Autumn Alnwick Ambles


The Town Crier and his escort

Alnwick is a market town with ancient feudal origins which lies in the heart of rural Northumberland. In keeping with Northumberland’s status as the most castled county in the country, Alnwick castle grandly looks over the river Aln in all its crenelated splendour. The castle, which dates back to the 11th century, is familiar to all as Hogwarts in the Harry Potter movies and in films like Elizabeth and Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves. It will be getting another boost to its profile when it appears in the new season (series) of Downton Abbey at Christmas time.
Alnwick was voted the Best Place to Live in Britain by Country Life Magazine in 2002 and Alnwick Food Festival takes place every year in late September, in the ancient Market Place which has served the town since the 1500’s.


Marshmallow sweet skewers

Jean Christophe Novelli, the very talented and charming French chef (I have met him so I can confirm this) once again supported the festival with his demonstrations and you could have joined him at the Outcook cookery school if you were feeling the Master Chef vibe. I enjoy cooking but prefer eating so I was sorry to miss the Saturday night gourmet meal again because it was sold out. However, there were still lots of fun things to see at the festival which champions local produce and suppliers. The team from the Jolly Fisherman Pub and Restaurant at Craster were there promoting all things kipper and seafood related. Fresh shellfish and seafood from the Northumberland coast is pretty hard to beat.


Seafood sensations



I feel the need for Mead

The monks from Lindisfarne were diversifying from just Mead to Lindisfarne cream liqueur and other spicy punch products. Well I don’t think they were really monks, but it was monks who first made mead presumably because it helped to while away the time in the days before Sky TV.

Fine local meats cheeses and chocolate were also on offer and the market place was being patrolled by George the giant chicken who was claiming to be the Food Festival mascot.


Just a big chicken

Lots of tasty street food was in evidence with everything from gourmet venison burgers, to tasty Indian curries and French crepes with ingenious fillings such as spinach and pine nuts and goat’s cheese – yum! Of course all this eating and shopping can be quite tiring.


Exhausted of Alnwick

The larger than life character of the Alnwick Town Crier John Stevens was centre stage with his bell and his good lady wife whom he calls his ‘escort.’ ‘I used to have a Morris Minor’ he quipped ‘but now I have an Escort!’ He is a very jolly sort and a definite asset to the town. I asked how often he did his town crying activities. ‘Whenever I feel neglected!’ was his reply. Talk about an attention seeker.

I had to buy some Ginger Parkin made by the talented Gingerbread Mam. This is one of my favourite cakes and reminds me of childhood Bonfire Nights (or Guy Fawkes to some) It needs to be chewy and gingery and comforting and her cinder toffee was also pretty much heaven on the tongue for us sugarholics.


Perfect Parkin

Another very special feature of Alnwick is Barter Books, inhabiting the old railway station just on the edge of town. The shop is notable for its use of a barter system whereby customers can exchange their books for credit against future purchases. It’s one of the largest second hand book stores in Europe and is a tourist attraction in its own right.


Take a page out of Barter Books

It’s not so much the books that are the attraction for me (although I very much like books) but the building itself, how it has been restored and recycled and the artwork, unique details and beautiful interior. An arcing artwork of lights illuminates a cosy browsing area. The old waiting room has a real fire and is part of the Station Buffet café. The ticket office window offers another quirky book display opportunity, looking through to the children’s section.


A book? Just the ticket!

Two model trains chug around the top of the bookshelves offering railway related distractions for young and old and there is another big real fire with leather seats next to it that you can sink in to while helping yourself to coffee and a home- made biscuit for less than £1.



The old station has a lovely peaceful atmosphere and is nice just to wander around in a nostalgic manner perhaps observing the old stone water fountain which is still in evidence built into the wall. The original WWII Keep Calm and Carry On poster was discovered here in a box of books in 2000 and the reproduction of it on countless items has now become a huge worldwide phenomenon. It has also been permutated a million different ways with largely regrettable results. Now there’s even a Keep Calm O Matic website where you ‘Just enter the pithy saying of your choice, choose a few simple options, and before you can say ‘coalition government’ you’ll have your very own Government-approved motivational slogan.’

That’s what happens when you don’t hang on to the copyright! Perhaps Churchill had it hidden somewhere in his bunker..