Rocking the region’s history

DAVID SIMPSON investigates, in a hopefully not-too-technical way, how geology has influenced our region’s history and heritage in profound and spectacular ways.

Bamburgh Castle
Bamburgh Castle. sits upon a rocky outcrop of the Great Whin Sill © David Simpson 2018

GEOLOGY can sometimes seem a bit of a dry subject but it’s very much a part of our story and in the North East has had a profound impact, shaping our history, heritage and economic development.

The influence upon the landscape and history of North East England is apparent in so many ways. Many of the major themes of our history: industrial; border history; maritime links and several of the region’s most visually spectacular heritage sites have all been shaped by our region’s geological legacy.

Milecastle 39 Hadrian's Wall
Hadrian’s Wall on the Great Whin Sill. Photo © David Simpson 2018

Coal

Coal of course is the most obvious geological factor to have shaped our history but how many of us have heard the term ‘Carboniferous Westphalian Rocks’? Very few, I would guess, yet these rocks, more commonly known by geologists in our region as the ‘coal measures’ stretch from the Druridge Bay area of Northumberland to just north of Hartlepool.

From the exploitation of the natural resource of coal within these rocks; wealth, growth and cultural identities were created across our region. Throughout the North East, coal accounted for the emergence of countless colliery villages and paid for the construction of mansions and stately homes for wealthy coal owners. Ports such as Newcastle, Blyth, Shields, Seaham and Sunderland and even ports outside the coalfield like Hartlepool ultimately owed their growth and prosperity to the geological processes that created coal.

The coal deposits in those Westphalian measures spurred on the birth of the railways in our region which had such a profound impact on the emergence of our modern world, especially when coupled with the iron stone deposits of Consett and the Cleveland Hills which helped the region develop into a major centre for steelmaking and engineering.

Coal in our region was of course created from the sediments formed by dead plant matter in the Carboniferous period around 310 million years ago. Those deposits came about when much of what was now England formed a vast marine delta within which plant matter originating in the Caledonian land mass to the north was deposited in our region over vast swathes of time.

The overlaying of new rocks and strata occurred over unimaginable epochs of time under enormous physical pressures and intense heat that compressed the decayed plant matter into coal over millions of years. Later, in some areas subsequent erosion exposed the coal near the surface and here it was first exploited by man. This became particularly important in the vicinity of the Tyne from medieval times where the river became an important means of transporting coal for shipment by sea, gradually creating a significant maritime trade.

North East geology. A simplified map
North East geology. A simplified map © David Simpson 2020

Magnesian Limestone Country

The collieries, of which there were once hundreds, have now gone but in recent memory we may think of the colliery landscape of Billy Elliot, a film that was set in east Durham.  This locality, which geologically encompasses Sunderland might be considered as once being the predominant area for coal mining in the North East. In fact this area, where the coal measures stretch far out to sea, was one of the last areas of our region to be exploited for its coal.

Until the 1820s there was some doubt that coal even existed in eastern Durham as this is a landscape with a surface dominated by a very deep layer of Permian rock called Magnesian Limestone (sometimes broadly known as ‘Dolomite’) which overlays the coal to considerable depth.

The Magnesian Limestone was deposited during the hot, Sahara-like climate of the Permian age some 250 million years ago when the area lay on the margins of the shallow ‘Zechstein Sea’ that covered much of what is now Europe. When sea levels began to rise, the desert sands were inundated and overlain with calcium magnesium carbonates which included fossilized coral reefs that together formed the Magnesian Limestone over eons of time. Interestingly, quarrying at Sherburn Hill near Durham has exposed the sands of the original desert that was overlain by the magnesian limestone.

 A view of Newcastle and the distant Cheviot Hills from Sherburn Hill in County Durham
Telephoto view looking towards Newcastle and the distant Cheviot Hills viewed from Sherburn Hill in County Durham © David Simpson 2020

There is a limited outcrop of Magnesian Limestone rock just north of the Tyne, forming the cliffs at Tynemouth but in the main this creamy coloured rock is a south of the Tyne phenomenon, stretching down the coast from South Shields all the way to Hartlepool. It stretches a little way inland too. Take a glance at a satellite map and you will see vast quarries south and east of Durham City which look at first glance like enormous sandpits in the proximity of West Cornforth, Kelloe, Quarrington Hill and Sherburn Hill. On closer inspection they resemble broad moonscapes where trucks and diggers look like tiny toys.

Blast Beach, Seaham
Blast Beach on the Durham coast at Seaham Photo © David Simpson 2018

There are signs of this rock being quarried at Marsden near South Shields too and at Fulwell near Sunderland, though the second of these is now greened over and forms a nature reserve. In fact the grasslands associated with this particular rock often attract unusual and sometimes unique fauna and flora, most notably in the form of butterflies. It is one of the prime reasons that East Durham is designated a ‘heritage coast’.

The coastal cliffs along the shore from Tyne to Tees are formed by the rolling magnesian limestone hills of what is called the East Durham Escarpment meeting the sea, forming in world terms, a unique coastal region.

Marsden Rock near South Shields, the coastal cliffs of Blast Beach near Seaham and the Hartlepool headland on which the former medieval port of Old Hartlepool is situated are just some of the coastal features formed by this rock, as are the cliffs along the gorge of the River Wear in Sunderland.

Marsden Rock near South Shields
Marsden Rock near South Shields, formed from Magnesian limestone. Photo © 2018 David Simpson

Magnesian limestone has been extensively quarried since medieval times, even giving its name to an early medieval shire called Querningdonshire (Quarringtonshire) near Durham where it was seemingly used in the making of quern stones for grinding corn. In more recent ages it has found use as a flux in the chemical industry of Teesside and is of course most familiarly used in the making of roads beneath the tarmac.

Inland you can clearly see the steeply inclined boundary of the magnesian limestone escarpment where it meets the vale of Durham, most notably forming Houghton Cut near Houghton-le-Spring where a quarry was used in the 19th century as an overspill graveyard during the cholera epidemic of the early nineteenth century.

Near Durham City the villages of Sherburn and Sherburn Hill lie respectively at the foot and top of the magnesian limestone escarpment and at nearby Quarrington Hill ‘the heugh’ near Bowburn on the edge of the escarpment is quite apparent. The top of this hill offered a great vantage point and in 1747 was occupied as a camp site for several weeks by the Duke of Cumberland and his army following his brutal Culloden campaign in Scotland. A century earlier in 1644, a Scottish army under the Earl of Leven had camped here for seven days before heading to Marston Moor.

Quarrington Hill
‘The Heugh’ at Quarrington Hill pictured from Sherburn Hill  on the edge of Durham’s magnesian limestone escarpment. © David Simpson 2020

Before the 1820s most geologists were convinced that there was no coal beneath the deep layer of Magnesian Limestone in eastern Durham though many speculators were keen to take the risk of expensive trial borings in the hope of finding rich rewards. They were unsuccessful until coal was finally discovered at great depth at Hetton in 1822. This marked the beginning of a new coal mining age – the deep mining era – in County Durham which exposed rich and extensive seams of coal and even saw George Stephenson develop his very first railway, the Hetton Railway, at Hetton Colliery.

Hetton Colliery
An early 19th century illustration of Hetton Colliery

The mines in this eastern area, that opened over time, would include Easington, Westoe and Monkwearmouth (where the Sunderland football stadium stands today) and were amongst the region’s biggest coal mines in terms of the number of miners they employed.

A glance at the map shows, however, that on the surface at least, the collieries in this area were quite sparsely distributed, reflecting the costs involved in deep mining compared to more westerly areas where there is denser distribution of collieries. Of course deep down the coal seams were extensively worked in east Durham, even extending out to sea.

Iron and lead

In the Pennines to the far west lead mining was of course another big industrial exploit resulting from the abundance of this particular ore. In the nineteenth century Britain was the leading producer of lead and the North Pennines of Durham and Northumberland were the most important lead producing area in the country. Lead mining has left behind important industrial relics such as Killhope Wheel and Rookhope Chimney in Weardale or the Stublick chimney in South Tynedale.

Killhope Wheel lead mining museum, Weardale © David Simpson 2020

In the Cleveland Hills around Eston, iron ore deposits played an enormous role in the success and growth of Teesside. Middlesbrough, a completely ‘new town’ in the 1830s initially began as a coal port but morphed into the heartland of an iron and steel making region. Items made from Teesside’s iron and steel soon found their way across the world.  A nineteenth century writer remarked:

“The iron of Eston has diffused itself all over the world. It furnishes the railways of the world; it runs by Neapolitan and papal dungeons; it startles the bandit in his haunt in Cicilia; it crosses over the plains of Africa; it stretches over the plains of India. It has crept out of the Cleveland Hills where it has slept since Roman days, and now like a strong and invincible serpent, coils itself around the world.” Sir H.G Reid.

In addition to this legacy Middlesbrough and Darlington would of course become famous for the construction of bridges found across the world from Newcastle to Sydney Harbour.

Tyne Bridge
The Tyne Bridge built by Dorman Long of Middlesbrough. The firm also constructed the Sydney Harbour Bridge in Sydney, Australia : Photo © David Simpson 2015

Geology has contributed in a massive way to our region’s visual and natural heritage too. It has close links to the themes of our earlier history, whether it be Christian sites of international importance or defensive strongholds associated with the Border wars.

Consider the beautiful sandstone bluff around which the River Wear twists and turns to form the ‘dun-holm’ (Durham) or ‘hill island’ on which Durham Cathedral and castle stand in great splendour. They utilise a splendid naturally defended site. In Sir Walter Scott’s words it beautifully forms the “half church of God half castle ‘gainst the Scot”.

Durham City sits upon a sandstone bluff surrounded by the River Wear. Photo: David Simpson

The Great Whin Sill

Indeed the region’s most spectacularly dramatic defensive sites owe their beauty to geology and this is no more apparent than in the role played by the Great Whin Sill. This volcanic intrusion was formed by a layer of molten rock that expanded due to crustal tensions caused by tectonic plate movements some 295 million years ago. The molten rock or magma penetrated between layers of softer neighbouring rock. The volcanic rock is exposed in a distinct ribbon-like band across the region as a sloping sill of solid grey-coloured igneous stone.

The igneous stone of the whin sill is some of the toughest stone you will find in the region. It is also called whinstone or ‘Dolerite’ so must not be confused with the very different permeable ‘Dolomite’ that we have already mentioned.

Exclusive to our region, the Great Whin Sill first appears in the south in Teesdale where it forms impressive rocky escarpments such as Cronkley Scar and Falcon Clints but most notably forms waterfalls such as Cauldron Snout, Low Force and of course High Force. Here the River Tees empties its flowing waters with an impressive roar over the distinct whinstone, cutting its way through the layers of softer rocks beneath the dolerite to create a gorge downstream over vast periods of time.

High Force
High Force waterfall, Teesdale and the rocks of the Great Whin Sill © David Simpson 2018

The Great Whin Sill can be traced in a long band north into Weardale (a notable section near Stanhope is called the ‘Little Whin Sill’) and can be traced west of Cross Fell. Further north, where it runs parallel to the Tyne Gap just north of the Tyne, we find the Great Whin Sill put to its most impressive defensive use courtesy of a certain Roman Emperor called Hadrian.

Here the steeply impenetrable slopes of the Great Whin Sill coupled with its proximity to the Tyne gap and the relatively short natural east to west route from the North Sea to Irish Sea provide an obvious site for a line of defence and demarcation. The Great Roman wall that tops the whin sill crags marked the natural northern frontier of one of the greatest empires the world has ever known.

Hadrian's Wall Whin Sill
The crags of the Great Whin Sill were utilised as part of Hadrian’s Walls defences Photo © 2018 David Simpson

The Great Whin Sill doesn’t end there of course. From the spectacular central sections of Hadrian’s Wall the sill crops up again and again across Northumberland to the north east, contributing to the craggy country in the wilds of ‘the Wannies’ near Sweethope Loughs before finally emerging on the coast near Craster, forming impressive rocky settings for the wonderful medieval edifices of Dunstanburgh Castle and Bamburgh Castle.

Dunstanburgh Castle from Embleton
Dunstanburgh Castle on the Great Whin Sill. Pictured from Embleton © David Simpson 2020

Like Hadrian’s Wall these great castles utilise the natural defensive features of the Great Whin Sill with stupendous splendour. Even out to sea, the Great Whin Sill has one last statement to make, forming the rocky weather-beaten outposts of the numerous stubborn little pieces of land called the Farne Islands, while to the north, Lindisfarne Castle nestles grandly on Beblowe crag, a rock of similar igneous foundation.

Outcrop of the Great Whin Sill near Craster
Outcrop of the Great Whin Sill near Craster © David Simpson 2020

Of course geology and the landscape features it has formed have not only shaped the region’s heritage but have defined its boundaries too. For nearly a thousand years the great igneous volcanic massif of the Cheviot Hills has formed the northern boundary of our region, separating it from the nation of Scotland, while the carboniferous limestone hills of the Pennines form the boundaries of our region to the west and south west.

The Cheviots viewed from Ford.
The Cheviots viewed from Ford in north Northumberland. Photo © David Simpson 2018

Across the Tees to the south east, the Jurassic Cleveland Hills and North York Moors have to some extent isolated the Teesside region from the remainder of Yorkshire, forming yet another natural border for the North East.

It is only in the central south of our region where the Vale of the Tees merges to the south of Darlington with the Vales of Mowbray and York that we have a permanently accessible, if sometimes distant link to the heartlands of England. So geology has defined our region with its permanent legacy and set apart our landscape and heritage. It is not just a part of our story but forms the very letters, margins and structure of our region’s narrative.

Collieries of North East England. Poster Print map (A2 only)

 

Geordie Fraser’s Geordie Phrases

‘Geordie Fraser’s Geordie Phrases’ is a series of YouTube videos in which David Simpson takes a light-hearted look at the origins of the region’s Geordie dialect.

There are many influences upon the Geordie and Northumbrian dialect. In this series ‘Geordie Fraser’ explores some of the region’s well-known words and phrases and examines some of their possible origins.

In the first of the videos we see how the region once spoke a form of Welsh but this has left very little influence upon the dialect and place-names save for a prominent Pennine hill in Yorkshire and a peculiar means of counting sheep that survived across the uplands of the North and North East.

The Angle ‘angle’ of North East dialect origins is explored in the first video looking at the origin of the Angles who gave England its name – ‘the Angle Land’. These were a people who also established the Kingdom of Northumbria. In addition, this first video explores the speech of the closely associated Frisians, whose surviving language is still the closest relative of English with words and pronunciations having a marked similarity to Geordie and Scots.

It’s been argued that Geordie (and Northumbrian) words are about 80 per cent Anglo-Saxon origin with the Angle influence being particularly prominent. This may be stretching the truth a little but certainly words and phrases like ‘gan’, ‘hoppings’ or ‘toon’ for town have striking similarities to Anglo-Saxon words even though the Old English language of the Anglo-Saxons would be largely incomprehensible to most English speakers today. Then again, the same is sometimes said for Geordie.

In the second video ‘Fraser’ asks: was there any Viking and Norman influence on Geordie dialect and place-names? The third video explores the Geordie dialect’s relationship to local place-names, asking the question: Is the Red Yuff really a ‘yuff’? Fraser also recalls a humorous encounter with a Border Reiver in Redesdale, during a search for “a very long place-name, that begins with ‘B’

Video four explores the words ‘canny’ and ‘wor’ and investigates the origin of the Northumbrian ‘burr’ and its possible influence upon Geordie speech.

The fifth video in Geordie Fraser’s YouTube series examines some common Geordie words and phrases, with a little touch of humour. Other videos exploring North East dialect will follow.

You might also like to visit our Geordie dictionary.

Another Twenty North East villages

DAVID SIMPSON explores another twenty villages in the North East of England, stretching across the historic counties of Durham and Northumberland from the River Tees to the River Tweed. What’s your favourite North East village?

Thatched cottage, Etal village
Thatched cottage, Etal village, Northumberland Photo © David Simpson 2018

A few years ago we explored a selection of twenty villages of different kinds across the North East of England. You can read our blog on the original twenty featured villages here: twenty North East villages.

We weren’t necessarily claiming these were the most beautiful ones (though there were some strong candidates) or even saying they were the most interesting villages. We did find that there are a great variety of North East villages and that they can be found in some interesting locations, sometimes completely swallowed up by neighbouring towns.

In this blog we thought we’d visit some more North East villages focusing on a further twenty places. It’s still not an exhaustive list of course, and it’s a relatively random selection but we’d like to know what’s your personal favourite?

Etal Post Office.
Etal village Post Office. Photo © David Simpson 2018

Norham

Northumberland

Norham is sitauted near the banks of the River Tweed in north Northumberland. It was once the capital of Norhamshire, an outlying part of the County Palatine of Durham and belonged to Durham’s Prince Bishops. In Anglo-Saxon times it had been one of the most important posthumous resting places for St Cuthbert, who was carried under the protection of the wandering monks who fled the Viking raids on Lindisfarne. The impressive Norham Castle was built by the Prince Bishop, Ranulf Flambard and strengthened as a formidable fortress by a successor called Bishop Pudsey. It played an important role in defending the north from the Scots. Norham is a place of notable history. It was here that the Scottish king John De Balliol paid homage to King Edward I of England.

Norham village and castle
Norham village and castle Photo © David Simpson 2018

Read about Norham-on-Tweed

Sadberge

Near Darlington

Here’s another place that was once a ‘capital’ in its own right. Situated just off the busy A66 between Stockton and Darlington Sadberge seems to have a Norse name meaning ‘flat-topped hill’, which describes its location overlooking the Tees Valley. Sadberge was the capital of the only Viking ‘wapentake’ in North East England, north of the River Tees. Wapentakes were assembly places where Vikings discussed the affairs of their local district – taking their weapons with them.

Comemorative stone Sadberge
Comemorative stone Sadberge Photo © David Simpson

The Wapentake of Sadberge included numerous parishes stretching from Hartlepool to Teesdale. After the Norman Conquest the district formed an outlying part of Northumberland but was acquired by Hugh Pudsey, Prince Bishop of Durham in 1189. Although it became part of Durham, Sadberge retained some independence, administered as an almost separate county until 1576. There were still references to ‘the Counties of Durham and Sadberge’ as late as the 19th century.  A plaque attached to a large  stone on the village green recalls the historic status of Sadberge.

Read about Sadberge

Whittingham

Northumberland

“Are you going to Whittingham Fair?
Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme.”

The familiar lyrics associated with the better-known  ‘Scarborough Fair’ song might well have originated from the almost identical verses of the Northumberland folk song: ‘Whittingham Fair’. Situated in the upper part of the River Aln Valley in what is known  as ‘Whittingham Vale’, the village of Whittingham was indeed once the site of a fair. The village is home to a medieval church and a defensive pele tower, though both were extensively restored and rebuilt by the Tyneside architect John Dobson in the 1840s.

Whittingham village
Whittingham village and tower. Photo: ©David Simpson 2018

Read about Whittingham, the Aln and Alnwick

Castle Eden

County Durham

Popular with commuters working on Tyneside, Wearside and Teesside due to its proximity to the A19, this village lies close to the new town of Peterlee and the beautiful wooded valley of Castle Eden Dene, a site of Special Scientific Interest. The village itself is pretty, yet tiny, with a charming eighteenth century church dedicated to St James. Associated outlying hamlets feature the Castle Eden Inn and a former brewery building with an attached stable block. There’s also a neat terrace of 1792 known as ‘The Factory’ that once formed part of a spinning mill. The ‘castle’ of Castle Eden is in fact an 18th century castellated mansion house built by the Newcastle architect William Newton for local industrialist Rowland Burdon.

The village, Castle Eden
The village, Castle Eden. Photo © David Simpson 2018

Read about Castle Eden

Corbridge

Northumberland

Often styled a ‘village’ Corbridge is in many respects a small town and one of the most historic places in the region. Gloriously situated in the Tyne valley and in the heart of the Roman Wall Country, Corbridge was once the site of a Roman town that was later, for a time, one of the capitals of the Kingdom of Northumbria. Village or not, it is indisputably a very charming place with lots of interesting stone buildings including a vicar’s pele and old houses such as Low Hall and Monksholme.

Corbridge scenes © David Simpson 2020

Read about Corbridge

Elsdon

Northumberland

Hae ye ivver been at Elsdon ?
The world’s unfinished neuk
It stands amang the hungry hills,
An’ wears a frozen leuk.

The old rhyme relating to the Redesdale village of Elsdon doesn’t exactly make Elsdon sound like an appealing prospect, but it no doubt dates from the distant days of  Border raids and reiving. In truth Eldson is a delightful village with an enormous village green, a friendly pub and charming church. A most interesting feature is the medieval fortified vicar’s pele designed to keep the local clergy protected during the Border troubles. The nearby gallows known as ‘Winter’s Gibbet’ serve to remind of darker days in history.

Vicar's Pele, Elsdon
The village of Elsdon in Redesdale showing the vicar’s pele Photo © David Simpson 2019

Read about Elsdon

Earsdon

North Tyneside

An attractive village of neat Georgian houses near Whitley Bay, Earsdon once belonged to Tynemouth Priory. The original medieval church in the village was replaced by the architects John and Benjamin Green in the 1830s. The churchyard includes a memorial to the 204 men and boys who lost their lives in the Hartley Colliery disaster of 1862.

Earsdon
Earsdon. Photo © David Simpson 2018

Read about Earsdon

Seaton Sluice

Northumberland

The picturesque little Northumberland coastal village of Seaton Sluice is situated on the Seaton Burn a little to the north of Whitley Bay. It was developed as a coastal coal port from the 1660s by members of the Delaval family who built sluice gates to control the level of water in their haven. In the 18th century a 900 feet long cut was created to improve access from the sea. An intriguing octagonal building of the 18th century once served as a customs house. It was perhaps the idea of the architect John Vanbrugh who built the nearby Seaton Delaval Hall.

Seaton Sluice
Seaton Sluice, showing the natural outlet to the left and new cut to the right. Photo © David Simpson 2018

Read about Seaton Sluice 

Cleadon

South Tyneside

Charles Dickens once stayed in Cleadon with his friend George Cooper Abbs. Abbs may have shared the story of a local groom jilted by his bride. The man had organised a pre-wedding party in his dining room. Heartbroken, he ordered that the room should be left as it was then laid out, for the rest of his days. It may have provided Dickens with inspiration for the Miss Haversham story in Great Expectations. A particularly interesting feature of the village is a castellated tower house known as Cleadon Tower, which dates back to the 1490s. Nearby towers of a quite different kind are a disused windmill and a waterworks tower that are landmarks for miles around.

Cleadon village
Cleadon village : Photo © David Simpson

Read about Cleadon

Romaldkirk

County Durham

A little bit controversial this one, because although it is administratively in County Durham and most definitely  in Teesdale Romaldkirk is actually south of the River Tees, so it was historically a Yorkshire village annexed by County Durham in 1974 during a local government shakeup. It’s a pretty place nevertheless, situated on the south side of the river about half way between the valleys of the River Lune and River Balder which both join the River Tees on the south bank. The village is named from its local church, dedicated to a Northumbrian saint called  Romald about whom very little is known.

Romaldkirk.
Romaldkirk. Photo © David Simpson 2018

Read about Romaldkirk

Ford and Etal

Northumberland

Two very pretty villages here but quite close together and its impossible to resist visiting one without seeing the other, along with the lovely Heatherslaw Mill that lies between the two. Ford and Etal come as a complete package and are a must for any visit to the far north of Northumberland. Ford features a medieval castle that was once the stronghold of the Heron family. However, the beautiful village of Ford that we see today was laid out by the Marchioness of Waterford in the 19th century.

Ford village main street
Ford village main street Photo © David Simpson 2018

Etal village to the north also has a medieval castle but is principally noted for its thatched cottages, which are an unusual feature for a Northumberland village. Most of the houses in the village date from the eighteenth, nineteenth and early twentieth century.

Etal village
Etal village, Photo © David Simpson 2018

Read about Ford and Etal

Witton-le-Wear

County Durham

Situated more or less at the point where the ‘Wear Valley’ becomes Weardale, Witton-le-Wear is a pretty village of stone houses. It was part of the historic district of County Durham known as Aucklandshire. A notable building in the village is Witton Tower, a fortified tower house of medieval origin (it’s a private residence).  The tower should not be confused with the nearby Witton Castle which partly dates back to 1410. Close to Witton-le-Wear are the extensive wetlands of the Low Barnes nature reserve. Witton-le-Wear is quite separate from the neighbouring village of Witton Park which has important historic links to the Stockton and Darlington Railway.

Witton Castle.
Witton Castle. Photo © David Simpson 2018

Read about Witton-le-Wear

Alnmouth

Northumberland

In its quiet, splendid seaside setting at the mouth of the River Aln it is hard to imagine why the eighteenth century preacher, John Wesley, should have described Alnmouth as “a small sea port town famous for all kinds of wickedness.” It’s certainly a place of great beauty with a  lovely river mouth harbour, quaint main street and a beautiful beach to wander along. Our favourite fact about Alnmouth is that during the American War of Independence Alnmouth was fired at from offshore with cannon balls by the American privateer John Paul Jones.

Alnmouth.
Alnmouth. Photo © David Simpson 2018

Read about Alnmouth

Shincliffe

County Durham

Situated near the southern outskirts of Durham City, Shincliffe has an intriguing name that means ‘hill of the ghost or spectre’. A quiet little place of charming houses and a little village pub, Shincliffe belonged to the Priors of Durham Cathedral in medieval times. There was often rivalry between the bishops and priors of Durham and in 1300 it is recorded that the bishop’s men attacked the Prior on Shincliffe Bridge, which crosses the River Wear here.

Shincliffe
Shincliffe. © David Simpson

Read about Shincliffe and the Elvet area of Durham

Beadnell

Northumberland

Situated on the stupendous shore of the rocky Beadnell Bay, the name Beadnell derives from ‘Bede’s halh’, the spur of land belonging to Bede but probably not named from the famed venerable saint of that name. The main streets in Beadnell are the Wynding and the Haven and the main focal point of the village is the church dedicated to St Ebba.

Beadnell
Beadnell © David Simpson 2020

Read about Beadnell

Shotley Bridge

County Durham

A large and extensive ‘village’ – in truth much more of a town – on the banks of the River Derwent in County Durham. The old stone bridge links the county to Northumberland just across the river where there is a much smaller settlement simply called ‘Shotley’. Once a popular spa, Shotley Bridge has some interesting ‘Swiss-style’ houses associated with this heyday. The place also has strong links to the former iron industry of neighbouring Consett and from the late 1600s was associated with a sword making industry brought here by German artisans escaping religious persecution.

Cutlers hall Shotley Bridge
Cutlers hall Shotley Bridge. Photo © David Simpson 2018

Read about Shotley Bridge

Piercebridge

Darlington, County Durham

Situated at the point where the Roman road called Dere Street crossed the River Tees, most of the village is situated around a village green on the north (Durham) side of the river. To the rear of the houses on the east side of the green are the extensive remains of a Roman fort which guarded the river crossing. Part of the village on the Yorkshire side features the sadly recently closed George Hotel with its links to the famous ‘My Grandfather’s Clock’ song by Henry C Work.

Roman Piercebridge
Remains of the Roman fort at Piercebridge. Photo © David Simpson 2018

Read about Piercebridge

Boulmer

Northumberland

Once a focal point for Northumbrian and Scottish smugglers such as Blind Wull Bawmer o’ Jethart, Boulmer is a rugged coastal village that nestles above a beach.  The focal point for the village is the Fishing Boat Inn. Fishing nets and fishing boats all add to the serenity of the setting which is occasionally interrupted by the noisy jets of neighbouring RAF Boulmer.

Boulmer
Boulmer © David Simpson 2020

Read about Boulmer

Tynemouth

Tynemouth, technically a town, is cherished and beloved as ‘the village’ by numerous visitors from Newcastle and big-town Tyneside. It certainly has something of a village charm about it in places and the focal point for its western end is ‘the green’. Of course Tynemouth is so easily accessible by Metro and the real draw is the splendid beach, overlooked by the magnificent setting of castle and priory on the deeply historic headland at the beautiful mouth of the Tyne.

The Green, Tynemouth
The Green, Tynemouth : David Simpson 2015

Read about Tynemouth

What’s your favourite North East village?

  • Do 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. Details below:

In our original feature on Twenty North East villages we featured the following villages:

  • Bamburgh
  • Norton
  • Craster
  • Brancepeth
  • Bellingham
  • Billingham
  • Wallsend Green
  • Holy Island Village
  • Whitburn
  • Blanchland
  • Sedgefield
  • Gainford
  • New York
  • West Auckland
  • Heighington
  • Beamish
  • Whickham
  • Hart
  • Staindrop
  • Backworth

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