Gibraltar & The Med: Pt 1 – City of Gibraltar

One of our most memorable trips occurred in the Summer of 2014, as we jetted off to the British Territory of Gibraltar for some stunning views a very British, yet Mediterranean experience. Before heading off to see the famous Apes in the Clifftop Nature Reserve, we took in the sights in the City Centre…


Status: City, British Overseas Territory of Gibraltar

Date: 25-29/08/2014

Travel: Monarch (Manchester – Gibraltar), Gibraltar Buses, Gibraltar Cable Car

Eating & Sleeping: Bristol Hotel, Rock Fish & Chips, Pizza Hut etc

Attractions: City of Gibraltar, British War Memorial, American War Memorial, City Walls, Gibraltar Castle, Cable Car, Nature Reserve, Botanic Gardens, Europa Point, Strait of Gibraltar, Governors House, Gibraltar Museum, City Hall, Parliament Building, Holy Trinity Cathedral, St Mary’s Cathedral etc

Gibraltar 1

Leaving Gibraltar Airport after the 2.5 hour flight, this is the sight that greeted us. The enormous Rock of Gibraltar towers over the rest of the city, and is a major landmark in the area. At it’s base lies the main city of Gibraltar, whilst on top sits a large nature reserve, home to the famous Apes, and the terminus of the Cable Car from the city up to the cliff top. Flights regularly leave the Airport bound for the United Kingdom, to the London Airports as well as Manchester. Aside from the Airport the only other public transport in the territory are the Gibraltar Buses, of which there are a number of services that can take you anywhere in a few minutes, and for a very reasonable price. The territory also has a large International Ferry Terminal where ferries from around the world regularly dock on the way towards Spain and other parts of the Mediterranean such as Italy.

Gibraltar sits on the East side of a large bay in the Mediterranean Sea which stretches round past the town of La Linea directly over the border into Spain, to the larger city of Algeciras in the West. To the South lies the Strait of Gibraltar, and on the other side of that the mountains of Africa, specifically Morocco, are a major feature on the horizon, and on a clear day make for an incredible view.

From the Airport it was just a 25 minute walk into the heart of the ancient city, although to get there you first have to WALK over the Airport runway, which was certainly a new experience! In fact, the main road from the Spanish Border/Gibraltar Airport also crosses the Airport, so barriers come down to stop you crossing when a flight is incoming.

Moving into the City Centre, the first stop for many is the central square, called Casemates Square. It’s a large public area, around the perimeter of which are located a number of cafe’s, restaurants and souvenir shops.

The general area inhabited by the square dates back to around 1160 when Abd al-Mu’min arrived to create the 1st ever settlement here. The city has grown up around this area, which during the 14th century was home to a Galley House, remains of which can still be seen today. The square didn’t gain its current name until the 1770’s when, after it has become a British possession, a large set of Barracks was built at the North End, called “Grand Casemates” (completed in 1817). Just next to this part of the square is a large gate called “Grand Casemates Gates” which opened in 1885, replacing the previous Gate called Waterport Gate. It cuts through part of the extensive Town Walls, which has made Gibraltar a veritable fortress, based on foundations started by the Spanish and greatly improved by the British over the last few centuries.

At the South West edge of the square sits a statue of a member of the “Gibraltar Defence Force”, shown to be wearing summer battle dress, erected in 1998. The statue acts as a monument to celebrate all the local residents who were members of the “Gibraltar Volunteer Crops. The Gibraltar Defence Force and The Gibraltar Regiment”. There are a few different forces listed as they succeeded each other, with the Gibraltar Regiment being formed in 1958 out of the Defence Force. It is still active, and serves with the British Army.

Despite a large portion of its history being linked to nearby Spain, Gibraltar has very much embraced it’s British position, with the locals speaking English, and the local currency officially being the Gibraltar Pound, linked to British Stirling. Euro’s are still accepted everywhere, however officially the Gibraltar Pound is the territories currency.

As well as various Fish & Chip Shops, a truly British dish, there are other British icons located throughout the city, in the form of the iconic red Phone Boxes and Pillar post Boxes.  Various examples of old version of the Phone Boxes are resident here in Gibraltar, including an old K2 shown above (and also to be found in the Botanic Gardens) 1 of the older versions designed in 1924.

Gibraltar 6

Casemates Square leads Southwards directly onto “Main Street”, one long pedestrianised street that runs all the way through the city centre towards the Cable Car up to the Rock, and the Botanic Gardens. It contains most of the main shops, gift shops and restaurants in the city centre, as well as notable buildings including City Hall, the Parliament Building, Holy Trinity Cathedral and the Governors House.

The street is full of beautiful old buildings, and whilst the architecture has been influenced greatly by Spanish towns and cities, it still has a lovely Britishness about it, with the presence of British shops including WHSmiths and Marks & Spencers. Aside from Main Street there are a number of other roads leading up to the upper levels of the city, which rise up from the base of the Rock to a point where you walk straight up to some areas of it, to the various defensive installations.

Further up Main Street, you will come across another square, which is the administrative centre of the whole territory. At the East end of the square sits the former City Hall (1st picture), originally built as a private mansion in 1819 for Aaron Cardozo (1762 – 1834, British Businessman, who helped to supply the fleet of Admiral Horatio Nelson). After Aaron’s death the building became a Hotel, and then became a private residence once more. It became the property of the local authorities in 1922 when it was sold to the territory governing officials, who turned it into the new City Hall, to house Gibraltar City Council, created in 1921. The Council still operates, and is headed by a Mayor, whose office and official residence is located in the building.

City Hall sits looking directly across at the Parliament Building at the West end of the square, backing onto Main Street. The building was built in 1817, and was used as a Local Library, before the new Legislative Council for Gibraltar moved in in 1951. This was in turn replaced by the new “House of Assembly”, which eventually became the Parliament of Gibraltar in 2006.

Gibraltar is officially a British Overseas Territory, meaning the United Kingdom holds sovereignty over the whole territory. The Spanish King Charles II (1661 – 1700) had died with no son in 1700, creating a succession crisis for Spain. The heir stipulated in Charles II’s will was Philip of France, the French King Louis’s grandson. This was seen as a move that would secure more power for the French King, as the family would rule 2 large empires. To try and prevent it a joint English & Dutch force (prior to the act of Union in 1707 that created the Kingdom of Great Britain) took Gibraltar, assisting Charles of Austria (1685 – 1740), a pretender to the Spanish Throne who was intent on becoming the Spanish King. The motion eventually failed, and led to the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713. This granted the new Kingdom of Great Britain sovereignty of Gibraltar in perpetuity, to remove Britain from the wars of succession in Spain. Britain has retained Gibraltar even since, despite various attempts by Spain to have sovereignty transferred back to them.

Gibraltar 9

There are a number of charming squares in Gibraltar, particular in the city centre. Continuing along Main Street we encountered our 3rd, outside St Mary’s Cathedral, 1 of 2 Cathedrals in the City. This particular 1 serves the Roman Catholic population of the territory, whilst the other, Holy Trinity, is a Church of England (C of E) Church.

The Cathedral Tower can be seen from various places up Main Street and is 1 of the standout landmarks on the street. Due to the Moorish (Muslim) history of the town, followed by Spanish Rule, the Roman Catholic congregation emerged much earlier than the Christian Congregation, hence why this Cathedral was built around 550 years before the other.

The Spanish originally took Gibraltar from the Moors in the 15th century, and the main mosque in the city was knocked down and replaced by the present Roman Catholic building. The city has been besieged many times, and it was inevitable that this historic building would suffer some battle damage. In the 1780’s the building was badly damaged, and had to be rebuilt, complete with a brand new Clock Tower which was added in 1820. It’s overall a beautiful building, and both Cathedrals are open to the public to explore and take in the lovely decorations inside.

Outside the Cathedral in the square, there are a number of items of interest. 1st up is a statue commemorating the fine service given by the “Corps of Royal Engineers” here since the British took Gibraltar in 1704, as well as the formation of the “1st Body of Soldiers of the Corps” later in 1772. Atop the monument stands a finely crafted figuring of an English Soldier complete with gun.

Just behind him and to the right sits the Gibraltar Savings Bank, founded in 1882, which was also presumably the year the building itself was constructed as well. Its 1 of a number of fine buildings along Main Street, which includes the Post Office back towards Casemates Square, as shown in the 3rd picture. This stunning sandstone building was completed in 1858, built by Lieutenant General Sir James Fergusson (1787 – 1865) who was the Governor of Gibraltar between 1855 and 1859.

Continuing up Main Street you will eventually reach the rather striking “Governors House”, known as the Convent, a fantastic brick building dating back to 1531, when it was built for a group of Franciscan Friars. They lived here in the Convent until 1728 when the Governor for the Kingdom of Great Britain who represented the British Monarch here in the Territory took over the building for their personal use, and it remains the official residence of the Governor of Gibraltar to this day. The building itself was altered during the 18th/19th centuries, with Victorian architectural influences obvious in the design. The incumbent Governor is Sir James Dutton (Born 1954) a former Royal Marines Officer who assumed office in 2013.

Just to the left of the main building is one of the original sections of the Friary, now a Chapel for the British Armed Forces, Army, Navy and Air Force. It’s a tall, striking white building which adjoins the Covent directly.

Directly opposite the Convent/Chapel sits “6 Convent Place”, which is currently home to the office of the Chief Minister of Gibraltar, the head of Government independent of the Governor himself. The current Chief Minister is Fabian Picardo (Born 1972, head of the Gibraltar Socialist Labour Party since 2011).

Main Street finally terminates not far from the Gibraltar Cable Car, completed in 1966 by a Swiss Cable Car company. The Car runs up from the City Centre station, past a mid station where the Barbary Apes have their den, and finally up to an observation platform 1,352 ft above the City, on the 2nd highest peak of the Rock. The platform has the best views out across Gibraltar, Southern Spain and towards Morocco in Africa, as well as a cafe, gift shop and access to the Nature Reserve where you can get up close and personal with the Apes. We travelled up the Cable Car later in our trip, which you can read about in Part 2 of Gibraltar & The Med.

Adjacent to the Cable Car lies the “La Alameda Gardens”, also known as the Botanic Gardens. The Gardens were laid out in 1816 when the then Governor, George Don (1756 – 1832) decided that British Soldiers stationed here should have a pleasant place to relax during their tour. There are many different species of plants and trees, as well as a number of animals resident in the small Wildlife Conservation Park located in the Gardens.  You can also visit the Eliott Memorial, a Bronze bust atop a plinth, dedicated to George Augustus Eliott (1717 – 1790, Scotsman who successfully defended Gibraltar during the Great Siege from 1779 – 1783). The bust was completed in 1858, replacing the earlier version from 1815 which was carved from a ship called the San Juan Nepomuceno, out of the Bow which was captured during the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805. This version can now be found in the Governors House.

Thanks to Gibraltars position at the entrance to the Mediterranean, it is very important strategically and defensively. The territory has been besieged many times throughout history, and because of this it has built up an impressive array of defences. There are numerous old cannons mounted all over the city, including this 1 not far from the airport, which was created in 1782 by Lieutenant George Koehler (1758 – 1800) to fire downhill. It was in use during the Great Siege of 1779 – 1783, when a joint Spanish/French force tried to retake Gibraltar from the British, failing miserably. It’s quite interesting mechanically as the mount that holds the cannon aloft can recoil without blasting the rest of the assembly into the air due to the angle the Cannon is pointed at, and it is known as a “Depressing Carriage”.

There is also a network of tunnels, both inside the Great Rock, and through other areas of the territory, including “Landport Tunnel”, accessed by the Landport Gate, which, at the time of the British attack of 1704, was the only way into Gibraltar, making it the most heavily defended part of the city. The territory has expanded much over the years, making the Gate now redundant as a city entrance.

Originally the area of land between Casemates Square and Spain wasn’t built on, but Gibraltar has gradually expanded onto it, however the only access from the rest of the European Mainland is along this isthmus, on which the Airport was later built.

From the area around the Tunnel we got a great view of the “Moorish Castle”, built high on the side of the Rock, formed of a large complex including a tall square tower at it’s centre, called the “Tower of Homage”, which was largely rebuilt in the 14th century. Incredibly the Castle itself dates back to 711 AD, possibly making it the oldest building in the whole of Gibraltar. It saw regular use throughout history, and until 2010 it also contained the local Prison. The complex is now mainly a ruin, however you can get very close to it as you climb the Rock at the North end, and it is visible from most areas of Gibraltar. It’s a stunning site, and we would get much closer later on as we explored the Rock.

Earlier I mentioned Casemates Square, the central square in the city, and how Grand Casemates Gate leads into the square through the city walls. This is that gate, directly in front of which is the central bus terminus where the different routes appear to intersect. As I said the Gate was completed in 1817, and it is complemented on either side by different sections of the Bastion, the historic wall around the City. The Bastion is split into various parts, including the North Bastion, South Bastion and Montagu Bastion.

Outside part of the South Bastion you will find a statue of Admiral Horatio Nelson (1758 – 1805, British Naval Officer), erected here in 2005 to designs by John Doubleday (Born 1947, British Sculptor). It commemorated 200 years since Nelson beat the French & Spanish Fleets at the Battle of Trafalgar. It stands outside the Trafalgar Cemetery, which was also named in honour of the battle, although apparently only 2 fatalities from the battle itself are buried there, whilst the rest died in other naval conflicts.

Exploring the Bastions/City Walls, you will come across 2 notable War Memorials. The 1st is locally known as the “British War Memorial” created by Jose Piquet Catoli from neighbouring Spain in 1923. Gibraltar has been involved in various wars throughout history, most notably in World War II when the entire civilian population was evacuated to other allied countries or colonies. Gibraltar was never invaded by the Axis Powers, mainly due to the Spanish Dictator Franco’s decision not to allow the Germans to cut through Spain, but it was heavily bombed by the Italians. Many miles of tunnels were dug inside the great rock itself to protect the armed forces from attack, and included everything needed to sustain a garrison, including a fully working hospital.

It was also here in Gibraltar that “Operation Torch” was planned and executed, involving in the invasion of North Africa by the British/Americans to liberate the former French Territories of Morocco and Algeria from the Axis Powers. At the end of the War the local population slowly returned, and Gibraltar once again became a thriving community.

The 2nd major War Memorial you will see is the “American War Memorial”, designed by Paul Philippe Cret (1876 – 1945), and completed in 1933 as a new part of the main city wall, in the form of a large gate. The Americans were a great ally to the British during WWII and the 2 coordinated their efforts in and around Gibraltar, including the planning of Operation Torch.

Def 4

Perhaps Gibraltars most famous defensive weapon is the “100 Tonne Gun” which lies towards the South End of the territory. Overall 12 of these Guns were made by a company called Armstrong Whitworth (Founded in 1847 in Newcastle, England) and 2 were brought to Gibraltar. Both Guns were in place by the end of 1883, however the barrel on the 2nd Gun cracked due to overuse during trials, leaving only this 1 for use.

The only other surviving Gun of this type left in the world is at Fort Rinella on the island of Malta, which also employed them as a defensive weapon. The Gibraltar Gun was powerful enough to hit the Spanish City of Algeciras on the other side of the bay, an incredible range.

The Gibraltar Gun is located at Magdala Battery, and is open to the public to visit. You can see one of the actual shells that the Gun would fire, and climb up into the reloading areas on either side of the Gun.

Gibraltar has always been an important Port, thanks to its strategic location at the entrance to the Mediterranean from the Atlantic. Thousands of ships every year pass through the Strait of Gibraltar, bound for Italy, the Middle East and the rest of Africa/Europe. The British have been in control of the Strait for over 300 years, and keeping the area free from piracy and terrorism is very important to the world economy.

Its importance was reaffirmed in 1904 when Sir John Fisher (1841 – 1920, British Admiral from British Ceylon, now Sri Lanka) who stated that Gibraltar was 1 of the 5 keys that lock up the world, with the others being:

1) Dover – England

2) Alexandria – Egypt

3) Singapore – City State

4) Capetown – South Africa

At the time the statement was made, the United Kingdom was in possession of all 5 keys, of which all except Dover and Gibraltar are now part of independent sovereign nations.

Many of the harbour areas have been modernised with new apartments, restaurants and marina’s having been constructed. Gibraltar also has a number of working docks as well as a Naval Base. Aside from this, a lot of the harbour area is tourism based, although a lot of large tankers and container ships regularly visit the territory.

1 of the major landmarks down by the waterfront is the $200 Million yacht called the “Sunborn Gibraltar” permanently moored here as a hotel. It is 1 of the largest yachts in the world, and the most exclusive hotel in Gibraltar, which only opened in early 2014, just a few months before we arrived. You can just see it in the back of the 1st picture, and it cuts a rather striking pose amongst the other, much smaller boats.

You also get a great view of the Cable Car from the City, and you can see how steeply it rises up the side of the Rock, to it’s summit.

Gibraltar 16

The architecture brought by the British, particularly during Victorian times, can be found in various places around the City, but most noticeable in the old Police Office, built by a former Governor called Sir William Codrington (1804 – 1884, Governor between 1859 – 1865) in 1864. Its an absolutely stunning building, and I think it fits in really well with the rest of the much older buildings in the city.

Gibraltar is an absolutely stunning city, with some incredible views out to sea, historic landmarks and various museums. It is has been a joy to explore the city itself, but there is so much more to see in the territory as a whole.

Watch this space for my next post, as we explore the absolutely incredible Rock of Gibraltar and the Nature Reserve after a trip on the Cable Car, meet the Apes, and get some truly stunning views out across Gibraltar itself, along with Spain and Morocco across the Strait…

Hadrians Wall Country: Pt 5 – Banks, Cumbria

Moving on from the impressive Lanercost Priory just outside Brampton, we arrived in Banks, 1 of only 2 places in England to hold the name, with the other being my own home village…


Status: City of Carlisle District, Cumbria (historically Cumberland), Village, England

Date: 28/12/2014

Travel: Car

Eating & Sleeping: N/A

Attractions: Hadrians Wall, Banks East Turret etc

Banks C 1

Banks is only a small village, however it packs a lot into a small space. From the summit of a hill just outside the main portion of the village you can see towards both the Lake District and the Northumbrian Hills as well as an incredible sunset.

As I said in the introduction to this post, the Cumbrian village of Banks is 1 of only 2 in the whole country to hold this title, with the other being a pleasant Victorian village which I call home back in Lancashire, which you can read about here. Whereas the Lancashire version is a large village that acts as a dormitory town for Southport/Preston, the Cumbrian Banks is much smaller, mainly geared around farming and the countryside. They are both unique, and there is plenty to see here in Cumbria.

Banks C 2

The most obvious landmark here is “Banks East Turret”, a ruinous defensive turret that is part of the famous Hadrian’s Wall, which runs from Bowness-on-Solway on the West coast in Cumbria through Banks, Haltwhistle and then on to its terminus in Wallsend, Newcastle-upon-Tyne on the East coast.

Construction of Hadrian’s Wall was started by the Roman Emperor of the same name in 122 AD, and was mostly completed by 128 AD. As building work started at the Newcastle end, it is likely that the Banks section wasn’t completed until around 125/126 AD. This area of the wall, including the turret, was in regular use for the following century, and were only discovered in 1933 during local excavation work.

Another nearby Turret was never found, but there are records to indicate that it did exist at some point.

Banks C 3

I can see why the Romans chose this location as a vantage point, as you get some incredible views, starting with the local countryside, where we spotted a train bound for Newcastle from Carlisle on the Tyne Valley Line illuminated in the evening sun.

Banks C 4

I took this panoramic from the far end of the turret, with the local hills in the centre, twisting round to look towards the Lake District National Park where the borders of the historic English counties of Lancashire, Westmorland and Cumberland meet around the great lakes of Windermere and Ullswater.

Banks C 5

We soon got our final view of the day, at the end of another epic road trip which had taken us from the town at the Centre of Great Britain, Haltwhistle, round Featherstone & Blenkinsopp Castles to Lanercost Priory, and finally Banks. We gazed at the disappearing sun, slowly dipping its head behind the peaks of the Lake District, and our road trip was complete…

Hadrians Wall Country: Pt 4 – Lanercost, Cumbria

Our next stop after the ruins of Blenkinsopp Castle was the old priory in the village of Lanercost, just outside Brampton in Cumbria…


Status: City of Carlisle District, Cumbria (historically Cumberland), Village, England

Date: 28/12/2014

Travel: Car

Eating & Sleeping: N/A

Attractions: Lanercost Priory etc

Laner 1

It is generally accepted that the Priory was founded by Robert de Vaux (1145 – 1190) in 1169. It is one of a number of priories in the area, including an impressive structure in the Northumbrian town of Hexham.

The main Church building is visible in the centre of the picture, a stunning building visible from miles around. To the right is the Vicarage, completed in the 13th century out of red sandstone, and part of the original Priory buildings. The building now in use as the Vicarage also has the Guest House of the old courtyard, and sits alongside a much newer building housing a cafe and visitor centre, and a Bed & Breakfast.

We had already visited a number of Castles prior to arriving in Lanercost, and they all had an important role to play in the defense of their occupants due to the volatile situation that existed between England and Scotland for centuries, from the Scottish Wars of Independence, through to the Union of the Crowns in the 16th Century.

Lanercost Priory was no exception, and its official website notes that it was damaged in 1296 by a Scottish Army who had marched South of the border, also attacking Hexham. This was followed by another attack in 1311 by none other than Robert the Bruce (1274 – 1329, the famous Scottish King who fought for independence).

The area was home to a number friars for many centuries, until Henry VIII (1491 – 1547) instigated the dissolution of the monasteries in 1536, and the surrounding buildings were closed, and stripped of the lead on the roofs. The main Priory Church itself was left untouched as it was also being used as a Parish Church at the time.

Since then the building has passed through various hands, and the Church was almost out of use. A lot of the building was in a bad condition, and the congregation moved out of the main area of the Church into the North Aisle. It wasn’t until 1747 that the main Nave was reroofed and usable again, although it was separated from the far end of the building. This sadly only lasted until 1847 when the roof collapsed in again. It was eventually restored in the latter half of the 19th century and the Church was completely remodelled. The rest of the building was restored in the 20th century, and today the building has been secured. The rear of the building is still a ruin after it was segregated in 1747, however the central Nave is still in use…


Walking into the Nave, which is still used as the local Church, is absolutely stunning. You can see out of the far window, through the 1747 divide into the ruins of the rear transept crossing. You could be forgiven for thinking that nothing had ever touched this area of the Priory, as it has been brilliantly restored.

The stonework is immaculate, and the pews were altered in the 1870’s by Charles Ferguson, an architect from Carlisle.

Laner 5

There are a few outer buildings located next to the main Priory building, some of which still survive reasonably intact, including this area which I assume was some sort of parlour, as its partially below ground, which would be the ideal place to keep food cool.

Lanercost is an incredible place to visit, and if you are in the area exploring Hadrians Wall then it should certainly be on your list as you pass through. It was only our penultimate stop of the day, and we moved on to the small village of Banks just outside Lanercost, to join Hadrians Wall…

Hadrians Wall Country: Pt 3 – Blenkinsopp Castle, Northumberland

After visiting the impressive Featherstone Castle on the banks of the River South Tyne, we moved on to Blenkinsopp Castle, and its eerily empty ruins…

Blenkinsopp Castle

Blen 1

Blenkinsopp Castle is located off a junction of the A69, heading Westbound from Newcastle towards Carlisle, between Haltwhistle and nearby Greenhead. It is signposted as the Blenkinsopp Castle Inn, and there is a small car park outside.

The ruins of this stunning Castle sit rather incongruously between a small house, and the adjacent Castle Inn & Tea Rooms.

Blen 2

The original manor here was built in the 13th century by the Blenkinsopp Family, as a grand stately home.

The manor remained in use until at least 1831, however its original function was largely superseded in the 17th century, when the English & Scottish crowns were united to form one. This area of England was notorious for border raids along the border with Scotland, violence which had escalated over the preceding centuries. With the Union of the Crowns, this violence large subsided, and Castles were no longer as important to local landowners.

In 1832 a new house was built to incorporate the existing remains of the original manor, as the house of a local mine agent, by an architect called John Dobson (1787 – 1865). This was then itself incorporated into a new estate created by William Blenkinsopp Coulson in 1877, and a few years later it passed into the hands of Edward Joicey. At some point after this the building became a hotel, located near the main trunk road from Carlisle to Newcastle.

Blen 3

Sadly the building was gutted by fire in 1954, and large portions of it had to be demolished, although substantial parts of it do still stand. The main area you can explore was part of the South-West area of the 1832 house, although many of the windows and doorways were added in 1880 when the new manor was built around it.

Blen 4

There are a number of information boards located around the structure, which give you a good idea of what the different incarnations of the building looked like over the years. The building is not completely ruinous however, as a full residential wing to the West of my position here is actually still intact, and in use. The current owners of the Castle live here, and part of it is made up of the aforementioned Castle Inn & Tea Rooms, which still operates as a Hotel.

The current owners are the Simpson family, who took over in 1955 after the devastating fire, although as of 2015 they are looking to sell the building. The remains of the other portions of the building have been secured, with one area even having a large metal girder implanted as a cross beam to hold the walls up.

Blen 5

The roof would have been mainly wood, which is one of the only saving graces in these types of situation. In Coventry when the Cathedral was bombed out in 1941 with incendiary bombs, the roof caught fire and was destroyed but the rest of the structure, including the stone tower at the front all survived. This shows that in a lot of cases where fire occurs some of the main structure can survive with only the loss of dividing walls and the roof, which has helped save a number of important buildings for the future (albeit in a ruinous state).

As we gazed up at the shell of this former grandiose manor, we spotted a plane roaring overhead, multiple centuries of building being gazed down upon by the 21st, and showing how England is a stunning country with centuries of history, that will always be with us.

Blen 6

So this is the Castle Inn & Tea Rooms, housed in one of the former wings of Blenkinsopp Castle, one of the surviving areas that are still inhabitable (after some extensive restoration).  It’s a stunning little building, and what a great location to stay in, close to Hadrian’s Wall, numerous Castles and the charming town of Haltwhistle, not to mention nearby Greenhead and Carlisle. This was our 2nd Castle of the day, after nearby Featherstone Castle, however we still had a few historic places to visit before the sun set.

Blen 7

We left Blenkinsopp behind us and made our way West, towards the historic priory at Lanercost, near Brampton. On the way, as we passed over the border into Cumbria, we were treated to some stunning views of the Cumbrian Countryside looking towards Scotland, with the hills shrouded in a late afternoon haze of cloud and mist…

Regional Delicacies: Lancashire Tea

I spend half my time researching and writing new posts for this blog, as well as my University work, and often I hit that stage where I just want to have an hour off and relax. But one thing keeps me going, re-invigorates me and also inhabits the flask I take with me everyday to University, Lancashire Tea…

Lancashire Tea:

Founded: 2005

Region: County Palatine of Lancashire

Created: Newton-le-Willows, Merseyside (historically Lancashire), England

LTea 1

This fantastic blend of tea dates back to 2005, when a Mr Paul Needham, who had previously worked at Typhoo Tea (also on Merseyside, on the Wirral) for a number of years, created the company with Lynn Hitchen. His extensive experience of Tea making was put to good use, when he helped to create a brand new blend of Tea, as a rival to the well known Yorkshire Tea (created in 1886).

The brand has recently taken off with celebrities including J K Rowling (Author of the Harry Potter Novels) and local Lancashire lad Carl Fogarty (World Superbike Champion) expressing their love of the brand. Personally this is my favourite brand of tea as well, and the kettle now works overtime!

LTea 2

It isn’t just the great taste of the Tea however that makes it so special. The box itself is a work of art, and features a historic map of the traditional County Palatine of Lancashire, from West Derby to Salfordshire, Blackburnshire to Amounderness, Leyland to Lonsdale. The Tea also entered into the Guinness World Book of Records in 2008, when they broke not one… but TWO world records. Outside a local Asda store in Lancashires administrative centre, Preston, they used a record breaking 60 kg tea bag to create a record breaking 400 litre cuppa! Unfortunately those 60 kg bags aren’t on sale, much to the relief of my Kettle :P.

You can find out more, and try some for yourself, by visiting their official website, here. Various shops sell it, including Morrisons, Asda and B&M Bargains.

I must now cut this post short as I have the urge to brew up a cuppa, now where did I put that box of Lancashire Tea…

Hadrians Wall Country: Pt 2 – Featherstone, Northumberland

After a visit to the historic town of Haltwhistle, we moved a few miles down the road towards Featherstone Castle, on the South side of the river South Tyne…


Status: Northumberland, Village, England

Date: 28/12/2014

Travel: Car

Eating & Sleeping: Featherstone Bridge, Featherstone Castle, River South Tyne etc

Featherstone 1

Featherstone is only a small village with a few buildings around the local countryside, yet it still has its fair share of landmarks. Arriving in the area, we pulled up next to Featherstone Bridge, a stunning single arch sandstone bridge which crosses the South Tyne.

The bridge carries traffic into Featherstone coming from Haltwhistle and the A69 main route between Carlisle and Newcastle. Completed in 1775, the structure is the only bridge between the 1 over the A69 which crosses the River, and the village of Coanwood a few miles South of here. It’s only single track so go carefully if you are crossing it, as due to it’s reasonably steep angle you wouldn’t see any traffic approaching from the other side of the bridge until you reach the summit.

The River itself has it’s source high up in the pennines near Penrith, and interestingly nearby are the sources of the River Tees (which flows through Stockton-on-Tees to Middlesbrough) and the River Wear (which flows through Durham and into the North Sea at Sunderland). After a long route which takes it North, through Cumbria and East into Northumberland, the South Tyne merges with the North Tyne just a few miles West of the town of Hexham, and becomes the combined River Tyne. This then continues to Newcastle, flowing underneath the famous 7 bridges between Newcastle City Centre and Gateshead, including the most well known 1, the Tyne Bridge. The river concludes its journey when it meets the North Sea after the final push between the towns of North Shields on the North Bank, and South Shields on the South Bank. Whilst the area around Newcastle is administratively now part of the new county of Tyne & Wear, the Tyne is the historic border between Northumberland (Newcastle) and County Durham (Gateshead).

Featherstone 2

We kept moving, a few miles South down the road, following the course of the river, to Featherstone Castle, a fantastic construction on the South bank of the river. The Castle has grown up steadily over the centuries, starting with the original hall thought to date back to the 13th century. The hall is now located in the West part of the building, directly in front of us here.

In the 14th century the next addition was a tower to the South-West of the original Hall, which is shown to the right on the picture. The rest of the building was then built between Sir William Howard in the 17th century, and Thomas Wallace (1768 – 1844) between 1812 and 1830. Thomas was the son of James Wallace (1729 – 1783) who had bought the Castle off the Fetherstonehaugh family in 1789. The Castle had been in their hands since it was originally built, aside from a short period in the 17th century when Sir William Howard was in possession of it. Many of the original features are no longer recognisable due to extensive restoration and improvement works. The complex is much larger than it appears to be from the front, and if you view it on Google satellite view you will see it is quite a large complex.

The Wallace’s continued to reside here until the middle of the 19th century when Thomas left it to his nephew, James Hope (1807 – 1854) and it remained in their immediate family.

Featherstone 3

This all changed in 1950 when the building was sold and became Hillbrow School, originally founded in Rugby near Birmingham by John William Vecquerary in 1859, from what was then Prussia. The land that made up Prussia is now shared between various Eastern European countries as well as Denmark, Germany and Belgium.

The School had been forced to relocate after an explosion badly damaged the previous building in 1940. It stayed here at Featherstone until 1961 when it moved to Ridley Hall, not far from here.

Featherstone also had another part to play in the 1940’s, as during World War II a large POW camp was constructed along the banks of the river nearby, and housed both Italian and German POW’s until 1948. The only remains of the heavily fortified camp are some of the old buildings and foundations, which are open to visitors. The Castle itself is again a private building, but its easily visible from the road and there doesn’t appear to be anything stopping visitors having a quick wander around the grounds.

Around the main steps up to the building are some stunning stone figurines in the shape of Lions.

Featherstone 4

The entrance to the Castle grounds is marked by a small gate, and well as some 19th century walls which include the buildings to the right at the back of the picture.

Featherstone as an area is fascinating, and is a beautiful little historic village not far from the border with Cumbria. There is plenty to see in the area, and it lies close to the Hadrian’s Wall path, where we would end up later in the day. Your best bet to travel to the area is by car, as aside from a bus link there aren’t any other public transport options.

We pressed on towards another nearby Castle, called Blenkinsopp Castle, back on the route towards Haltwhistle…

Hadrians Wall Country: Pt 1 – Haltwhistle, Northumberland

Our next trip took us around numerous towns and villages close to Hadrian’s Wall, via a few Castles, an ancient Priory and then to the Wall itself. Our 1st stop was a town claimed to be at the centre of Britain…


Status: Northumberland, Town, England

Date: 28/12/2014

Travel: Car

Eating & Sleeping: N/A

Attractions: Centre of Britain, Centre of Britain Hotel, Market Square, Tourist Information, Old Mechanics Institute, St Wilfrid’s Church, Church of the Holy Cross, War Memorial, Memorial Gardens, Old Town Hall, Tyne Valley Line etc

Halt 1

Haltwhistle town centre is split up into a number of sections, with the main one being the Market Square in the middle of the town, so we parked up and set out to explore. Haltwhistle was granted a charter to hold a Market in 1306, by King John (1166 – 1216). The law had developed in England to stop new Markets appearing within a days ride of another 1, as it was thought they would take business from the existing Market. A charter would only be granted if a location exceeded this limit. Unless a charter had been officially granted then businesses could petition the King to have the Market shut down.

There are various interesting buildings lining the square, starting with the 1st building on the right behind the cars, known as Numbers 18 & 20 Market Square. This quaint little building dates back to the early 19th Century, and was originally built as a house, later being altered to feature the shop on the ground floor, whilst maintaining residential space above.

It is officially listed as “Sams Chop Suey House” however at the moment it appears to be occupied by “Haltwhistle Tandoori” so it must have changed hands since the listing was granted in 1987.

The short squat building to the left of the overall building is called the old Ironmonger’s Shop, at Number 16, built around the same time as Numbers 18 & 20. It has been given the same painted front as Numbers 18 & 20, overlayed on squared rubble walls. Both buildings are topped by stunning Welsh slate, presumably from somewhere near the Dinorwig Quarries in North Wales.

Halt 2

In the centre of the square stands a tall lamppost, pointing the way to various places around the UK, from North Orkney at the far North of Scotland, down towards the Isle of Portland in Dorset, Southern England. It is a play on the famous Land’s End Signpost in Cornwall, the most South-Westerly point in Great Britain, which points towards New York as well as back towards Scotland.

This came about because Haltwhistle is now known as the “Geographic Centre of Great Britain”, although this claim has been disputed. There are various measurements used to define the centre of Great Britain, or the UK as a whole, and depending how you look at it, it can be a number of places. The Haltwhistle measurement was taken by measuring the distance to the sea from here along the 16 main compass points:


Again this is dependant on how far you measure, as the Scottish Islands of Orkney are included in the measurement, as they almost adjoin Great Britain anyway, however the Islands of Shetland are excluded as they are further out, away from Great Britain itself. As you can see from the signpost, it identifies both Portland, the furthest South you can get in England in a straight line from here, and Orkney as being 290 miles away each.

Another interesting feature of the square, a number of which are located around the town, are the new information points with a foot pedal at the bottom. As you pump it up using the pedal it begins to give you spoken information about the local area, and if you pump it enough it will finish the talk, however if you stop pumping too early it will stop talking. Amusingly Gemma pumped it so much by accident it ran through the whole talk twice in a row!

Halt 3

Directly across the other side of the square, away from Numbers 16, 18 & 20, lies the “Centre of Great Britain” another early 19th Century building which also forms an overhang over the walkway down to some fine stone residential buildings. The listing states that the building incorporates some old late 16th century masonry on the left, presumably the area above the overhang. The building is currently occupied by a laundrette, and is named after Haltwhistles new status.

Halt 4

The back of the building looks remarkably different to the front, which has a new 20th century shop front, and of course a brand new paint job. Just a few years ago the building was a light green colour as shown on Google Street View, however now it has a lovely golden colour, along with a neighbouring building which looks remarkably similar.

To the right of the overhang is a building called a “Bastle” which is a specifically fortified building. Haltwhistle is very close to the border with Scotland. The border area, in both England & Scotland, was once notable for the Border Reivers who pillaged and plundered each others landed until the 17th century. Fortified buildings, including Pele Towers became very common in the area. We found a number of the “Bastle” buildings around Haltwhistle, and they all have a plaque on them to identify them as such.

Halt 5

There appear to be a few buildings taking advantage of the branding of “Centre of Britain”, including the Centre of Britain Hotel & Restaurant. It appears to be a more recent name change, as the listing has the Hotel down as the Red Lion Hotel instead.

This building is quite interesting architecturally, as if you look to the right, you can see the remains of an old Pele tower from the 15th Century, which has been incorporated into the main structure of the wing to the left added in the early 18th. The listing states that the street was “refenestrated” in the late 18th century, which means that the walls between the buildings were opened up, so presumably up until this point the tower and the wing were separate, before the interior wall was knocked through.

Haltwhistle is already full of surprises, and as the paint scheme on the 2 buildings suggests, the owners of the Hotel also own the Laundrette, which is a handy resource for their Guests as well as the general public.

Halt 6

Directly opposite the Centre of Britain Hotel is the “Manor House Inn”, a beautiful old Coaching Inn, presumably on the CarlisleNewcastle route. Travellers around Britain had to rely on horses before the invention of the automobile, and many new settlements grew up around the regular placement of Coaching Inns, where a weary traveller could find a bed for the night and a fresh horse to continue their journey. A good example was the “Graham Arms Hotel” in Longtown, named after the Graham family who founded the Hotel as a Coaching Inn in the 18th century, and subsequently created a town around it.

Halt 7

Our final stop in this area of town was the old “Church Hall”, just a few buildings further up the street. The large date stone behind the Zebra Crossing, to the left of the main door states that it was laid by the “Lord Bishop of Newcastle”, who at that time was Norman Straton (1840 – 1918, former Bishop of the Isle of Man), in 1908.

The appearance of the building suggests that its no longer in use, and it also isn’t included in the listed buildings register for Haltwhistle, presumably as the original fabric of the building has altered, with what look like new windows having been installed in the ground floor window frames.

Haltwhistle once had it’s own Town Hall, completed out of a stunning sandstone Ashlar in 1861. Haltwhistle has never been it’s own County Borough (distinct from the County Council, abolished in the 1970’s) however it does have it’s own Town Council, who once met in the Town Hall. The building is sadly no longer used for administrative purposes, and is now used by local businesses, but it’s still rather interesting architecturally. Unfortunately I didn’t know it was there until I started doing some extra research for this post, but I have seen pictures of it.

Halt 8

Located directly behind Numbers 16, 18 & 20 Market Square lies the local Church, the “Church of the Holy Cross”. This fine Parish Church is one of the oldest buildings in the town, as the oldest sections date back to the beginning of the 13th century, just 100 years after the invasion of England by the Normans.

A major refurbishment was carried out in 1870, spearheaded by R.J. Johnson (1834 – 1921, Architect from the Liberton suburb of Edinburgh, Scotland). The work resulted in the rebuilding of the Western portion of the Nave, as well as the roof pitches, which were heightened, making the roof steeper. This was probably linked to drainage issues on the roof.

Its quite interesting that if you don’t have the same sense of curiosity as we do, and feel the urge to explore every road that you see, you might not even know the Church was there, if you had arrived on the high street by bus. You can’t even see it from the Market Square, and it took a little exploration before we spotted it.

Halt 9

Leaving the area around the Parish Church/Market Square and heading West along the high street, you will pass a number of other stunning stone buildings, starting with the imposing form of the Haltwhistle Methodist Church, shown to the right. It was completed in 1882, replacing a much older building which had previously stood here.

It sits to the right of the old “Mechanics Institute” HQ, housed in a fine building that was built 20 years after the Church, in 1900. Today the building houses the local library, as well as the Tourist Information Office, which was unfortunately shut when we visited. It has to be one of my favourite Haltwhistle buildings, as its a stunningly elegant construction which is a fine addition to an already well crafted high street featuring various old stone buildings.

Halt 10

Just a few yards West of the Mechanics Institute lies a large memorial garden, in the centre of which sits the Haltwhistle War Memorial. It pays tribute to the soldiers from the town who lost their lives in World War I, and later World War II. It’s therefore perhaps fitting that behind the Memorial sits the local hospital, a new modern building completed in June 2014, replacing the older 19th century version demolished in 2012.

Uniquely for a hospital it also incorporates hotel style rooms, where relatives of people receiving long term treatment in the hospital itself can stay, and remain close to their loved ones.

Halt 11

Looking out from the War Memorial, the tall tower/spire of Saint Wilfrid’s Catholic Church, which until recently also housed the local United Reformed Church, graces the skyline. The history of the two congregations is similar to the situation which occurred in the Scottish border town of Coldstream, where the congregations eventually merged from a number of different buildings, into a single one.

The original St Wilfrids was completed in 1865, and lies at the other end of Haltwhistle, past the Market Square and the old Church Hall. It gained the name St Wilfrids in 1920, and became the focal point of a large congregation. The separate United Reformed Church inhabited this building at the West end of the town. The history of the two Churches became intertwined in 1991, as St Wilfrids congregation was out growing the Church itself, so the then Parish Priest, called Father Tom Power, contacted the United Reformed Church. They agreed to merge their Churches into one building, with enough space for both congregations, and this West Church became the new St Wilfrids, whilst retaining its status as a United Reformed Church. This unique arrangement lasted until 2009 when the United Church moved out, and St Wilfrids took ownership of the whole building.

It’s incredible that we hadn’t come across this type of Church sharing before, yet in just a few months we had found two examples, one in Scotland (where the congregations merged to form one church) and one in England (where two Churches co-habited the same space).

Haltwhistle is a great little town, in one of the most beautiful areas of countryside in the UK, Northumberland, just a few miles away from the Northumberland National Park, Kielder Forest Park, and of course Hadrian’s Wall. The nearby cities of Carlisle and Newcastle offer great shopping destinations, famous landmarks and history, as well as good travel links around the rest of the UK. Haltwhistle itself has some beautiful buildings, and with it’s new status as the Centre of Britain it has a brand to build around itself.

Haltwhistle has it’s own train station, opened by the Newcastle & Carlisle Railway in 1838. The NCR is now part of the Tyne Valley Line, with regular trains running between Carlisle & Newcastle, via Brampton, Hexham and Gateshead. The line is named after the River Tyne, formed by the South Tyne which runs through Haltwhistle, which merges with the North Tyne west of Newcastle. Occasional train services also continue through Newcastle to Middlesbrough in Yorkshire, and through Carlisle to both Whitehaven, and Glasgow via Dumfries. One service that sadly no longer runs is the branch line towards Alston, the highest town (by altitude) in Britain. The line closed in 1976, and the track has been removed, but it once had its terminus here in Haltwhistle. A heritage line in Alston has relayed part of the route in narrow gauge form and runs steam passenger trains 3 miles out of Alston, and have ambitions to eventually complete the route all the way to Haltwhistle one day.

Bypassing the town is the main A69 route, between Carlisle and Newcastle. Local buses use this route to connect Haltwhistle with the two cities, as well as Hexham, famous for it’s impressive Abbey in the centre of town.

There is plenty to see in the area, and if you get to visit this part of England then its well worth stopping in Haltwhistle, which would also make a great base for exploring the area, which includes the famous forts along Hadrians Wall, as well as the Anglo-Scottish Border, less than an hour away. We kept moving, towards nearby Featherstone Castle…