Road Trip: South London to Scotland – Day 1 Stamford, Lincolnshire and Corbridge, Northumberland
Updated: Nov 15
We had planned to visit Scotland in April, meeting our American friends in Edinburgh, hiring a car and then spending a couple of days in the Highlands and us all returning to London; us back to work and them to judge at the International Wine Challenge/see the sights. Then the world changed, and they were stuck in the USA and us in London. The hotel we’d booked in Edinburgh was great and offered a refund straight away, and the hotel we’d booked in Fort Augustus said that we could re-book within 12 months. I was able to move our flights to later in the year, hoping that by September normality would have returned. Have you too had good experiences with changed plans this year?
Normality had returned to some extent; but I was still nervous of spending time, not distanced, on a plane where fellow passengers can remove masks to eat and drink. So we decided to move the flights again, drive to Scotland, and make a much bigger break than the original plan. I mentioned in a previous post that I usually plan our trips, and this one was no exception. With a map spread on the floor and the internet on, we each pitched what we’d like to see, and looked to see if it was feasible and what would be the most sensible route to take. Then a marathon of bookings commenced; as things aren’t yet back to normal it’s wise to book restaurants as well as accommodation especially in small towns where there isn’t a lot of choice.
We live on the borders of South London and Surrey, and so whilst it’s entirely possible to drive to Edinburgh in a day, we decided to stop en route and make the trip more leisurely. Our first stop was for lunch in Stamford, a town that I used to visit fairly regularly when I lived in the East Midlands. It’d been a long time since I’d been, probably 30 years, and Alex hadn’t ever visited.
It’s incredibly pretty, with over 600 listed buildings, and a church on almost every corner (well it seems that way!). The 5 medieval parish churches are the result of it being one of the five Danelaw boroughs (with Derby, Nottingham, Lincoln and Leicester) and was also a Royal Borough. This meant rich benefactors could commission churches, which was certain to help their entry to heaven.
We walked past the churches and headed to a pub for lunch. The Tobie Norris dates from 1280, and is full of quirky nooks and crannies. It was originally owned by a bell maker called, you guessed it, Tobie Norris, and was a bell foundry. With all those churches Tobie must have been a busy man!
It was a lovely day, so we ate al fresco. If you like real ales and hearty pub food, this is not to be missed. If you have time to stay, you’ll find that Stamford also has a host of interesting independent shops, and is within walking distance of the magnificent Tudor built Burghley House. Like most attractions at present, pre-booking is essential if you want to see the house and gardens. For an overnight trip we’d choose to stay at the George Inn; packed full of history, it also houses a very elegant dining room and refined bedrooms.
We pushed on though, as we’d arranged to meet a friend of mine from university days. It’d been about 15 years since we’d last meet in person and I couldn’t wait to see her and her daughter. They’d suggested that we stay and dine at Matfen Hall in Northumberland where they are members of the spa. The hotel also boasts a golf course and beautiful grounds; this hotel would be worthy of a much longer stay.
We met for a very welcome G&T in the conservatory bar, chatted as if it was only yesterday that we’d seen each other, and then proceeded into dinner in the Library restaurant. The waiting staff were attentive and truly keen that we enjoy our meal, nothing was too much trouble. The menu uses high quality regionally sourced produce, and has just the right amount of choice. After dinner we returned to the conservatory for a nightcap, and then retired to our pretty balcony bedroom.
The following morning I could see that there was going to be a wedding and asked if we might see the Great Hall before the wedding party arrived. The hotel manager was absolutely delightful and gave us a little history of the hotel and it’s changed layout, as well as showing us around. It was typical of our stay here that nothing was too much trouble.
I think that our breakfast here was the most generous of the whole trip, and utterly delicious.
Before heading to Edinburgh we wanted to see a little of Northumberland. We headed towards Corbridge, stopping at the Roman Fort and once busy Roman town. I was able to book our visiting slot whilst sitting in the car in the car park. The most northerly of the Roman forts/towns in the Empire, this site is packed with history, including the fullest set of Roman armour anywhere in the world.
We popped into my friend’s antique centre in Corbridge to bid her farewell. We won’t leave it 15 years next time! Corbridge itself is a pretty town, full of independent shops and worthy of a longer visit.
Our final stop in England was to the World Heritage site of Hadrian’s Wall itself. Built to separate Roman and Barbarian territories, it was constructed around AD122 (Hadrian visited the construction that year). It took 6 years to build the 73 miles of wall, watchtowers and forts. And some, like Corbridge, remained occupied long after the Romans had left. Today walking lengths of the wall is popular, and can be made into a holiday in its own right. Needing to push on toward Edinburgh, we only spent 30 minutes here, and I now want to do some of that walk. But not in the autumn!
This very first part of our trip made us appreciate how many wonderful things there are to see and do in our country; one of the few upsides to this pandemic. Hopefully you have been able to do the same.