Bellingham and North Tynedale

North Tynedale scenery near Tarset
North Tynedale scenery near Tarset © David Simpson

North Tynedale

North Tynedale, is the valley of the North Tyne that rises in the Cheviots above Kielder Water. It is a beautiful, peaceful and sparsely populated valley around 35 miles in length with the reservoir and neighbouring Kielder Forest dominating the uppermost part of the valley for the first ten miles.

North Tynedale
North Tynedale photographed from the Kielder dam © David Simpson

The North Tyne has a Border Reiving history and around four hundred years ago was one of the most troublesome and dangerous parts of England. The largest villages, including the main settlement of Bellingham are downstream from Kielder Forest and the major tributary of the valley is the River Rede that joins the North Tyne at Redesmouth near Bellingham.

Bellingham, North Tynedale
Bellingham, North Tynedale © David Simpson

Ultimately, the North Tyne merges with the South Tyne to form the River Tyne at Warden near Hexham about twenty miles west of Newcastle upon Tyne. The South Tyne and North Tyne have closely connected histories but their upper reaches are many miles apart.

The River North Tyne at Wark
The River North Tyne at Wark © David Simpson

The South Tyne rises near Cross Fell in the Pennines of Cumbria while the North Tyne begins in the Cheviots close to the Scottish border. It rises not far from Scotland’s Liddel Water (which is just over the border in Liddesdale) with the trickling tributaries of the River Teviot also close at hand.

The North Tyne and South Tyne valleys are scenically varied and share a similar history though historically North Tynedale was more closely embroiled in the Border reiving culture than South Tynedale particularly when compared to the upper parts of the South Tyne around Alston.

North Tyne at Wark © David Simpson
North Tyne at Wark © David Simpson

Although the South Tyne is a Pennine river and the North Tyne in ‘the Cheviots’, both valleys are scenically more similar to each other than they are to the Cheviot massif around Wooler. The Wooler Cheviots are formed from igneous rocks, geologically distinct from the hills of the southern Cheviots in North Tynedale where, like the Pennines, the rocks are Carboniferous.

The North Tyne near Wark
The North Tyne near Wark © David Simpson

Unlike the South Tyne and Tyne Valley most of the North Tyne is situated north of Hadrian’s Wall. In its lower reaches in the final part of its journey before it merges with the South Tyne to form the Tyne many of the most famous sections of Hadrian’s Wall can be found nearby. Only the last two and a half miles of the North Tyne are located south of the Roman Wall. The wall itself crosses the North Tyne at Chesters near Chollerford.

Falstone, North Tynedale
Falstone, North Tynedale © David Simpson

Along the North Tyne : Falstone

Following the course of the North Tyne from Kielder Dam at the foot of Kielder Water, the first places we encounter are the hamlets of Hawkhope and Yarrow followed by the more substantial village of Falstone on a prominent bend of the river.

In 1813, a weather-worn stone, thought to be part of a cross was found at Falstone inscribed with words in the Old English of the Anglo-Saxons. Thought to date from around AD700, on one side of the stone the words are written in uncial script and on the other side the words are written in runes. Both sides read:

“Eaomaer set this up for his uncle, Hroethbert.

Pray for his soul.”

The stone, which is now part of the collection of the Great North Museum in Newcastle was an extremely unusual find, given the use of both uncial and runic scripts.

Church of St Peter, Falstone, North Tynedale
Church of St Peter, Falstone, North Tynedale © David Simpson

Intriguingly, the name Hroethbert is an Anglo-Saxon form of Robert and the surname Robson (son of Robert) has been prominent in North Tynedale for many centuries, with the family being one of North Tynedale’s principal Border Reiver surnames. The Border Reiver culture saw its lawless heyday in Tudor and Elizabethan times.

The Anglican church at Falstone, dedicated to St Peter, is a rebuilding in the 1890s of an earlier church while the Presbyterian church in the village dates from 1807. This is very early for a Presbyterian church in England and likely reflects Scottish influence in the area.

Presbyterian church, Falstone, North Tynedale
Presbyterian church, Falstone, North Tynedale © David Simpson

A little down the valley and we find farm houses and hamlets called Stokoe and Donkleywood on the north side of the river and Smalesmouth and Ridley Stokoe to the south.

Smalesmouth is from the name of an adjoining burn while Stokoe, ‘Stoke-hoh’ means hill with wooden building or wooden pile of some kind. It’s the origin of the Northumbrian surname, Stokoe. It’s another reiver surname, as is of course Ridley.

Greystead Church, North Tynedale
Greystead Church, North Tynedale © David Simpson

Further along to the south of the river is flat land called Eals (meaning island) and the lonesome church of St Luke at Greystead, of 1818, overlooking the road. Continuing downstream the North Tyne is joined from the south by the Chirdon Burn where Dally Castle House incorporates the remains of the thirteenth century Dally Castle – an early bastle house of the thirteenth century that is thought to have once belonged to a Scot, David Lindsay, Justiciar or Lothian.

Scenery of the Tarset valley
Scenery of the Tarset valley © David Simpson

Tarset and Tarret

On the opposite side of the North Tyne from the mouth of the Chirdon Burn but a little upstream, the North Tyne is joined by the Tarset Burn which here plays host to the ruins Tarset Castle (a prominent mound) on its east bank.

Scenery near Tarset Castle and Lanehead
Scenery near Tarset Castle and Lanehead © David Simpson

Tarset Castle belonged to the Scottish baron, John Comyn (Cumming) known as ‘Red Comyn’, who was assassinated by Robert the Bruce at Dumfries in 1306. The castle was destroyed by the Scots following the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314.

The Tarset Burn
The Tarset Burn near Tarset Castle © David Simpson

We should not be surprised to find that castles in the area once belonged to Scottish barons in North Tynedale. The medieval Liberty of Tynedale (which included both North and South Tynedale) was once a Scottish possession from at least as early as the 1130s if not before.

View from Lanehead in the lower Tarset valley
View from Lanehead in the lower Tarset valley looking towards the North Tyne valley © David Simpson

The whole area was certainly regarded as disputed territory before that time. It was confirmed as a Scottish possession by the English during this period and effectively remained Scottish land until the late thirteenth century.

Tarset, Lanehead
Tarset, Lanehead © David Simpson

A little to the north of Tarset Castle is Lanehead, the home to Tarset Village Hall and the main settlement in the Tarset Burn valley other than Greenhaugh which is a mile to the north. Like Lanehead, Greenhaugh is a pretty place and is the home to a ‘proper little pub’ called the Holly Bush Inn built of rugged looking stone.

Greenhaugh © David Simpson

Heading from Lanehead to Greenhaugh we may catch a glimpse of Thorneyburn church over on the western side of the Tarset Burn valley. Dating from 1818 it was built by the architect H.H Seward for the Commissioners of Greenwich Hospital and is dedicated to St Aidan. Similar churches at Humshaugh and Greystead also date from 1818.

Holly Bush Inn, Greenhaugh © David Simpson
Holly Bush Inn, Greenhaugh © David Simpson

At Burnmouth, about a quarter of a mile upstream from Greenhaugh and Thorneyburn church, the Tarset Burn is joined by the smaller Tarret Burn and together the two valleys were at the heart of Border Reiver country.

St Aidan's church, Thorneyburn
St Aidan’s church, Thorneyburn viewed from across the opposite side of the Tarset Burn valley © David Simpson

The Tarset and Tarret Burns were so entrenched in Border Reiving that they had their own Border Reivering raider’s cry:

Tarset and Tarret Burn
Hard and Heather Bred
GYet! GYet! GYet!

(GYet means clear the way)

The four major ‘graynes’ or reiving clans of North Tynedale were the Robsons, Charltons, Milburns and Dodds and the Tarset Burn has associations with the last two of these reiving families.

The Tarset Burn valley between Lanehead and Greenhaugh
The Tarset Burn valley between Lanehead and Greenhaugh © David Simpson

The Dodd family were connected with Burnbank pele tower (between Burnmouth and Greenhaugh), which is situated in the valley of the Tarset Burn valley. The Dodds are said to be descended from Eilaf, an Anglo-Saxon monk who was one of the carriers of St Cuthbert’s Coffin at the time of the Viking raids in the ninth century.

Legend has it that Eilaf pinched some cheese from his fellow brethren, who prayed that the culprit be turned into a ‘dodd’ (the Anglo-Saxon word for a fox).

Tarset valley scenery
Tarset valley scenery © David Simpson

When the identity of the thief was revealed the monks had Eilaf turned back, but it is said that from that day on Eilaf and his descendants were known by the name of Dodd.

It’s a great story, though the likelihood is that the name derives from the word Dodd, meaning ‘hill’. Indeed some of the sikes (small streams) that feed the Tarset Burn rise on the nearby hill called ‘The Dodd’.

Black Middens Bastle
Black Middens Bastle © David Simpson

Black Middens Bastle

Half way along the Tarset Burn valley between the Dodd and Burnmouth are a scattering of old bastle houses including the notable Black Middens Bastle which is in the care of English Heritage.

Black Middens Bastle
Black Middens Bastle © David Simpson

Bastles were the fortified farmhouses of Border Reiver families, although they didn’t quite have the status of pele towers which were more like small castles or crenellated manor houses. Little is known of the history of the Black Middens Bastle, except that it was attacked by members of the Armstrong family in 1583.

Black Middens Bastle
Black Middens Bastle © David Simpson

One of the ruined fortified homes a little further up the valley was associated with a Milburn clan member called ‘Barty of the Comb’ who once killed two Scots who had pursued him following a revenge raid north of the border.

One of the Scots was decapitated by Barty who recalled: his “heid spang alang the heather like an inion”. The incident took place at Chattlehope Spout, a waterfall on the Chattlehope Burn in Redesdale between Catcleugh and Oh Me Edge.

Barty was overtaken by the two Scots as he returned south from beyond the Carter Bar with a companion and some stolen Scottish sheep. Barty’s companion, a reiver called Corbit Jack was slain. Barty’s residence called the Comb, was named from the nearby Comb Hill between Dodd Hill and Great Dodd in the upper Tarset.

Hesleyside Hall, North Tynedale
Hesleyside Hall, North Tynedale © David Simpson

Hesleyside : Charlton country

Returning to the North Tyne, only a little downstream from the mouth of the Tarset Burn on the way to Bellingham we enter Charlton reiver country. On the north side of the river is a little place called Charlton, an Anglo-Saxon place-name first mentioned in 1166 which means the churl’s farm (peasant’s farm). It’s likely that the Charlton family take their name from this place.

Hesleyside Mill
Hesleyside Mill © David Simpson

On the opposite side of the river is Hesleyside including Hesleyside Hall, the historic seat of the most senior members of the Charlton reiving family of  the North Tyne.

Broad valley of the North Tyne near Hesleyside
Broad valley of the North Tyne near Hesleyside © David Simpson

Originally a fortified pele tower house of the fourteenth century, most of the present Hesleyside Hall is of the eighteenth century with the landscaping of the grounds by Capability Brown. Hesleyside is a private house and still belongs to members of the Charlton family.

Spur in the Dish as depicted in the painting by William Bell Scott at Wallington Hall : The National Trust
The Spur in the Dish as depicted in the painting by William Bell Scott at Wallington Hall : The National Trust

In Northumbrian culture Hesleyside is noted as the inspiration for the Northumbrian pipe tunes ‘Sweet Hesleyside’ and the ‘Hesleyside Reel’ and as the setting for the tradition of the ‘spur in the the dish’ where in reiving times the lady of Hesleyside would serve a dish topped with a salver to the men of the house only to lift the salver to reveal riding spurs instead of the expected joint of meat – a hint that they needed to go raiding if they wished to be fed. It is the subject of one of the great paintings by William Scott Bell at Wallington Hall.

Bellingham © David Simpson

Bellingham and Hareshaw Linn

Bellingham (pronounced Belling-jum) is regarded as the modern capital of North Tynedale. It is situated right at the heart of what was once part of Northumberland’s Border Reiving country.

Early spellings confirm that it was once ‘Bellinjum’ and in medieval times it was home to a family called the De Bellinghams (Bellingham is still a surname) who paid rent to the King of Scotland who held it in the thirteenth century.

Mound of Bellingham Castle
Mound of Bellingham Castle © David Simpson

On the east side of Bellingham near the Redesmouth Road are the earthworks of Bellingham Castle which was a Motte and Bailey castle. It is thought to have been built by a member of the De Bellingham family in the twelfth century. In the eighteenth century the Bellingham estate including the site of the former castle passed to the Radcliffe family who were Earls of Derwentwater.

Hareshaw Burn at Bellingham
Hareshaw Burn at Bellingham © David Simpson

Bellingham is a tiny market town and was once noted for its wool fair. It occupies a lovely spot alongside the North Tyne on the north bank of that river where it is joined by the Hareshaw Burn.

Hareshaw Linn and Dene, Bellingham
Hareshaw Linn and Dene, Bellingham © David Simpson

The Hareshaw Burn passes through the deeply wooded Hareshaw Dene which provides a lovely walk to a Northumbrian linn (a waterfall) called Hareshaw Linn. Its Anglo-Saxon name means ‘Grey-Wood waterfall’:

With sudden dash and bound and splash
With rout and shout and roar and din
The brook amazed, alarmed and crazed
Is sprawling into Hareshaw Linn

Hareshaw Linn
Hareshaw Linn © David Simpson

The church at Bellingham is dedicated to St Cuthbert and is said to have been one of the places where St Cuthbert’s body was brought following the Viking raids on Lindisfarne in the ninth century AD. Most of the present building is of the thirteenth century and it is a pleasing little edifice.

St Cuthbert's Well, Bellingham
St Cuthbert’s Well, Bellingham © David Simpson

Close to the church and reached by descending stone steps is the pretty St Cuthbert’s Well, known locally as ‘Cuddy’s Well. It is a Georgian pant on the site of a well that is said to have been founded by St Cuthbert. In legend, it had curative powers, apparently healing a girl called Eda, in some distant time, who had a paralysed arm.

Bellingham, scenes
Bellingham, scenes © David Simpson

Her paralysis had apparently been caused by her not attending church. Given the well’s connections with St. Cuthbert, the water from the well is traditionally used in baptisms performed at Bellingham church.

Manchester Square, Bellingham
Manchester Square, Bellingham, Boer War Memorial on the left © David Simpson

Bellingham is centred on a little market place that is called Manchester Square, though it seems a long way removed from the city of that name. There is a a pub called the Rose and Crown and a prominent Boer War memorial that served as a fountain or pant.

A somewhat surprising feature on display on a neighbouring plinth next to the High Street on the edge of the market place is a Chinese gingall, a mounted musket resembling a tiny cannon. The gun was captured by British forces during the Chinese Boxer rebellion.

Chinese Gingall at Bellingham
Chinese Gingall at Bellingham © David Simpson

The gun was acquired by Commander Edward Charlton, one of the Hesleyside Charltons (later Admiral Sir Edward Charlton) who was serving with the British forces tasked with subduing the rebellion. It is on display next to Bellingham’s Town Hall of 1862 – the building with the prominent clock tower.

Bellingham Town Hall
Bellingham Town Hall clock tower © David Simpson

Between 1861 and 1963 Bellingham was served by a railway station and the nearby goods yard is now the site of the Bellingham Heritage Centre and museum. Close by, railway carriages now serve as a tea room.

Railway carriage tearooms at Bellingham
Railway carriage tearooms at Bellingham © David Simpson

Redesmouth to Lee Hall

A couple of miles downstream from Bellingham is the little village of Redesmouth where the River Rede joins the North Tyne. About three miles up the Rede valley from here is little Ridsdale and West Woodburn where the Roman Dere Street crossed the Rede near the fort of Habitancum at Risingham. Here, however, we have strayed into Redesdale.

We are certainly in an area at the meeting of valleys here as less than three miles to the east of Redesmouth are the Sweethope Loughs in the upper reaches of the Wansbeck valley which heads east to the sea via Kirkwhelpington, Cambo, Mitford, Morpeth, Ashington and Cambois.

Returning to the North Tyne, downstream from Redesmouth we find Lee Hall close to the river and in the moors to the west near Shitlington Crags and Shitlington Common, is Shitlington Hall.  Lee Hall and Shitlington Hall were both associated with branches of the Charlton family.

One of the Charltons, a Willie of Shotlyngton, as it was then called, raided the Weardale and Wolsingham areas of County Durham in 1528 and kidnapped the priest of Muggleswick. For his crime Charlton was captured and killed – his body hung in chains at Hexham.

North Tyne at Bellingham
The North Tyne river at Bellingham © David Simpson

The Lang Pack

In the churchyard of St Cuthbert’s at Bellingham is a long stone which marks a grave closely associated with a well known piece of North Tynedale folklore associated with Lee Hall, ‘the Legend of the Lang Pack’.

Lee Hall in addition to connections to the Charltons was historically a home to the Ridley of family who left their country residence each winter to reside in London. In the winter of 1723 the house was left in the care of three servants, who looked after the hall under strict instructions not to allow any guest or lodger into the house.

One afternoon that winter, a pedlar called at the hall carrying with him an unusually long package and asked if he could have shelter for the night. Remembering their master’s orders the servants refused the pedlar, but when he asked if he could leave the package, while he sought shelter elsewhere, permission was granted.

The Lang Pack grave, Bellingham
The Lang Pack grave, Bellingham © David Simpson

As the night grew dark one of the servants, a young maid called Alice, became increasingly suspicious of the pedlar’s long pack which had been left in the kitchen of the house. While lighting a candle the maid swore she saw the package move.

She quickly alerted the other two servants, one called Richard and the other, a younger man called Edward. The older man scorned young Alice’s suspicion, but young Edward not wishing to take any chances fetched his blunderbuss gun (which he called Copenhagen), and shot at the ‘lang pack’. To his astonishment a cry was heard and blood began to ooze from the mysterious package.

Bellingham church and the 'Lang pack'
Bellingham church and the ‘Lang pack’ © David Simpson

When the Lang pack was opened, the body of a dead man was found inside wearing a silver whistle around his neck. It soon became apparent that the man had been brought to the hall as part of a plot. The plan was obvious, this man was going to break free from his package and open the door for fellow accomplices to burgle the household.

The servants realising that they were likely to be visited by the rest of the gang that night, summoned help from the neighbourhood and many locals came to Lee Hall, bringing with them their guns ready to see off the gang.

Later that night the gang arrived and were given the signal on the whistle, but were astonished to be greeted with gunshot from the servants and locals waiting at the hall. Four of the gang immediately fell dead from their horses, the rest quickly fled.

Bellingham, scenes
Bellingham, scenes © David Simpson

At daylight the following morning the bodies of the four dead men had mysteriously disappeared and the Lee Hall servants were only left with the body of the unfortunate man from the Lang Pack. The rest of the gang were never caught and the identity of the man from the Lang pack remained a mystery for all time. The body was finally buried at Bellingham churchyard, where it is said to lie beneath the long stone cut in the shape of a pedlar’s pack.

A mile downstream from Lee Hall, the River North Tyne is joined on its west bank by the Houxty Burn to the north of Wark, a stream apparently named from a Hog’s sty but this valley is called Blacka Burn in its upper reaches.

Wark on Tyne village
Wark on Tyne village © David Simpson

Wark on Tyne

Back to the North Tyne, the next main settlement we encounter downstream from Bellingham and Redesmouth is the village of Wark on the west bank of the river. It is sometimes called Wark on Tyne to distinguish it from another Northumberland village, Wark on Tweed which is much further to the north.

Once the capital of North Tynedale, sessions of the Scottish courts were at one time held at Wark during the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, when it was the centre of the Liberty of Tynedale that belonged to the Scots. Wark and its district were effectively part of Scotland until 1286, when it was retaken for England by Edward I.

Wark on Tyne
Wark on Tyne © David Simpson

A castle may have stood here in earlier times as the Anglo-Saxon name ‘Wark’, signifies an earthwork. In local dialects ‘work’ is still pronounced ‘wark’. At the south end of the village near the river is a location called Mote Hill and this could possibly be the site of a motte and bailey castle so perhaps this is the ‘wark’.

Village Green, Wark on Tyne
Village Green, Wark on Tyne © David Simpson

If it was the site of a castle there is no record of it but one possibility is that a castle was built for Prince Henry, the son of King David I of Scotland, who became the Earl of Northumberland in 1139. It was an appointment that virtually brought the region under Scottish control.

Another possibility is that the ‘mote’ was an ancient ‘moot’ because ‘mote’ was an old Anglo-Saxon word for a meeting place. One view is that it was a place where ‘Celtic inhabitants’ would meet at an assembly of some kind long before Anglo-Saxon times. In truth we do not know.

North Tyne at Wark
North Tyne at Wark © David Simpson

Wark was historically in the parish of Simonburn (where the church is dedicated to the Scottish saint, Mungo) but there is a legend that there was an earlier church at Wark dedicated to St Michael. It was said to be situated at a location further to the north of the village called Kirkfield near a riverside site intriguingly called Gold Island. This is upstream heading towards the Houxty Burn. Wark’s present church of St Michael dates from 1818 and is located at a spot half way between Kirkfield and Wark village.

To the south of Wark, the Warks Burn joins the North Tyne on the west bank just below Wark village. This stream rises about twelve miles to the west at Great Watch Hill near the Scottish Border and partly cuts a valley through Wark Forest with the village of Stonehaugh half way along its course. The valley was once home to a chief of the Milburn clan of Border Reivers.

River North Tyne at Wark
River North Tyne at Wark © David Simpson

The reiver, Anthony Milburn, resided at Rose’s Bower four miles along the burn from Wark near Stonehaugh. A number of ruined bastle houses – fortified farm houses – can be found along the Warks Burn including one near a place called Hetherington north east of Rose’s Bower. Hetherington, now a farm has an Anglo-Saxon name meaning something like ‘village of the heather people’. Later, it was the origin of the surname Hetherington which came from here and is a Border Reiver surname.

The area around Stonehaugh is fairly remote. Here we are of course in the Northumberland National Park and there is a picnic area at Stonehaugh not far from the road bridge across the burn. Nearby is the extensive Wark Forest. The neatly laid out houses in the village of Stonehaugh date from the 1950s and were built for forestry workers.

Bridge across the North Tyne at Wark
Bridge across the North Tyne at Wark © David Simpson

Chipchase and Birtley

Heading back four miles down the Warks Burn to return to the North Tyne we can cross the river at Wark Bridge in Wark to reach the eastern bank. Wark bridge was built in 1878 by the famed Gateshead iron company of Hawks Crawshay.

The Bridge is an important crossing linking the two sides of the North Tyne. To the north, the nearest bridge is four miles away at Bellingham and the nearest bridge to the south is five miles away at Chollerford. Of course the river takes a considerably longer twisting and turning course to reach both places.

Once we are over on the east bank of the North Tyne we can head a mile south east to Chipchase Castle, one of the most picturesque castles in Northumberland. Built around a fourteenth century pele tower in the 1700s, it is one of the finest Jacobean period buildings in the county but only open to the public for short designated periods during the year.

Old railway bridge near Chipchase
Old railway bridge near Chipchase © David Simpson

For many years the castle was home to the border reiver family called the Herons, who were Keepers of Tynedale. Heron is a surname that is also associated with Ford Castle in the north of the county.

A minor road from Chipchase Castle heading towards the village of Birtley crosses a little stone bridge close to the castle grounds. Beneath this bridge once ran the course of the Border Counties Railway. Its course can be traced northward along the North Tyne Valley.

Birtley, Northumberland
Birtley, Northumberland © David Simpson

Birtley village is about a mile and a half north of Chipchase and a mile to the east of the North Tyne. This tiny village is home to a nineteenth century church dedicated to St Giles that is built on the site of an earlier one thought to be Norman.

St Giles church, Birtley
St Giles church, Birtley © David Simpson

In fact a Saxon cross has been found at Birtley suggesting the site has even earlier origins as a place of Christian worship. Near the church is the site of Birtley Castle of which little seems to be known. It was possibly connected with the Umfravilles.

Birtley and neighbouring scenery
Birtley and neighbouring scenery © David Simpson

To the west of Birtley is a location called Goodwife Hot thought to be one of a number of ancient Celtic camps in the area. On old Ordnance Survey maps it is called Goodwife’s Hut but is thought to derive in some way from an ancient Celtic name.

Scenery in the Chipchase - Birtley area
Scenery between Chipchase and Birtley © David Simpson

Like Birtley near Gateshead, the name means ‘bright clearing’. The village lies beneath Rubbingstob Hill which is just to the east. About two miles to the east of Birtley is Dere Street (the A68) and just beyond the road is the Colt Crag Reservoir near Little Swinburne and Thockrington.

Church of St Mungo, Simonburn
Church of St Mungo, Simonburn © David Simpson

Simonburn and St Mungo’s church

Back across on the west side of the North Tyne just over two miles south of Wark is the pretty village of Simonburn located on a stream that joins the river on its west bank. The village is reputedly named from an Anglo-Saxon called Sigemund.

Unusually, the church at Simonburn is dedicated to St Mungo (also called St Kentigern) and was once the largest parish in Northumberland, stretching from the fringe of Liddesdale to the Roman Wall.

Simonburn © David Simpson

The dedication of the church to this Scottish saint, reflects North Tynedale’s historic links to Scotland, and a nearby well had been known as St Mungo’s Well from early times. The present church is mostly a rebuilding by the architect, Salvin in the 1860s but the church site is centuries old and the building incorporates part of an Anglo-Saxon cross.

Simonburn © David Simpson

Simonburn and nearby Nunwick Hall are associated with the Allgood family, one of whom, a Sir Lancelot built Nunwick Hall in 1760. The Nunwick Hall grounds lie between Simonburn and the North Tyne. Close by where the burn joins the river there had once been an ancient stone circle. The name of Nunwick may remember a nunnery of some kind or possibly the settlement of an Anglo-Saxon called Nunna.

Simonburn © David Simpson

A little downstream the North Tyne is joined by the Gunnerton Burn below the village of Gunnerton. The name Gunner seems likely to be a Norse personal name. There are hints of possible Viking place-names in the landscape in some parts of North Tynedale. Perhaps these settlements were associated with incomers from Scotland (the name of Liddesdale is Norse and there is strong evidence of Norse settlement in Dumfriesshire) or perhaps they were Norsemen from Cumbria where there was also significant Viking settlement.

Occasional place-names such as Haining point to some Norse influence in Tynedale but this influence is small compared to the numerous Viking place-names found in Cumbria, Teesdale or the Yorkshire Dales.

Gunnerton was associated with the local Swinburne family who held a house in Newcastle in medieval times and helped build the Gunnerton Tower on Newcastle’s town walls.

Barrasford © David Simpson

Downstream, the North Tyne is joined by the Swin Burn at Barrasford which gave its name to the Swinburn family. Barrasford derives from ‘Berewas’ a term for some kind of grove (though the name ‘bare ass’ has been suggested). It is a pretty village with a public house called the Barrasford Arms and views of the nearby Haughton Castle across the other side of the North Tyne.

Barrasford © David Simpson

A mile up the valley of the Swin Burn is Great Swinburne and Swinburne Castle on the site of the old family seat of the  Swinburnes. Members of the Swinburne family have included Algernon Charles Swinburne (1837-1909), the famed Northumbrian-born poet. A little to east of the castle is a Roman Catholic chapel that dates from 1841 and there are traces of quarrying and the mounds of an ancient camp nearby.

Roman Catholic church, Great Swinburne
Roman Catholic church, Great Swinburne © David Simpson

Old Swinburne castle has gone, replaced by an eighteenth century house which was subsequently lost too, though there are some other seventeenth and eighteenth century buildings at this privately owned site. There is a prominent ancient standing stone about half a mile to the south.

Scenery near Great Swinburne
Scenery near Great Swinburne © David Simpson

As well as Great Swinburne, there is a place called Little Swinburne too, a further mile to the north, situated between the Colt Crag Resevoir (near Thockrington) and Hallington Reservoirs. Little Swinburne has a tiny reservoir all of its own. The course of Dere Street (and the A68) passes between the two Swinburne villages.

Not far to the north of Swinburne Castle close to Barrasford Park is a farmstead with the curious name of Pity Me. There are several places with this name in the North East of which the most prominent is a village in County Durham north of Durham City.

Scenery in the Chipchase - Birtley area
More scenery in the Chipchase/Birtley area © David Simpson

The name of the Northumbrian Pity Me is said to derive from a corruption of Celtic words meaning ‘Field of Graves’ though often this name seems to refer to places with poor farmland or difficult drainage.

Haughton Castle : Armstrong’s ghost

Haughton Castle on the south-east side of the North Tyne opposite Barrasford was connected with the Widdringtons and Swinburnes in medieval times and is about a mile and a half to the north of Hadrian’s Wall. Dating from the fourteenth century it is described by Pevsner as “a very perfect tower house of the oblong type with four angle towers.”

Named from a settlement on a ‘haugh’ or riverside meadow, Haughton Castle is reputed to be haunted by Archie, a notorious clan chief of the Armstrong family, who was imprisoned here during the reign of Henry VIII.

Haughton Castle as seen from Barrasford
Haughton Castle as seen from Barrasford © David Simpson

Many centuries ago a lord of Haughton castle, called Thomas Swinburne captured Armstrong and imprisoned him in the dungeon, but unfortunately, forgot to leave instruction for the provision of food and water for his prisoner.

A few days later, while attending a meeting in York, Swinburne suddenly remembered his ill-fated captive, after discovering the keys to Armstrong’s cell in his pocket. In panic Swinburne quickly stormed out of the meeting and mounted his horse to gallop home to Northumberland.

Swinburne was too late, when he opened the cell there Armstrong lay dead on the floor and what a horrifying sight it was, as it seemed that in desperation Armstrong had gnawed the flesh from his own arm.

Haughton Castle
Haughton Castle © David Simpson

For many years the ghost of Armstrong haunted the castle until it was exorcised by a local vicar, using a black lettered bible. The ghost returned to Haughton for a short time, while the bible was taken to London for binding, but when the book was returned to Northumberland, Armstrong’s ghost was rarely seen again.

The Tyne near Chesters
The North Tyne near Chollerford © David Simpson

Chollerton, Humshaugh, Chollerford

South of Haughton as the North Tyne heads towards Hadrian’s Wall it passes the little village of Chollerton to the east and the larger village of Humshaugh to the west.

Chollerton, means either Cheolferth’s farm or is named from a ‘ceolan’ – a gorge, being a reference to the river. It is hard not to associate this name in some way with that of the nearby Roman fort at Chesters called Cilurnum.

St Giles church, Chollerton
St Giles church, Chollerton © David Simpson

Dedicated to St Giles, the Norman interior of the church at Chollerton dates from 1150 but the pillars of the nave are Roman and likely salvaged from Chesters Roman fort.

War memorial at Chollerton
War memorial at Chollerton village © David Simpson

On a hill, close to the north side of Chollerton village is a large and prominent farm complete with a disused, sail-less windmill.

The village of Humshaugh across the other side of the North Tyne to the west is situated near Haughton Castle. In early times this village’s name was spelled Hounshale or Hounshalgh.

Humshaugh © David Simpson

Humshaugh was the ‘haugh’ or riverside meadow of someone called Hun and is the home to an early nineteenth century church of around 1818 built to the designs of John Dobson and likely on the site of an earlier church.

Crown Inn, Humshaugh
Crown Inn, Humshaugh © David Simpson

It is a charming little village which as its name suggests lies close to a flat riverside meander of the North Tyne. The quirky village pub is called the Crown Inn.

Humshaugh © David Simpson

Humshaugh almost merges with the village of Chollerford to the south. Again situated on the western bank of the North Tyne  this was the site of a ford in historic times but is now crossed by a bridge where the prominent George Hotel overlooks the river.

The River Tyne and bridge at Chollerford
The River Tyne and bridge at Chollerford © David Simpson

Just to the south, Hadrian’s Wall crossed the North Tyne near Chesters Roman fort which was known to the Romans as Cilurnum where remnants of the Roman bridge can still be seen.

George Hotel, Chollerford
George Hotel, Chollerford © David Simpson

Here too, nearby, is the large eighteenth century house of 1771 called Chesters with its grounds bordering the west bank of the North Tyne. This was the home to John Clayton (1792-1890), the wealthy Town Clerk of Newcastle upon Tyne who funded the Grainger Town developments there.

Clayton was also important as an antiquarian and a key figure in preserving, protecting and documenting Hadrian’s Wall in the nineteenth century.

View from the Battle of Heavenfield site
View from the Battle of Heavenfield site © David Simpson

Battle of Heavenfield

A mile to the east of the river at Chesters just to the north of Hadrian’s Wall is a little church that marks the site of one of Northumbria’s first recorded battles, the Battle of Heavenfield (AD635). Surprisingly, unlike most Northumbrian battles this was fought not between the English and the Scots, but between the Northumbrians and the Welsh, who were a great enemy of the Kingdom of Northumbria in early times.

Site of the Battle of Heavenfield
Site of the Battle of Heavenfield © David Simpson

The ancient British inhabitants of northern Britain (Britons), had been Welsh speakers (or at least speakers of Cumbric or Britonic, a close relative of Old Welsh). As the Anglo-Saxons colonised the north the Britons were pushed west along the Tyne Valley and into Cumbria (the land of the Cumbric people).

Church, Heavenfield
Church, Heavenfield © David Simpson

Britons had killed King Edwin, one of Northumbria’s most powerful rulers at the Battle of Hatfield near Doncaster (AD 633) when the Welsh formed an alliance with the midland Kingdom of Mercia to defeat the Northumbrians.

Battle of Heavenfield site
Battle of Heavenfield site © David Simpson

Edwin’s successor was King Oswald (AD 634-642) later called Saint Oswald), a Christian king who was introduced to this faith by the Scots. Oswald’s greatest enemies were the Welsh, led by King Cadwallon and the Mercians, ruled by a Pagan called Penda.

In AD 635 AD the Welsh under Cadwallon, brought a huge army into Northumbria. Oswald assembled his men for battle north of Hadrian’s Wall and east of the North Tyne in an area that came to be known as Heavenfield.

Battle of Heavenfield site
Battle of Heavenfield site © David Simpson

Here they were well situated to meet the Welsh, who are thought to  have advanced up the old Roman road called Dere Street that crossed the Tyne at Corbridge. Oswald prepared for battle placing a cross in the centre of the battlefield and led his men into prayer for victory. Christianity was not firmly established amongst the Northumbrian people at this time and it was seen as something of a test for Christianity.

Church on the of the Battle of Heavenfield
Church on the site of the Battle of Heavenfield © David Simpson

The Welsh were perhaps exhausted from a long journey but the Northumbrians were alert and ready to fight. Oswald’s men chased the Welsh south and their king, Cadwallon, was slain on the banks of the Rowley Burn, near the valley of a stream called the Devil’s Water to the south of Hexham.

Heavenfield © David Simpson
Heavenfield © David Simpson

Oswald’s victory over the Welsh confirmed the power of the Christian faith and he set about converting his largely pagan kingdom to Christianity. He employed St Aidan, a Scottish monk from Iona, as first Bishop of Lindisfarne and Aidan travelled throughout the Northumbrian kingdom with the king converting the people. Aidan was later succeeded by great Northumbrian saints like Cuthbert.

Views from Heavenfield site
Views from Heavenfield © David Simpson

Wall, Warden and ‘Waters Meet’

To the south of Hadrian’s Wall is an attractive little village simply called ‘Wall’ above the east bank of the North Tyne. It is situated around a large village green and several of the houses in the village are former bastle houses. There is no medieval parish church in Wall, though there is a nineteenth century church dedicated to St George and also a nineteenth century Methodist Chapel.

Wall village
Wall village near the North Tyne © David Simpson

Wall is presumably named from being close to Hadrian’s Wall though it is a curious designation given that there are numerous other places equally close to the Roman wall. Was it perhaps a place of some special status? To further add to the mystery we might note that the word ‘wall’ in place-names can often refer to Ancient Britons (the Welsh) as they were named by the Anglo-Saxons.

Within a mile and a half of Wall the River North Tyne merges with the River South Tyne to form the River Tyne itself at Warden only half a mile from Hexham.

Nether Warden
Warden © David Simpson (See our South Tyne page)

The villages of Warden and High Warden (see our South Tyne page) lie in the wedge between the North and South Tyne. Warden, or Nether Warden is the lower of the two and has a thirteenth century church with an eleventh century tower. High Warden is a little to its north on the steep ground between the two rivers. At the top of the hill here is an earthwork with ramparts of stone. The name Warden means ‘watch hill’.

Warden © David Simpson (See our South Tyne page)

East of the North Tyne and facing Hexham across the River Tyne itself is the village of Acomb, which has a name that means ‘at the oaks’ – the same meaning as Acomb near York. The meeting of the North Tyne, South Tyne and Tyne can be approached from all three sides using footpaths from Acomb Bridge End near Warden or by a riverside footpath from Hexham.

Waters Meet : Tyne, North Tyne and South Tyne
The water’s meet: North Tyne to the right, South Tyne to the top left, the Tyne in the foreground. Pictured from the Acomb bank © David Simpson

Kielder Redesdale

Hexham Corbridge South Tynedale | Allendale

Hadrian’s Wall | Hadrian’s Wall Country

Newcastle upon Tyne | North Tyneside | Whitley Bay

Alnwick Morpeth Area | Rothbury and Coquetdale


Border Reiver Surnames of the Anglo-Scottish Border. Poster Print.





North East England History and Culture