Sunday, September 27, 2009

Here there be Pirates

This week we’re in Northumberland*, in a holiday cottage on the coast. Very scenic, very relaxing and very isolated. (* We’re not really in Northumberland. I had been planning to post in real-time from here, but after arriving, I discovered there is no mobile phone signal or Internet connection so these posts are going to have to go up after I return home.)

The drive up took about eight hours, but that, in itself, was part of the holiday. The scenery along the west coast is stunning and, being in no hurry, it was a relaxing day. We arrived in Alnwick (pronounced AN’ ick) about 2 PM and, being an hour early for check-in, decided to stop there for a nose around.

Our first realization that we were in The North came while doing a bit of shopping at the local Morrisons. One of the things I like about England is the laid back nature of life in general, but I’m from The South, where people are taciturn and enjoy getting their weekly shopping done in peace and unimpeded. Up here, however, the supermarket seems to be a grand place to catch up with your friends, hold lengthy, group conversations in the middle of the aisles, or just go for a languid and, oh so very slow, stroll around the produce section. We, being rude southerners, could barely contain our impatience and had to rudely say, “Excuse me,” several times so we could squeeze by to get at the fruit juice.

I was surprised to discover that at least some of the Alnwickians are pirates—or maybe they were just preparing for International Speak Like A Pirate Day—but later, on the telly, the news reports confirmed that pirates still operate in the waters off these coasts. Shiver me timbers!

Pirates! Avast me beauty; prepare to be boarded!

Alnwick town center.

Alnwick is a picturesque market town and the day we were there was uncharacteristically lovely. We found out later that it has been raining and grey for weeks and we happened to arrive on the first nice day in a long time. So far, so good.

We wandered around a while, scoped out the gardens and castle for possible, future activities and headed even further north to the tiny village of Craster and our holiday cottage.

Dunstanburgh Castle, as seen from our bedroom window.

Renting holiday cottages is one of the best things about living in Britain. For a surprisingly reasonable fee you can rent a self-catering cottage (in case that doesn’t translate into US English, “self-catering” means it has a full kitchen) in the most beautiful locations. (And if you can’t afford the reasonable fee, you can always go to the Holiday Park down the road, but you don’t get the fireplace, the Juliet balcony in the bedroom and herfing deck out back.)

View from the Herfing Deck.

This cottage is, without question, the most well-appointed we have ever stayed in. They have all been comfortable and filled with ample dishes, flatware and cooking implements, but they are usually mismatched, camping-quality items, which is what I would expect. This cottage, however, has full, quality sets of dishes, cooking paraphernalia and flatware. The kitchen also has a stone-tiled floor, a Belfast sink and a four-slice toaster, so I think we’ll be happy here for the next week.

Even though it had already been a full day, after settling in we took a stroll around the village to reconnoitre the local castle and enjoy the sea views. The area is lousy with castles; it seems every town has one. Some were built by William the Conqueror but this area needed a surplus to keep those pesky Scots in line and protect the locals from periodic Viking raids.

It’s dusk now, and I’m on the herfing deck with a cigar and a beverage watching the ocean. It’s remarkably soothing; I think I could sit here all week watching it roll back and forth in its hypnotic rhythm. I need to get one of these in my back garden; but only if I can find one without pirates.


  1. Anonymous6:36 PM

    All I can manage is a *sigh* and to say it's tough being you Mike. Really.

  2. Yes, I do feel very fortunate.

  3. Anonymous9:39 PM

    Hi Mike. Stumbled on your forum by accident today and been having a good read through the archives. Excellent stuff. It's always fascinating to read about how others perceive you. Britain must seem a bit bizarre to an outsider but I suppose they get used to us given time. Ross.

  4. It all sounds lovely. I know what you mean about mismatched utensils. We just rented a cabin in Tennessee with wine glasses the size of buckets. I think they were joke ones (but I'm not complaining)
    Glad you're having a relaxing time and I'm looking forward to seeing more pix.
    Pam x

  5. What is a 'Herfing deck'? I'm sure we wouldn't have something so coarsley named down here in the south.
    Ands as for 'flatware' I presume it's something you only normally find in a block of apartments though I can't imagine what it actually is!

  6. Sounds lovely. Yes, what is a herfing deck?

    I always think holiday cottages are rather expensive. That's because there used to be a whole sector of the market which has now pretty much disappeared. You used to be able to stay in places much more cheaply, but they wouldn't be so well-appointed. They'd be full of the owner's stuff, and the kitchen would be ancient. It was a bit hit and miss - sometimes they wouldn't be terribly clean. Now they all seem very smart (they're usually better equipped than my own home), and priced accordingly.

  7. Ross: Welcome aboard! Hope you continue to enjoy it here.

    Pam: Don't worry, there's more to come.

    Chip2nd: "Herf" relates to smoking cigars, so anything with herf in it is, well, cigar-related. The herfing deck was what a normal person would call a patio. And my wife tells me that "flatware" is called "cutlery" here.

    Iota: Yes, the more you pay the better the accomodation. It's a matter of balance, I guess, and not expecting too much.

  8. Anonymous6:07 PM

    I'm with Melissa; SIGH

  9. Ha - I thought "herfing" was a bit like the English "chuffing"!!! That is to say an adjective signaling how great it was rather than what it's purpose was. (Wot an idiot.)

  10. Mike, had I known you were coming up here we could have met up for a pint - or a few drams. Just a couple of little corrections (I can't help it, honest); We refer to the folks of Alnwick as 'Alnwickites' (pronounced Annickites; the castle viewed from your digs is Dunstanburgh (pronounced Dunstanburrow) Castle, and the little village you were staying in is Craster, and not Caster. But we appreciate your favourable [pronounced favorable ;-)], comments on our lovely area and friendly people. Give us a bell next time you are coming up, man?

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  12. Sorry about the above -- should have proof read it!

    Expatmum: It could be used that way, but only if you really like cigars ;)

    SB: Good catch! That must have been leftover text from an early draft--after a week there I knew very well it was called Dunstanburgh Castle, I just didn't know how to pronounce it ;) And, yes, too bad I didn't know that was your neighborhood, we could have had a pint or two. Next time, perhap

  13. "The area is lousy with castles"...hey! they are our jewels in the crown!!! Mike...lovely post...I didn't know you were stepping out in this direction...I'm getting worried you'll be writing about Hadrian's Wall next. (Starts guarding copy tenaciously.)

  14. Hadriana: Been there, done that, got the muddy boots to prove it ;)