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