Just to clarify. "North East" (with or without the hyphen - I prefer it without) means the land between the Tees and the Tweed. In old (Pevsner) money, that is the counties of Durham and Northumberland. I'm dotting around between the north and south of this region, old and new, urban and rural, upland and coast. There is so much to enjoy in this part of England, so much that is characterful and interesting. There's a fair amount of personal reminiscence in these articles and some photographs to liven up the text.
Here and in the next three blogs are the first four articles from January to April. After that, I'll post once each piece is published. So here goes.
This series of pieces is about byways, not main roads.I’m not asking you to ignore the great sights of North East England: Lindisfarne, Durham Cathedral, Alnwick Castle, Hadrian’s Wall, the Northumberland Heritage Coast, Beamish, the Angel of the North, the Tyne Bridges and many more wonderful places. How could we forget the unforgettable that have so shaped the region and made it familiar to people across the world?
But I want to take you to some of the North East’s less familiar sites, landscapes and buildings. I’m suggesting twelve to start with that are largely off the main tourist routes. And I begin with a remote little place that seems to me to sum up so much of the spirit of this part of England. It’s the village of Edlingham just off one of Northumberland’s most beautiful roads that strides across the sandstone hills between Alnwick and Rothbury.I was vicar of this parish more than 30 years ago when it was part of a united benefice with Alnwick. Getting out to the church could be tricky on winter days. One snowy January Sunday, there were just two of us in church for the morning service. The other person had also driven out of Alnwick and across the moor, bringing with her the church silver for communion. We had to break the ice on the water cruets that morning, I remember.
This is wild, craggy country, quintessential Northumberland. The views across the Vale of Whittingham as you come off the moor are outstanding, with Cheviot and Hedgehope prominent on the horizon. The tops are often white with snow between November and May – the best time to walk the Cheviots if you don’t want to find yourself knee-deep in mud. You can see the little village below you as you drive towards the turning.It’s an enjoyable surprise, then, to find that Edlingham has a fine group of historic buildings: a church, a castle and a railway viaduct. Just like Durham. The viaduct used to carry the North Eastern Railway’s branch line from Alnwick to Cornhill. It barely lasted 40 years and was closed to passenger traffic in 1930. But the viaduct makes a splendid backdrop for the older buildings in front.
What is left of the Castle is an imposing ruin of a 13th century fortified manor house. It was progressively fortified in the following centuries against the ever-present threat of raids across the Scottish border. The tower is not a keep but the remains of the solar or principal living room of a manor house. It has been voted as one of the best three castles in Northumberland.
The Church of St John the Baptist dates from around the Norman Conquest, though the mighty tower, rough-hewn chancel arch and aisle piers make you feel that it’s almost dateless, as if it has simply grown out of the ancient stony hillside. The church’s foundation takes us back indeed to Saxon times when these lands were gifted to the community of St Cuthbert that grew up around his memory (the church of Old Haydon has a similar history). Today’s community is developing plans to use the church as a gateway to the heritage of the area and for village activities.I said that Edlingham somehow sums up the spirit of the North East. Its remoteness is part of that. But these three buildings between them symbolise the history of North East England: an ancient church connected to St Cuthbert, a castle that speaks of a marcher region that has been fought over for so many centuries, and a viaduct that recalls the huge impact of the industrial revolution on the area. All this in the middle of deep countryside. Go and see for yourself.
To get there: take the A1 to Alnwick, go through the town following the signs to Rothbury (B6341). The road climbs steeply on to Alnwick Moor. The turn for Edlingham is on the right about 5 miles along. Or just north of Morpeth, you can take the A697 towards Wooler and turn right at a crossroads on to the B6341.