RECAP: Further Tales from Northumberland - Episode Seven
Robson Green learnt about a famous heroine, an ancient sporting tradition and poisonous plants in tonight's instalment of Further Tales from Northumberland, which has just finished on ITV.
The television star travelled along the route of the Great Whin Sill – the rock formations that give the county its distinctive rugged landscape – during this evening's episode, screened from 8pm to 8.30pm.
A large part of his time was spent in Alnwick, where he met the Duchess of Northumberland and was given a taste of the town’s historic Shrovetide football match.
The Hexham-born star received a guided tour of The Alnwick Garden’s Poison Garden, which is home to many deadly plants. It’s one of the attraction's most quirky features and Robson asked the Duchess where the inspiration to create it came from.
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She replied: "I was looking around the world at what was going on. There were apothecary gardens everywhere and it was the same sort of concept except they were being used to teach people about the curative properties of plants and I thought ‘boring’. Let’s teach them how they kill."
It's not often that the Home Office becomes involved with plants in the setting of a public garden, but in this instance a number of the ‘inmates’ have to have their very own licence to be there. Robson told the Duchess that he has heard a rumour that illegal drugs are grown in the Poison Garden.
She pointed him in the direction of a collection of cannabis plants, although the Duchess has strong views on the Class B drug. She said: "Some people say that cannabis is not dangerous, but in fact it’s been genetically modified now and skunk is dangerous and when you smoke dope it can turn you psychotic. Just one spliff is all it takes, so it’s a little bit like Russian roulette. But it can also be fantastic for people who have MS, but it's not something to play with."
As part of his time with the Duchess, Robson asked her how she managed to turn the neighbouring Alnwick Castle into a family home.
The Duchess said: "I always think if your values and roots are strong enough, then everything else is okay. When the door is shut, we are there as a family in our kitchen and that is what is important and the rest of it is a job."
The imposing castle overlooks the Pastures, which is turned into a football pitch once a year for Alnwick’s Shrovetide fixture. In this evening's episode, Robson experienced some of the thrills and spills of the annual match, played between the parishes of St Michael and St Paul.
He joined a group of local players, including veteran competitor Steven Temple, for a kick-about and then dived into the River Aln for the customary scramble to reach the match ball, which is always kicked into the water at the end of the contest.
As Robson soon discovered, the Shrovetide match is not your usual game of football – with few rules, no-holds-barred tackling and plenty of divots, bumps and mud.
Wearing a vintage Newcastle United football strip for the occasion, Robson said: "Shrovetide football is brutal, very exciting and dramatic. It might not be as well known as the FA Cup or Wimbledon, but once a year Alnwick hosts one of Northumberland’s great sporting occasions.
"When it comes to drama, excitement, entertainment, fun and something that sums up the heritage and history of Northumberland, Alnwick’s Shrovetide football is in a league of its own."
As part of his Shrovetide experience, he spoke to Temple and secretary Archie Jenkins, who both spoke passionately and fondly about the tradition.
Alnwick wasn't the only place on Robson’s radar in tonight's episode. His journey began at the Farne Islands, with the story of Grace Darling, the lighthouse keeper’s daughter whose act of heroism made her one of the biggest celebrities of the Victorian age.
Robson said: "175 years on, the story of a young girl who braved a storm in a tiny coble boat still captures the public imagination and she remains an icon of the Northumberland coast and is one of Britain’s greatest heroines."
He met Virginia Mayes-Wright from the Grace Darling Museum at the village’s St Aidan’s Church, where Grace is buried in the churchyard. Asked by Robson why Grace captures the imagination, Virginia said: "She epitomises the value of heroism – going into the unknown, not knowing whether you’re going to come back. I think that is what pulls at our heart strings."
Robson’s final chapter in this evening's episode was at Hadrian’s Wall, where he tried his hand at making Roman pottery.
Reflecting on his journey along the Whin Sill, Robson said: "It is the very backbone of Northumberland. It is what makes the county so rugged, distinctive and spectacular. Some of Northumberland’s most famous landmarks were built on it – castles like Dunstanburgh, Bamburgh and Lindisfarne – and it was the perfect base for the Romans to build their defences on."