Journey Into North Tynedale
( Originally Published 1920 )
The tower house of Haughton - Pity Me, and the origin of the name - The finest example of Jacobean architecture in Northumberland - Simonburn and its poet - The capital of Tynedale - A walk along the North Tyne from Bellingham - The moss-troopers' spur - " Tarret Burn and Tarset Burn, Yet ! yet ! yet ! " - Catcleugh and Sundaysight.
BELLINGHAM lS the best centre from which to explore North Tynedale, but between it and Hexham there are several places worthy of attention.
Above Chollerford is the pleasant little village of Humshaugh, standing amid trees. A path through the fields leads to Haughton Castle. It was probably built by William de Swynburn in the thirteenth century. Afterwards for several centuries it belonged to the Widdringtons. In 1542 the Liddesdale ravagers " broke " Haughton Castle, scaling it with ladders, but it was then dilapidated and remained so for two hundred years. In the middle of the eighteenth century it was repaired, and again in the nineteenth, by different owners. It is beautifully situated, this " tower-house," of which there is only another so described, viz. Langley Castle. A similar stronghold, Widdrington Tower, " mother of many a famous son," was ruthlessly levelled in the eighteenth century. Standing amid pines and firs, it looks down on a lovely stretch of the North Tyne. Haugh-ton is very strong, the grey walls being from eight to eleven feet thick, crowned by five square turrets. Four newel stair-cases lead to the roof. The interior is modernised and contains two ancient oak chimney-pieces from the Sandhill at Newcastle. A beautiful view of the Castle is to be had from the ferry which crosses the Tyne to Barrasford. Here a large barrow was opened above the burn, and until lately there stood a solitary monolith supposed to have belonged to a group of standing stones. To the east of Gunnerton Village are Gunnerton Crags, the highest, 576 feet, formed by an outcrop of the great Whin Sill, very picturesque, where many camps can be traced of great strength, showing the presence of a considerable population.
A little hamlet to the north is called Pity Me. The name may be derived from the British Beddan Maes, field of graves. If so, the transformation of the name has been singularly appropriate if it was only based on sound. Two miles further on up the river is the great Castle of Chipcase, grandly situated in a park where " bonnier shine the braes of Tyne " than in almost any other part of its lovely valley. The name is derived from the Anglo-Saxon chepan, to buy and sell (hence the Cheapsides and Chippings) and chasse, a hunting-ground. It is strange that the vanished village here had been important enough to be a market, " the market in the chase." The tower was probably built in the fourteenth century, when the manor came into the possession of the Herons of Ford Castle, and they added to the Keep the picturesque manor house in 1621. It has been considered the finest example of Jacobean architecture in Northumberland. Cuthbert Heron's initials and the date appear above the south entrance. The description given of the ancient tower and its unique features by the Reverend C. Hartshorne fifty years ago is the best that can be quoted. " The pele, properly so called, is a massive and lofty building, as large as some Norman Keeps. It has an enriched appearance given to it by its double notched corbelling round the summit, which further serves the purpose of machiolation. The round bartisans in the angles add to its beauty, and are set in with considerable skill. The stone roof and the provisions for carrying off the water deserve careful examination. Over the low winding entrance doorway on the basement are the remains of the original portcullis, the like of which the most experienced archŠologist will in vain seek for elsewhere." The grooves are still visible and the framework of the wooden portcullis, which was lifted " by the leverage of a wooden bar above the entrance and let down in the same manner." On the ground floor was the vaulted room where the cattle were placed in time of danger, and the well. Above it was the guardroom, and the third story would be the family house place. In the thickness of the wall in the second story is a mural recess which seemed to have been an oratory, possibly used by Catholics in time of persecution.
Let us not miss Simonburn, to-day another Auburn with its old-fashioned cottages set round a village green, its old Parish Church, its holy well and treasured bits of ancient cross and masonry. What stranger seeing for the first time its rustic charm could fancy that was one of the places where as late as the middle of the eighteenth century the King's Writ did not run ! All its rude lawlessness has passed away to be remembered no more by the simple agricultural folk who now inhabit it. Yet it is no wonder that the place has literary associations - at any time it must have attracted the musing eye. Here Wallis, who wrote the " History and Description of Northumberland," published in 1769, was curate. It also brought forth a poet, George Pickering, born in 1758. Burns wrote to his friend, Thomson, that he would have given ten pounds to be the author of " Donocht Head." It is well worthy of the compliment, a little masterpiece in the style Burns made his own :
Keen blaws the wind o'er Donocht Head,
Full ninety winters hae I seen,
My Eppie's voice, oh wow ! it's sweet,
" Nae hame hae I," the minstrel said :
" It appeared first," wrote Burns in 1794, in the " Edinburgh Herald and came to the editor with the Newcastle postmark on it." Mr. Robinson, in his " Thomas Bewick, his Life and Times," tells that when he was visiting Miss Isabella Bewick, the daughter of the artist, who was then in her 94th year and within a month of her death, she recited this poem with much feeling. The unfortunate author died insane at Kibblesworth, at the house of his sister.
There is a well-known passage in Burns that makes one think he would have liked the scenery round Simonburn as much as he liked the poem.
The Muse nae poet ever fand her,
This is the very land of burns or sikes, anglicÚ brooks or running streams, with all their charming incidents, of dell and dene, cascade and stepping-stones, pool and shallow. But to find them in their charm you must break away from the beaten track and take the luck of the by-path.
Wark on Tyne, which must not be confused with Wark-on-Tweed, was of old the capital of North Tyne. Like Elsdon, it has a mote hill, which points to its antiquity. Some idea of its ancient importance may be gleaned from the record of legal proceedings here in the time of Alexander III, when the Scots had it, and in 1293 when it was again English. They are pre-served in the Record office.
Bellingham is pronounced " Bellinjam," although no reason can be given for this except local custom, and was so written in early documents. In similar place-names the pronunciation is sometimes hard and sometimes soft. It is a rugged and homely village with an air of sport always hanging round it. Situated as it is on the very outskirts of England and subject to the raids of the Redesdale men and others, the inhabitants of old could not afford to spend their wealth in erecting buildings that at any time might be levelled with the ground. The situation is wild and picturesque. Nowhere is the northern Tyne more beautiful than as it flows past this stone-built village to receive, a little further on, the beautiful tributary, the Reed at Reedsmouth, which during the war was used as the station for Bellingham. It has a church built nearly at the end of the eleventh century and dedicated to St. Cuthbert, with a fine stone roof, an obvious protection against the incendiary proclivities of the marauding Scot. Around it cultivated fields pass into billowing moorland, and Bellingham derives its attraction far more from nature than from antiquity. I remember it on a day in early autumn when the heather was already withered and dark-coloured and the tree leaves were prematurely assuming the tint of decay. Nevertheless even the pelting rain could not destroy the wild charm. The walk began by three miles along a road that runs very nearly parallel with the Tyne and so close that the murmur of the river over its stony bed was a constant accompaniment to the swishing wind. The country is that of the Charltons, a famous North Country family conspicuous in the days of border warfare. At Hesleyside, a house on the west bank of the river which used to be their chief seat, the spur is preserved which the mistress used to present at breakfast in a covered dish when the state of the larder was such as to call upon the men to ride and foray for provisions. A little further on stands Charlton, on the opposite side, and the first halt occurs at Lane-head. At four cross roads, near a little chapel standing on an ascent, a historic landscape is spread before the eye. In front the course of the Tyne is seen as it wends its way from the Dead Water, so called because the eye cannot discern in which way it runs, to receive the Kielder Burn and then flow down the valley. At the left-hand side, at the foot of the hill, a green mound and some good stone-work mark the place where Tarset Castle stood. It was not a fortress of great historical importance, but is interesting as belonging in his day to that Red Comyn slain by Robert Bruce in the church of the Minor Friars at Dumfries. A little further in the same direction brings one to Falstone, but to-day we prefer to follow the road which the signpost indicates as one mile to Greenhaugh and four miles to High Green, so that we may get on to the Tarset Burn in about two miles. Tarret Burn and Tarset Burn meet just above the bridge. Inhabitants of this district used to be among the most barbarous of the Borderers, and at fairs and other meetings as late as the middle of the nineteenth century they not unfrequently raised the slogan which had resounded in many a border foray, " Tarret Burn and Tarset Burn, Yet ! Yet ! Yet ! But there is little left to-day that reminds the visitor of these wild deeds. The burn is famous now for the two linns over which the water comes tumbling. We all remember Burns's reference to the brook " whiles loupin' ower a linn." A little touch of the old lawlessness comes out on the part of the simple countryman of whom one makes some inquiry about the direction. There are two linns, and he is mostly interested in the upper one, because just at this season of the year, namely, the end of September, the salmon can be seen making their way up. There is a twinkle in his eye as he suggests that it is a fine sight, and a leading question or two brings out the fact that the deadly poaching instrument, the cleek, is not unknown in these solitudes. On one occasion, in fact, he took forty-five large salmon from this burn, and during the war the rations appear to have been very materially supplemented in the district by the free use of the leister and the cleek during the absence of the usual custodians of the water. The Northumbrian rustic is nothing if not reasonable and argumentative, and he pointed out that the first salmon that go up these burns are fair game. The floods which enable the earlier fish to ascend do not last long, and in the end the fish are marooned in pools where in default of capture by human beings they become easy victims of the otter. So he salves his conscience with the belief that there is very little chance of the supply being increased by this premature attempt to reach the breeding-places.
Later on, the volume of water is permanently increased and the poacher's opportunity gone. Our rustic described the change tersely and graphically in his own language when he said there was " not watter enough in summer to wet your feet, but in winter you couldn't drive a horse and cairt through the burn." It was enough for us, however, to eat a cold lunch on the rocks within reach of the spray from the waterfall and then to wander upward toward the source. No one could have wished for greater silence and solitude. On each side is the characteristic Northumbrian moor, never as flat as the fen land and never rising into the rocky and precipitous hills which one would expect to find in the grander scenery of Scotland. Leaving the bank of the stream, I climbed up a brae on the right-hand side to get the bearings of the place and saw two farmhouses almost on the side of Lordship Law which form the turning point of the walk. To reach them it was necessary to cross the Catcleugh, a spot well known to the fox-hunter in this wild country. " Cleugh " is a very common word in these regions, and over the whole of the north, as may be seen from its entry into so many place-names, such as Goudscleugh, Buccleugh, Wolfcleugh, and so on. This one is called Catcleugh, and is famous for a rocky fastness into which Reynard tries to make his way when hard pressed by Mr. Robson's well-known trencher pack. It is a ravine in the rock along the bottom of which a little stream creeps down to join the more important water. It forms a resting-place from which one can easily take in the main features of the Northumbrian moor. Sundaysight is further up and commands a still wider view of Cheviot moorland, high ridges, deep ravines, great bare sheep-walks, with green plantations in the slacks down which streamlets percolate or dance according to the season. They dry up to nothing but a damp trickle in summer, but in winter can race down in torrents. The farm stands bare and alone, though the inmates will not confess that they ever feel dull. They have so much to do is the explanation. The neighbourhood is close to Otterburn and part of that country where Percy and Douglas had their famous hunt. Indeed, when one has turned again towards Bellingham and walked for some distance along the unfenced moorland road and reached once more a country of enclosed fields, there stands a milestone which tells that Otterburn is but six miles away.