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?
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?
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.
Read about Norham-on-Tweed
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.
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
“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.
Read about Whittingham, the Aln and Alnwick
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.
Read about Castle Eden
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.
Read about Corbridge
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.
Read about Elsdon
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.
Read about Earsdon
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.
Read about Seaton Sluice
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.
Read about Cleadon
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.
Read about Romaldkirk
Ford and Etal
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.
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.
Read about Ford and Etal
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.
Read about Witton-le-Wear
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.
Read about Alnmouth
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.
Read about Shincliffe and the Elvet area of Durham
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.
Read about Beadnell
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.
Read about Shotley Bridge
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.
Read about Piercebridge
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.
Read about Boulmer
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.
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:
- Wallsend Green
- Holy Island Village
- New York
- West Auckland
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