Sunday 31 July 2011

Poison Diaries Event at Alnwick Castle - 27th & 28th July 2011

I have been lucky enough to be invited to attend some amazing events since I started blogging but I don't think I've ever received an email as exciting as the one I had a few weeks ago inviting me to the Poison Diaries event at Alnwick Castle.  I actually had to read the email about 4 times and get a friend to read it for me before I could believe what I was reading, then once the truth had sunk in I'll admit to a very loud squeal of delight and excitement!  I got even more excited when I realised how many of my favourite bloggers were going to be there and that we'd get to spend the night inside the castle - I never in a million years would have thought I'd get to spend the night in the castle they used to film Hogwarts in the Harry Potter films!

On the day of the event Kirsty and I were both ridiculously excited, I think I must have woken up about 4 times in the night because I was so worried about sleeping in and missing our train!  We set off at about 8:20am and had to make several train changes before finally arriving at Alnmouth station just after 3pm.  I can tell you there were some very smiley, happy bloggers standing on that platform when our train left the station.  We were taken in mini buses to Alnwick Castle but had a chance to stop and take pictures along the way (I'm going to apologise in advance for the number of pictures in this post, I got a bit carried away with my camera and took just under 600 photos during the event!  Don't worry though, I've narrowed them down for you & they've been split into slide shows so you don't have to look through all of them lol).

This first slide show includes some of our first views of Alnwick, see if you recognise any of it from the earlier Harry Potter films!

We had just enough time to put our bags into our rooms before it was time to set off on a tour of Hulne Abbey which is where Jessamine and her father live in the Poison Diaries book.  We were really lucky to be taken along a route beside the river to get to the Abbey, the Duchess wanted us to be able to see the route that Jessamine would have walked to get from her home to Alnwick and very kindly arranged for us to be taken through the private land to get there which is something that most people don't usually get to see.  The views of the surrounding countryside on the journey were beautiful and the Abbey itself was just how I'd pictured it when reading the book.  The Abbey is such a peaceful place and really is a beautiful setting for the story.

Here are some of the pictures I took at Hulne Abbey:

When we got back to Alnwick it was time for Afternoon Tea with the Duchess in the State Dining Room, we were told that we were the first group of people that have ever been allowed to have a meal in there and I can't even begin to describe how amazing the setting was.  We were all shocked when we first walked in and saw the beautifully set table piled high with plates of sandwiches and cakes and decorated with flowers and candles.  I don't think I've ever eaten such delicious cakes before, they were tiny pieces of heaven and it was very hard to resist eating them - everything from chocolate eclairs, tiny cheesecakes, mini cupcakes, millionaires shortcake, lavender biscuits and scones!  It was hard to know where to start and if I'd had pockets I would have been very tempted to take some away with me for later lol. 

After tea we got to visit the library which I have to say was amazing, I can only dream of having a library like that one day!  As book bloggers we were all in heaven and I think we could have happily stayed in there for hours.  The Duchess read the first chapter of Nightshade for us and I'm sure I wasn't the only one who was left desperate to carry on reading the rest of the book. 

Warning, this slide show contains pictures of cakes that will make you drool and of a library that you will soon be coveting!

After our tour of the library we were taken on a guided tour of the Postern Tower and Gun Terrace, the grounds around the Castle are beautiful and I'd love to go back and spend more time exploring them

Then we had a little bit of free time to get changed for dinner.  I know I wasn't the only one who was really excited about the idea of eating in The Treehouse restaurant but it surpassed all of my expectations.  The restaurant was fabulous and beautifully decorated with fairy lights.  It was like stepping into a fairytale cottage and if I didn't have pictures to prove I was there I'd swear I'd imagined it.  When we arrived we were offered a choice of a poison cocktail (which contained vodka and fruit juice and was delicious) or the cure (a non-alcoholic cocktail) and then shown to our tables.  I sat with Kirsty, Vicki & Susan and we ate the most delicious food.  The starter was salmon and mushrooms followed by a main course of chicken and vegetables followed by a divine chocolate dessert.

After dinner we were taken on a candlelit tour of the Poison Garden by Jessamine's father Thomas Luxton.  I have to admit to finding him a really creepy character, it didn't help that he was dragging a couple of dead rabbits behind him as we followed him to the garden!  The man taking the tour did a really good job of acting like I imagined Luxton though and the candlelit gardens really added to the atmosphere.  After the tour we were all given glow sticks to light the way back to the castle.  I tell you if you ever want to bring out the inner geek in a bunch of bloggers just take them on a walk in the dark with glow sticks - there were a lot of light saber fights going on lol.  When we made it back to the castle a group of us ended up sitting outside in the courtyard until about midnight chatting.  You really should chat to Amanda about the submissions she has been reading for Angry Robot - she had us in tears of laughter with some of the stories she told us.

By the time we made it to bed I was too tired to do much reading but I was determined to read at least a few pages of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone before bed.  I've been wanting to re-read the series for ages now and I'll never have a better excuse to start than spending the night at Hogwarts!

The next morning we had an early start for breakfast, followed by a tour of the underground passages through the castle that Jessamine and Weed walk through on their visit to Alnwick in the first book.  It was really dark and creepy down there and I was half expecting someone to jump out on us while we were down there but I found it really interesting finding out about the water powered lifts they had installed to take food from the kitchens to the dining room.

We just had time for a little shopping in the gift shop before we headed back to the Poison Garden to see the plants by daylight.  It was nice to get to see the plants properly and they have quite an impressive collection of dangerous plants in there!

Before it was time to leave we were able to get our books signed by the Duchess of Northumberland, I'd taken my copy of Poison Diaries with me and we had been given a goodie bag with Nightshade in it (I finished reading it yesterday and really enjoyed it so watch out for my review coming soon).  I also bought a beautiful illustrated hardback that features a story about Weed that I'm really looking forward to reading.

We really did have an amazing time at the castle and I was sad to have to leave.  I'd like to say a massive thank you to everyone at Kdot for all their effort organising the event and an even bigger thank you to the Duchess of Northumberland for letting us visit and spending so much time with us.  It really was an event I'll never forget and I'm definitely planning on visiting the castle again in the future!

Who was there:
Kirsty - Novelicious
Susan - Susan K Mann


  1. Sounds like a fascinating event. Great photos too - some of those outdoors shots are just so beautiful. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Excellent report Sarah. I am so glad you all had such a fabulous time.

  3. So many great memories there! I wish we could do it again. An amazing experience and brilliant company!

  4. aweosm report! I am even more jealous now but so glad you had a brilliant time! I bet it was a bit creepy following that strange man around the poison gardens and wow, you read Harry Potter whilst being "on set" kinda! lol
    PS you're looking lovely!!

  5. *jaw drops* WOW... just WOW! What an amazing, incredible adventure!!! Thank you for sharing it!

  6. Once again, I'm so sorry for my delayed reply to your comments!

    @ Lauren - it was such a beautiful place to visit, the whole event still feels surreal - I don't think I'd believe it really happened if I didn't have the pics to prove it lol.

    @ Viv - thanks Viv, we really were spoiled with an amazing couple of days :o)

    @ Vicki - It would be so nice to do it all again wouldn't it! I had so much fun with you all, memories that will last a lifetime for sure & some great friends to share it with :o)

    @ Raimy - that guy was sooooo creepy, especially dragging his dead rabbit along behind him! It was just gross! LOL about reading Harry Potter "on set" I hadn't thought about it like that but it's true hehe

    @ Twimom - I still can't get over what an absolutely amazing time we had. We really were spoilt to death with the whole experience. I'm glad you enjoyed the write up :o)



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