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Review: Northumberland and Scottish Borders

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United Kingdom

"Speak of the North..."

  • By SilverTraveller ESW

    2341 reviews

    Ribbon Ribbon Ribbon Ribbon Ribbon

  • 2013
  • Husband

31 people found this review helpful

There is something about the North. As soon as we hit the A1 and start following signs to ‘The North” I experience a thrill of excitement and anticipation. Going south just isn’t the same.

I spent six years in Durham in the 1660s. Flower power passed me by, instead I fell in love with Northumbria. We have spent many happy holidays along Hadrian’s Wall and around Keilder Forest and Water and have got to know both areas well. We haven’t really explored the north of the county and across the border into Scotland. It was time to rectify that. We booked a five night bargain break at the Travelodge in Berwick.

It is basic, but there is a Morrisons across the road for food and proved to be a good base.

This is a landscape of sweeping vistas and distant views down to the large mass of the Cheviot and across to the characteristic outline of the Eildon Hills. It is an area of fertile farmland with large farms. There are big fields of cereal or rape, still bright yellow in June. Cows or sheep graze the lush pastureland and the local meat is very good.

For hundreds of years this has been fought over by English and Scottish armies. Land and property changed hands many times. The area was subject to frequent raids by the Border Reivers. Family loyalties and ties still remain strong.

In Northumbria, the King was represented by the Prince Bishops who were responsible for maintaining law and order. The nobility built large castles. The less wealthy lived in peles like at Embleton or tower houses like at Smailholm.

Berwick upon Tweed was at the fore front of hostilities and has massive ramparts and the first specially built barracks in the country.

More settled times arrived after the Union of the Crowns in 1603 when James VI of Scotland became James I of England. Castles were no longer needed for defence and became more comfortable family homes. Some like Floors Castle have been extended over the years and are now very comfortable. Others like Warkworth were deserted as the family moved to more comfortable accommodation at Alnwick Castle.

Dramatic Dunstanburgh, Norham once the base of the Prince Bishops, Dirleton with its beautiful gardens and Tantallon Castles with its views of the Bass Rock are still ruins.

Bamburgh Castle was restored at the end of the 19thC by Sir William Armstrong, the Tyneside multimillionaire and philanthropist, who intended it to be a convalescent home.

Chillingham Castle was a roofless shell until restoration work began 30 years ago.

The 17thC saw the appearance of the stately home and many have survived in Northumberland and the Borders. Some like Wallington and Cragside are now owned by the National Trust and are very much display houses. Others are still in private ownership and are very much lived in and loved family homes. Money was often no object and many of these are splendid. Mellerstein House has glorious Adam ceilings. Paxton House has one of the best collections of Chippendale furniture in the country. Manderson was built for the nouveau riche Sir James Miller and no expense was spared on it complete with a silver staircase.

Many have excellent tea rooms, like the Minstrel’s Tea Room at Chillingham or the Stables Tea Rooms at Paxton House.

Other houses like Mertoun are not open to the public but their gardens are.

The north east was an important base for early Christianity with St Cuthbert and St Aidan. Holy Island with the remains of its monastery is popular for day trips – as long as the tide times are right. (They weren’t for us). Saxon work can be seen in the church at Longhoughton. Norham and Warkworth churches have Norman work.

At Edrom the old church was pulled down, but the Norman doorway has been rebuilt in the churchyard.

In Scotland there are the great border abbeys of Jedburgh, Melrose, Dryburgh and Kelso.

The power of the church was strong and tithes, accounting for one tenth of your yearly produce was payable to the church. The Tithe Barn in the churchyard at Foulden is one of only two to survive in Scotland.

There is so much to do and see in the area. In five days we only just began to scratch the surface. Several houses are only open on certain days so a lot of planning went in to make sure we could fit in as much as possible. Places like Traquair, the oldest lived in Castle in Scotland, Alnwick Castle, Belsay Hall, Wallington, Cragside and the rest of the Border Abbeys will have to be left for another time.

We are members of Historic Scotland and Friends of Historic Houses Association which meant we got free admission at all the places we visited. They certainly repaid their annual fee this visit.

There is a lot in this region for Silver Travellers, particularly for those whose walking days are past. Most people tear through on the way to Scotland. This is a shame as they miss so much.

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  • ESW
    over 7 years ago
    For those who don't recognise it, the title is a poem by Charlotte Bronte