Sunday, June 29, 2014

A castle, some coffee and a cream tea

Castles are a hazard of travel in the UK. It's not so much the arrow slits and murder holes that are a danger to unwary visitors these days, more the sense of duty that compels the conscientious traveller (ie me) to trail round one after another, up and down uneven stone steps, in and out of gloomy dungeons and ornate halls, reading the story boards and trying to steer a path through this island's complicated history. It can be a bit of a mission, frankly, and after a while they all tend to merge.
But Lancaster Castle is different. It was a Class C prison until very recently, and it's still a court, so there are great stories to hear about escapes and cases (Birmingham Six, for example) and grand rooms to visit, to sit in the judge's chair or in the dock. We saw a holdfast and branding iron with M for malefactor, children's handcuffs, pikes and manacles. We stood in pitch darkness in a cell where remand prisoners spent months waiting for the judge to come to the town. And there was a NZ connection: Edward Gibbon Wakefield, founder of Christchurch, spent 2 years inside here. Fascinating stuff, helped by a great guide.
Then there was coffee to buy at Atkinson's nearby, the beans weighed out on old-fashioned scales with brass weights. And a Museum of Childhood to visit with the creepiest dolls this side of Stephen King.
Finally, Morecambe, with its tat and tacky, in both senses, lettered rock, dodgems and bingo, wide sand and distant sea, sedate strollers and sweating trial bikers; and the Art Deco Midland Hotel with a tinkling piano, views across the bay, and a tiered cake stand of dainty sandwiches, Victoria sponge and perfect scones, with jam, clotted cream and Earl Grey tea.

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