DAVID SIMPSON explores twenty different villages across the region including some hidden away inside our North East towns.
There are hundreds of fascinating and often beautiful villages of all kinds, scattered around the North East of England from the Tweed to the Tees Valley. Most people live in the cities and towns of course and there are some spectacular towns too, but we shouldn’t forget our villages. There are villages in every corner of our region all the way from the upland country to the coast. They’re not just out in the country though, you’ll, even find some hidden away within our towns and cities.
Old cottages, medieval churches, a village green and perhaps a duck pond are features often associated with older villages and of course for many the focal point is the village pub. Here we thought we’d pick out twenty unusual, interesting and sometimes surprising villages, some of which you may be familiar with and others which you may not know. We are not saying these are the best ones or even necessarily the twenty most interesting ones but they give some impression of the kind of variety of villages we have across our region.
Okay, there will be few who haven’t heard of this one, but to some extent Bamburgh is a little overlooked. It’s overlooked by Bamburgh Castle and so spectacular is that castle that it’s easy to forget how beautiful the village is too. Lovely little shops, pubs, people playing cricket or flying kites on the huge green below the steep craggy whin stone rocks of the castle. Not to mention the beach and the view. Views everywhere. Bamburgh is Britain at its best.
Read about Bamburgh
Norton-on-Tees is a very substantial and beautiful village absorbed by neighbouring Stockton. It has a huge village green and a big duck pond. There are lots of old houses surrounding it and as if that wasn’t enough there’s a splendid Georgian High Street leading up to the green with grand Georgian houses, pleasant shops and restaurants. Given its size and picturesque qualities Norton is surprisingly little known outside of Teesside. If it were part of London it would probably be rivalling the likes of Kew or Richmond and everyone would want to know about it. Oh and Norton also has a splendid Saxon church.
Read about Norton
The ‘crow chester’ of old is a fabulous fishing village. Here rugged whinstone rocks form cosy coastal cottages in this delightful place famed for its kippers. For those who don’t know, the kippers are smoked on oak chippings to give them their distinct traditional flavour. The big surprise at Craster is of course the neighbouring Dunstanburgh Castle – a magnificent and huge romantic ruin best approached by the walk from the village where visitors might follow in the footsteps of the legendary Sir Guy the Seeker.
Read about the Craster area
Small, but with picturesque rows of houses in what what was once the estate village for Brancepeth Castle. There’s no pub or village green here, so this is a place for people who like their villages tiny, secluded and quiet, though there is a busy road that passes straight through. The great medieval castle is still there alongside a charming medieval church though the castle has seen much restoration.
Read about Brancepeth
Bellingham, pronounced ‘Bellingum’ is the capital of North Tynedale in Northumberland and a great centre for exploring the area including the nearby Kielder Forest and reservoir. This is a relatively peaceful place with pleasant walks along the river. Nearby a walking route takes you to the lovely Hareshaw Linn waterfall. It’s so serene that it’s easy to forget that Bellingham was once entangled in the violence and bloodshed of the border wars in times gone by and was at the heart of ‘Border Reiver country’ with the dale being the lair of troublesome reivers like the Milburns, Robsons and Charltons of Tudor times.
Read about Bellingham
Yes, Billingham. People have preconceptions about certain places and when we think Billingham we inevitably think of the vast chemical works with cooling towers and clouds of steam. Billingham has much earlier origins though and on the hill top at Billingham Green we find a few (and there are admittedly only a few) old cottages of the original village of Billingham dating back to times long past. The biggest surprise here, however, is a Saxon church dating to around 1000D. It’s about a hundred years older than Durham Cathedral.
Near the edge of Billingham another little-known village is Cowpen Bewley near the estuarine industries of Teesside. Old cottages are set around a village green and you could easily be led to believe you were in an isolated rural spot miles away from any town or city if it were not for a sudden glimpse of the Middlesbrough Transporter Bridge in a gap between two cottages. It’s pronounced ‘Coopen’ by the way!
Read about Billingham and Cowpen Bewley
Another one of those surprising villages hidden away within a town. Think Wallsend and you think of shipyards on the Tyne or the nearby Roman fort at the end of Hadrian’s Wall. Further north from the river though we find the old village of Wallsend Green and there’s quite an extensive green with old houses plus the nearby Wallsend Hall, a mansion of the late Georgian era. Wallsend has two old churches of note but these were built at a distance from the village. Wallsend’s medieval church of Holy Cross fell out of use with the Wallsend natives who used the local school for marriages for many years. It was only when the Bishop of Durham pointed out that the school was not consecrated and that their marriages and baptisms were not valid that they hastily built a new church dedicated to St Peter to the south towards Willington Quay.
Read about Wallsend
Holy Island Village
Holy Island Village on the island of Lindisfarne is something quite special, in fact ‘magical’ is perhaps the word. Charming houses and little shops with views of the rugged castle on Beblowe rock and the romantic ruins of Lindisfarne Priory. Given all the natural and historical charms of the island it’s easy to forget that it’s also the home to a rather picturesque little village too.
Read about Holy Island
Whitburn in South Tyneside close to the coast and near the northern fringe of Sunderland is a fabulous village with all kinds of interesting old buildings and the overall impression is delightful to the eye. The architectural historian Nikolaus Pevsner described it as “uncommonly attractive” in his famous guide books to the Buildings of England.
Whitburn has a thirteenth century church, some wonderful Georgian and Victorian houses, a curious cottage of red brick, a beautiful village green and even a windmill complete with sails. There are also literary links to Lewis Carroll who had relatives that resided here. The nearby village of Cleadon is also rather attractive and has links to Charles Dickens.
Read about Whitburn
Blanchland is situated in the Pennine dale of the Derwent in the south western area of Northumberland and is just over the border from County Durham. It is a rather exceptional and beautiful village constructed within the ruins of a medieval monastery. In Georgian times the charitable trust of Lord Crewe, a Bishop of Durham used stones from the abbey of Blanchland to construct a model village and the result is simply sublime. Highlights of the village are the L-shaped piazza, the old monastery gatehouse, the abbey church and the lovely Lord Crewe Arms. Picturesque, it is almost a Hollywood producer’s vision of what an old English village should look like but very rustic, elegant and real.
Read about Blanchland
Though it is arguably and technically a town, the large village green and Georgian cottages and village-type pubs that cluster around the green give Sedgefield an undoubtable village-like feel. There are some wonderful old Georgian houses and narrow lanes, grander houses and interesting nooks clustered around the green. Our favourite story concerning Sedgefield concerns the ‘Pickled Parson’, a deceased vicar who was preserved in either salt or brandy by his good lady wife so she could avoid paying a particular tax.
Read about Sedgefield
Gainford is a very attractive former spa village near Darlington with a fine Jacobean hall. Situated on the River Tees its neighbours further downstream include High Coniscliffe, the ‘cliff of King Edwin’ and Piercebridge the site of a Roman fort and bridge that was once the home to a clock that inspired a famous song.
Read about Gainford
I love the name of this one. There’s a New York Post Office and a New York Convenience Store. Several of the old mining villages across the region have some fabulous names: Pity Me, Quebec, Toronto, Philadelphia, Coronation, No Place. Many are tight knit neighbourly friendly communities often with fabulous scenery right on their doorstep. I live in a former mining village, so I know this for a fact.
Read about New York and North Tyneside
Centred around a fine village green West Auckland is a former mining village that developed from an older village centre. Most people may know that West Auckland’s local football club won the world cup – twice. It’s commemorated by a sculpture at the centre of the green. There’s some interesting buildings of note here too. West Auckland’s Old Hall and the Manor House are both substantial buildings dating from the 1600s.
Read about West Auckland
Once the capital of a district called Heighingtonshire in south Durham, Heighington near Darlington is a rather lovely village with a broad undulating green, a medieval church and lots of old interesting houses.
Read about Heighington
A small village, this is the original Beamish, near to the famous museum. We love the eye-catching figures on the Shepherd and Shepherdess pub and the former almshouses nearby. A fairly small village but still bigger than ‘Beamish Town’ that is found within the museum grounds.
Read about Beamish
Borough of Gateshead
Whickham village near Gateshead on Tyneside was at the heart of a major mining area from as early as the 1600s. The lovely stone houses of the 1700s around Church Chare, Front Street and Rectory Lane, are reminders of Whickham’s rural roots.
Read about Whickham
Situated on the magnesian limestone hills just outside Hartlepool with great views out to sea little Hart village was closely tied to Hartlepool and perhaps the capital of the ancient district called Hartness. There’s a beautiful little Saxon church, a windmill, an interesting couple of pubs and the scant remains of a medieval hall that belonged to the powerful De Brus (Bruce) family.
Read about villages near Hartlepool
A substantial old village and a place of significance in medieval times, being the estate village of Raby Castle, the ancient stronghold of the Nevilles that is just along the road. The church of St Mary at Staindrop (once dedicated to St Gregory) is a sizeable and impressive medieval edifice with a core dating back to before the Norman Conquest.
Read about Staindrop
Backworth mining village was perhaps made famous by the fictional character ‘Geordie Broon of Backworth’. There are some interesting old houses in the village but perhaps the biggest surprise is the Miners’ Welfare building in a beautiful stately hall that was purchased by the local mining community in the 1930s.
Read about Backworth, North Tyneside
What’s your favourite North East village?
This is just a selection of North East villages and a bit of a random one at that. What’s your favourite village in the North East? How about Cambo or Lanchester, Norham on Tweed, Alnmouth, Elsdon, or Longframlington? Maybe Castle Eden or Westoe, Rennington, Ellingham, Matfen, Shincliffe, Frosterley, Romaldkirk or perhaps the old village at Ponteland.
Let us know in the comments below what your favourite village is and why. If you’re on Twitter why not tweet your favourite village especially if you’ve got some great photos to show it off. Tag us in on your tweet or visit our Facebook page. Details below:
Visit and like us on Facebook