Haltwhistle – the wall country town
Haltwhistle, is the nearest town to Hadrian’s Wall and is the largest town in South Tynedale, 12 moorland miles north of Alston.
Haltwhistle grew most rapidly as a coal mining settlement in the nineteenth century, which may lead one to think that its name has something to do with it being the site of a Victorian railway station.
In fact the delightful name Haltwhistle, is of very old Anglo-French origin deriving from `Haut-Twisla’ meaning ‘high fork in the river’ – a reference to the confluence of the Haltwhistle Burn and the South Tyne.
Recorded in the thirteenth century as Hautwisel the second element of the name is Twisel or Twisla a word of medieval origin meaning a fork. Other ‘twisels’ in the north include Twizel near Berwick, Twizel near Morpeth and Twizell between Chester-le-Street and Stanley in County Durham.
The Halwhistle Burn called the Caw Burn in its upper stretches runs close to the site of two Roman forts; namely the little known Haltwhistle Burn fort and the fort of Great Chesters, which both lie just to the north of the town in Hadrian’s Wall Country.
The Ghost of Blenkinsopp Castle
Between the village of Greenhead and the town of Haltwhistle, on the South Tyne, we may find the ruins of Blenkinsopp Castle, which are said to be linked to those at Thirlwall by a secret passage. Blenkinsopp is associated with a legend and ghost story, concerning one Bryan Blenkinsopp, who lived here many centuries ago.
As a young man, Lord Blenkinsopp boasted he would not marry until he met with a lady possesing a chest of gold heavier than ten of his strongest men could carry. Remarkably, later in his life, Bryan’s wishes were fulfilled when he met with such a lady, while abroad fighting in the Crusades. Bryan brought her back to England where they were married, but the lord did not, as expected, live hapily everafter.
When the new bride learned of her husband’s youthful boasts, she became worried he had only married her for her wealth, so she secretly hid her treasure chest in the Blenkinsopp grounds, where Bryan could not find them. Bryan responded to this bitterly and either heartbroken or humiliated by his bride’s lack of trust, mysteriously left his wife and castle and was never to return again.
The Lady came to regret her actions, but despite strenuous efforts to find her husband, he could not be traced. She died a lonely and remorseful woman. It is said that her ghost may occasionally be seen haunting the grounds of the ruined castle where she waits, ready to guide the way to the spot where her chest of treasure is hidden. Some believe that the spirit will not lay to rest until the treasure is discovered and removed.
Source of the South Tyne
The South Tyne rises near the Cumbrian town of Alston in the vicinity of Cross Fell, the highest point in the Pennines. It begins not far from the source of the River Tees and the streams that feed the two rivers almost merge in the boggy moorland where Tyne and Tees are born.
Naturally, being so close to the source of two great rivers, we are in lofty surroundings, so it is of no surprise that the area is the home of England’s highest village (with a church) and England’s highest market town.
Nenthead is the highest village, almost in the valley of Weardale, but actually on the River Nent which joins the South Tyne near England’s highest market town of Alston. This is an attractive little place with a cobbled market square, 1000 feet above sea level. Nenthead is higher still at 1415 feet.
From Alston, the South Tyne flows north into Northumberland through the remote and beautiful scenery of South Tynedale. An ancient Roman road called the Maiden Way follows the course of the valley here towards Haltwhistle, where we first enter the `Wall Country’. Here the South Tyne changes its course to head east and from here on Hadrian’s ancient frontier is never far to the north.