Fairytales do happen on occasion, and when you get the chance, take it...
As we walked through the gate, a Northumberland piper played, the instrument less insulting to the ears than the pipes played farther to the north. His efforts underscored the lively conversations of the ladies and gentlemen filing into the Alnwick Castle. Dressed in elegant gowns, kilts, dashing suits, and tuxedos, the crowd was met in the castle courtyard by a wave of neatly dressed lasses armed with sparkling trays of champagne. A second wave soon broke upon the guests, tempting them with delectable hors d'oeuvres that softened the effects of alcohol on an empty stomach.
We walked the grounds, looking up at the walls that seemed to have pushed away the Northumbria clouds to reveal a clear blue sky, the setting sun warming the color of the stone. Although ancient in origin, the Alnwick Castle is more contemporary in construction, having been in a state of renovation since the 11th century. Notably, it survived the War of the Roses, unlike many fortresses in Northumberland, even though King John had ordered its destruction in 1212, but his instructions were not carried out in Alnwick.
As the champagne flutes emptied, the cheery guests made their way into the Grand Hall, where tables set to perfection awaited. At the head table, the Duke and Dutchess of Northumberland sat with honored guests as we enjoyed a new film marking Hardy's 150th Anniversary. A few introductions followed, and a presentation to his Grace of a handsome Anniversary St. George reel. Finally, he spoke of his family's long connection to Hardy and his personal penchant for the brand.
The conversation shifted to the guests at each table as introductions accompanied the passing of wine bottles as servers descended with the first of three courses. The pleasant meal was overshadowed by the setting framed with paintings of former residents and royalty. Dining in a castle, a real living castle, is not something one ever imagines doing, yet, dressed to the nines, here we were. Two fly shop owners from Oregon enjoying the experience and soaking up every moment.
Soon the plates were cleared, and magically a glass of Anniversary Speyside Scotch appeared in our hands to toast Hardy's 150 years and the continuing success of this iconic brand.
As the guests began to mingle, we sought out John Drewett, the author of Hardy Brothers: The Masters, The Men and their Reels 1873-1939, to resume the conversation we had started at the dedication of the Hardy Museum and Shop in Alnwick earlier that day. Escaping the band that now played in the Grand Hall, we found refuge in the castle courtyard, sipped on gin & tonics, taking in the night sky as was talked of friends, old reels, and the wonder of what we had been privileged to experience.
While I am new to this passion of stewarding vintage reels and learning more about the men that built them, Jennifer was basking in the significance of the friendship forming under the stars in the shadow of castle walls. I watched her in conversation with John, my jacket around her shoulders, her beautiful gown riffling in the breeze, and knew this was a night we would not soon forget.