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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.
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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
Durham Cathedral’s stunning central tower reopened to the public during 2019 after extensive repairs. DAVID SIMPSON takes a trip to the top and enjoys splendid city views that include the Newcastle skyline and parts of Sunderland as well as the beautiful county and city of Durham.
It’s many years since we’ve climbed to the top of Durham Cathedral’s central tower. The tower re-opened to visitors earlier this year following extensive much-needed repairs, so a crisp autumnal Saturday afternoon in November seemed a perfect time to go and check it out.
During 2013, an inspection of Durham’s cathedral tower had highlighted the need for extensive conservation work. Fortunately, the cathedral was able to draw on funding from the newly established First World War Centenary Cathedral Repairs Fund which contributed significantly to the £1.9 million needed to carry out the repair work on this iconic North East landmark.
Scaffolding appeared around the central tower in late 2015 accompanied by bright white protective sheeting that locals referred to as the ‘bandage’. Such ‘tender loving care’ was a necessary if a little bit of a frustrating interlude for visitors and photographers wanting to capture the cathedral’s full beauty. Finally, however, the work was completed in May 2019 and the tower re-opened for the public to enjoy once more.
The cathedral’s central tower is 218 feet high (66.45m) and you need to negotiate 325 spiral steps to reach the top. So it’s probably not for the faint-hearted. Opening times can be found on the cathedral website and it costs £5 for the climb (£2.50 for children) with a number of advisory warnings on the website which we recommend reading. It’s worth knowing that the tower has the steepest and most narrow spiral of any cathedral in England and Wales.
Feeling fit and trying to shake off a bit of a discomforting cold from too many hours cooked up in a warm office, I walked into Durham from a village three miles to the east, paid my entrance fee and embarked on the cathedral climb. The spiral steps are quite broad at first, just to get you going and break you in gently. Then you reach a half way point, with a resting room and a long corridor that features displays relating to the cathedral and the tower’s restoration. At the far end of the corridor a sign dated 1783 directs us through another door where the spiral steps are significantly narrower.
It’s exhilarating when you reach the top and there was plenty of company yet still plenty of space. The view is simply sublime. Briefly, however, I must say I felt a slight touch of vertigo but quickly adjusted to the height. Durham looks rather like ‘Toy Town’ from up here, but a very picturesque Toy Town at that. Little cars and little people wander the neighbouring streets such as the Bailey and Owengate and Palace Green. Neighbouring South Street glimmered in the sunlight, with the water mill on the weir of the Wear far below. Here and there you could see preparatory activities for the forthcoming Lumiere festival.
There’s plenty of city landmarks to pick out – and not just Durham City landmarks. To the west we just about spotted the old miners’ hall in Redhills on the fringe of the beautiful woodland of Flass Vale. Here also we can see the city’s viaduct, Durham County Hall and the nearby hospital. A little closer to us we find Redhills Lane leading to the site of the Battle of Nevilles Cross of 1346. It’s known that some of the monks of Durham Cathedral monastery observed the battle from the vantage point of the cathedral’s tower all those centuries ago.
We observed the chapel of Durham School and the former Catholic seminary college at Ushaw. To the east and south east you can pick out Old Durham Farm and Old Durham Gardens near the site of an ancient Romano-British settlement and nearby the yet more ancient wooded hill fort site of Maiden Castle. To the south you see mostly hills, to Ferryhill and beyond.
The loop of the river surrounding the centre of the city demonstrates the importance of Durham’s defensive location. The historic streets, some dating back to medieval times are full of charm. There are long strings of Georgian and Victorian buildings that are brimming with character and various architectural styles forming a lacework along the hill sides. You can see an interesting contrast in style with the more modern buildings in Millburngate; the Prince Bishops Shopping Centre and the Durham University buildings around Mount Joy and Stockton Road.
Much can be seen beyond the centre of the city too. From the suburbs of Gilesgate and Newton Hall you can see out beyond to the neighbouring villages, all bordered by beautiful green patchwork fields and hedgerows broken by numerous russet coloured woodlands.
I must have been up there for at least a quarter of an hour, probably more and I kept seeing more and more new things. Lumley Castle can clearly be seen and of course Penshaw Monument. The Nissan car factory can be clearly made out and the prominent Department of Work and Pensions office block called Durham Tower near the Galleries in Washington is an imposing landmark. So we can look across from one Durham tower to another distant Durham Tower of a very different kind. Those last three mentioned landmarks are all of course in the city of Sunderland but beyond I could also make out cranes on the Tyne, somewhere in the South Tyneside or North Tyneside area.
In fact the view from up here is a tale of three cities as directly to the north the distant horizon is dominated by the most prominent buildings in the city of Newcastle. St James’ Park and the new Hadrian’s Tower development of course stand out but you can even make out the blue lantern tower of Newcastle Civic Centre. I’d definitely suggest taking a pair of small binoculars so you can make most of this splendid view.
Best of all though is the view of Durham City itself and it’s all well worth the £5 entry fee to the tower. Of course the descent is a lot less hard work than the ascent, though I did have a three mile walk home ahead of me as well. Ah well, it was worth it for the exhilarating view.
Durham Cathedral tower opening times and details here