Beamish: A British Time Machine

Have you heard the old weather folklore that if the cows are all sitting down in a field it means it’s going to rain? From my experience I think it’s true, but today we noticed that in every field, half the cows were sitting and the rest were standing. Turns out those standing were right. It was a beautiful warm sunny day here today I’m the U.K.

We started our day with a trip to Hexham Abbey. A kind steward gave us a tour and showed us how long ago, those who built the church used many of the stones from the Roman ruins. As a result it was interesting to see ornate Roman stonework combined with plain stone from a local quarry. We learned about how the church had been pilfered several times, even as far back as the Vikings, but many of the original artifacts remain. Down a set of steep stone steps was a crypt dating back to the 7th century. Long ago it was ornately decorated with gold and jewels, but today only the stones remain. 

Since it was a sunny day, we headed to Beamish, a folk park which is known as the living museum of the north. Covering over 300 acres, it is divided into four time periods. FIrst we visited an area from the 1900s known as Pit village. It featured an old coal mine you could actually visit wearing a hard hat.  We didn’t go in it, but we were able to tour the area where young children once sorted coal. 

While watching a blacksmith create hooks and toasting forks, the smell of fish and chips filled the air. It smelled delicious and we were anxious to try it, but it looked like a 45 minute wait so we reluctantly moved on.

The 1820s village featured a replica of an old passenger train pulled by a steam operated engine. Men in period costumes fed it coal and everyone got a five minute bumpy ride on it.

Up a winding path was a 1940s farm. With horses and pigs, it was a pretty pastoral scene. In the farmhouse I tried some homemade bread with raspberry jam that was incredible.

Our favorite part of the folkpark was a 1900s town with stores and businesses from that time period. To get there people hopped on  beautifully restored buses and trolleys, all driven by people dressed in period costume. After looking at old Raleigh bicycles, we tried some fresh gingerbread and lemon shortbread made right on the premises. The queue for the chocolate shop was never ending and people emerged from the shop with bulging bags of candy. Anticipating mouthwatering chocolates, I waited in the sun for 30 minutes but when it was my time to order, I realized the shop was primarily gummies, fireballs, and candies similar to those orange American peanut shaped candies made with fake marshmallow. There was  barely a chocolate in sight.  The whole process reminded me of an old Seinfeld episode. You were expected to quickly rattle off your order yet there was absolutely nothing I wanted until I thankfully saw a sign that said fudge,   “I’ll have two pieces of fudge,” I said.  “NO!” The guy replied. “That is not how we do it. It is four pieces or nothing!” so I bought four pieces.  I was optimistic though and anticipated rich gooey fudge but when David and I took a bite, we both agreed it was a glorified Tootsie Roll and we gave it a secret thumbs down.

After all those sweets, the people long ago would have needed a dentist. We visited the dentist’s office and the young man in period costume told us that long ago if you could not afford a dentist you were at the mercy of being part of a sideshow with an audience or the local fish monger. He showed us sets of old teeth people could buy that came out of the mouths of the fallen at the Battle of Waterloo. It was a fascinating, but grim story.

At the edge of town was an old pub. We thought it was just to admire, but it turned out you could buy something. David tried their Beamish while I ordered their summer special which was described as refreshing strawberry syrup mixed with lemonade. While I loved the pub, my drink looked and tasted exactly like warm Polar Dry Raspberry soda. 

On our way back to the parking lot, we passed a storeroom of artifacts. They had everything from old washing machines to toys and cameras. A humorous display was two dolls in a glass case with baby bottles of milk connected to their mouths with a tube. Apparently it was a game to see which baby would finish the milk first. I also saw an old machine that engraves your name on a coin. I remember seeing one as a child at Grand Central Station.

Dinner tonight was in a small town called Hayden Bridge at the General Havelock Inn. It appeared to be a place mainly for locals and we dined on tuna steaks and asparagus with bubble and squeak. Bubble and squeak is similar to a potato cake mixed with vegetables. On our drive back here to Wark, we were amazed that it was close to 11:00, but not pitch black yet.Tomorrow  we head to the North Yorkshire coast.

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