Allendale : Three dales in one

Five miles east of Haltwhistle inj Northumberland the River South Tyne is joined by the River Allen, which forms Allendale, perhaps one of the least known valleys of the North Pennines.

The Allen itself, is in fact a comparitively short ravine that can be followed only four miles upstream where it is formed by the confluence of the much longer valleys of the Rivers East and West Allen.

Allendale has only two main settlements, the small village of Allenheads and Allendale Town, both of which are in the valley of the East Allen.

Allendale Town, once known as Allenton, is a former lead mining settlement that claims to be the geographical centre of Great Britain. This claim is also made by Hexham, but a glance at a map shows Allendale to have a particularly strong case.

Pagan ceremony at Allendale Town

Allendale Town is best known as the site of an annual `Baal’ festival, a custom with mysterious Pagan origins. The Baal Ceremony takes place here every New Years Eve and the celebration involves a procession of `Guisers’, or local men in costume who parade through the town, carefully carrying blazing tar barrels above their heads.

Upon reaching Allendale’s market place the `guisers’, throw the contents of their barrels onto a huge bonfire which they dance around in the manner of an ancient ritual. The precise origins of the Allendale festival are not known, but it is most likely to have developed from some ancient pagan celebration of the Winter Solstice. Allendale’s baal festival is a great spectacle and attracts visitors from all over North Eastern England.

The Allendale Horse Thief

Two miles north of Allendale Town, the East and West Allen merge where the valley becomes thickly wooded as it approaches the River Tyne. This part of Allendale was once the home of a notorious livestock thief or `mosstrooper’ called Dickie of Kingswood, who operated in the area long after the time of the violent Border Reivers, who carried out similar activities in the border dales, at the time of Queen Elizabeth I.

Legend has it that Dickie once stole some oxen from a farm at Denton Burn, on the outskirts of Newcastle and then drove them across the country to Lanercost in Cumberland, where he sold them to a farmer for a good price.

While at Lanercost, Dickie had become attracted to a particularly fine horse, belonging to the farmer to whom he had sold the stolen oxen. Dickie asked if he could buy the horse but the farmer explained that the mare was one of the finest in England and under no circumstances would he part with such an animal. Dickie accepted the farmer’s refusal to sell and advised him to look after his mare and keep it well protected from horse thieves. He then departed with the money he had recieved for the oxen.

The temptation to steal the valuable horse from the farmer was too much for Dickie and later that night he returned to Lanercost, broke into the sleeping farmer’s stable and made off with the horse.

While on his way home to Allendale, who should Dickie meet but the Denton Burn farmer, from whom he had stolen the oxen. Naturally the farmer asked Dickie if he had seen the oxen, the description of which Dickie immediately recognised. “Aye” said Dickie, “I’m sure I saw them up on a farm at Lanercost”. Dickie did not of course tell the farmer that it was he who had stolen the oxen and delivered them to Lanercost.

The farmer was now in very good spirits in the hope of regaining his oxen. He gratefully thanked Dickie and complimented him on his fine looking mare. Dickie

immediately recognised that here was an opportunity to return the horse to its Lanercost owner so he told the farmer that if he liked the mare so much he would gladly sell it to him for a reasonable price. A price was agreed and the horse was handed over to the delighted farmer who set off for Lanercost to reclaim his oxen. It is not known what hapened when the two farmers met up with each other at Lanercost but one thing is certain, Dickie returned to Allendale a wealthier man.

North East Regional Hub and Portal