The Beginning of the End

So I ended up in Newcastle. I probably did not do Newcastle justice, but I did get to see some neat things.

Newcastle is an industrial town that is re-inventing itself into more of a tourist town. It has the sites to justify it, too. Within two blocks of my B&B in the suburb of South Shields was the Roman fort of Arbeia. Across the Tyne from South Shields are the ruins of an old Priory. The castle keep in Newcastle is in fantastic shape. There’s the North Sea terminus of Hadrian’s Wall at Segedunum. Oh, and there’s this Bede’s World thing.

I didn’t see all of it. I did go to Arbeia, though I did not have my camera, nor did I either take pictures of the Priory or stop by it. The foundations of the fort are all that remains, and it’s neat, but I have to admit I’ve been a little jaded from my time in Macedonia.

I tried to go to Segedunum, which is off the Metro stop at Wallsend. Interestingly, all of the Metro signs in Wallsend are bilingual, English and Latin. Unfortunately, and this is an example of how Newcastle is transitioning to a tourist town, there are no directions how to get to Segedunum once you get off the Metro. This was the first historical site in England or Wales that wasn’t marked so that I could get there.

It was not, however, the first site that was not marked well. To get to Bede’s World, you get off at the Bede Metro Station, but if you come from the east and South Shields, there are no signs to Bede’s World anywhere. There are plenty of signs for Metro passengers coming from the west, though, and after I crossed under the bridge I found them and was on my way.

Bede’s World is a combination of three basic parts. First is the existing medieval church of St. John and the ruins of the medieval abbey that had been built over the abbey that Bede lived in. They do have the foundations of both abbey’s marked in stone, so you can get a picture of what each looked like. Plus, there’s a lot of signage showing more how things looked, though several had unfortunately been vandalized. Most powerful was a marker stone Ceolfrid had written in the 700s.

After the church you go to the museum, which is a well thought out design. It works for a great number of audiences. It has enough artifacts that it is appealing to the expert. It has lots of recreations that someone who doesn’t know as much can really enjoy it. It also has a lot of neat things for children to do. It’s a bit Disney, but unlike the Jorvik exhibit, the Disney is an attempt to enhance the history, not overshadow it.

Finally there is the Anglo-Saxon farm. They’ve really tried to make a working Anglo-Saxon farm using as few modern tools as possible and to keep the modern world out. It’s a challenge given their location, and modern legal requirements, though, as there are big oil tanks on one side, an industrial area on the other, and lots of hints of modernity put in places for safety such as obvious life savers. Nevertheless, it’s a really neat place to go, but I have to say the pigs were huge, intimidating, and behind very small fences with warnings about how sharp their teeth were.

At this point I tried to go to Segedunum, but failed due to the lack of signage. I did wander around Wallsend some, but never saw any hint of the exhibit. So, after walking around for a while, I gave up and went to the castle keep in downtown Newcastle.

The castle keep is amazing. It’s essentially intact, and you can spend lots of time wandering around it’s three levels with many rooms and corridors. It’s really really cool. The top gives you a great view of Newcastle, and while it’s not the most scenic city in the world, it’s not horrible and they are really working to improve it. In any case, the keep is well worth visiting.

So here I sit on my way back to London and my preparations for coming back to the States. Of course I have mixed feelings. I’ve been out of the US for about 45 days. It will be good to have a cell phone again, though I dread checking my voice mail. I should be at Pennsic at some point this weekend, so that will be fun. I’m looking forward to seeing people.

Yet…, I’ve missed so much. I didn’t get to Caernarvon or Rhuddlan or Chester along the Welsh north coast. I didn’t get to Scotland at all, so no Edinburgh or Glasgow. Durham, where Bede is buried, is a lovely town I saw from the train but did not visit. I didn’t make it to Kent or Cornwall. I didn’t see Canterbury or Westminster Abbey. I didn’t make it across to Ireland.

It’s been long, great, and sometimes strange trip, and I have to admit it will be a relief to get home, if only for a little bit, but I’m already hoping for more opportunities to come to England.

This afternoon, I essentially complete my packing and get ready to go. Tonight I think Eddie, Mia, and some others are going to go to the Black Horse for one final pub night, and then in 26 hours I get on the plane. Sigh.