HOLIDAY TO NORTHUMBERLAND - Part 4 - 9th & 10th July 2022




Up early, Dad threw the curtains back, and looking out, Scooter said, "looks to be a good day weather wise once again."

"It's the railway bears day out today", cheered Higgy. "So looking forward to travelling on your railway, Dunstan."

"I have waited such a long time for this", agreed Dunstan. "Finally the day is here."

"You will be especially proud, as you are a Founder Member of the Aln Valley Railway", went on Dale.

First however there is the matter of moving to stay at Doxford Hall for the next two days", said Fred. "Make sure you have all got everything pals."

Dad had got up extra early to pack his cases, and then he moved the car down to the lower car park and got all the luggage loaded.

"You stay here and get your breakfast lads, while I take Dunstan and have mine. He was soon back and we dashed out to to the car and got settled for the journey.

Dad then checked out, Donna doing this and he told her, "I have enjoyed my stay and everything was good. Please thank them for looking after me." 


Our Day

So waving goodbye to Chatton for this year, we headed east on the ever so familiar road for Dad, to the A1, and headed south.

Gladly said, "can we go to Doxford Hall on the way?"

"No lad, I cannot check in until 15:00, so the rest of you will have to stay in the car, while Dunstan and his pals visit the railway."

"That's OK", said Fred. "I will be glad of the rest and we can always have a wander round if we feel like it."

Leaving the A1 at Alnwick, Dad said, "we need to go left at the roundabout, then take the first left and into the industrial estate."

"Look there are signs for the railway", called out Dunstan excitedly.

We drove on to a junction there turning left and following the road as it bent sharp right to branch off left and soon enter the car park. "Ahh", breathed Dunstan, "here at last."

"So pleased for you pal", said Summer.

So before we go on, let me set out exactly who of my pals came to visit with me, and where applicable which railway they are members of -

Chuffer Embsay & Bolton Abbey Railway
Dale Wensleydale Railway
George the Guard Adopted at Bluebell Railway, but not a member
Higson North Yorkshire Moors Railway
Leander Adopted on Fellsman steam special over Settle-Carlisle line
Scooter Bluebell Railway
Summer East Lancashire Railway






So, saying goodbye for now to our other pals, we headed in.

Meeting the gentleman at the gate who was greeting customers, Dad explained, who I was, saying, "this is Dunstan and he is a member and is looking forward to visiting today with his pals."

Walking down to pass the cafe/shop, I said "will you take my picture by the buildings."

In the shop we met with Peter Stonell (treasurer) who was on duty today.  Dad bought his ticket, my pals and I travelling for free. Dad explained about my being the member, and that living so far away all we could do was to provide financial support on the various projects. 

He said, "that is vital as without armchair supporters we cannot progress the project."

Dad and I had sponsored the purchase of sleepers, and I pointed, "look Dad there is your name."

Peter said, "there are so many sponsors that we cannot get them all on the board, so the names are listed in those binders."

Here is Dad and mine...

 and here is the entry for support in memory of our dear Uncle Brian.

Higson was looking at the listings, and commented, "it seems the entries have been duplicated."

"Oh yes, I see", replied Dad.

"We had better be getting to the train", said Summer.

It was in the station platform locomotive no.60 hauling the carriages today.

Turning round Dad then took this of the line looking towards Alnmouth, showing the signal box and the diesel Pacer units.

"There's a seat", called out Leander, "Let's sit there and have our picture taken."

l-r, George the Guard, Chuffer, Summer, Dunstan, Dale, Leander, Higson & Scooter


"I wonder if I can have my picture taken on the footplate, Dad."

"I'll ask the driver, lad."

He was William Stafford, who is member no.5, and who had signed my founder member certificate.

Dad said, "Dunstan is member no.222 and I wonder if you could hold him while I take his picture."

He replied, "you and Dunstan get on the footplate and I’ll take your picture.” 

"Thank you."

Now we boarded the train and my pals and I got settled on the seat, with our respective members cards.

A family from Edinburgh – mum, dad, son and daughter came and sat with us.  So Dad explained about us and then chatted on as we made our way to Greenrigg Halt the current end of the line.   Dad asked where they had been on the holiday, and from the conversation it was apparent that the son was very interested in trains.  Made for a lovely journey.

I was to fortunate that Dad agreed to let me visit again on Sunday, and then I brought just my pal Benji for the ride, as he is originally from Alnwick. You can see that both he and I are proudly wearing our Aln Valley Railway badges.

We alighted a Greenrigg Halt, and here is a general scene.

The engine has to run round ready for the return journey.

"Dad", I asked, "can you take my picture sitting on the locomotive?"

As he set me down, the lady from the family who had ridden in the compartment with us said, "I'll take you both if you like."

"That would be very kind", replied Dad.

Running by the track the whole length is a cycleway and footpath, so we hurried round to watch the train depart for Lionheart.

And then this of Greenrigg Halt, all quiet.

The trackbed continues under the bridge, but because it carries a public right of way, the line cannot be extended until the railway obtain a Light Railway Order. William Stafford told us that this involves Parliament and is very costly, so for the time being they plan just to consolidate the current line.

We did walk just a little way under the bridge on the continuing track bed, and posed. 

A cyclist came along and he and Dad had a chat about the railway etc.  He wisely decided not to follow the track bed as Dad said, "the driver told me that it is very overgrown in places."

As we walked back a lady on the cycleway asked, "Have you seen a large white dog. It has run off and my husband has gone in search of him."

"I'm sorry, but no. I have only just arrived here on the train."

Now exiting the station, we headed down the narrow road, and looking back, Higson called out, "look there's a white dog. Let's hope it is the one the lady was looking for." 

The verges were lined with flowers. "Mmm, what a lovely scent the meadowsweet has", commented Scooter.

At the bottom we came to Cawledge Burn where there are good stepping stones. 

Laughing Dad said, "those are way better than some I have had to contend with back home on my walks. There would be no danger of me falling in here."

"There's no point in crossing", said Summer.

"No lass, but I am going to venture just a little way, to get a shot upstream."

"Beautiful", breathed Higson. "So lovely here. I am glad that Bill Stafford suggested we walk down."

As we walked back up we met the couple with their dogs, one being the large white one that the owner told us was a big Sicilian breed.

"That must be the missing dog", whispered George.

“What a lovely dog”, Dad said. 

“Not what I would say just now”, replied the gentleman who had been searching for it in the woods. 

They went through the gate on the footpath into the field beyond to find a spot for the dog to swim and cool down, so we followed them the few yards to the ford. 

"There is a bridge to avoid this", the gentleman pointed out.

Dad asked, “if I walked on would I be able to see Cawledge viaduct?” 

The lady replied, “no, it is hidden in the trees.” 

So after chatting a few more minutes we returned to the station and we sat on the platform...

waiting for the train to arrive.

We quickly boarded and got settled in the compartment each with our membership cards as appropriate.

In the compartments that I rode in both on Saturday and on Sunday with Benji, there were paintings over the seats. "They are lovely", I said. "Will you take some pictures please for our story."

"Sure Dunstan", replied Dad.

These first two are by artist Pat Lutman, and depict, the amazing tree house at Alnwick Gardens, and Beadnell, respectively.

And then these by artist Andy Hollinghurst, of Dunstanburgh Castle, and Lindisfarne Castle.

On the return journey we all peered out as we crossed the massive Cawledge viaduct. I said, "thank you Dad for supporting the appeals to repair this amazing structure."

Chuffer said, "I see what the lady said about the trees surrounding it. I cannot even see the Cawledge Burn that passes under it."

We had been noticed by the guard, and for most of the journey he came and sat in our compartment. As his request Dad told him about us and the railways we represented. Really good for Dad to chat with him. 

So back at Lionheart, Dad said, "I need some food so we went to the café and Dad had a sandwich, cake, biscuit and tea.  We of course sat out and got commented on and asked about by two ladies.  So chat followed, and gesturing with his hand Dad accidentally knocked his mug of tea over.

"What are you like", said Scooter. "Just wait until we tell Fred, Gladly and Co."

The lady assistant kindly wiped it all up and brought him another mug of tea for free. 

Then we went to the shop seeing the guard again, who was having a break before the next train.  He kindly showed Dad where the badges were, so he bought 8, one for each of us, and also a cap for himself, while chatting to Peter Stonell, until a gentleman came to buy a season ticket. 

"Right", said Dad, "let's go and have a look round and I'll take some pictures."

"Take some of the locomotives", I said.

So here is Richboro.

"That is another appeal you supported with me Dad, so that the railway could purchase it out right.

Then there is Jennifer...

...and diesel locomotive Drax.

Finally in the sidings beyond the signal box are the two Pacer units the railway quite recently acquired. The front one is operational and used on non steam days. The second is await overhaul.

Suddenly an assistant from the café came up saying, “you forgot the badges. You left them on the table.” 

"Thank you very much for coming to find me and bringing them”, replied Dad. "The bears would never forgive me."

So it was back to the cafe, and Dad proceeded to put a badge on each of us, and we wear it with pride and to remind us of the great day we were having here. 

There was just time then to watch the final service of the day depart for Greenrigg Halt, and for Dad to take a couple more pictures, first of the building and waiting shelter on platform 2...

...and this grounded old carriage that serves as the station masters and crew offices.

I am sure that we brightened people’s day and that they we were a hit with the volunteers.  Dad was thanked for the financial support by a few of them, and he thanked them all for the welcome and for giving us such a good day. 

As we left, Dale said, "the smile has hardly left your lips Dad."

"What a super day we have had", said Chuffer. "We must come next year, when we visit Northumberland again."

As mentioned earlier, I visited again on Sunday, bringing Benji and we rode the line. It was an event day with Northumbrian folk entertainment in the loco shed, and there was just time for us to catch the last session. A lady with a beautiful voice sang a song and then another accompanied by a gentleman on accordion and another lady did a clog dance.  Finally a trio – violin, accordion and squeeze box – two gentleman and a lady played two further folk tunes.  They were superb and obviously enjoying every minute.

"How lovely", said Benji. "Thank you for letting me come today pal."

"Well you had to, after all you are from Alnwick where the railway starts."


While Dad was having breakfast, Gladly said, "I have been looking at the map for the immediate area around Doxford Hall, and there is a Dunstan Hill just a short walk away.

"Oh really", I replied in surprise.

Bamburgh studied the map. "I wish we had the advice to STAG to be sure it is allowable to climb it. There is a footpath that runs to the west of it, but the hill itself is fenced off."

"I reckon it's private land", went on Bramble. "But it would be great if you could climb your namesake hill."

"Yes for sure. I'll have to ask Dad and see what he thinks."

So this is what we did. "Well lad, Bramble is quite right, but I am happy to go and see if we can get to the summit.

"Can I come along too?", asked Benji.

"Yes lad. Now, afterwards what do the rest of you want to do."

"Just stay in and have a relaxing day", replied Fred. "We have a long journey home tomorrow."

"Ok then", said Dad. "I'll tell you what Dunstan, let's go to the Aln Valley Railway again. Ride the train and see some of the Northumberland Folk entertainment.

"That would be wonderful Dad", I replied. "Thank you very much. Oh and I want to take Benji as after all he is from Alnwick."

Well that has been related in the first part of this story.

As Dad made ready, Benji said, "how about we have a wander round the grounds of the hotel and you can take some pictures to include in the story.

Exiting the hotel, I said, "that will be a good shot from over to the right."

"I got a sheet of the history from reception", said Benji. "Although the first reference to the parish of Doxford goes back to 1296, The Hall was actually built in 1817-18 for Henry Taylor, to a design by the much respected Newcastle architect John Dobson. Henry Taylor died without issue and the Hall and estate passed through different owners, including the Brown's of Callaly, who made extensive alterations and we forced out in 1900 when the owners of nearby Ellingham Hall poisoned the water supply by placing a dead horse in the well. Henry Percy Warren purchased it in 1901, but he ended up in a lunatic asylum. Lord Runciman then bought the Hall and estate. They made many alterations, the most lasting being the East Wing designed by architects Mauchlen Weightman and Elphick, who were responsible for that lovely staircase, joining the east and north wings."

"I love the owl sculpture at the top. Please take a close-up Dad."

Continuing with the history, Benji said, "the Hall was sold in 1953 to Northumberland County Council, and remained with them until sold in 1993 to Brian and Shirley Burnie. Due to the state of the structure, urgent extensive restoration was required to make it habitable and after restoring the Dobson part of the Hall, architects and engineers were commissioned to design a world class hotel that opened in 2008. Robert and Gina Parker purchased Doxford Hall in 2010 and after six months and £500K refurbishment and redevelopment involving renovating the original entrance, adding new bedrooms and a lounge and bar area it opened to the public."

"Thank you Benji, for all that interesting information", said Dad. "Uncle Brian and I really liked staying here, and when we checked in yesterday, it was just as I remembered it. I think that when we come to stay in Northumberland again, we'll stay here all the time."

We then had a walk to the sunken garden... the centre of which stands this tall sundial.

"It would be nice to have our picture in the grounds don't you think", said Benji.

"Yes", I replied as we settled to pose.

"Right", said Dad, "time to climb Dunstan Hill. I'll just have to change my shoes first", as he headed to the car.

That done we walked along the drive then turned left along the road. After a while I pointed and called out, "a post box. Little Eric likes to collect pictures of them."

"Let's sit on top", suggested Benji.

Soon I called out, "this must be the route, there's a signpost."

Initially this was through the grounds of a house, to a stile, the owner saying, "the stile is in need of repair, so take care crossing."

"Thanks for the warning", replied Dad.

Dad paused on the far side, and I pointed, "there's Dunstan Hill. I think the summit is where the trees are."

Following the footpath across the field we climbed the stile in the fence. "The footpath continues by the fence on the left, but to get to the summit we need to climb over it", Dad said.

There was barbed wire on top, but Dad is well used to such obstacles and with care he was soon over. Then making straight for the hill, it became clear that the highest point was not where the trees stand, but to the right. On reaching this we saw that there were trees here too, but they had fallen.

"Victims of Storm Arwen?", suggested Benji.

"Come on Benji, we must have our picture at the summit, just like STAG do."

"Well", said Benji, "it will be something to tell STAG when we get back home."