Established as a shipbuilding centre and a port in the 13th century, Alnmouth prospered until the River Aln changed its course during a storm in 1806. Now the quiet town lies in the centre of the Northumberland Heritage Coast, a 56-mile stretch of impressive coastline. The town has oneof the oldest golf courses in England, laid out in 1869.
The main market town on the River Aln, and an excellent centre for touring the Border country. Alnwick Castle, built on a 12th century site and principal seat of the historic Percy family, stood as a ruin for 200 years following the Borders warfare, and was restored in the 18th and 19th centuries by the Dukes of Northumberland. The Percy lion emblem is displayed on the Tenantry Column at the southern entrance to the town. This was erected by 1000 grateful tenants after their rents had been reduced. Warkworth, a medieval castle a few miles south east is also associated with the Percies and was mentioned in Shakespeare’s Henry IV.
At Vindolanda (Chesterholm) one and a half miles north west of Bardon Mill, can be seen the remains of a Roman fort and settlement of the 3rd and 4th centuries AD. Museums contain the results of various excavations and there are replicas of Hadrian’s turf and stone walls. The only Roman milestone stlll to stand in its original position is situated at Chesterholm.
Berwick Upon Tweed
Berwick-upon-Tweed, the most northerly town in England, changed hands 13 times in the border struggles between England and Scotland before surrendering to the English Crown in 1482. The Elizabethan town walls built as a defence against gunpowder are ten feet thick in places, and the one mile walk around their tops from Meg’s Mound gives a line view of the river, shipyards, salmon fisheries, quay and shore. Several of the houses on the quay are Georgian, as is the Town Hall, and the parish church dates from the 17th century, though it was extended in the 19th with stone from the castle ruins. The town has three bridges, the Royal Tweed road bridge of 1928, the 1850 Royal Border Bridge which carries the railway, and the 15 arch stone bridge built in 1611 on the orders of James I to link Berwick to Tweedmouth on the other side of the estuary. The Museum of the King’s Own Scottish Borderers is housed in a barracks designed by Vanbrugh.
Cambo was built as a model village in 1740 and is almost unspoiled. The beautiful stately home of Wallington Hall, a 17th-century mansion about a mile away, was built by Sir William Blackett, a Newcastle merchant. Sir William’s descendant, Sir Walter Blackett, dedicated 40 years of his life to improving the house and the 13,000 acres of land. A team of craftsmen from Italy carried out some magnificent plaster work notably on the ceilings of the hall and staircases. In the grounds the landscaper Capability Brown began his professional career. Nearly a century later, under the benevolent rule of Pauline, Lady Trevelyan, a picture gallery was created. The walls are decorated with Pre-Raphaelite portrayals of the story of Northumberland, and the gallerycontains works by Cranach, Reynolds and Gainsborough among others.
The Cheviots, an impressive range of bleak, rounded hills, extend for 35 miles, occupying 200 square miles of Northumberland (including the northern part of the Northumberland National Park) and, in Scotland, 100 square miles of the Borders. The density of population is estimated at one person per 350 acres; there are rather more sheep. The walking is superb -though the country is wild, recalling the centuries of Border raids between Scotland and England, and visitors should be adequately equipped.
Half a mile away lies the Roman camp at Corstopitum, the ancestor, perhaps, of this very pleasant, stone-built market town, where the road still crosses the Tyne on a bridge built in 1674 (the only bridge to survive the great Tyne flood of 1771). The Roman camp was initially a cavalry depot, then in AD 140 it was modified to serve as a base for operations against Scotland; there is an excellent museum on the site. Of the old buildings in the town, the pele tower of Low House and the fortified Vicarage, reminders of fierce border raids, are particularly interesting. At Newton, three miles to the east, the Hunday National Tractor and Farm Museum has, among other items, more than 250 tractors and engines.
Craster Tower is the home of the Craster family, who built the village’s harbour in memory of a brother who had been killed in Tibet. One and a half miles north, on high cliffs overlooking the North Sea, are the ruins of the 14th century Dunstanburgh Castle, parts of which were built by John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster. It was dismantled after the Wars of the Roses and the ruins feature in several of M W Turner’s paintings.
Building of this great wall began in AD 122 after the Emperor’s visit to Britain. The 15ft wall was 7and a half ft thick and ran from Wallsend to the Solway Firth.
Perhaps the finest of the Roman forts on Hadrian’s Wall, Vircovicium, would have accommodated 1000 infantrymen in its five acres: ramparts, gateways, granaries, latrines, headquarters and barracks are still clearly visible. There is a museum, and from the fort, with its clifftop setting, there are fine views of the wall snaking over the bleak hills of the Border country. To the west is the substantial ruin of a Roman mile-castle.
A busy shopping and market centre, beautifully situated on the River Tyne, Hexham is a convenient base for visiting the Northumberland Dales and Hadrian’s Wall. From the Seal, a public park originally a monastic enclosure, there are views of the town below. Of particular interest is the abbey dating from the 12th century, with a fine Anglo Saxon crypt remaining from the original church completed in 678. The many treasures in the church include an Anglo Saxon frith stool, font bowl and cross, a Roman monument and altars, and medieval misericords.
Lindisfarne, or Holy Island, is accessible from the mainland by a causeway which is covered at high tide. Missionaries from Iona who settled here in the 7th century, led by St Aidan, who founded the first monastery on the island, and later St Cuthbert, brought Christianity to Northumbria. The island was probably visited by Viking raiders in 793. The monks were driven out by the Danes in 875, but a Benedictine Priory was established in the 1 1th century, and its remains incorporate a museum. A small, 16th-century castle, restored by Sir Edwin Lutyens, stands on a rocky point. The island has been designated an area of outstanding natural beauty and part of it is a National Nature Reserve; the limestone cliffs and sand dunes of the north shore teem with birdlife, and seals are often seen offshore.
Morpeth is an attractive town, built on a bend of the River Wansbeck and a good starting point from which to explore the Northumberland hills and coast. The gatehouse is all that remains of the castle, though a footpath near the site affords good views of the town. Morpeth’s clock tower, designed by Vanbrugh, used to serve also as a prison and still diligently sounds the curfew each evening. St Mary’s Church preserves a 14th-century ‘Tree of Jesse’ window, and in the churchyard stands a 19th century watchtower, built to protect the graves from body snatchers.
Rothbury’s stone houses are grouped on a sloping green on the bank of the River Coquet. Backed by the Simonside Hills, the town is popular with tourists, walkers and anglers. 1 mile north east is Cragside, a Victorian house in a 900-acre Country Park, which has the distinction of having been the first house in the world to be lit by electricity generated by water power.
Two bridges span the river Aln at Whittingham, an arched stone one for motorists and an attractive footbridge for pedestrians. The interior of St Bartholomew’s Church still shows signs of Saxon workmanship, though its original tower was replaced in the 19th century. On the other side of the village the battlemented top of a restored 15th-century pele tower overlooks a new housing development. Parts of Callaly Castle two miles away, go back to the 14th century.
Overlooking Alnmouth Bay stand the impressive ruins of Warkworth Castle, probably built by the 1st Earl of Northumberland in the 12th century, and used by Shakespeare as the setting for part of Henry IV. The curious 14th-century Hermitage, with its small chapel hewn from solid rock, can be reached by rowing boat. An old bridge with a rare bridge tower at one end spans the River Coquet. There are many attractive old terraces.
At the east end of this pretty village stands the manor, converted from four village houses by Sir Edwin Lutyens in 1909. Its grounds are occasionally open to the public, and the Whalton Gallery (inside the house entrance) specialises in 18th to 20th-century watercolours and drawings. St Magdalene’s Church, though much restored, dates back to the early 13th century, traces of the original workmanship still being visible in the chancel. The ancient ritual of the baal fire is still observed on the fourth of July, the old Midsummer Eve: cattle used to be driven through the fire to purify them, and at one time the villagers themselves leapt through the flames.
Until quite recently, burning branches were carried round the village to defend the fields from blight and the houses from witchcraft.