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This entry will wrap up Northumberland’s castles tour. During the summer I will be covering a few castles in other countries (plus a few "forgotten places" in N. England) on this Space just for a diversion and a little break. Activity will slow down a bit while I put my work on North England’s castles up on www.ilovecastles.com . In September I plan on getting back to finishing by covering South England and Wales to wrap up the England and Wales project before this year is up. Expect to see a lot of material through the end of 2008 and some exciting news, hopefully ! Keep your prayers going for me, okay?
Have a great summer if we don’t get a chance to chat, OK?
–The Castle Lady
After taking a brief look at the 13th century church and pele tower (Musgrove Tower) on the east side remains of Haltwhistle’s Castle, you’ll want to take a jaunt further south down to the border between Northumberland and Cumberland near Alston to check out an amazing archaeological survey conducted by English Heritage’s team of experts. Whitley Castle is a former Roman fort overlooking the South Tyne Valley seated north of the market town of Alston in Cumberland. The Pennine way traces a footpath around the perimeter of the fort which is the best-kept secret in North England. It is a bit of a curiosity that it lies 15 miles south of Hadrian’s Wall and 20 miles north of the Roman Road- a veritable haven from civilization.
Only two excavations have taken place. One in 1810 revealed a bathhouse on the northeast corner and the other in 1957 and 58 uncovered a small portion of northern ramparts. Aerial photographs of it- such as the one I’ve included in the photo album- have provided insights for investigators on the mystery of its existence. A minor road that runs through it is the old "Maiden Way" which may prove that Whitley is the Epiacum mentioned in Ptolemy’s Second-Century Geography. Both Epiacum and Whitley Castle are indicated as being the only fort on the Maiden Way. It would have been, therefore, a secure rest stop for troops, best positioned to control the local inhabitants and especially a great asset to the area because of the production of lead.
The experts believe that it was built in the mid-Second Century even though there is evidence of an earlier camp on the spur. Prior to that, an Iron Age fortification may have been built. By the third century it was occupied by the Second Cohort of Nervians, auxiliary troops from the lower Rhine so-named for the Emperor Nerva. They erected a temple on the site to the Emperor Caracalla and other religious items found there include an altar to Hercules and Mithras- the latter being the idol of the secretive military cult of the same name.
The plan of the fort is usual in some respects (and unusual in others) than Roman forts of this size are, in general. All the principal works were in place- a central headquarters, commandant’s house, barracks and granaries- which remain visible in the earthworks. The exception is that rather than the rectangle with rounded corners, Whitley’s engineers misaligned the perimeter wall forming a rhomboid. The spur it occupies is an ideal strategic position so the internal features are quite modified from the standard pattern. Moreover, the series of defenses were quite remarkable. It had four massive circuits of ramparts around the three outlying areas of the spur, and seven on the uphill side. No other fort in the Roman Empire could boast of such elaborate defenses!
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Now I’m going to jog quickly back up through Haltwhistle past Bardon Mill and Hexham to Cherryburn which is just northwest of Prudhoe Castle (close to Ovingham) because a very special native of Northumberland was born there. This humble little abode was the birthplace of Thomas Bewick who was Northumberland’s most talented wood engraver and ornithologist. The National Trust has set up this charming cottage as a museum about his work along with demonstrations.
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While you are close to the Tyne and Wear area why not take a quick jaunt over to Gibside near Rowlands Gill? This beautifully landscaped 18th century forest garden estate is a wonderful day outing featuring riverside walks with views across the Derwent Valley. You can access the entrance by B6314 between Burnopfield and Rowlands Gill. The oak-lined terrace leads to the ancestral estate of the late Queen Mother’s family, the Bowes-Lyons, the current mansion built between 1603 and 1620 by William Blakiston. The Bowes-Lyon family kept the estate which features a Palladian chapel with unique features, a banqueting hall, column of Liberty and the Georgian mansion up until the 1920s when the family scaled back it’s possessions. Unfortunately, the house was stripped of its fixtures and fittings with the fireplaces and other items transferred to Glamis Castle in Scotland. Some portions were demolished in 1958 resulting in the home being protected by Grade II listing status. Tours are arranged by The National Trust of which ownership has been established since 1965 with additional 354 acres of grounds being acquired in 1993.
T- 01207 542255
Now head up the North Tyne about ten miles from the A6079 at Hexham and turn north on the B6320 and Barrasford Road to get to Chipchase Castle. This Grade I listed beauty overlooks the western bank of the River North Tyne, just south of Wark-on-Tyne. Some parts of this marvel in eclectic preservation were added in the 19th century but the rectangular tower dates from the 14th century. This castle is principally a 17th century Jacobean mansion with Georgian alterations. The old tower keep is about fifty-three feet long by thirty eight feet square with the walls built completely of stone in regular courses. The first storey is at ground level and has a barrel-vaulted ceiling with the three upper storeys in timber.
A projection on the southeast corner which is 3′ deep X 20′ wide reaches to the the top of the tower and contains the entrance doorway, starting at ground-floor level and provides space for mural chambers on other floors. In addition, a spiral stairway rises all the way to the battlements along the same side. The turrets on the corners of the tower are corbelled at the level of the battlements and the parapet is machicolated all along the battlements. It has retained the original oak portcullis of the entrance which is operated from a small chamber over the doorway further secured by two timber bars.
The first two storeys were utilitarian and had few amenities- not even windows! The first storey was used as a storeroom and the second storey has narrow loopholes which, of course, were for defense. The third and fourth sotreys were both well lit and have fireplaces, latrines and mural chambers along with an oratory on the third and a kitchen on the fourth floor.
From the first part of the 16th century Chipchase was the property of the Heron family until the 18th century when it was sold because of outstanding debts. Walter Heron married into the Chipchase fortune by marrying the heiress. He then proceeded to build a four storey battlemented tower house on the site of an earlier house built circa 1350. In 1541 a survey described Chipchase as a ‘fare tower’ with a ‘manor of stone joined thereto’ owned by John Heron. This was torn down by Cuthbert Heron in 1621 and the Jacobean mansion was built around the remaining old tower. Cuthbert’s second ( and only remaining) son experienced financial problems and sold the entire estate to John Reed, a Newcastle banker in 1734 who carried out the alteration to the old tower. In turn, he sold the entire estate in 1821 to the Greys of Backworth.
The castle is still privately owned but tours of the house can be arranged for June only. A beautiful chapel and vacation cottages are available plus the sumptuous grounds and gardens include a lake, two walled gardens and a nursery which sells periennials- all open and available the summer long. The photo in the album of Chipchase gives a front view of the Jacobean mansion.
T-01434 230203 contact: PJ Torday
Further north is home to the Northumberland National Park, England’s finest, where fierce battles were fought by the border Reivers for settlement rights. The land rolls with beautiful purple moorlands and wafting grasslands, flowered-over meadows especially in June and July and the rivers practically burst with salmon and trout. It stretches sixty miles from the Cheviots down to Hadrian’s Wall. A concentration of bastles and scant remains of castles exist around Bellingham and Wark-on-Tyne. Only a few have something to view. Those are Corbies near Tarset Burn, Tarset Castle is derelict although I have included a photo of it and other Tarset ruins and buildings.
Dally Castle, four miles west of Bellingham on Berks Moor, has some interesting stone walls left but is almost indistinguishable as a former castle. This was built by David Linsey in 1237 as a strong house and became one of the first hall houses to be built in Northumberland when ( in the 14th century) two square angled towers were added along with buttresses to strengthen the crenellated upper floor. Henry III received a complaint from Hugh Bolbec that Dally was being built and it was confiscated and handed over to John de Swinburne, then to the Crown in 1326. Shortly after that a northeast corner turret was added and all the walls were strengthened. It was occupied by the Dodds family in the 17th century but by the 19th century it was nearly gone because the stone had been pilfered to build a mill. The stone rectangular foundation remains might be very interesting for castle enthusiasts because it was such a large fortification. Today its foundations can be viewed as it was excavated as early as 1888 by Sir Charlton.
Tarsetdale is a mile northeast of Dally Castle and in the 13th century the manor of Tarset was held by the Comyns, Scottish barony. The Norman Conquest had not reached Upper Tynedale until after 1157 so the Barony of Gilsland had been formed along with land grants to individuals and even religious institutions. William, the brother of Malcolm IV, King of Scotland was given fiefdom over this area. John Comyn was issued license to crenellate the castle in 1267. This was a period of tension between the two kingdoms and Henry III was making sure that this strategically positioned fortress didn’t provide the Scots with an advance base if relations deteriorated into outright warfare. Even though battle did not take place for many decades as yet, the issue of control of the area was a point of contention and it is clear that the English King flexed his royal muscles much earlier than is commonly believed.
From the 14th to the 16th century Tarset Castle was passed down to various "holders" and then regained its status as a stronghold to "bridle Tynedale". It was garrisoned in 1522 and in 1523 when Sir Ralph Fenwick was stationed there with eighty men to scare away Tynedale thieves. He was driven out by William Charlton of Bellingham and two hundred Tynedale men, then he returned with a larger garrison 100 strong two years later. It was then recaptured by Tynedale men and with four hundred Scotsmen they burned the castle. Tarset apparently became a financial burden to the Crown because it was not rebuilt and was derelict by the time Sir Robert Bowes and Ralph Ellerker conducted a survey of border defenses in 1541.
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These castles and other countless bastles had their moments in history along this once difficult border. A report on depopulation since the 27th year of Henry VIII’s reign in 1584 lacked able-bodied men by the late 16th century. The original settlements were not entirely abandoned however, and further north cities like Otterburn, a bustling little market town, are very much in existence. In addition they are charming because they retained their historical architecture- some better than others. For example, one bastle near Tarsetdale, Gatehouse, has been restored beautifully- then, there is Corbies Castle which is in ruins but still the basic structure remains well enough that we can imagine how it looked. Most of the bastles have completely disappeared of which there is only documentary evidence, if that. The chroniclers, Harbottle and Newman estimated that these particular type of buildings- whether peles or rather more than peles- existed one in every four or five settlements. Even more have been stumbled upon since they wrote their documents so they were probably underestimated at that time (1973 !) We do know that in Upper Tarsetdale the populus of bastles was present with Wainhope being a key settlement pele. Tarset Hall is still in existence at the junction of the North Tyne and Tarset Burn, however it is more a pastoral cottage than a grand manor and definitely in keeping with the current thriving farmland which has been strong through the 20th century to the present.
Before I conclude I want to take you back up towards Harbottle for a look at The Lady’s Well at Holystone which is protected by The National Trust. A woodland trail leads to it and it is considered to be of Roman origin, located on a halting place along the Roman road. This beautiful natural spring is surrounded by a stone tank and marked by a cross. Paulinus, who became Bishop of York, and was originally brought to Northumberland by Edwin of Bamburgh Castle, is supposed to have baptized 3,000 converts on the spot on Easter AD 627. By the mid 12th century Holystone became the site of a priory of Augustinian Canonesses, and during this time the Well was restored and festooned with a celtic cross. Ever since it has been called The Lady’s Well and a statue was placed nearby during the 18th century in memory of Paulinus. There is a wonderful photo of it in the Northumberland album along with many new photos!
T-01669 620333 Ext. 101 Mr John O’Brien
Now that Northumberland’s photo album is teeming with photographs take a look at the amazing diversity of castles. There is much I haven’t even mentioned outside the realm of castles. This northernmost county of England abounds with more history and diversions than can be seen in a single two-week vacation. You’ll just have to return next year! Shortly I will be covering some castle hotels for this county which will blow you away and then we’ll head for other parts of England and a few other countries for a change of pace! Enjoy the photos!
Hold the fort for I am coming
Jesus signals still
Raise the answer back to heaven
By his grace I will
–Old Northumberland Hymn
and the alternate version….
Hold the fort for I am coming
Jesus says he’ll swim
Up to the neck in sago pudding
By his grace he’ll win….