The Northumberland Tour was arranged by Backwater Classic Car Tours for the E-type and XK Clubs, and was held over a week of fine weather. In total, 16 cars took part – 10 E-types, four XKs, and a couple of substitute cars in the form of a period Bentley and an Alfa Montreal. 14 cars arrived at the Doxford Hall Hotel on the Sunday afternoon and a further two arrived the next morning. Doxford Hall is a country house hotel, boasting an AA four-rosette restaurant and spacious rooms, and parking was provided for our cars close to the main building.
At the initial welcome reception, prior to dinner on the first night, our Tour Manager and
erstwhile Backwater Classic Car Tours representatives, Paul and Lyn Trill, briefed us on what to expect over the following week, and in particular the following day’s tour. Dinner was served in a private dining room which was to become our breakfast, pre-dinner-briefing and dining room for the duration of our stay at Doxford.
After breakfast on Monday we set off on the first of our ‘tulip navigation’ runs, the Alnwick Coastal Run. Although newcomers to tulip navigation always look forward to their first run with some trepidation, the concept is picked up easily and the process binds the crew into a team. There were no mandatory stops, but for those not familiar with the area some interesting stops were recommended. The run took us north to Chillingham Castle and on to Holy Island, where we were able to cross the dry causeway and visit Lindisfarne, including the priory and castle if we wished.
Next, off to Bamburgh, about 10 miles south, with incredible views of the castle as we approached the village. On visiting the castle, we became so engrossed with history and that of the Armstrong Family, that we left the site too late for lunch and completely missed the recommended Grace Darling Museum. Another three miles south and we were in Seahouses, a large coastal village with an active harbour where we could take a boat trip to see the puffins on Farne Island, or enjoy seafood on the quayside.
Back on the road, we followed the coast for another 13 miles south towards Hawick and
Hawick Hall Gardens, before turning inland and heading back to the hotel, with a total mileage of 63 miles for the first day.
Tuesday saw the second of our tulip runs, this time to Alnwick Gardens. As this was a short run and we needed to be at the garden at a set time, we virtually drove this in convoy. A privileged parking area had been reserved for us near the entrance. Once inside the gardens, we were met by staff from the ‘poison garden’, who gave us a guided tour and pointed out some of the most dangerous plants, what poisons were made from them, and examples of crimes for which they had been used. The Head Gardener and one of his assistants then took us on a tour of the main gardens. Developed in 1997 by the Duchess of Northumberland, the Alnwick Garden is well known for its cascading water feature, but this was only part of a garden that had plenty to see for gardeners of all abilities and interests. Unfortunately, we had missed the apparently magnificent display of blossom from the hundreds of cherry trees, and were a few weeks early for the equally magnificent (we were told) display from the rose garden.
We had a free afternoon, but many enjoyed a visit to the adjacent Alnwick Castle, the second-largest inhabited castle (to Windsor) in England, and home to the Duke and
Duchess of Northumberland. Many would know the castle, as it was featured in a number of films and TV series, including Becket, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, the Harry Potter films,
Blackadder, and the final episode of Downton Abbey. We just had time left for a quick walk round the town and a short tulip run back to Doxford Hall, giving us a total of 17 miles for
Wednesday, and no tulip tour today. However, after checkout from Doxford Hall we made our own way to Schloss Roxburghe Hotel, near Kelso, for lunch, and then on to our hotel for the next three nights – Matfen Hall Hotel near Corbridge. We were given a suggested route, but a number of cars added in a morning visit to Berwick-upon-Tweed, where we visited the Chain Bridge and nearby Honey Farm and Café. The Union Chain Bridge was completed in 1820 by the selftaught architect and engineer Samuel Brown. At the time it was the longest wrought-iron suspension bridge in the world, with a span of 137m (449ft). It was the first vehicular bridge of its type in the UK. The bridge had just been restored, and cars and pedestrians could cross and enter Scotland, which a number of our cars did.
The route for the afternoon was also up to the individual crews. Some of us took the A68, a lovely driving route on the edge of the Northumberland National Park, with sweeping bends on both the uphill and downhill sections. Other crews went via Kielder Water, by all accounts a much more dramatic landscape. Total mileage for day three, 90 miles.
Thursday, and the Rolling Hills run. This tulip run was to take us alongside Hadrian’s Wall to Vindolanda, a Roman fort and town situated on the Stanegate Road, one mile south of Hadrian’s Wall, and one of Europe’s most important archaeological sites. This not-to-be-missed tourist attraction pre-dates Hadrian and features ongoing excavations and a museum that, amongst other relics, houses the ‘Vindolanda Writing Tablets’ which are known as one of Britain’s most important archeological finds. This stop really required more time than we had, and most of us were late for our next stop at Langley Castle. This was proposed as a coffee stop but ended up being a lunch stop for many.
The return journey to the hotel took us through the Derwent Valley – open moors and the North Pennines area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. At one time it became so cold on the high moors that it was necessary to stop and add some layers. Total mileage for the day, 86 miles.
Friday and the ‘Cragside and More Run’ We left the hotel and headed north on typical ‘Backwater’ roads towards Rothbury, stopping at National Trust Wallington. We allowed
ourselves an hour and a half, just enough time to walk through the woods and visit the beautiful walled gardens before a quick dash around the house and off.
Continuing towards Rothbury before heading southwest towards Otterburn, our main stop was at Cragside, the Victorian home of the engineer William Armstrong. This house, built around 1870, was the original ‘smart home’ with a hydraulic lift and central heating. It was also the first home to have hydro-electricity, and even had a dishwasher. The house itself was an engineer’s treasure-trove and the landscaped grounds were great to walk through, but even better to drive through on the six-mile ‘carriage ride’ route.
After a total mileage for the day of 69 miles, back to Matfen Hall and a group photo before the final night’s dinner. A thoroughly enjoyable week for all the participants.