Cragside was one of the places I wanted to visit last year and we managed to make a visit over the Summer. Cragside is a Victorian house set in a huge estate with landscaped gardens. It was home to Lord William Armstrong who played a large part in the Industrial Revolution. Not only did he found the Armstrong works, which was a large arms manufacturer in Newcastle, he was a great inventor and scientist. Cragside is proof of this, it was the first house in the world to be lit by hydroelecticity and contains many interesting gadgets. You will find fire alarm buttons, telephones, a passenger lift and a Turkish bath suite among others. Recently an Archimedes screw was installed in the gardens and the house is now lit by hydroelectricity once again. The house itself is surrounded by one of Europe’s largest rock gardens which leads to an Iron Bridge and the formal gardens. With over 1000 acres to explore there is plenty to see and do. Cragside is situated near Rothbury in Northumberland.
On our visit to Cragside we spent our time exploring the house. It is perched on the top of a hill and to reach it you need to walk though a forested area. Red squirrels roam the grounds, but we did not catch sight of any. The house itself is an impressive structure which made me think of the novel “The Water Babies”. It’s many chimneys and archways loom overhead and the house itself overlooks a cliff down to the gardens below. Even walking into the house there is a small waterfall which gives you an idea of how easy it would have been to power the house using water power.
Walking into Cragside is like going back in time. The house must have been a tranquil retreat from industrial Newcastle in a time where coal was being used. The country air must have been a relief although it would have taken a while to travel from Newcastle by horse and coach. The interior contains many beautiful objects of art and it takes a while to wander around and explore the many rooms.
The kitchens are amazing, you get a real sense of servants rushing around preparing meals for the guests. The two ranges are now in working order and on Wednesdays the kitchen comes to life with baking Wednesdays, where volunteers fill the house with smells of Victorian baking. The spits hanging over the stove are turned by electricity and indeed many labour saving devices are found though out the house. It must have been one of the first smart houses at the time. I love the large kitchen tables and would love to bake in this kitchen.
There are many rooms in the house and they are all gorgeous. From stately living rooms lit by Joseph Swan’s electric light bulbs with amazing views over the garden, to small sitting rooms filled with books. Beautiful bedrooms with small dressing rooms beside them looking out over the iron bridge. A room where snooker was played and you can imagine cigars being smoked and great debates happening. It is a fascinating place to wander around and investigate. It is easy to linger for a while in each room and almost catch the whispers of conversations from long ago.
The visit is educational as well with a room showing the history behind Cragside and the invention of the light bulb. What I found fascinating was the paintings adorning the walls. Many of these look like peaceful scenes but it is only when you look closely you realise these paintings are really Victorian in their outlook. They capture scenes of death like this painting of the death of the shepherd. Morbid though the topics are I really like they way they capture death. You really have to look to understand what you are looking at.
Estate Carriage Drive
Before we left Cragside we planned to stop and visit the Archimedes Screw and see how the water was being used to power the electricity. On our way there we saw a sign for the estate carriage drive and decided to take this. This takes you around the estate, passing under the arch of Cragside house and gives you the opportunity to explore the reservoir, lake and woodland. The views are amazing and it gives you a feel for the sheer size of the estate.
However the drive does take you out of the estate so do make sure you have seen everything you want to see first. Cragside is a fascinating place to visit with plenty to see and do so allow plenty of time if you visit. While you are in the area why not make the visit to Wallington as well.