Wiltshire Branch Activities May 2017

Swindon U3A

The Houses & History of Northumberland 4th – 8th May 2017

‘The University of the Third Age (U3A) movement is a unique and exciting organisation which provides, through its U3As, life-enhancing and life-changing opportunities. Retired and semi-retired people come together and learn together, not for qualifications but for its own reward: the sheer joy of discovery!’

What has this to do with the RAFPA Wiltshire Branch?   In this instance the trip was organised by Wiltshire Branch member Ken Ivie and his wife Ann who are members of the Swindon U3A Travel Group.   The party on this occasion numbered 49 and included Wiltshire Branch members Ivan Carey, Jack Sharp and Mike Thornton with their wives and partners.

The journey north started in Wroughton at 07.30 hrs on Thursday 4th May with a brief stop in Swindon to collect members of the party.  With a fairly high average age the Welshman driver, John, was – thankfully -sensitive to the need for regular comfort breaks!

The first port of call as we travelled north was the National Trust’s Beningbrough Hall and Gardens in North Yorkshire.    This rather grand 1716 Georgian mansion has an impressive baroque interior and was once the home of the Wilson family (those of Ellerman Wilson fame).   It also houses more than 100 18th century portraits on loan from the National Gallery.

In the late afternoon, we headed off to Whickham and the Best Western Gibside Hotel which is on the south bank of the River Tyne and was our home for the next 4 nights.   Not only was the hotel very comfortable but the staff were outstanding and we were treated  like royalty throughout our stay;  food was plentiful and seconds were always available much to the joy of Jack and Mike!

On Friday 5th May we were escorted to the Beamish Open Air Museum by a Blue Badge Guide.  The Museum –  set in over 300 acres of beautiful countryside – recreates life in the North of England in the early 1800’s and 1900’s.

Lunch at the Museum was a walk down memory lane – fish and chips cooked in beef dripping!  They were excellent and Jack should know; he sampled fish and chips every lunch time of the tour.

After lunch it was on to Durham where we walked the streets and took in the scenery, students, students and more students… but there was Durham Castle and the Cathedral.   The day was completed with a first-class BBQ while cruising on the the River Wear.

The River Weir

Durham Castle

Durham Cathedral

On Saturday 6th May we crossed the Tyne and drove through Newcastle with a new Blue Badge Guide (Jan) providing an informative commentary on the Tyne Bridges.  Our destination – Alnwick Castle  –   home to the Duke of Northumberland, is the second largest inhabited castle in England and has been the home of the Percy family since 1309.  Some of the party chose instead to visit the Alnwick Castle Gardens.

After lunch – and more fish and chips for Jack – we moved on to the National Trust’s Cragside House and Gardens.  The house was created in the Victorian era by Lord Armstrong and was light-years ahead of its time.    It was the home of hydroelectricity with Lord and Lady Armstrong using  their wealth, art and science in an ingenious way. What began as a modest country retreat quickly became one of the most technologically advanced homes of the Victorian age.


The Wiltshire bunch outside Alnwick Castle

Sunday 7th May saw us returning to Northumberland to visit Lindisfarne Priory on Holy Island and Bamburgh Castle.   The Priory was built nearly 1400 years ago and is the site where St Aiden and St Cuthbert founded the great powerhouse of Christianity in Anglo Saxon Northumbria.   The famous Lindisfarne Gospels were created here in the early 700’s.

We also visited the museum which focuses on a grisly Viking Raid.  Unfortunately a planned trip to Farne Island was cancelled because of the sea state – it was rough and blowing a gale!  Indeed the weather set the scene for the afternoon visit to Bamburgh Castle and the Grace Darling Museum.

Jan - our Blue Badge Guide

Too rough to sail!

Bamburgh Castle

Rough at sea but life goes on in Bamburgh

The Grace Darling Memorial

Grace was the 'Beckham' of her time!

Sadly all good things come to an end and our final day – Monday 8th May – saw the coach heading south with a stop at the Royal Armouries in Leeds.

This really was an excellent few days full of interest and great company.  Ken and Ann organised a brilliant trip which passed off flawlessly.  I think they need to set about doing something similar for the Branch…. But we’ll let them have a break first!

Wiltshire Branch Activities June 2017

On Sunday 21st May, 24 members and guests gathered together at the Chippenham Golf Club for a carvery lunch organised by Gordon Sidey.

Once again the choice of venue for this lunch proved to be excellent as the food, level of service and the general atmosphere was extremely pleasant.

Due to the fact that we were sharing a more public area, we decided not have our customary raffle on this occasion, of course, the down side to that decision being the fact that we did not have the entertainment value that usual accompanies the raffles that we have had in the past – you have to have been at our raffles to understand the inference!!