We are planning to organise some full day excursions on Friday, 17th July, 2020 – if there is sufficient demand. Below are five suggestions for (what we think are) reasonable day-trips, together with an informal poll. If you are particularly keen for us to organise one of these trips, do please vote!
We would probably provide packed lunches as part of the excursion-package, but all of this is still TBA.
Vindolanda is a large Roman fort, just to the south of the Wall. As well as the fort itself (which is still an active archaeological dig), there is an impressive museum, which features a number of the so-called Vindolanda letters. These – written on slivers of wood-bark and preserved in Vindoland's anaerobic soil – are some of the earliest surviving handwritten letters in Britain.
We would plan to stop off at the Wall as well (perhaps at Housesteads, if we can arrange it). In any case, anyone on this trip would need sturdy footwear – and NB it can be chilly on the Wall even in mid summer!
Cragside House and Gardens
Cragside is a Victorian country house, set in extensive gardens and grounds at the edge of the Northumberland moors, near Rothbury. It was the home of industrial magnate, scientist and philanthropist William Armstrong (1st Baron Armstrong). Cragside was the first house in the world to be lit by hydro-electric power. The house is open to the public, and so too is the estate, which includes formal gardens, woods, rhododendrons, lakes and moorland. It is a great place both for interesting walks (with appropriately sturdy footwear!) and for just hanging out – there is, of course, a National Trust café and shop.
Alnwick Castle and Gardens
Ancient seat of the Percy family, and still the home of the Dukes of Northumberland, Alnwick is probably best known to Chaucerians for its (rather eccentric) medieval copy of the Canterbury Tales. Like Durham Cathedral, Alnwick provided a backdrop for some of the Harry Potter films.
Alnwick's formal gardens, redeveloped in 1997–2006 at a cost of over £40 million, are also a popular visitor attraction.
Lindisfarne (Holy Island): Priory and Castle
This is the most difficult excursion to organise, since access to Holy Island depends entirely on the tides. It will only be possible to organise a trip to Lindisfarne if the tides fall kindly for us that day – and it is quite a long trip from Durham (nearly two hours each way).
As well as the ruins of Lindisfarne Priory (the original church of St Cuthbert), there is a museum, a mead shop, a medieval castle, some nice cafés/pubs, and some attractive walks. We would recommend sturdy footwear for this trip.
Rievaulx Abbey and Helmsley Castle
Nestled in a remote valley in the Yorkshire Moors is Rievaulx Abbey, now ruined but nevertheless a spectacular illustration of the power and wealth of the Cistercians in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. This is the abbey once ruled by Aelred of Rievaulx (1110–67).
We would perhaps combine the trip to Rievaulx with a visit to the pretty nearby town of Helmsley, with its medieval castle. Again, sturdy footwear is recommended, since the ruins of both Rievaulx and Helmsley can be awkward under foot.