  And they had to conquer everything along the way so that must have slowed them down further.  It took ten thousand ROMAN soldiers ten years to build.  It runs for about 75 miles – right across England!

Hadrian's Wall, England/Scotland border area

Hadrian’s Wall with Fort, England/Scotland border area

Hadrian's Wall, detail

Hadrian’s Wall, detail

To the young couple with the dog (she in hot pink velour track suit), it was fun to talk with you and I know you were sincere in your appreciation of the ancient romanness of it all.  I wish I had been brave enough to say something to you at the time.  I am not sure why I didn’t.  Maybe because I didn’t want to spoil a great day or because I didn’t want to rain on your ancient roman parade.  But if you are reading this, I now have the guts to say that, in order of transgressions:

  1. Dogs were supposed to be kept on a lead but whatever that’s no biggie.
  2. There was a sign expressly asking people not to walk along the top of the wall for preservation sake.  I know it is tempting but if 5 monkey-kids could resist surely one fully grown man could have?
  3. If every person jumped to the back/north/Scottish side of the wall and jiggled a loose piece to remove it for their garden like a certain young man with a hot pink veloured side kick did, the wall would not exist.  From our discussion, I know it was loose anyways but it was pretty big and came from the bottom and frankly in four years when you move, you will forget about it and the next home owners will find their garden too rocky and toss it.

As we were hyping up Hadrian’s Wall on the drive there, Onlyboy said, “Let me guess, it’s another National Trust site?”  Yes, sarcastic one, it is.  It is also yet another UNESCO World Heritage Site so here we kill two birds with one stone!

Tynemouth Metro station, Photo from bbc.co.uk

Tynemouth Metro station, Photo from bbc.co.uk

After Hadrian’s Wall, we drove on to Tynemouth.  Newcastle Upon Tyne is a fantastic city in the very north of England.  I can’t recommend it enough.  Party animals from London come up to Newcastle for the weekend to let loose.  It is vibrant, fun, exciting, yet down to earth.  It has great architecture, pubs and clubs.  And it is just a few miles from the sea (and Scotland).  I call it the “Porto of the North” and we all know how gaga I am for Porto.  Parking is tricky in Newcastle so we found a hotel in the seaside suburb of Tynemouth.

In Victorian times, new tram lines allowed suburbs to grow and it became fashionable to head to the seashore on the weekends.  The Metro station in Tynemouth is a perfect confection.  Built in 1882, and completely restored, its delicate cast iron pillars hold up a glass ceiling festooned with curlicues and fretwork.  In IMHO, to simple call it the Tynemouth Metro station and stick a big yellow M outside the front door does not do this beauty (complete with lovingly restored train station by the way) justice.  How about “Ye Most Beautiful Victorian Work of Art Which Ye Can Still Enter for the Price of a Few Coppers and Which Will Transport Ye Literally, Figuratively, Emotionally, and Physically Both Downtown and Back in Time”.  Just a suggestion.

Children play in front of Grand Hotel, Tynemouth (requisite VW campervan in background)

Children play in front of Grand Hotel, Tynemouth (requisite VW campervan in background)

The hotel was a little pricey but it had free parking and breakfast was included.  Once we arrived, it became clear that we had come to one of the best-value stops of our whole trip.

Grand Hotel, Tynemouth

Grand Hotel, Tynemouth

The hotel was built for the Duchess of Northumberland in 1872 as her summer residence but only five years later it was converted to a hotel.  The hotel is still owned by the current Duke and Duchess of Northumberland and guess where they live?  In Alnwick Castle, where the family has lived for 700 years.  Alnwick Castle is where they filmed the first two Harry Potter movies – Alnwick Castle is Hogwarts!!!  When the kids found all that out, they just about passed out and a spur of the moment plan was hatched to visit Alnwick Castle.  Believe me, I had a bit of teasing to do about them all of a sudden wanting to drive an hour to visit yet another 700 year old castle.  Unfortunately, it is still owned by the family so our National Trust membership will not save us from the $65 or so it will cost us to get in.  But by all accounts, it is well worth the visit and the Duke has kindly decreed that he who buyeth an entrance ticket shall hereby be permitted to useth it as much as he wishith for a whole year.

One of our three bedrooms and two bathrooms, Grand Hotel Suite

One of our three bedrooms and two bathrooms, Grand Hotel Suite

View from our room, Tynemouth

View from our room, Tynemouth

Our “family room” in the Grand Hotel was a suite of three bedrooms and two bathrooms spread over two floors.  The view was gorgeous and the breakfast was to die for.  It consisted of a buffet of cereals, croissants, juices etc as well as a hot main course to be ordered at the table: full English, eggs benedict, smoked haddock with lemon sauce and so on and so forth.  Our server had just returned a few days earlier from eight months of backpacking around the world so we had many notes to compare.  Definitely the right place to come on honeymoon with five kids.

For dinner we embraced the fact that, for once, we had no kitchen and got fish and chips takeaway for the kids and Indian take away for the adults.  I can’t comment on the fish as I did not have it but the Indian food was the best I have eaten in years.  The yogurt in the raita was homemade, the lime pickle also homemade, the lamb so tender and not at all greasy, the chicken sweet with raisins and coconut.  First class all the way and the perfect ending to a perfect day.