Saturday, 3 November 2012

Wooler and Humbleton Hill

This walk starts in the attractive stone-built Market Town of Wooler in Northumberland, perched high above the Wooler Water in the foothills of the Cheviots, and is a natural gateway to Glendale and Northumberland National Park.  The walk takes us upto Wooler Common, then west following St Cuthberts Way to as far as Gains Law, then back passing Humbleton Hill and the village of Humbleton until reaching Wooler.  Altogether the walk is approximately 6.5 miles with a few hilly stretches.

 The name Wooler may be from Old English wella "well, spring" and ofer (ridge or hill). A record of the name as Welnfver in 1186 seems to suggest this origin. The other origin may be "Wulfa's hillside", from the Old English personal name Wulfa "wolf" and őra "hillside, slope", although this word in place-names usually means "river mouth, shore". In 1232 it is recorded as Wulloir.

Up to the beginning of 12th century Northumberland was ruled by a succession of earls first, Anglo-Saxon, then Danish and eventually Norman. However there is no reference to Wooler in the Domesday Book (1086) due to the area still not being totally under William the Conqueror’s control.

On the invasion route of English and Scottish armies and situated so close to the border Wooler viewed many great events of history. The battles at Humbledon Hill (Homeldown) in 1402 and Flodden in 1513 although great in historic terms had perhaps less effect than the Scottish raids of 1340 & 1409 which caused great destruction. Wooler was garrisoned at various times by both nations. The 'reivers' or border raider were a fact of life in the border marches for several centuries as evidenced by the numbers of Peel Towers and fortified farm houses through out the borders.

One of the reasons for the success of Wooler is that it lies on an important route (turnpiked in the 18th century) across the Borders (the present A697) between Morpeth to the south-east, and Coldstream to the north-west – ultimately a route between London and Edinburgh. It meant that over the later 18th and early 19th centuries, the town provided the important function of post or coaching stop.


As you start to leve Wooler town and head for the common you can follow in the footsteps of Saint Cuthbert, who became one of the more famous Northumbrians.  Saint Cuthbert (c. 634 – 20 March 687) was an Anglo Saxon monk, bishop and hermit, associated with the monasteries of Melrose and Lindisfarne in the Kingdom of Northumbria. After his death he became one of the most important medieval saints of England, with a cult centred at Durham Cathedral. Cuthbert is regarded as the patron saint of northern England.

Hart Heugh Hill


Kenterdale Hill and St Cuthberts Way
                                                                                 Wooler Common

St Cuthberts Way


The Last Post
How does a Parcel delivery van end up in the hills?

Yeavering Bell and Newton Tors from Gains Law

Fredden Hill and Newton Tors from Gains Law
The Battle of Humbleton Hill (or Homildon Hill) was a conflict between the English and Scottish armies on September 14, 1402 in Northumberland, England, The battle was recounted in Shakespear’s Henry IV, part 1.

The approach to Humbleton Hill (on the right)
On 22 June 1402, a small government backed Scots force, returning from a raid, was beaten by George Dunbar, the Earl of March’s son, at the battle of Nesbit Moor, for which no quarter was given.

View from Gains Law to Humbleton Hill
Archibald Douglas, 4th Earl of Douglas arguably the most militarily powerful man in Scotland, and a key part of the Duke of Albany’s administration, used the pretext of Nisbet Muir to lead a punitive expedition into England. With Murcoch of Fife, Albany's son, Douglas's army marched as far as Newcastle to avenge the battle. At the head of 10,000 men he laid waste to the whole of Northumberland.

March persuaded Henry Percy, 1st earl of Northumberland, and his son Harry “Hotspur” to lie in wait for the returning Scots at Wooler. Once Douglas's men had made camp at Millfield, relatively low ground, the English army rushed to attack. The Scots did however have keen sentries and the army was able to retreat to the higher ground of Homildon hill, and organised into traditional Schiltron formations. Douglas had not learnt the lessons that had defeated his great uncle at the Battle of Hallidon Hill seventy years previously. The Schiltrons presented a large target for the English Longbowmen, and the formations started to break. A hundred men, under Sir John Swinton chose to charge the enemy saying: "Better to die in the mellay than be shot down like deer". All perished. It has been suggested that Douglas hesitated to signal the advance of his main force, and when he did, it was too little too late. Douglas's mauled army met the as yet unbloodied English men at arms, and were routed. Many of Douglas's leading captains were captured, including his kinsman George Douglas, 1st Earl of Angus, Thomas Dunbar, 5th Earl of Moray and Murdoch of Fife. Douglas himself was captured having been wounded five times, including the loss of an eye. This wounding was despite the fact that it is alleged Douglas' armour had taken three years in its construction.

The Path back to Humbleton Village

Humbleton Village and the road back to Wooler


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