I'm very much enjoying exploring Northumberland, Doug is spending a bit more time swearing over tight car parking spaces and traffic suddenly getting complicated as roads go single-lane under ancient defensive arches. It's also rained a lot today and we got very damp. It seems like a significant portion of the population (and their dogs) had the same idea that the best thing to do on an exceptionally wet bank holiday Monday would be to head for Barter Books and Cragside.
This was my first visit to Barter Books and it's impressive - I'd like to go back when it was a bit quieter but the essential layout and setup are really interesting to anyone who works in a bookshop - I love that you can literally barter books - you take in a handful of second-hand offerings and get credit in return. The dog friendliness, proliferation of comfortable chairs and sofas, and a whole lot of open fires were all very appealing. The cafe spread across a number of old waiting rooms, buffets, and offices also looked good but the queue was too long to tempt us.
The actual book range is also impressive and the service was impeccable - there's access to the catalogue to see what's in stock which is useful, and very helpful people to dig things out of storage or direct the overwhelmed customer to the right general area - all I bought was an old edition of Slightly Foxed at a slightly eye-watering price, but it's one I've wanted forever and Slightly Foxed is always good value.
Cragside is a truly remarkable Country House and possibly my favorite National Trust property - it was really too wet for us to spend any time walking there but seeing the house was more than enough. One of the things I really like about it is that it started out as a relatively simple 'cottage' intended for fishing parties and grew along with the Armstrong family's social aspirations. Arguably the least successful parts are the major editions made with a view to entertaining Edward VII when he was still Prince of Wales. The earlier parts of the house where the rooms are either relatively small or break larger spaces into more intimate subdivisions are more interesting, not least because they could work on a somewhat smaller scale in any house.
There was a not quite dressing room that I was particularly taken with - basically a large cupboard with shelving, draws, hooks, and a pole for hanging clothes from - about the size of 2 fitted wardrobes and a good chest of draws but so much more practical - my dream house will definitely have something like it.
After that, it was back to Hexham and a really good poke around the abbey - which is an absolutely wonderful building. I thought I knew it well enough after years of visits as a kid, but there are all sorts of details I'd never really noticed and one of the really lovely things about this mini break is being able to go back several times and notice new things each time.