Sac Historic House Profile: Cragside

©NTPL/Ian Shaw – Cragside gardens

Driving in to work the other morning, I said to my husband “…there is the train station. We could turn left instead of right and be at the train station. We could turn left, take the train to the San Francisco airport and be on the next flight to London. We could be having a cup of tea tomorrow morning in a London café.” To which my husband replied “Sounds great!”

My shoulders sagged slightly “Oh but I don’t have my passport on me” (as if that were the only obstacle). My husband fished into his coat pocket and proudly pronounced, “I’ve got mine right here.”

So clearly, my husband has got the right idea. For him, the fantasy is made that much more delicious by the fact that he actually could have followed through with it. He had his passport ready and really could have caught the next flight out of town. He was prepared to be spontaneous (if there is such a state of being).

If your fantasy is to hop a flight to England to visit London, or rose-scented country gardens, or a huge estate with a carriage house and deer park, I urge you to be prepared. Think about making a tax-deductible donation towards a National Trust membership. The basic level is just $55 per year through the Royal Oak Foundation (the American affiliation with the UK National Trust). Membership gets you into over 300 Trust houses and gardens for free.

©NTPL/Simon Fraser – Cragside house exterior

You may discover some new places you’d like to put on your travel wish list. Properties like Cragside in Northumberland – a hidden jewel in the NT crown. Cragside was the showplace of Sir William George Armstrong (1810-1900) and it is notable not only for its beautiful house and idyllic gardens, but also for Armstrong’s forward thinking innovation and technology. Yes, that’s right… technology. Circa the late 19th-century but impressive nonetheless. According to reports, Cragside was the first house to use electricity (incandescent light bulbs) in 1880 and also boasted hot and cold running water, central heating, and even a hydraulic-powered elevator. Not too shabby for a house in Northumberland, a county famous for its picturesque countryside, historic battle sites, and sparse population.

Apparently, Armstrong was always inventing devices and gadgets that would help make the servant’s work a bit more efficient. One look at this kitchen and you can see where such things might come in handy. If I had a kitchen like this, I would actually be tempted to cook hot food.

©NTPL/Andreas von Einsiedel – Cragside kitchen

So take my advice and seek out a place like Cragside for your travel wish list. Join the National Trust, circle the properties you’d like to visit in the guidebook they send you, and get your passport ready. It’s a small step but it will make you feel that much closer to making your dreams come true. Be prepared to be spontaneous!

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