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Twining's Tea Museum & Shop, The Strand

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At the end of October, I visited the Twining's Tea Museum and Shop, which is located on the Strand opposite the Royal Courts of Justice. Thomas Twining started out at the age of 31 in 1706 with one coffee shop, which became well-known and used by the likes of architect Christopher Wren. By 1708, he had two establishments. This location on the Strand was Twining's flagship shop since the early 1700s.

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Buildings were known by landmarks or imagery instead of addresses, so Twining had a golden lion painted above the door. It became known as Golden Lyon tea and coffee house in 1717. The shop was actually larger than it is currently because business was booming and the coffee and tea was sold by weight; the other part of the shop is now a pub next door.

Against all odds, his business was profitable in uncertain times of the UK (riots, heavy taxes, wars, etc), and he ran it for 35 years before he passed away.

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The front of the shop contains teas that can be purchased. There are loose leaf and bags of tea, and some of the tea is limited edition and comes in collectible tins. More expensive tea can also be purchased here. Some of these can be smelled before making the purchase.

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At the back of the shop is the museum and tea tasting bar. The museum held tea-related items and vintage tins, tea pots, pictures/illutrations, and china. Also on display were wooden boxes where the tea could be stored.

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The tea bar at the back of the shop offers tea tastings. Visitors can have a taste before purchasing their favourite tea. Four pots of tea had been brewed for visitors, but visitors could also ask for any flavour of tea stored on the shelving on the back walls. When I arrived at the tea bar, one visitor (a tourist) had just asked for a cup of the Queen's 90th Birthday tea, which is a limited edition blend. The Twinings staff worker put the little crown on her head when making this special tea. (She and all of the staff were also dressed up for Halloween.)

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Russian Caravan, a green tea Long Jing, and another black tea were brewed and were on offer to visitors. I had a sample of them.

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Twinings Tea Museum and Shop are located at 216 The Strand and is open from 9:30am to 7:00pm weekdays and from 10:00am to 5:00 on Saturdays and 11:00 to 6:00 on Sundays.

Visiting Newcastle Castle

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As I was in Newcastle, I decided to take a visit of Newcastle Castle (also known as Castle Garth). The site of the castle contains a small patch of the grounds, the castle keep, and the barbican. The barbican (now known as the Black Gate), was my first stop. The barbican was surrounded by a small moat; the upper floors were added in the 1600s. Today, these rooms are a museum.

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Black Gate

From the upper floors of the barbican, the inner courtyard can be seen as well as a pit in the ground known as the Heron Pit, named after a corrupt sherrif of Northumberland who had the pit (used as a prison) installed above his quarters.

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Black Gate

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Black Gate inner yard

A castle occupied its current location on top of a hill before the 1080s when the Norman castle was constructed. By the middle ages in the late 1200s, the king visited; Edward I had Christmas at the castle.

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Black Gate inner yard

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Heron Pit

Part of the grounds between the castle keep and barbican and below the bridge was the location of a church with at least 600 human remains buried beneath. The church was in existance before the castle, and the walls of the castle were built around it. It was known as Monkchester, suggesting it was built near a Roman fort known as Pon Aelius. The cobble stones near here mark where the Roman fort was located.

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Pons Aelius

After looking at the grounds, I went into the castle keep, which is well-preserved and contains many rooms to look around. Some of the rooms contained items similar to what would have been in the rooms, and the garderobes had the wooden toilet holes over them. The Great Hall looked impressive with its high ceiling and balconies over the side (which would have been opened later). Also near the top of the keep was a well room, and the well was noted at being 99 feet deep with the stone basins on either side of the well containing lead pipes that could pipe water through other areas of the keep.

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Castle keep

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Officer's room

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Well room and well

One of the other rooms in the keep had grafitti dating from the Civil War (1600s). Troops were stationed here.

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Garderobe, grafitti from Civil War, original wooden beams

After visiting the Great Hall and other rooms, I walked up the winding staircase to the top of the keep where I admired the excellent views. Panels on the top discussed the railways and bridge. The tracks are very close to the castle and would have gone through the castle; I am glad that they prevented this and saved the beautiful castle.

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Views from top

Next, I headed all the way down the winding staircase to the lower floors. Down here was a cellar that was used for storage and then later as a prison at one time, and the iron chains can still be seen in the walls. In World War II, it was an air raid shelter. Lead pipes from the well room run into the cellar, and there was probably a wooden tap.

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Hallways on both sides of the upper part of Great Hall

The chapel is also here, and it is designed beautifully with carved stonework on the ceilings and above the doors.

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Have you ever visited Newcastle Castle?

A Weekend in Tyne & Wear and Newcastle

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The weekend before last, I visited Newcastle and Tyne & Wear in the north of England. This was my first visit to the area, and although it was just a short visit, I managed to discover some places that I would like to visit again for a longer time. The area is beautiful and consists of some very attractive coastline, parks, and cities. Photographs of my visit can be seen in this post.

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One of our first stops was to Saltwell Park in Gateshead after visiting the Angel of the North. This is a beautiful park with nice views, a boating lake, beautiful gardens, and Saltwell Towers, a mansion dating form the mid-1800s. The park and gardens were looking lovely in the autumn, and Saltwell Park appears to be a popular place with many families visiting it and the tearooms at Saltwell Towers. I would like to return for a longer visit.

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Another stop we made was to Whitely Bay along the coast. There is a picturesque lighthouse in view, and the beach was busy with surfers as the waves were quite large when we visited. There is a nice sandy beach here.

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North Shields was the next stop, and this was visited at dusk.

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Union Quay at North Sheilds is a fishing harbour with fishing boats and nets laid out. I captured a picturesque photograph here of the harbour and the boats. There is a little bit of parking here at Union Quay.

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The next morning, I had a nice walk from Gateshead to Newcastle. I saw the famous steel bridge (Tyne Bridge) over the river Tyne and crossed the newer Millennium footbridge just up the river to get some better views of Tyne Bridge. The sun had come out, and I got some good photographs of this bridge. The bridge is an icon of the city of Newcastle.

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Newcastle is built on a hill, so I had to walk up a steep hill to get to the rest of the city from the river area. The Tyne Bridge actually is built up so it can cross the river.

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Newcastle is an attractive city and has quite a few shops that I wish I could have explored longer. There also looks like quite a few good pubs and restaurants.

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One of the monuments in Newcastle sits high upon a column. It is Grey's Monument, named after Charles Grey who was the 2nd Earl Grey (apparently there is an association with him and Earl Grey tea). The column is similar to the column in Trafalgar Square, and this is because it was built by the same sculptor. The monument was built in the 1830s. 

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I would like to visit Newcastle and the area again. Do you recommend any attraction in this area for my next visit?

In the middle of September, I visited Rutland Water in England's smallest county (Rutland). I previously posted about Oakham and Oakham Castle, which I visited the day before. The day was a pleasant one, and it was not too hot nor too cold. It was also dry, so I got to enjoy the scenery and take a couple of short walks to other attractions. Rutland Water is only a new addition to the country; it is a man-made resevoir that was created by damming a valley. The resevoir opened in 1976 to supply water for cities such as Peterborough and Milton Keynes. It is also used for a variety of water sports and bird watching. It has something for everyone. After visiting Rutland Water, we went to nearby village Greetham and had lunch at a pub called The Wheatsheaf. Below are my photographs of Rutland Water.

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Our first visit was to Sykes Lane car parking, the location of the main tourist information centre and a museum dedicated to bugs. A marathon was due to begin when we arrived, so it was busy here as we watched the beginning of the marathon. Also at this location is The Great Tower sculpture by Alexander, which is made of bronze. It is the largest bronze sculpture ever cast and fits well into the surroundings.

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We decided to take a little walk toward Whitwell, where the river boat tours disembark from. On the way, we took in beautiful views and saw an old plane fly overhead. There were also a few sheep roaming here, and many families were out walking their dogs. We saw some rowers and fishermen too.

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After having the short walk, we decided to drive to Normanton to see Normanton Church, which is the icon of Rutland Water. It was only a short walk from where we parked, and we saw wonderful views of the church. I took so many photographs. Normanton was partially submerged when the valley was flooded, but they wanted to save the church from flooding. To save it, a wall was constructed around it.

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A wedding was taking place inside.

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While we were walking back to the car, I noticed these beautiful and colourful row of sailboats in the water. They were from the sailing club nearby.

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After the visit to the church, we walked back to the car and drove to Whitwell so that we could board the Rutland Belle for a tour of Rutland Water. We were told a history of the water and the area around it.

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The concrete tower in the middle of Rutland Water is used to monitor the water and, in particular, the amount of oxygen in the water. If the oxygen is low, it pumps more into the water. The oxygen outlets are located in various areas around the tower. These areas are popular with fishermen as I suppose the air attracts the fish.

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We also sailed over to Normanton Church, and I got some more photographs from a different angle.

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The sailboats were out in full force. They offer training programmes for young adults and children and special boats for people with special needs.

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We explored a couple of the villages as well, but our next stop was to get Sunday lunch before driving back to London. We went to The Wheatsheaf pub in Greetham, just north of Rutland Water. The pub has a little duck pond with quite a few ducks quacking away.

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We were given onion bread to start, and this was served with dip. I had most of mine with my soup.

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I had sweetcorn soup, which tasted delicious.

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Next up were the mains. I opted for the vegetarian dish, which was a pasta and goat's cheese with squash. This tasted very good and was full of flavour.

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The bloke had pork belly with all of the Sunday roast trimmings, including vegetables which were not pictured.

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For dessert, I had the salted caramel brownie with vanilla ice cream. This tasted very good, but it was a little bit too rich for me. I could not finish it.

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The bloke had a selection of ice creams.

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Overall, we had a lovely time at Rutland Water. Have you ever been, or would you recommend anything in particular?

A Stay in Oakham, Rutland (England)

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In the middle of September, the bloke and I had a weekend away in Rutland. We stayed in Oakham, one of the picturesque villages in the small county in England. In the previous post, I covered the visit to Oakham Castle, a beautiful Great Hall and one of the best examples of Norman architecture in the country. Oakham's market days are Wednesday and Saturday, and the market was closing up when we arrived at about 4:30.

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Near the market area were two market crosses dating from the medieval period. The largest and oldest one is located in front of public school Oakham School. It is known as the "butter cross" and is a typical design compared with others that I have seen with a cover and a circular column in the middle. The circular column was where the produce (eggs, milk, produce) would have been laid out for sale.

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At the base of the butter cross are stocks with five holes. The sign near the buttercross debated on why there were five holes; no one knows why there are five holes.

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We stayed the night at the Whipper-in Hotel in Oakham, which in located at the market street and was an old coaching inn.

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The rooms of the hotel were given place names, and our room (Warwickshire) was located in the converted stables. A little knitted bear greeted us on our bed, and we were asked to bring the bear to dinner with us for a free starter. Other guests had other bears with different offers. Dinner and breakfast were both included for us.

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To start, the bloke had Thai fish cakes with sweet chilli sauce. I had mushroom soup and bread.

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The bloke had steak for his main, and this included onion rings and chips and a bit of salad.

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I had the chicken breast wrapped in bacon and creamy leak sauce, and this was served with green beans and mushrooms. I also ordered a side of vegetables.

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The bloke had ice cream, and I had the lemon tart with cream for dessert.

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All of the food was very delicious, and I could not fault any of it. It was a good base to explore Rutland and Rutland Water, and I will soon be posting my photographs from Rutland Water, so keep checking back.

At different times throughout the year, the London Transport Museum arrange tours of some of London's disused tunnels and abandoned underground stations. In February last year, I got to go on the tour of Aldwych Station on the Strand. At the beginning of this year, I booked to go on additional tours through Hidden London and booked to see the disused tunnels of Euston Station. My tour was early on Sunday morning. I've always wondered how Euston got its name; Euston station is named after Euston Hall, the family home of the landowners.

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Our meeting point was at the abandoned tube station at Euston on Melton Street. We arrived early and got breakfast at a coffee shop across the street and then joined the queue of people that arrived in that time. When it was time, we went inside the building to watch slides and were told that Euston was the first major mainline station and used to have a beautiful Victorian arched facade and a beautiful Great Hall. The station became over-crowded as it was a terminus for a couple of different train companies, and different tickets needed to be purchased to use the different lines.

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We were then taken into another one of the rooms of this building, where we saw the remaining tiles painted white. Some of this paint was rubbed off to show the green colour, which was used for many of the underground stations. The remainder of this building is used as an extractor with a noisey fan that helps circulate the air through the old lift shaft.

After the visit to that room, we were then led to the new Euston station underground. The new station was built in the 1960s when (sadly) it was cheaper to pull down the old Victorian architecture and build new, so the beautiful building was lost forever. Once we descended into the underground, we went onto Platform 6. This was one of the existing old platforms, and the door at the end of the platform went into the abandoned tunnels.

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The only below-ground ticket hall level exists at this station not far from the doorway that we entered at the end of Platform 6. We saw the old ticket window. Visitors would use these tunnels to go from one line to another, but they would have to pay for tickets on different lines. 

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These tunnels were closed to the public during major improvement works. They were closed in the mid-1960s. The blue tiles and advertisements serve as a reminder of their days in the mid-1960s as a time capsule, and I wondered how many people walked by and saw these posters. Some of the highlights in the posters include a "Puss and Boots" from the Theatre Royal, an advertisement for "Coronation Street", "West Side Story" at the Astoria, a poster for P&O cruises, advertisements for hair, advertisements for books/newspapers, film advertisements ('Lonely are the Brave' and 'The Valiant'), sporting events, and advertisements for music (Bobby Darin). The subjects do not really differ too much from today. The typeface and colours (bright, bold neons) are so different.

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Another gem of a find is a neon-orange poster advertising the movie "Psycho", which is a classic today. The film was launched in 1960, and it appears that at least one poster would have been covering it before it was ripped off to reveal the title of the film. 

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Another three gems include travel-related posters. One advertises British Rail, and another advertises the Midway Pullamn train.

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After admiring the posters, we walked back down the tunnel to the location of the old lift shafts, which are now empty and used for ventillation purposes. They were actually very chilly. In the image below, the entrance to the lifts is on the left and reminds me of stations that still do have their lifts, including Covent Garden and Goodge Street.

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We stepped inside and looked up to see the top of the lift and ground level, which gave us an indication how far down from the surface we were.

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The next part of the journey went down to the ventillation chambers in the bare tunnels where we could read the casting years of the metal rings. We walked down the tunnel in the below image and around a tight corner where we  came upon four or five vents in the ground below us. 

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These were above the trains on the Victoria line, and the vents allow air to get through to prevent sunction and make the tube a little more bearable in the winter. The tunnels here were nice and cool. We were told to ensure we kept onto our belongings so they didn't fall down onto the vent grids. We saw people walk by and trains pass directly below us. Apparently, on one tour there was a rowdy group of drunks and the people on the tour kept shouting at them and confused them as no one can see into the vents from the platforms.

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This was the last part of the tour, and we decided to look at the original gatehouses that marked the original station entrance before leaving. These complemented the style of the original Euston station. One was for entering the station, and the other was used for exiting the station.

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The highlights of this tour were to see the 1960s advertisements and the ventillation chambers above the Victoria line platforms. I'm looking forward to seeing Down Street and Clapham early next year.

Oakham Castle in Rutland, England

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Oakham Castle is located in Oakham in Rutland, England. It was inhabited before 1066 as a motte and bailey castle, but the Normans built the first stone castle on this site; it is considered one of the best examples of Normal architecture. In the 1200s, the castle (manor) was surrounded by a wall and gatehouse. Today, the Great Hall and earthworks containing bricks for part of the wall are all that remains of the castle. Other buildings to keep the castle running existed within the walls but were demolished at different stages.

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The Great Hall dates from the late 1100s. It has survived so long because it functioned as a courtroom until recent times. Oakham Castle received funding in 2014 for restoration work and reopened at the end of May this year.

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One of the different facts about this castle are the horseshoes. Aristocratic and royal visitors to the castle have a tradition to honour if visiting the castle. The tradition is to provide a horseshoe. The reason for this is that the castle was owned by the Ferrers (ferrier) family, and their symbol on their coat of arms is the horseshoe. The oldest one is Edward IV's, presented in 1470. Recent ones include the Prince of Wales (Prince Charles) and Duchess of Cornwall (Camilla).

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Oakham Castle may not look like the traditional example of a castle, but it is. Many of the Great Halls would have looked similar, and some of the earth banks remain around it. Have you been here to see the horseshoes?

A Visit to Bolingbroke Castle

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Bolingbroke Castle is an important historical castle and was the birthplace of Henry IV and was taken over by Parliament during the Civil War. The castle itself was surrounded by a moat and contained large towers and a gatehouse. It was white-washed, and traces of this limewash can still be seen on the stones on the outer wall. Bolingbroke Castle was made out of weak stone, however, and considered to be in a bad state in the early 1300s. (The lime may have been used to try to protect it.) Part of the wall collapsed in the mid-1500s.

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The castle was built in the early 1200s and then owned by John of Gaunt, father to Henry IV. The castle was never used as a royal residence after Henry IV became king, but it was under Royalist control. The Battle of Winceby took place a couple of miles north of the castle, and the Parliament forces won and ruined the castle. A lot of the stone was later taken from it.

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Part of the grassy mound that encased the castle remains was unearthed in the mid-1900s and escavated. The Great Hall and kitchens were buried again to preserve them.

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Have you been to Bolingbroke Castle?

Newark was one city in England that I had never visited before this September. The main reason of the visit was to see Newark Castle, which is located in the centre of the city. Newark is a city in Nottinghamshire that has a rich history and was a Royalist stronghold during the Civil War, and there's a trail and museum dedicated to it in the city. While visiting the castle, we decided to walk into the centre of Newark to see what the town had to offer. I was already impressed with a few old buildings near the castle. The market square was sign-posted, so we followed these signs into the centre to take a look and to find brunch.

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The side streets from the castle opened up into the main market square, which contained covered tents. The stalls were not very busy, and many of them were empty on the Saturday morning when we visited. We found a couple of vans selling cooked food in the square, and I had a cheese and onion toastie from one of them while the bloke has a bacon roll from another.

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The market square also contains a water pump with an emblem of the city's coat of arms. Bear and bull-baiting also took place in the square until it was outlawed in the 1830s.

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Many of the buildings in and near the square were very old. I wish we could have stayed a little bit longer for tea in the timber-framed building below, which appeared to be a popular tearoom.

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The city also has an art gallery and small museum off the square, and these can be visited for free. There's also a few niche shops and the chain stores, but the city is quite a small one and can be visited with lunch in a couple of hours. (To visit the museums, do plan a little longer.) Have you ever been to Newark? What did you like the best?

A Visit to Newark Castle

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Newark was one town in England that I had not yet visited, but as we were staying the night in Rutland, we decided to drive a little further in order to visit it. Newark Castle was on my list of places to see, and we found parking across the road and paid the castle a visit. Although it looks imposing from the river, there's not much left of the castle after it was destroyed in the Civil War. The castle was free to visit.

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The city of Newark suffered a lot in the Civil War as troops loyal to the king were stationed here at the castle and at private houses (thus increasing the size of the town), and the town only surrendered after the king did first. The town does have a museum and a Civil War walk.

The castle gardens were landscaped in Victorian times and opened in 1889. Additional landscaping was done in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Right inside the gardens is a model of present-day Newark, which was created in 2005.

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Newark Castle was built in 1130 by a powerful bishop Alexander the Magnificient, but the site was the location for a timber and earth castle and was also used by the pre-historic, Romans, and Saxons. King John died at the castle in 1216 (possibly due to being poisoned), and early in October marks 800 years since he died.

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As Newark was a strong loyalist centre, the castle became a stronghold. After the surrender, the castle buildings were destroyed and left to ruin. The stones were eventually stolen, and there's not much left of the castle itself except for the areas that are a little harder to reach. Damage by cannon fire can be seen on the river-side of the castle.

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The main wall of the castle is against the river banks. On the side of this wall (in the picture above), timber-framed buildings were constructed which formed the Great Hall and Bishop's Hall. These contained the large windows to let a lot of light in, and the large windows looked over the river.

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Tours of the upper rooms of the castle tower and the dungeon are possible, but these only happen on select days and times. Unfortunately, my visit was outside of those times.

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I also had a wander across the river to get some photographs of the imposing-looking structure.

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Have you ever visited Newark Castle?

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