The Best of Non-Golf: North East of England p. ii

To view the few remains of Great Swinburne Castle you must walk along a public footpath crossing the land of the handsome residence built using stone from the old castle:

And if you wish to see the remains of Tarset Castle you will need to seek permission from Tarset Hall Farm on which land they stand:

Thirlwall Castle is now in the hands of the Northumberland National Park:

Look in on Carvoran Roman Army Museum on your way past.

Titlington Castle seems to have disappeared in a farm garden:

Of Tweedmouth Castle there is little to be seen, although you do get a close up of Berwick-upon-Tweed’s magnificent railway viaduct while searching:

Intriguingly named Twizell Castle vanished centuries ago, being replaced by an 18th century manor house. That, too, is now a ruin, if rather a handsome ruin:

Tynemouth Castle was built to protect Tynemouth Priory and both occupy a commanding position overlooking the River Tyne and the North Sea. Not to be missed!

Warden Castle and Wark on Tweed’s remains are scant:

Similarly Wark Castle in Tynedale:

There is little trace of Whitley and Widdrington Castles. But quaintly named Willimoteswick Castle survives as part of a working farm. It was reputedly the birthplace of Nicolas Ridley, Bishop of London and Westminster, burnt at the stake in Oxford in 1555.

Of Wooler Castle a few stones survive and, last in the list (hurrah!) Wooler Green Castle has that now familiar appearance of a mound of earth:

After so much bloodshed perhaps we should essay some of the quieter of remote Northumbrian towns and villages, starting alphabetically at Allendale.

It is usually a sedate place in the hills above Hexham, with gift shops and tea rooms, but at New Year a Pagan festival of fire is revived:

The local beer is well reputed:

The little village of Alnham is today little more than a few scattered houses, a fortified vicarage and a pleasant little church of some architectural interest. Hundreds of years ago Alnham was an important meeting place of several drovers’ roads at the south end of Salter’s Road from Scotland.,_Alnham

Alnmouth is a pretty little town which, as its name describes, looks out to sea where the River Aln flows into it. Its harbour was important for the export of corn and the importing of Norwegian timber. But a great storm arose at Christmas 1806, the course of the river changed and the harbour silted up. The town is now much given over to tourism.

During the 18th century war with France, Alnmouth witnessed several naval encounters with the French fleet who bombarded the town in 1779. And the American John Paul Jones fired a cannon ball at the church. He missed, but the 68 lb ball demolished the end of a farmhouse.

Alwinton is a village in the Cheviot Hills at the confluence of the Alwin and Coquet rivers. It is principally noted for its Shepherds’ Show in October:

Sir Walter Scott stayed at the Rose and Thistle when he was working on Rob Roy.

But, for my taste, the Parish Church of St Michael and All Angels is fascinating, and unusual in that the chancel is 10 steps above the nave. Happily the church’s history is well documented and much is known about its architecture.

There is still a hearse house beside the church. A guide book refers to the hearse that it ‘is rarely used today for lack of horses strong enough to pull it.’

Beadnell possesses one of the finest stretches of beach in the country, encompassing all the beach activities of the modern era.

In the past Beadnell was famed for its lime kilns on the harbour. They are no longer in use and there are concerns for their well-being:

The Craster Arms was constructed around a 15th century defensive tower:

Beamish features an expansive open air museum and is a major day out. Highly recommended!

There is not much of interest remaining in Bellingham although it used to have a foundry which produced the first rolled iron rails used by George Stephenson’s locomotives. Sir Daniel Gooch, who laid the Atlantic cables in 1865 and 1866, was born here. And the Bedlington Terrier was bred here for badger baiting.

Perhaps the most fascinating description of Belford was one given in 1639 when it was described as ‘the most miserable, beggarly town, or town of sods, that ever was made in an afternoon of loam and sticks.’ The quaintly named Spindlestone Ducket Mill appears to have no known function!,_Northumberland

Bellingham, standing on the edge of the moors, on the way to the Kielder Forest, has an interesting church with a stone roof so heavy that the walls had to be strengthened in the 18th century to prevent their collapse.,_Northumberland

The ‘Long Pack’ tombstone in the churchyard attracts visitors curious to learn of its history. The details of the tale vary from book to book, website to website.

When driving from the north-east back to my home in Wilmslow I have frequently taken the scenic route over the Durham moors through Blanchland. It is a lovely old town.

Although I have never stayed there, The Lord Crewe Arms looks the part:

Can anyone verify its ghost story?

St Mary’s  appears austere from the outside, but is warmly attractive inside.

Poor old Blyth is remembered for its lighthouse which once stood on the shore but now languishes in the middle of mundane housing! More heroically, Blyth Spartans Football Club survived to the 5th round of the FA Cup in 1977/8.,_Northumberland

Sadly Blyth is now a town with a history of coal shipping, shipbuilding and other industries all now lost.

Brinkburn, however, has very much come back from the dead. Its Priory church fell into disrepair but was restored in the 19th century by Thomas Austin of Durham. I have been privileged to record a number of high class concerts here in the past:

These concerts were in the days of analogue tape recording. Analogue tape always made a slight hiss on the recording. At Brinkburn it always seemed louder than elsewhere. And it continued even when the tape recorder was switched off. The reason was that the Priory is home to thousands, maybe millions, of bats. While hanging in the roof they defecate profusely. This hissing noise was the sound of their excretions landing on the fine netting hanging in the Priory to protect the audience underneath!

When first I visited Brinkburn The Hall, near the church, was also in a sad state of repair. That, too, has been brought back from the dead and is now a luxurious setting for weddings, celebrations, holidays and events:

And there was also a ruined watermill. It too has been beautifully restored and is available for holiday rent:

A Roman road leading from Hadrian’s Wall to the Tweed at Berwick runs through the village of Capheaton, where Roman remains have been found. The village as we know it today was laid out as a model village in the late 18th century:

Capheaton Hall, of considerable architectural interest, has long been associated with the Swinburne family, including the poet Algernon Charles:

The family still lives there, although they have made provision to accommodate wedding parties and other guests in the West Wing. Traditional country pursuits are available.

The poet Swinburne also visited Wallington Hall where the Trevelyans attracted literary and artistic guests and it was at Wallington that Swinburne met Dante Gabriel Rossetti and John Ruskin. Wallington is now open to the public through the National Trust:

At this point we might allow ourselves a few hours wandering in the Cheviot Hills, up in the north-west corner of Northumberland, spilling over substantially into Roxburghshire. The Cheviot itself stands at 2,676 feet, although some prefer Hedgehope, 2,348 feet, with more rewarding views from its summit. This is remote country, and in bad weather long outings can be stupid. There is approximately one person for every 350 acres, so rescue is not guaranteed.

Chollerford  is famous these days as it is the venue of one of the most accessible bits of Hadrian’s Wall, the Chesters Fort.

And the George Hotel is a comfortable base for the area:

Likewise, Corstopitum is a major roman ruin:

But the town of Corbridge, which grew out of Corsopitum, is no less interesting. In the middle ages it had four important churches and representation in parliament, but it had declined in the 18th century into a ‘filthy place populated by half-fed, sallow people.’ Fortunately, it recovered and is now a pleasant working town with a number of good pubs.

Low Hall

Monks Holme

Angel Inn

Heron House

are the pick of the public buildings and St Andrews Church the pick of the churches:

while Corbridge Bridge is old, and was the only bridge capable of withstanding the great Tyne flood of 1771:

Cragside, near Rothbury, is one of Northumberland’s great houses. It was built by Lord Armstrong, one of England’s great inventors (the hydraulic crane and the first rifled gun), and remains famous for being the first house to be powered by electricity. It doesn’t stop there, and the gardens and estate are magnificent. He even provided a telephone communication with the hides on his grouse moor.

Craster is a fishing village once famous for its kippers, later losing them to North Shields, but now proudly produced at home, thankfully. They are excellent.

Nearby is the Arnold Memorial wildlife reserve, which, unusually for the north of England, features inland birds and flora, not the expected seabirds.

Cullercoats is a suburb of Tynemouth. It used to export salt, grindstones and coal, but in 1882-4 a quite remarkable church was built. St George’s Church looks every inch 13th century, and yet it is not! It possesses a very fine organ, which I recorded many moons ago.

The Dove Marine Laboratory, part of the University of Newcastle, is a well-sited facility:

I must confess my ignorance of one of the oldest forms of English sword-dancing, who used rappers for their act. There are many of these still in existence, and one in particular caught my attention, the Royal Earsdon Sword Dancers, who came from near Whitley Bay. I am not sure whether they in particular still exist, but others do. Clearly they were talented, for they attracted the attention of Cecil Sharp in 1910:

Edlingham is a little Northumberland village with a considerable history. It is mentioned in 737 AD and it retains a parish church dating mostly from the 11th and 12th centuries. There is also the ruins of a 12th century castle.

Passing by the village is the Devil’s Causeway, a roman road running from Hadrian’s Wall to Berwick-on-Tweed.

The ‘Witch of Edlingham’, Margaret Stothard, was earlier mentioned in the castle section.

Embleton gives its name to the bay on which Dunstanburgh Castle stands. Holy Trinity Church has connections with Magdalen College, Oxford, and there is also a Pele Tower. The Creighton Memorial Hall is reckoned to be the largest village hall in Northumberland, the Creighton concerned going on to be Bishop of London from 1897 – 1901.

Felton and West Thirston are pretty villages either side of the Coquet River, with several notable visitors in the distant past: King John, the Duke of Cumberland and John Wesley. Today they are best known for The Running Fox, a country pub of much more than local distinction.

As its name suggests, Heddon-on-the-Wall gives a fine view of a section of Hadrian’s Wall, but St Andrew’s Church is almost as important. It displays Saxon and Norman features (and later features, too) in a fine little building.

Holystone Well is a spring-fed site supposedly dating back to saxon times. It is said, although not proved, that Paulinus baptised 3,000 people at Easter 627. There was an Augustinian nunnery dating back to at least 1124, but its stones are said to have been used later to build the village church.,_Northumberland

There is a fine country walk in the woods and hills nearby:

A suspension bridge to be mentioned in the same breath as Menai and Clifton is to be found at Horncliffe. All you need to know is on the website:

Howick Hall is not fully open to the public, although some of the building is being restored. It is the home of the Earls Grey. But what Howick is most famous for are its fine and extensive gardens. The church within the grounds is used for services about twice a month.

Ingram is a little village in the Breamish Valley. Its church is historic, with parts dating back to the 11th century. It is lovely country and a visit to Linhope Spout waterfall is a must.

The Kielder Forest is the largest working forest in England and boasts the largest man-made lake in Europe.

Kirkharle is remembered for Capability Brown who spent the first 23 years of his life here. For many years that was all there was to it, but now the courtyard and lake have been developed into a craft shopping outlet, fine tea rooms and a pleasant walk.

Kirknewton is a tiny village notable for the Adoration of the Magi depiction in the oldest part of the church of St Gregory the Great. It seems that the Magi are wearing kilts!,_Northumberland

Yeavering Bell, nearby, gives fine views from its summit.

I have already referred to Morpeth in the castles section, and, although none is of great interest, there are many other minor buildings of some note:,_Northumberland

It is not necessary for me to catalogue the many features of Newcastle-upon-Tyne for Wikipedia does it perfectly:

I think the only omission I can find is that Johnny Wilkinson, England’s great fly-half, played rugby for Newcastle Falcons from 1997-2009 when he was at the peak of his career.

Parts of Norham Castle survive, overlooking the River Tweed. It was built about 1160. At midnight on 14th February each year the vicar blesses the nets to open the salmon fishing season. The painter JMW Turner made a number of paintings of Norham, several of which hang in the Tate Gallery.

Otterburn lies in the Cheviots a few miles from the Scottish border. It was the scene of a bloody battle between the successful Scots and routed English in 1388, giving rise to the Ballad of Chevy Chase.,_Northumberland

Of particular interest is Ovingham Bridge across the River Tyne which was destroyed in 2015 and completely rebuilt to reopen in 2016. It is a single track road, used by motor vehicles which must police themselves as to who uses the bridge at any one time.

Ovingham is famous for the artist, Thomas Bewick, and in particular his histories of quadrupeds and British birds.

Ros Castle gives fine views over the surrounding countryside, and there are the outlines of an ancient hill fort on its summit.

Mention has already been made of Lord Armstrong’s Cragside and the re-emergence of Brinkburn and its Priory, but the village of Rothbury is pleasant enough in itself and very ancient.

Simonburn is a picturesque hamlet much used by television companies for period dramas. Of particular interest is St Mungo’s Church, with its sloping floor.

Stamfordham is a little village of the 18th century with a 13th century church (parts of, at least), a market cross of the 1730s and a 19th century village lock up.,_Northumberland

I mentioned the pathetic remains of Twizel Castle earlier, but it is worth visiting the lovely arch of Twizel Bridge to see the confluence of the Rivers Till and Tweed.

Tynemouth has previously been covered, but it is worth noting that North Shields is inseparable from it and has quite a few interests in its own right, including the Lights of North Shields, Fish Quay, Clifford’s Fort  and the wooden dollies.

Wark-on-Tyne is a pleasing village dating back to Saxon times. It is said that King Alfwald of Northumberland was murdered here.

Whalton has one great claim to fame, the Bale Fire kept on the old Midsummer Eve, 4th July. It had been the custom to drive cattle through the fire to purify them, and it is said that some of the inhabitants used to jump through, too. The Manor House was converted from four village houses by Sir Edwin Lutyens in 1909 and its gardens are open for visitors. There are some interesting features in St Mary Magdalene Church, part of which is early 13th century.

Whitley Bay is a northern suburb of industrial Tyneside, and has little to commend it. But it does have an interesting golf course which was built over the site of an opencast mine working. It is nice to note that Capt. WE Johns, the author of the famous Biggles books, came from Whitley Bay.

Not much detains us in Whittingham as its famous church lost its Anglo-Saxon tower for one in contemporary style in 1840 and the peel-tower from the 15th century is now an almshouse.,_Northumberland

The attractive market town of Wooler used to boast of 50 shops in a place with a population of 2000. Whether that is still true I cannot say, but it sells itself on exercise, cycling, walking, angling and so on. Its oldest church is Presbyterian, dating from 1700.

I have happy memories of Wylam-on-Tyne because in years past the conductor of the Newcastle-on-Tyne Bach Choir, Percy Lovell, lived here and I used to come to sing the B-minor Mass, Elijah and so on. But Wylam’s real claim is that George Stevenson the great engineer and railwayman was born and lived here. The house was beside a railway line that in Stevenson’s day had wooden rails up which coal wagons were lugged from the local colliery. Later, in 1813, William Hedley tried out his Puffing Billy locomotive on these same lines.

And so we come to County Durham and to Durham itself with its magnificent Cathedral, the finest in all of England. Or so you say until you remember also Lincoln, Norwich, Canterbury, Winchester, Salisbury, Gloucester, Wells and all the rest of them. All incomparable.  I should very much like to describe Durham Cathedral but it would be a very long account. Instead visit the Cathedral’s own extensive website and learn from the people who live and work there.

If you have any say in the matter approach Durham from the south by train, the view of the Cathedral from the railway arch just approaching the railway station is incomparable. There are other good views from Prebends’ Bridge, South Street, Gilesgate, Church Street and Palace Green itself. Palace Green is a good place to start your tour of the Cathedral and the surrounding historic buildings.

Durham Castle is the logical place to begin, but you have to be on a guided tour.

There are other museums and sites of interest all gathered together on one website:

Leave yourself lots of time. There is a great deal to see. There are some old buildings leading down from the Cathedral – and a great many pubs. In fact you could indulge yourself greatly by witnessing the Durham Miner’s Gala which takes place on a Saturday in July.

Sadly, James Lancelot has retired as Cathedral Organist. He is a fine musician and he had a most wonderful model railway in his palatial lodgings. He ran it to a timetable, and when the railways went on strike he couldn’t run it! And when you leave Durham leave yourself a few minutes to wait on the railway station, from which the view is, again, spectacular. And the recently restored waiting room is the ideal place for a refreshing pint after all that tourism!