Finally, we have managed to get away in the camper van and, despite the slightly gloomy weather, headed to Northumberland and the Scottish Borders.
Our first stop was Yeavering Bell, a round hill which was once the site of an important Iron Age settlement.
Today, we were the only visitors so we could easily imagine what it must have been like to live in this place 2,000 years ago.
Tony was intent on climbing to the top because he was a mountain goat in a former life.
Tammy was less keen because she’s not very good up hills and struggles with being unfit, having a very small lung capacity (my excuse for being bad at all sports) and finding upward walks something akin to purgatory.
In spite of everything, Tammy did make it to the top -1,100 feet – although not before complaining a lot on the way up.
Having got back home Tammy was annoyed to discover we had a leaflet which shows that there is an easier route to the top!
OK, Tony is taking issue here as he says it’s a longer route – bah humbug…
Anyway, the leaflet is right when it calls the walk “mesmerising” even though it’s hard work. It was worth the effort – eventually – although we did walk part quite a party of wild mountain goats (relatives of Tony in an earlier age, no doubt).
The city in the hills
Here’s Tammy’s quick walk back through 2.000 years of the hill’s history…
- 2,000 BC – Stone Age temple aligned on Yeavering Bell (the same time as Stonehenge)
- 400 BC – Iron Age fort constructed.
- 300 BC (approx) – Hill fort abandoned.
- 600 AD – The magnificent palace of Gefrin was built on the hill opposite (you can see this from the top of Yeavering Bell or from the lay-by on the road below if you’re feeling lazy).
Last night we stayed at a small camp site at Town Yetholm a few miles away and just over the border in Scotland. This is a place so quiet that only the church bells break the serenity and quietitude.
Next morning we tried to reach Hen Hole south of Hethpool, a private road that leads to some amazing rocks and geology.
According to local folklore, a group of Northumbrian fairies, who play the sweetest music known to man, run and dance through the valley (but they also have a sinister side – or so we’re told.)
Sadly, we couldn’t get through to the estate office (it’s closed at weekends) to get permission and access so we drove east to the twin villages of Ford and Etal. So we didn’t see any fairies – but we will be back to commune with them… next time.
Ford is a very pretty ‘model’ village with the Lady Waterford Hall, an old school decorated by the lady of the manor with wall paintings in the style of the Pre-Raphaelites.
The art is slightly amateurish but the social history is fascinating, although we could have done without the dodgy in-house video (why are there so few good ones?).
Then, it was on to Etal Castle, a key site in the story of the Battle of Flodden Field – a really interesting place for a short visit.
King James IV of Scotland was killed in the battle just down the road from here together with 10,000 Scotsmen when the English attacked them in a brilliant but bloody pincher move.
Apparently, the river ran red with the blood. You can understand why the Scots hate the English so much.
And finally, we drove up the road to Ford Moss nature reserve – a lowland bog – run by Northumberland Wildlife Trust.
It’s probably one for nature specialists but we saw a few interesting birds (Yellowhammer, Goldfinch, Goldcrest) and read about an odd research project to identify bird predation on snakes, using plasticine adders!
Tammy’s legs and feet finally gave up on her and it was time to head home. But this trip did remind me what a tremendous place Northumberland is around Wooler.
For a start there are hardly any people – and the views and countryside are simply sublime.
And then the history of the borders – with its tales of conflicts between the Scots and English – is better than most Hollywood movie storylines.