Teesdale and Barnard Castle


Born in the bleak North Pennine moorlands of east Cumbria, the River Tees begins its journey to the sea on the southern slopes of Cross Fell, where it rises less than a mile from the source of the River South Tyne. Cross Fell is the highest point in the Pennines and at 2930 feet this hill is a very familiar sight to walkers on the Pennine Way.

In times gone by Cross Fell was associated with demons and was often known as the `Fiends Fell', possibly because of the great wind it can produce in the valley of the Eden to its west. Known as the Helm Wind, this fierce gale of hurricane proportions, can strike most unexpectedly during the spring.

Castle Barnard Castle

Ruins of Barnard Castle's castle above the River Tees : David Simpson


From its boggy origins on Cross Fell the River Tees flows five miles east before entering North East England near Viewing Hill, (2099 feet). Here it is soon engulfed by Cow Green, a two mile long reservoir which was built between 1967 and 1971 to supply the industries of Teesside. Environmentally speaking this part of Upper Teesdale is of National importance and the plan to construct this reservoir had been strongly opposed by local conservationists. Their main concern was the protection of the rich flora and fauna of the district and especially rare alpine plants like the unique Teesdale violet.

Thankfully only about a tenth of this plant's habitat was destroyed by the completion of the reservoir. The remaining area was designated a National Nature Reserve in 1969.On a less serious note the creation of the Cow Green Reservoir may have destroyed the habitat of a certain Peg Powler, the grotesque green-haired mermaid of the Tees who used to inhabit the valley now occupied by the reservoir. Her presence could be indicated by frothy substances on the river known as Peg Powler's Suds and children were always warned to stay clear as she had an insatiable appetite for youngsters. Beware she may still be there.


At the eastern end of Cow Green Reservoir, beyond the dam, the Tees rushes in a series of cataracts over a 200 yard long rocky `stairway' called Cauldron Snout. The vertical distance from the first cataract to the last is 200 feet, making this wonderfully named waterfall the highest in England. Cauldron Snout is said to be haunted by a ghost called the `Singing Lady' whose sad tale is that of a young Victorian farm girl who drowned herself in the waterfall when her love affair with a local lead miner came to an end. On cold moonlit nights she may be seen sitting on a rock near the falls where she sadly laments the loss of her loved one.

High force Waterfall photograph J.D. Scott

Above: High Force Waterfall, by kind permission of J.D.Scott, Ingleton, Teesdale


From Cauldron Snout the Tees meanders around the huge whin sill cliffs of Cronkley Scar and Falcon Clints and is joined by the Maizebeck, Merrygill, Harwood and Blea Becks as it makes its way towards High Forcewhich is undoubtedly England's biggest waterfall and one of the most impressive sights of the region. It is best seen after a heavy downpour when the sound of the Tees roaring over a vertical drop of seventy feet almost deafens the observer.

High Force is in fact two falls, each situated on either side of a massive central rock, but the smaller northern fall is only occasionally seen in action. One such occasion was the 24th of June, 1880 when two men became trapped on the central rock after one of the sudden surges of the Tees known locally as the `roll' occured. The first man was pulled free by means of a rope, but the second was not so lucky, his rope snapped and unfortunately he drowned. Tragically both men would probably have survived had they stayed where they were, as there are no recorded instances of the two falls ever merging over the central rock.


A number of other waterfalls can be found in this part of Teesdale, including the White Force, Bleabeck Force, Maizebeck Force and Low Force. Naturally Force is a word of Viking origin, deriving from the Old NorseFors which simply means waterfall. (See Place Names) It is interesting to note that in Weardale and Northumberland a waterfall is usually called a Linn, a word of Anglo-Celtic origin.

Two of the most attractive little waterfalls in the valley are only a little further downstream from High Force. The first is Low Force which as might be expected is a smaller simpler version of its higher brother. Unlike High Force it is formed by a series of cascades. Here the Tees is crossed by an iron suspension footbridge built in 1830 which replaced what was reputedly the earliest suspension bridge in Europe.

Not far from Low Force the Tees is joined by the Bowlees Beck on which we find the Summerhill Force, where the stream flows over a band of limestone.This waterfall has partly undercut the limestone behind it to form the picturesque cavern known as Gibson's Cave.


Four miles downstream from High Force we reach the attractive little town of Middleton in Teesdale, on the Durham side of the river at the point where the Tees is joined by the Hudeshope Beck.

Middleton is known to have existed in the days of the Vikings when it was owned by King Cnut or Canute (See Raby below), but did not grow significantly until the nineteenth century when it became an important lead mining centre. Today it has a population of around 1500. Lead mining was once a widespread activity in the Middleton area and is commemorated in the Teesdale song `Four Pence A Day'.

"The ore is waiting in the tub, the snows upon the fell,
Canny folk are sleeping yet, but lead is reet to sell
Come me little washer lad come lets away,
We're bound down for slavery for fourpence a day.

Its early in the morning we rise at five o'clock,
And the little slaves come to the door to knock, knock, knock,
Come me little washer lad come lets away,
It's very hard to work for fourpence a day.

My father was a miner he worked down in the town'
Twas hard work and poverty that always kept him down,
He aimed for me to go to school but brass he couldn't pay,
So I had to go to the washing rake for fourpence a day.

My mother rises out of bed with tears on her cheeks
Puts my wallet on her shoulderwhich has come to serve a week,
It often fills her great big heart when she unto me say
I never thought thou would have worked for fourpence a day.

Four pence a day,me lad, and very hard to work
And never a pleasant look from a gruffy looking 'Turk',
His conscience it may fall and his heart may give away
Then he'll raise our wages to nine pence a day."

In 1880 Middleton became the headquarters of the benevolent Quaker owned, London Lead Company which built houses, schools and libraries for its workers and became the first British company to introduce the five day week. One of the company's employees was a certain Richard Watson known as 'the Teesdale Poet' (1833-1891), who once wrote;

"I've wandered many a weary mile,
And in strange countries been;
I've dwelt in towns and on wild moors,
And curious sights I've seen;
But still my heart clings to the dale
Where Tees rolls to the sea,
Compared with what I've seen I'll say
The Teesdale hills for me."


East of Middleton, the Tees is joined by the River Lune and River Balder, which in their upper valleys form a kind of `minature lake district', comprised of the Selset, Grassholme, Balderhead, Blackton and Hury reservoirs. Baldersdale is divided from Lunedale by the moors of Hunderthwaite and Romaldkirk, which both take their names from nearby villages.Hunderthwaite is a Viking place name which may mean Hunrothr's or Hundor's meadow.

In 1070 A.D. it was the scene of a battle in which King Malcolm of Scotland heavily defeated the local people.Romaldkirk is a picturesque little village on the south bank of the Tees between the Lune and Balder and takes its name from a Northumbrian saint called Romald. The name of the village church, known as the `Cathedral of the Dales' is dedicated to the memory of Romald, about whom we know very little, as he died while only a baby.

Visitors to Romaldkirk should call into one of the local pubs which have a tradition for good strong beer dating back to the days when the village had its own brewery. On the other hand those with a more unquenchable thirst might like to sample the qualities of the village stream; it is called the Beer Beck!.Two miles downstream from Romaldkirk we find the village of Cotherstone, which is famous as the home of Cotherstone cheese, one of a number of delicatessens unique to the North. Cotherstone is situated at the confluence of the Tees and Balder and may have been of importance in Viking times.


The River Balder may well take its name from Balder, the Norse god of light and innocence. Balder was the son of Odin and Freyja who could be described as `The king and Queen of the Gods'. It has been suggested that there are earthworks close to the village of Cotherstone which may be the remains of a Viking temple to the honour of Balder.

When Denmark's raven soared on high,
Triumphant through Northumbrian sky,
Till, hovering near, her fatal croak
Bade Reged's Britons dread the yoke;
And the broad shadow of her wing
Blackened each cataract and spring,
Where Tees in tumult leaves his source,
Thundering o'er Caldron and High Force.
"Balder named from Odin's son ;
And Greta, to whose banks ere long
We lead the lovers of the song ;
And silver Lune from Stainmore wild
And fairy Thorsgill's murmuring child"

Thor was of course the god of Thunder while Odin, the one eyed god of wisdom, poetry, agriculture, war and death is also commemorated in the locality under his Anglo-Saxon name of Woden at a place called Woden Croft. This place and the name of the River Balder certainly captured the imagination of Sir Walter Scott, in his poem `Rokeby';"

Beneath the shade the Northmen came,
Fixed on each vale a Runic name,
Reared high their altar's rugged stone,
And gave their gods the lands they won.
Then, Balder one bleak garth was thine,
And one sweet brooklet's silver line;
And Woden's croft did little gain
From the stern father of the slain."

Many of the names of these Viking and Anglo-Saxon gods are very familiar to us today and especially if today happens to be Wednesday, Thursday or Friday. These are needless to say the celebrated days of Woden, Thor and Freyja

Barnard Castle Horsemarket

Barnard Castle: Horse Market: David Simpson


Barnard Castle on the Durham side of the River Tees is the `capital' of Teesdale and is one of the most attractive and most historic towns in the North. Known affectionately to locals as `Barney', the town owes its origins to one Bernard Baliol who built a castle here in the twelfth century.

Bernard's family were of Norman origin and of high influence. His father Guy De Baliol was the Lord of Verney, Dampierre, Harcourt and Bailleul and Baron of Teesdale, Gainford, Stokesley and Bywell on the Tyne. Descendants of Bernard included Edward and John Baliol, kings of Scotland and John Baliol, founder of Balliol College, Oxford.

Today Bernard's Castle is a ruin, but a very pretty ruin situated on a high bank overlooking the Tees. The castle has witnessed plenty of history and has been a home to many famous historic characters, including Richard III, Henry VII, Warwick the Kingmaker, and the Prince Bishops of Durham.

Horsemarket, Galgate, Bridgegate, Newgate and Thorngate are the main streets of Barney and are lined by beautiful stone built houses, which give Barnard Castle its typical `Dales town' appearance. The term Gate was used by the Anglo-Saxons, Vikings and later the Normans, but has nothing to do with a gateway. It is in fact an old word meaning road or street. The element `gate' can be found in the street names of historic towns and cities throughout the North.


Barnard Castle's Market Place stands at the centre of the town and is dominated by an intriguing octagonal building called the `Market Cross' which was built by a Barnard Castle resident called Thomas Breaks in 1747.

 At various times in history this building has served the purpose of court, gaol, Town Hall and buttermarket. A weather vane sits on top of the building marked by two bullet holes reputedly made by a soldier and a gamekeeper in a competition of shooting abilities.

Barnard Castle Market Cross

Market Cross, Barnard Castle : David Simpson

At the northern end of the market place, a street called Galgate runs north-east following the ancient course of a Roman road that ran from Stainmore to join Dere Street near West Auckland. The name Galgate originates from post Roman times and is so called because it once led to the gallows where public hangings took place, (as at Gallowgate in Newcastle upon Tyne).


The market cross forms the centrepiece of a small roundabout at Barnard Castle from which a road called Newgate leads us into what is arguably Barnard Castle's biggest attraction; the Bowes Museum.Visitors are surprised to find this huge and magnificent building, in such a small north country town. Built in the style of a French chateau, it has one of the most impressive collections of pictures, ceramics, textiles, tapestries, clocks and costumes in the north of England. Its exhibits include a famous life size, silver swan, which can delicately lift a fish from a salver to swallow it. The Bowes Museum developed from the collection of John Bowes, the illegitimate son of the 10th Earl of Strathmore. Along with his French actress wife Josephine, Bowes purchased most of the wonderful items displayed in the museum. Sadly both died before the completion of the building in 1892. See simplified Bowes family tree

Bowes Museum

Bowes Museum, Barnard Castle photographed by David Simpson


Charles Dickens visited Barnard Castle in February 1832 and stayed at the Kings Head in the market place, of which he wrote. "There is good ale at the King's Head. Say you know me and I am sure they will not charge you for it." While in the town Dickens visited the shop of a clockmaker called Thomas Humphreys, where a particular time-piece caught his attention. Enquiring further he found that the clock had been made by the clockmaker's son, William who unwittingly provided inspiration for the Dickens novelMaster Humphrey's Clock..

Dickens was visiting Teesdale to undertake research for his novel Nicholas Nickleby and the material for this book was collected at the nearby village of Bowes. Dotheby's Hall, the fictional school portrayed in the novel, was based on the Bowes Boys Academy and the building can still be seen in Bowes village today. A proprietor,of this school, William Shaw was the model for the characterWackford Squeers.. His grave can be seen in a local churchyard.

Barnard Castle

Thorngate, Barnard Castle : David Simpson


Bowes village, on the River Greta, three miles south west of Barnard Castle is the home of a ruined twelfth century castle and the site of a once important Roman fort called Lavatrae. The village stands at the entrance to the bleak and very lonely Stainmore Pass which has been one of the main Pennine crossing places for thousands of years. In 954 A.D Stainmore was the site of an important battle fought between the Viking army of King Eric Bloodaxe and their enemies which included the Angles of Northumbria north of the Tees.

"King Eric was treacherously killed in a certain lonely placewhich is called Stainmore with his son Haeric and his brother Ragnald, betrayed by Earl Oswulf..."

Written at St Peter's, York by a Tenth Century Chronicler Eric Bloodaxe, a red-headed Norseman who had a Danish mother, was one of the most notorious of Viking kings with an heroic reputation for success in battle both in Norway and overseas. At Stainmore however, Eric's luck was to finally run out when his Viking army were heavily defeated. Bloodaxe lost his life along with five other Viking leaders who had loyally supported him in all battles as the Fagrskinna Saga records.

"Eric had such a great army that five kings followed him because hewas a valiant man and a battle winner. He trusted in himself and his strength so much that he went far up country and everywhere he went with warfare."

Oswulf of Bamburgh, an earl or High Reeve, who virtually ruled the Angle territory north of the River Tees, seems to have played an important part in Eric's downfall. He had led Bloodaxe to believe that he recognised the Viking leader's overlordship of all Northumbria and that his northern earldom could be counted on to support the Vikings of York. In truth Oswulf was an enemy of Bloodaxe. He had plotted Eric's defeat and it was an agent of Oswulf called Maccus that finally killed King Eric. It could be argued that Eric had paid the price for the failure of his Viking ancestors to capture the Northumbrian lands north of the Tees in earlier centuries.

The death of Bloodaxe brought about the downfall of the Viking Kingdom of York (Jorvik) and Viking power did not rise again until the time of King Cnut, who is also associated with the Teesdale area (See Raby below). The point where Bloodaxe met his death is marked by the ancient Rey Cross, which is situated just to the south of the A66 five miles west of Bowes. At the time of writing the cross has been removed for the construction of a new road. Rey cross once marked a boundary between Dark Age kingdoms on either side of the Pennines. The word `Rey' is Viking and simply means boundary. Interestingly there are a number of other places along the northern side of the Tees valley that contain the Viking word Rey.

A few miles to the south of Rey Cross is the Tan Hill Inn, the highest pub in England, where perhaps the ghost of Eric Bloodaxe may be seen supping a pint of his favourite brew ?. In Viking mythology the death of a warrior was not so much the end of his life as the beginning of a journey to Valhalla `the hall of the Gods' - where only fallen warriors could reside. At the Battle of Stainmore we are told that Odin sent out his servants called the Valkyries who were the choosers of the slain to collect Bloodaxe and accompany him to Valhalla. It was therefore at Stainmore that Eric's journey to Valhalla began..

According to the mythology Eric would be warmly welcomed by Odin in Valhalla. A transaltion from an Old Norse poem written in honour of Eric Bloodaxe called the Eiriksmal tells us about Odin's preparation for a welcoming banquet .

"I dreamed I rose before day dawned, To prepare Valhalla For fallen warriors ; I woke the heroes, Bade them arise, Strew the benches with straw, And scour the vessels; Bade Valkyries bear wine Meet for a Prince.From the earth yonder I wait the coming Of highborn heroes; Glad now is my heart. "

Two great warriors called Sigmund and Sinfjoli were sent to the gates of Valhalla to greet Eric at the end of his journey from Stainmore, causing Odin's son Bragi to question his father as to why he should single out Bloodaxe for special treatment when other kings had died in the battle. Odin's reply was swift in his praise for King Eric; "Because he has harried so many lands and borne a bloody sword" Bragi asked why Odin had not granted victory to such a fine warrior as Bloodaxe, but the great god explained that"It is safer for the gods to have such a hero in their own midst as a bulwark against the Fenris Wolf " The Fenris wolf was the wolf and son of Loki the god of strife and evil who was the arch enemy of Odin. Mythology tells us that the upper and lower jaws of the Fenris wolf touched both heaven and earth. Odin evidently thought that Bloodaxe could protect him against such evil.


The River Greta, a tributary of the Tees which flows through the Stainmore Pass and rises to the west of the Rey Cross derives its name from the Viking word `Griota' meaning a stony stream. It is interesting to note that there is a River Griota in Iceland, a country where considerable Viking settlement took place.From Stainmore the Greta makes a fourteen mile journey east before joining the Tees at Rokeby near Barnard Castle. Rokeby was once the site of a village of Viking origin but was later deserted following Scottish attacks upon Teesdale.

Today Rokeby lives on only in the names of Rokeby Park and Rokeby Hall, the latter an 18th century building belonging to the Morritt family. The artists, J.M.W. Turner and J.S. Cotman had a particular affection for this part of Teesdale and Turner's famous picture `The Meeting of the Waters' depicts the confluence of the Tees and Greta at Rokeby. Another artist, Velazquez is also associated with this area, his famous painting the`Rokeby Venus' was housed at Rokeby Hall between 1805 and 1905. Today it can be seen at the National Gallery in London.Across the River Greta from Rokeby Park are the remains of a fourteenth century fortified Pele Tower (see Border families), a reminder that even Teesdale in the very south of Northumbria, was arguably a part of the Scottish Border Country.


In the early nineteenth century Sir Walter Scott was a frequent visitor to Rokeby Hall and named his lengthy poem, Rokeby after the area. The poem includes verses with strong references to Teesdale's Viking past,. Sir Walter was well aware of the Viking history of the Tees and in `Rokeby' he uses many an opportunity to remind us of the Nordic connection.

"When Denmark's raven soared on high,
Triumphant through Northumbrian sky,
Till, hovering near, her fatal croak
Bade Reged's Britons dread the yoke;
And the broad shadow of her wing
Blackened each cataract and spring,
Where Tees in tumult leaves his source,
Thundering o'er Caldron and High Force.
To Odin's son and Spifia's spouse,
Near Startforth high they paid their vows,
Remembered Thor's victorious fame,
And gave the dell the Thunderer's name."

This verse from `Rokeby' refers to the Viking sounding Thorsgill Beck, a stream which joins the River Tees to the west of Rokeby, close to Startforth near Barnard Castle.

Raby Castle

Raby Castle : David Simpson

Raby Castle and the Rising of the North

From Rokeby near Barnard Castle, the River Tees passes through Whorlton, Wycliffe and Ovington to Winston on Tees, where a road leads two miles north to Raby Castle and the adjacent village of Staindrop, both in County Durham. Cnut (or Canute) the Dane (c 994 - 1035), Viking King of England, Denmark and Norway, the self appointed `Emperor of the North' owned a mansion and estate in the vicinity of Staindrop in the tenth century.

It has been suggested that the mansion owned by Cnut was on the site of the nearby Raby Castle and some argue that it was from here that he ruled his kingdom and Empire. Raby Castle's historic `Bulmer Tower' is believed to incorporate Cnut's mansion. Cnut `the Great' was the son of Sweyn Forkbeard of Denmark and was very much a Viking in the war-like way he took control of England, despite the fact that he had been baptised and claimed to be a practising Christian.

The name of Raby is Viking-Danish in origin and means `settlement on the boundary mark' - perhaps a boundary between Angle, Danish and Norse settled districts ?. Raby lies on the course of an old Roman road that leads to Stainmore and Rey Cross - another boundary marker.Staindrop, which is historically the estate village for Raby also has a Danish name deriving from`Steinndrup' meaning `stony valley' - or perhaps `the valley of Stein', a common Viking personal name.

Place names containing the Viking element Stain are very common along the Tees valley but virtually absent further to the north.Raby Castle and the lands around Staindrop village were returned to the Northumbrian Bishops of Durham by King Cnut in the eleventh century as a gesture of goodwill to the Angles of the north. These lands like many others along the Tees valley had been taken from the Northumbrians by Cnut's Viking ancestors. Cnut may have wished to maintain good relations with Northumbria north of the Tees, because of its useful role as a `border region' which could defend his kingdom from the threat of the raiding Scots.


Raby, one of the best medieval castles in northern England, in early times associated with Cnut, passed later into the hands of the influential Norman family called the Nevilles who were the most important barons in the Bishopric of Durham from the twelfth century onwards.The famous Rising of the North was plotted by the Nevilles at Raby in 1569, with the help of the equally powerful Percy family of Northumberland. Support for this rising came from all parts of the North East;

Rising of the North

Now was the North in arms: they shine
In warlike trim from Tweed to Tyne,
At Percy's voice : and Neville Sees
His followers gathering in from Tees,
From Wear and all the little rills
Concealed among the forked hills-
Seven hundred knights Retainers all
Of Neville at their master's call
Had sate together at Raby Hall.

William Wordsworth :From 'The White Doe of Rylston'.

The Rising was an attempt to replace Elizabeth I with her cousin the catholic Mary Queen of Scots, at a time when the people of northern England were mostly of the Catholic faith. Unfortunately for the Nevilles the Rising failed and Raby was confiscated from the family by the Crown along with their other great properties at Barnard Castle and Brancepeth.


In 1626 Raby became the seat of the Vanes, Earls of Darlington and Dukes of Cleveland and the present owner, Lord Barnard is a member of this family. He is the owner of the vast Raby Estate which extends over a large area of south Durham. Farmhouses and cottages belonging to this estate can be found throughout the northern side of Teesdale and are easily identified by their attractive whitewashed exteriors. Whitewashing goes back to the days when a Duke of Cleveland became stranded in a storm while out hunting in Teesdale. He was refused shelter at a local farmhouse which he had mistaken for one of his own properties. The Duke was determined not to suffer such a humiliation ever again and ordered that from that day on, all buildings belonging to his estate were to be painted white for identification.Raby Castle is said to be haunted by three ghosts, they are the headless Henry Vane the Younger, Sir Charles Neville and the First lady Barnard, who is known as `Old Hell Cat'.


Gainford on Tees, near Winston to the south east of Raby was in Anglo-Saxon times the centre of an important estate belonging to the Northumbrian Congregation of St. Cuthbert. In the later Dark Ages this area was taken by the Vikings, whose settlement in the area is indicated by the names of the nearby villages of Selaby, Eppleby and Killerby. Selaby was the village where sallow grew, Eppleby the place where apples grew and Killerby was the village of someone called Kilvert. The name Kilvert is thought to be an Old Norse name meaning `One who defends the prow of a ship'.Archaeologists have found a number of Viking sculptures at Gainford and some examples of these are on display at the Monk's Dormitory of Durham cathedral. Many of the sculptures found at Gainford show both Northumbrian and Viking influence, suggesting that the vale of the Tees was an area where these two cultures intermixed. Indeed it is known that despite the Viking settlement, Angle Northumbrians continued to be important land owners along the banks of the Tees in Viking times.


Gainford is arguably the most attractive village in County Durham and has long been a popular place of retirement for residents of nearby Darlington. The origins of its name are disputed, though there is a legend that there was once a ford on the river and that the ownership of this ford was disputed by the residents on either side of the Tees. In the end a battle was fought in which the residents of the Durham side of the river gained the ford- hence Gainford. On the Yorkshire side of the river we find the site of the deserted village of Barforth or Barford. Its name is said to be a reminder of an attempt by its residents to barricade the ford during the battle with Gainford .

In the nineteenth century Gainford village had its own spa. Today its main features are an unspoilt village green, a Jacobean hall and an attractive Georgian street called High Row. The village church of St Mary's, Gainford is also of interest, it is on the site of an Anglo-Saxon monastery built by Bishop Ecgred of Lindisfarne in the early 9th century and is said to be the resting place of a Northumbrian chieftain called Ida or Eda. In more recent times the church became famed in local folklore as the place where a vicar married a Pigg, christened a Lamb and buried a Hogg all in the same week !


My Grandfather's Clock was too tall for the shelf
So it stood ninety years on the floor.

Piercebridge, on the north bank of the River Tees, two miles downstream from Gainford is in County Durham but its Hotel `The George' is across the river in Yorkshire. The hotel is famed as the home of the clock which inspired a visiting American composer called Henry Clay Work to write his famous song `My Grandfather's Clock ' (1878), from which all long case clocks now take their name.

The clock is notable in that it stopped at the very moment of its owner's death and never worked again.

It wrang an alarm in the dead of the night,
an alarm that for years had been dumb
And we knew that his spirit was pluming for flight,
that his hour of departure had come.
Still the clock kept the time with a soft and muffled chime
as we silently stood by its side.
But it Stopped, Short,never to go again
When the old man died.


Piercebridge is situated at the point where the old Roman road called Dere Street crossed the River Tees. This road ran north from the Roman military headquarters at York well up into Tweeddale. The village green at Piercebridge marks the site of a Roman fort called MAGAE which stood on the road guarding the crossing of the Tees.This fort at Piercebridge will have been of strategic importance as the fierce Ancient British tribe called the Brigantes, were closely associated with this area.

The Brigantes were the largest tribe in Roman Britain with territory extending over large areas of what are now Yorkshire, Durham, Cumbria and southern Northumberland. Celtic or Welsh speaking tribes like the Brigantes were the native inhabitants of Britain many centuries before Anglo-Saxons or Vikings made Britain their home. South west of Piercebridge can be seen one of the most significant remains associated with the Brigantes at a place called Stanwick St John. Here we find the ancient earthworks of a Brigantian camp from which the tribe fought the Romans at the Battle of Scotch Corner in A.D. 71.


Between Roman and Anglo Saxon times the valley of the River Tees around Piercebridge is thought to have formed the central plain of an Ancient British kingdom called Catraeth whose people would have been the descendants of the Brigantes. In fact the name of the River Tees dates from the time of the Ancient Britons, who spoke a language similar to modern day Welsh. The name Tees is related to the Welsh `Tes' meaning `sunshine or heat'.

Tees probably means `boiling or surging river'. East of Piercebridge the Tees, ironically is neither boiling nor surging as it lethargically meanders its way towards the outskirts of Darlington, where it is crossed by the A1(M) Motorway. There are a number of Viking place names in this area, examples of which are Cleasby, Jolby, Brettanby and Ulnaby. Brettanby is a farm and manor near Scotch Corner and its name may be a Viking reference to the presence of Ancient Britons in the area. Ulnaby is a deserted medieval village on the Ulnaby Beck, a northern tributary of the Tees.


Search England's North East

North East England



Ancestry Giftpack


Marriott Deals









Great BBC Dramas at BBC Shop