Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Ad Gefrin and Yeavering Bell, Northumberland

Some people have called Yeavering Bell a slightly strenuous walk, however, I believe this only applies if you are a fully fit hill walker who just happens to be part mountain goat.  For myself, who I consider to be of average fitness, when I was half way up the hillside, could see the benefits of a doctor, paramedic, oxygen and alcohol (not necessarily in that order).  It is easy to see the advantage of Yeavering Bell as a stronghold as any attacker wouldn’t have the energy to fight once they reach the summit.  However lets begin…..

Ad Gefrin literally translates as ‘at the hill of goats’ and was The Royal Township of the 7thCentury Anglo Saxon Kings of Northumbria. It features in Bede’s Ecclesiastical History as the centre of Bishop Paulinus’ mission to the Bernician kingdom, where the saint accompanied the Northumbrian king Edwin and his queen AEthelburgis and is said to have baptised the local population in AD 627. Ad Gefrin was subject to a major excavation by Brian Hope-Taylor 1952-1962. Conclusions drawn from the excavations showed the complex contained a great defended or enclosed meeting place with adjacent halls and a timber built arena.

Ad Gefrin was the inland counterpart to the coastal fortress of Bamburgh. Although Bamburgh remained as a principle political stronghold Ad Gefrin was eventually replaced by a new, more enclosed site, Maelmin, approximately 4 km further north.  Ad Gefrin is now remembered by a plaque situated on the B6351, approximately 5 miles to the west of Wooler. This is the best place to park a car and start to walk.

Ad Gefrin - now just a roadside plaque

Start of the journey......

If you walk west along the B6351 you come to a junction which leads to a farmstead.  This is the path which will take you to the brooding Cheviots. Yeavering Bell lies directly in front of you and seems to go up, up and up. 

View towards Kirk Newton

View from Yeavering Bell to Gefrin

Yeavering Bell - Hill top Fortress

Yeavering is situated at the western end of the Glendale valley, where the Cheviots gives way to the fertile plains of the Tweed valley.  The most prominent feature is the twin peaked hill of Yeavering Bell (361m) where a hill fort and stronghold was built during the time of the Iron Age. The fort was the largest of its kind in Northumberland and had dry stone walls around both peaks.  On the hill there were numerous Iron Age round houses supporting a large population, later identified as the Votadini. 

In the early mediaeval period, Yeavering was located within the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Bernicia. 

There are two routes to the top of Yeavering Bell, a more gentile climb which approaches the fort from the south or the more arduous north face.  It does not really matter which route you take because the end result is spectacular views across the valleys, hills and Tors for as far as the eye can see.  There are two peaks within the outline of the fort and standing on either gives you a sense of the history both peaceful and bloodied, from early settlers, Roman and Anglo-Saxon cultures to the roamings of the notorious Border Reviers.  The area is wild, harsh, moody and dramatic.  Sitting on the summit looking over the kingdom of Northumbria gives you a well deserved sense of peace far from the madding crowd.

Yeavering Bell - view towards White Law

Snow Capped Newton Tors

Yeavering Bell - view towards Hethpool

Monday, 6 February 2012

All Saints Church - Rothbury

This walk starts at the picturesque market town of Rothbury, however this particular walk was under the distinct threat of snowy blizzards.  These days Rothbury is renowned as a motorcycle stop over (generally by solicitors and accountants going through a mid life crisis) or by hill walkers dressed as ‘Tinkers Rucsac’ (for those of you who remember the characters from Vic Reeves Big Night Out).  However Rothbury is ancient and was first mentioned around 1100 AD, when it was known as Routhebiria , or ‘Routha’s Town’.  All Saints church, in the centre of the town, still retains fragments of an Anglo-Saxon cross, believed to be 8th C. 

Rothbury is historically important due to being a crossroads over a ford along the river Coquet.  This led to an influx of families during the middle ages and became chartered as a market town in 1291 AD.  The town has had a bloody and turbulent past.  In the 15th  and 16th C the Coquet valley was a hunting ground for bands of Reivers who attacked and burned the town frequently.  Near the parish All Saints church stands the doorway and site of the 17th C Three Half Moons Inn, where the Earl of Derwentwater stayed prior to marching into a heavy defeat at the Battle of Preston. 

The industrialist Lord Armstrong (1810–1900) helped shape modern Rothbury. Many local buildings reflect his Victorian style and prosperity. At the same time the planting of more than six million trees and shrubs transformed the surrounding landscape.  

Rothbury's parish church building - All Saints' Church - dates from circa 1850, largely replacing but in parts incorporating the fabric of a former Saxon edifice. The church has a font with a stem or pedestal using a section of the Anglo-Saxon cross shaft, showing what is reputed to be the earliest carved representation in Great Britain of the Ascension of Christ.

Sharps Folly

As you walk south out of Rothbury, you are heading to the small hamlet of Whitton. This path passes through the hamlet and heads towards the looming hills of Simonside.  However you soon come across Sharps Folly.  A folly is a decorative piece of architecture with no discernible use.  This folly was erected by the Reverend Dr Thomas Sharp, Rector of Rothbury 1720 – 1758.  It was built for the relief of unemployment amongst local stonemasons and used as an observatory.  It is the oldest folly in the county and a listed building.

Lordenshaw - cup and ring stones

The path starts to rise and the ground becomes rougher as you wander past groups of bemused looking sheep.  Depending upon the time of year, the weather can be very changeable from dark and broody to snowy and cold.  However, irrespective of the weather conditions, to me, the Northumberland countryside must still rank as one of the most beautiful in the world.  The path eventually takes you to Lordenshaw.  The fort at Lordenshaw is one of the most important archaeological sites containing prehistoric ‘cup and ring’ stones.  These carvings in stone consist of an inner cup surrounded by rings. These were originally carved on sandstone during the Neolithic period and were later incorporated into burial cairns and stone circles.  The meaning of the marking is stillnot known but may be based on tribal boundaries, spiritual beliefs or border markers.

Dove Crag and Simonside

At this point the path starts to turn into a climb, but is still extremely well marked out, as you venture into the Simonside hills.  In a document dated to 1279 Simonside was called Simundessete. By 1580 the name had become Simontside. The name may be a corruption of Sigemund's seat or Sigemund's settlement. This is the name of an old Germanic hero from the Volsunga Saga.  This points to the possibility that the Simon of Simonside Hill is the Sigemund mentioned in Beowulf and subsequently Norse and Teutonic myths.

Dove Crag (395m) is the first peak you have to struggle towards.  I have always found this peak to have a roof of dark rain filled clouds for 9 months of the year overlapping with 12 months of wind.  At the top of this location there is a nice sturdy pile of stones providing shelter for many a hardy hiker and ‘Duergar’.  Legend has  it that Duergars are mischievous elves or dwarfes who take great delight in frightening travelers at night or trying to lure them over the high cliff tops to their death.  Simonside (429m) is the highest peak complete with monolithic stone structures, caves and holes.  The cliff sides are frequented by climbers and wild shaggy Tups (rams).  I remember the first time I came across a wild Tup, it looked like a cross between an abominable snowman and a pit pony, and when it emerged out of the mists on the cragside looking wild and sporting very large horns – the only decision you had to make was how fast you wanted to move in the opposite direction.

A snowy pit stop

A Winters view

At this point the climb down becomes steep and a bit of a scramble over rocks and scree.  However this also becomes the starting point for many other walks that take you to Great Tosson, Harwood forest or St Oswalds Way (following in the footsteps of the great Northumbrian King, 604 – 642 AD)

A Simonside view