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Jul 2019+

Medieval castle, Grecian inspired Hall and acres of impressive gardens.

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So, the old Duke of Northumberland is on his death bed and has just bequeathed to his eldest son his grandest country mansion with 100 bedrooms. Turning to his youngest...

'To you, I rue the day you were born. You have brought nothing but scandal and shame upon this family with your disgraceful ways and I'm leaving you... bugger all!'

'Bugger Hall?' Says junior. 'How many bedrooms has that got?'

© The early 20th century.

Except, that's not how it happened. The old Duke actually said 'I'm leaving you Belsay Hall' and his son says 'But there's bugger all in Belsay Hall!'. While that's a joke, of course, he wouldn't have been wrong.

How  English Heritage™ have the nerve to charge £20-a-pair, especially with the scaffolding on the Stable Block not due down[1] anytime soon, isn't known.

[1] Looks like they got round to it in the summer of 2018.

The hall, however, is home to periodic exhibitions and highlights in the past have included the costumes from BBC's 1995 production of Pride and Prejudice and Stella McCartney's  crystal horse.

Today, it's a display of hand-made quilts, whoo-hoo, and even a crescent of lawnmowers outside can't make that £20-a-pair look anywhere near value for money.

You're free to roam indoors but even the local estate agent could only optimistically describe the rooms as 'unfurnished'.

It's been deliberately done at the request of the real owners and highlights include some early wallpaper from the 1880s and a load of dry rot downstairs.

Except, you've failed to spot the frieze that's typical, Greek neo-classical, of course, although that term doesn't appear to have been coined until 10 years after all of this was finished.

A big fan of all things Grecian, Sir Charles Miles Lambert  Monck[1] built the place in 1817 with the help of  John Dobson's plasterers.

[1] He'd changed his name from Middleton but the family would later change it back and no, not them Middletons.

Largely Regency in style, of course, there are hints to the Hellenic everywhere including the doric columns at the entrance that now provide some shelter for the swallows.

Saying that, they may be swifts or they might even be  house martins?

That's about £5's worth by our reckoning and who doesn't like a bit of Greek, including a decent souvlaki?

To the left of the house, a well-tended ornamental garden and a view over the drop to the rhododendrons, which will be spectacular in a fortnight, apparently.

Now, not being botanical types, unless you're talking about a clear bottle with 'London' or 'Plymouth' printed on it, there are plenty of approving nods from others who do know better.

Head through a rose garden, it's thought, to pass a croquet lawn that's home to Belsay Hall Croquet Club, no less. If that sounds a bit exclusive, they've at least  8 members and it's something you definitely don't see every day.

What with the gardens, that's £7.50 we're prepared to pay now. Oh, go on then, £8 with the croquet thrown in.

Through a gate and to the left, Crag Wood Walk is a walk through a wood up a crag alright but first a confession. A few not-so-recent visits here before[1] but this distraction lay previously undiscovered.

Not just a crag and a wood but a lake and you get to it past that rhododendron garden just glimpsed although you're not allowed in.

It's only 45 minutes of your time from start to finish but there's plenty of whistling, if hidden, wildlife in the trees and the occasional view back to Belsay Hall.

Elsewhere we'd part with £2 for the parking so, that's a tenner we're up to?

[1] It certainly wasn't £20-a-pair then, probably.

Meanwhile, heading back to the hall, take the first marked path on the left through the trees. The Quarry Garden and Castle marker is a clue and yes, there's a sense of some quarrying having gone on here.

This becomes more evident as you head on in until you reach a door that you're encouraged to close behind you.

It's wondered what's behind that door? A castle perhaps? Since it's not been seen yet and some, quite frankly, merely adequate quarrying, we're unwilling to budge and go north of that tenner.

Most of Belsay Castle dates back to the 14th century although some of it is said to be even earlier.

Family home to the Middletons, ongoing problems with the plumbing[1] and a leaky roof meant that the aforementioned Mr Monck gave Pickfords a ring in 1817 when he was happy that the new pad was watertight.

[1] There was none.

Speaking of roofs, there's a fair view from the top of this one, north to the Cheviots, it's thought.

Around the back, the shrubbery might well puzzle a monkey and the old stables are home to a colony of swallows or swifts.

This one looks like a young un' making identification difficult, which means it might even be a  house martin.

An impressive enough castle, it's supposed, and we'd obligingly cough up a fiver. It's all adding up though, what's that we're at now? £15-a-pair?

There's a different path back to Belsay Hall that runs parallel with the one you came in on. It's back through the Quarry Garden but there's a heck of a load more garden and much more evidence of the quarrying.

Bored with the decorating, even though wallpaper hadn't been invented then, Mr Monck turned his attention to putting some plants in the quarry that supplied the stone for Belsay Hall and the rhododendrons will be spectacular in a fortnight, apparently.

Not having the faintest idea what any of this is and despite now knowing that the idea is stolen from Sicily's Syracuse, this has become our favourite place in Northumberland, scratch that the UK, scratch that the world[1]!

Them Victorians are well known for being imaginative but it's hard to imagine how you could do this even now? £20-a-pair? That now sounds like a bargain and we're happy to go up to £76.

When you reach a certain age, there's an acceptance that some behaviour might not be seen as so 'cool' by your younger selves and that includes using the word 'cool'. That's why English Heritage™ has two new members, taking advantage of their 'sign up today' discount.

It will happen to you, it will, and do you know what? There's Bugger Hall you can do about it.

[1] That might be getting a little over-excited but it is just half-an-hour up the road on a good run.