Flodden Field

The Battle of Flodden Field took place near the village of Branxton in Northumberland on 9th September 1513. It was the largest battle ever waged between armies from England and Scotland and, after a day of mass slaughter, ended in a decisive victory for England and the death of Scottish King James IV, the last reigning monarch to die in battle.

The Flodden Monument sits on a ridge and marks the centre of English battle lines. The plaque reads To the Brave of Both Nations – Erected 1910.

A trail extends around the edge of the battlefield, from the Monument down to the mid ground which, in 1513, was an undrained boggy morass where most of the killing took place and then up to Branxton Hill where the Scottish forces were assembled at the start of the battle. All around the battlefield are information boards explaining the different stages of the battle, the tactics employed, the different weaponry and so on.

This was where the fighting took place. Branxton village is on the right and you may just be able to make out the monument cross on the left.

The course of the battle has been written about extensively and if you are interested you can read about it on the Remembering Flodden website. At the risk of over-simplification my understanding of the battle was that the Scots were brave and ardent as usual but their main weapon was an 18 foot pike which proved to be unwieldy in the boggy terrain compared to the English 8 foot billhook. Similarly the English artillery was lighter and more manoeuvrable than the Scottish heavy guns which were hard to reposition when unexpectedly outflanked by the Earl of Surrey’s army. English longbows also played a decisive role.

St. Paul’s Church in Branxton where the slain of both sides were received after the Battle of Flodden. The Flodden Monument can be seen on the hilltop behind the church. For three hundred years the engagement was known as the Battle of Branxton Moor and was only romanticised as the ‘Battle of Flodden Field’ by Victorian authors and historians during the 19th Century.

A public phone booth in Branxton village was purchased from British Telecom for £1 and repurposed into a Battle of Flodden tourist information kiosk complete with maps, brochures, a three minute recorded audio guide and a donation box. It is said to be the The World’s Smallest Visitor Centre. So while Scotland commemorates its famous victory over England at Bannockburn with a multi-million pound visitor centre, England’s equivalent fits in a phone booth.

The classic British design icon has been put to creative uses all over the world since they ceased to be used as call boxes, for example as a coffee shop, a salad bar, a micro library, an ATM booth, a colour therapy retreat, a cake shop, an art gallery, a bar, a defibrillator booth and even a beach shower. I passed one in Edinburgh recently which was being used by a street-sleeper for keeping his cardboard boxes dry during the day. And they have always been used as urinals by drunks, even when they still had phones in them!

How to Get to Flodden Field

The location is marked on this map.

Nearby Attractions

Ford & Etal
Heatherslaw Light Railway
Heatherslaw Cornmill
Hay Farm Heavy Horse Centre
Cheviot Brewery

Find more Northumberland attractions here.

Ford and Etal

Ford and Etal are a pair of picturesque villages a couple of miles apart in the valley of the River Till in north Northumberland.

Each village has its own castle and they were once bitter rivals but since 1908 they have been united as part of the same estate under the ownership of the Joicey family.

Thought to be the among the prettiest villages in the county Ford & Etal is marketed as a popular tourist destination. Here are some of the attractions.

Ford Village

Ford Castle dates from around 1340. It was frequently attacked by Scottish invaders and was seized by King James IV of Scotland in 1513 in the build-up to the Battle of Flodden which took place a few miles from here. It now serves as an adventure activity centre for school and youth groups and is not open to the general public.

The medieval St. Michael & All Angels church is even older than the castle, though it was partially rebuilt in the 19th century.

The ruin in the field next to the church was once the vicar’s fortified pele tower.

This building, the Lady Waterford Gallery, used to be the village school and now contains a number of murals by Louisa, Marchioness of Waterford who came to live at Ford Castle in 1859. I have not been able to view inside yet due to lockdown restrictions and now it is closed for the winter. Next year perhaps.

Although the history of Ford goes back a thousand years or more, most of the village that we see today was built during Lady Waterford’s time. She was a philanthropist and keen to improve the living conditions of the estate’s workers. Also perhaps, a model village where all the buildings were neat and tidy with no sign of squalor or poverty was the ultimate accessory for the aristocratic estate owner who had everything.

Horseshoe Forge Antiques is housed in the former blacksmith’s forge with its wonderful Hobbit-like horseshoe door.

Ford Village Shop & Tea Room & Post Office.

Etal Village

Etal is even smaller than Ford, comprising one handsome street of whitewashed cottages, a ruined castle, a manor house, a chapel and a few other buildings.

Etal Castle is a similar age to Ford Castle and it too fell to King James IV prior to the Battle of Flodden in 1513 and lapsed into ruin thereafter. It is now managed by English Heritage.

A road fords the River Till at the edge of Etal. The current looked too strong for a safe crossing when I visited.

The Chapel of the Blessed Virgin Mary, with Etal Manor in the background.

The Black Bull at Etal is the only thatched pub in Northumberland. It is managed by the Cheviot Brewery, a real ale microbrewery also located on the Ford & Etal Estate.

The quaint Lavender Tearooms, Village Shop & Post Office at Etal.

How to Get to Ford and Etal

You can find details on the Ford & Etal Estate’s official website.

Nearby Attractions

Flodden Battlefield
Heatherslaw Light Railway
Heatherslaw Cornmill
Hay Farm Heavy Horse Centre
Cheviot Brewery

Find more Northumberland attractions here.

Craster – Kippers, Captains and Castles

Craster is a tiny village (population 305 in 2011 census) and popular tourist destination within the Northumberland Coast Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

Craster, Northumberland by Susan Homer

It started life as a fishing village, taking advantage of a natural harbour sheltered by two offshore rock outcrops called Little Carr and Muckle Carr.

JR Bagshawe – Cobles at Staithes

Local fisherman would launch their traditional boats called cobles and brave the dangerous seas in pursuit of herring shoals which were abundant in these waters.

The Jolly Fisherman at Craster

By the 1880s most people in the village were engaged in fishing and the fish curing trade.

Plaque on the harbour wall at Craster

Concrete piers were constructed around 1906 to facilitate the export of whinstone chippings which were quarried from where the village’s car park now stands. The new harbour was funded from the estate of Captain John Charles Pulleine Craster who was killed in Tibet during the 1904 Younghusband Expedition. You can read an interesting account of Captain Craster’s background on this blog.

The unusual concrete bunker structure on the end of the pier was the base for three tall bins which were used for storing crushed stone transported from the quarry by means of an aerial ropeway.

Craster Kippers

Returning to herrings, there used to be four smokehouses in Craster but only one remains, L Robson & Sons, who describe themselves as world famous traditional fish smokers and producers of the legendary Craster Kippers. The smokehouse dates from 1856. It used to be owned by the Craster family but they sold it to the Robsons in 1906 who are now in their fourth generation of ownership.

A smokey fish aroma fills the air

The procedure for making Craster Kippers is to select plump oily herrings and split them lengthways down the middle. This was previously the job of the village’s womenfolk but nowadays is done by machine. The fish are then soaked in brine before hanging on tenter hooks and placing them in the smokehouse where they absorb the fumes of smouldering whitewood shavings and oak sawdust for 14 -16 hours. The result is a succulent, smoky flavoured delicacy with a golden colour.

I am now on tenterhooks to try this Craster Kipper for my tea.

The herrings used to be landed in the village by local fishermen but are now mostly sourced from Norway, a reflection on the diminished state of Britain’s fishing industry.

Dunstanburgh Castle

Craster’s other main attraction, apart from its kippers, is Dunstanburgh Castle, which is a pleasant three mile walk (round trip) from Craster Quarry Car Park. It is one of Northumberland’s most popular walks.

This dramatic ruined castle stands on a rocky outcrop called the Great Whinn and is operated by English Heritage. Construction was begun in 1313 by Thomas, Earl of Lancaster. It was strengthened in the 1380s by John of Gaunt and later played a strategic part in the War of the Roses. It fell into disrepair at the end of the Middle Ages.

We were lucky with the weather considering it was November.
Lilburn Tower at Dunstanburgh Castle.

Artist J.M.W Turner made a painting of this tower.

Craster’s War Memorial all decked out for Remembrance Day 2020.

Find more Northumberland attractions here.

Harbottle Castle & The Drake Stone

Back in our all-to-brief summer I took the family to see the ruined Harbottle Castle and the mystical Drake Stone situated in the scenic Coquetdale region of Northumberland.

View of Harbottle village from the castle.

Harbottle Castle was built between 1157 and 1189 by Odinel de Umfraville (the Umfravilles were also behind Prudhoe Castle) on the orders of King Henry II who wanted to project his power and strengthen England’s border defences against the Scots. The Scots captured the castle for a time in 1174.

Looking at its ruined state now it is difficult to imagine it was once fit for royalty. Henry VIII’s sister, Margaret Tudor, stayed here in 1515 where she gave birth to a daughter, also called Margaret, who became grandmother of King James I of England (James VI of Scotland).

Thomas Dacre, as Warden for the area during Henry VIII’s reign, conducted his border ‘reiving’ activities from here but following the Union of the English and Scottish Crowns in 1603 the castle became redundant and fell into ruin. Many of the stone blocks were plundered for use in private dwellings nearby.

Drake Stone

The Drake Stone is the prominent stone slab which can be seen in the distance on the hilltop viewed here from the castle.

It is an easy-ish walk on a well-defined footpath through the heather moorland up to Drake Stone, also known as the Dragon’s Stone, Draak’s Stone, Draag’s Stone or Druid’s Stone. According to legend it was a meeting place of druids in ancient times.

A nice view of the heather moorland looking back towards the castle.

Drake Stone is a huge, smooth sandstone boulder, about 30 feet tall, left behind by an Ice Age glacier. It is thought to be the largest boulder in Northumberland weighing over 2000 tons. It is said to have magical healing powers and up until not long ago children were passed over the stone to cure them of illness. Perhaps for this reason, author W.W. Tomlinson in his 1909 book Comprehensive Guide to the County of Northumberland was able to write “Harbottle is an exceptionally healthy place, the death rate being only 4.7 per thousand, and mortality among children almost unknown.”

Continuing south west the footpath descends to a small lake called Harbottle Lough which also has a mysterious reputation, said, according to folklore, to be under the protection of an unknown being or creature. That didn’t seem to bother one woman who was brave enough to swim in it during our visit (it was an unusually hot day).

How to Get to Harbottle Castle

The location is marked on this map:

Northumberland National Park has produced a useful online brochure detailing the route of a 5 mile, 2 1/2 hour walk encompassing Harbottle Castle, Drake Stone, West Wood and the village of Harbottle. This is their map and directions for the walk.

I would recommend it if you are in the area.

Nearby Attractions

Edlingham Castle
Cragside

Find more Northumberland attractions here.

Leake Street Arches – The Graffiti Tunnel in London

I was looking for somewhere different to visit during our recent trip to London and heard about Leake Street Arches which was conveniently located near our hotel.

I was slightly hesitant about entering a dimly-lit tunnel in South London frequented by spray-painting hooligans in hoodies but this is a well-established venue on the street art scene where graffiti is not only legal but encouraged, even to the extent of holding graffiti tutorials and classes.

This tunnel runs underneath the railway tracks at Waterloo Station and the landlord, London & Continental Railways, describes Leake Street Arches as ‘a celebration of urban art, dining and entertainment’. Some of the arches leading off the main tunnel have been converted into restaurants and music venues but only a couple of them seemed to be open, perhaps due to Covid-19 restrictions.

Draughts London, a board game café. Presumably you can play Monopoly here. Pity Waterloo is not one of the stations on the Monopoly board.

This is London’s largest legal graffiti wall but there are rules. One of them reads ‘You don’t have to be a gangster to paint so please don’t behave like one.’

I’m not a great fan of most graffiti. Those scruffy ‘tags’ with little or no artistic merit defacing private or public property are the bane of most cities but sometimes you come across a work of street art which shows real talent or humour or has a meaningful message.

It must be a bit annoying for the artist of this puffin mural to have it scribbled over by someone of lesser abilities.

I suppose an ever-changing graffiti wall symbolises the transient nature of life which sometimes changes for the better and sometimes for the worse.

How to Get to Leake Street Arches

Leake Street is just a short walk from more conventional tourist attractions like London Eye and the Houses of Parliament.

You can find a map and more details on the official website.

It’s open 24/7 and there is no entrance fee.

Linhope Spout Walk

This Linhope Spout Walk is a 3 mile, mildly strenuous hike and makes an enjoyable outing if the weather is reasonable.

The highlight of the walk is Linhope Spout, a 60 foot or 18 metre waterfall in the Cheviot region in the Northumberland National Park. The chute funnels water originating from numerous grassy moorland springs into the River Breamish, which flows into the River Till before joining the River Tweed.

Route

I have marked the route in red. Distance 5.13km (there-and-back), Vertical gain 107m, highest point 302m, lowest point 236m.

The walk starts at Hartside Farm, part of the scenic Linhope Estate. You must park on the left side grass verge just before the farmhouse (no cars allowed beyond this point).

Walking along the road, the route passes woodland on the right before descending into the tiny hamlet of Linhope.

From Linhope a signpost directs you up a track skirting more woodland where you might be fortunate enough to spot elusive red squirrels (we didn’t, but we did see a dead mole).

Following the trail, another fingerpost directs you downhill to Linhope Spout waterfall.

Wild swimming enthusiasts are known to take a dip here and I have seen a video of people jumping into the plunge pool from the rocks above. Rather them than me! Looks very dangerous. Nobody was braving the cold water during our visit in mid-October.

After admiring the waterfalls you return to the car by the same route.

Getting to Start Point of Linhope Spout Walk

This Google map can assist you.

Find more Northumberland attractions here.

Fatlips Castle

My main reason for visiting Minto (see last post) was to see Fatlips Castle, a picturesque pele tower perched on top of the Minto Crags which can be seen from miles away.

The original pele tower was built as a stronghold for the Turnbull Border Reiver clan of Bedrule (a village about a mile from Minto) in the early 16th century before being burnt to the ground by the Earl of Hertford during a raid on the Scottish Borders in 1545.

The castle was rebuilt in 1857 by the Elliots of Minto and modified into its current form in 1897 by Sir Robert Lorimer for the 4th Earl of Minto. It was used as a shooting lodge and a private museum until the late 1960s, following which it fell into disrepair and was heavily vandalised. The exterior was refurbished in 2013 with funding from Historic Scotland, Scottish Borders Council, the Minto Estate and private donations.

Why Was It called Fatlips?

The origin of the curious name is uncertain but a plaque at the site puts forward three possible theories:

  1. One of the Turnbulls had thick lips.
  2. There was a goat nicknamed Fatlips which warned of the approaching English by bleating loudly.
  3. Gentlemen were traditionally allowed to kiss one of the ladies on entering.

How to Get to Fatlips Castle

The location is marked on this map:

You can park on the roadside or at the start of the wooded track shown on the map, then start walking.

Minto Crags are of volcanic origin and they rise abruptly above the surrounding countryside so the path to the top, which is clearly signposted, is steep. It takes half an hour or so to reach the castle. It’s an easy enough walk but you are sure to be puffing a bit by the time you get there.

The path is likely to be muddy so suitable footwear is required. There is a patch of stinging nettles near the top so long trousers are recommended.

You will be rewarded with excellent views of the Teviot valley and the scenic Borders landscape.

The metal grille door to the castle was firmly bolted when I visited the other day but I believe it is possible, during normal non-Covid days, to obtain a key from the Thos. B. Oliver Garage in Denholm for £10, of which £5 is refunded on return of the key.

The Minto Stone

I first heard about the Minto Stone when I visited Malang in East Java in 2016.

It is a 1,100 year old stone slab, two metres tall and weighing close to four tons known to Indonesians as the Prasasti Sanggurah, or Sanggurah Inscription. It is inscribed in ancient Javan, or Kawi, and apparently designates the local village as an administrative area and bestows certain rights on the local ruler. The most interesting part is a curse, a lengthy description of the dire and gruesome fate awaiting anyone who dares to remove the stone from its place. From the rough translation that I have seen it seems the punishments include disembowelment, being eaten by tigers, bitten by snakes, struck by lightning, torn by giants, drowning, cast to the four winds and reincarnation as a madman.

Despite these warnings the stone was removed 200 years ago from its original position on the outskirts of Malang and is now in the garden of a cottage in Roxburghshire, Scotland. How did it end up there and did anyone suffer from the curse?

Punden Mojorejo near Malang, Java is thought to be the original site of the Prasasti Sanggurah. A Punden is a step pyramid structure, predecessor to Hindu/Buddhist temples in Java. Photo: Abdi Purmono, Tempo Magazine

From Malang to Minto

Britain occupied Java for a five year period from 1811 under the leadership of Sir Stamford Raffles as Governor of Java. Raffles commissioned the able Colonel Colin Mackenzie, a military engineer and surveyor, to carry out a geographical, economic, historical and cultural survey of the island of Java – no small task.

East India Company officer Col. Colin Mackenzie (1754-1821), the 1st Surveyor General of India. He spent two years in Java (1811-13) as part of the British occupation force during the Napoleonic Wars. Mackenzie was interested in the rich history and culture of the lands in which he travelled and he amassed a huge collection of coins, bronzes, sculptures, natural history specimens, drawings and manuscripts. After his death his collection was dispersed to the British Museum, the British Library, the V&A, the Chennai Government Museum, the Indian Museum in Kolkata and elsewhere.

In the course of his survey he came across a number of artefacts including the Prasanti Sanggurah. With the consent and assistance from the local regent he uprooted the stone and transported it by cart to Surabaya. Raffles then shipped it to Calcutta as a gift for his boss and supporter Lord Minto, the Governor-General of India.

Minto was pleased with the stele and said “I shall be very much tempted to mount this Javan rock upon our Minto craigs, that it may tell eastern tales of us, long after our heads lie under other stones.”

In the end the stone didn’t quite make it to the top of Minto craigs but it was shipped to Scotland and was installed in the garden of a house on the nearby Minto Estate where it has remained for 200 years.

Some photos of the Minto Stone in situ in Minto. The inscriptions are looking weathered.
source of photos: PKPP Wasbang Indonesia University of Education

Lord Minto himself never got to see it in Scotland because he died soon after retirement from India. The local regent in Malang who allowed the stone to be removed also died unnaturally. As for Raffles, he suffered a lot of bad luck in his life including the death of four of his children from tropical disease and he retired in disgrace and was pursued for debt by his employers the East India Company (though his reputation has since been restored). Maybe there was something in the curse after all.

Back to Malang?

In view of the Minto Stone’s antiquity and historical importance, Indonesia would very much like to have it back and their Government entered into negotiations to have it returned in 2003.

The International Institute for Asian Studies newsletter dated Summer 2016 reported that the current Lord Minto supported the idea of the stone’s repatriation, implying that it had not yet taken place. I cannot find any confirmation on the internet that it has since been repatriated so presumably it is still in Minto.

Since I was passing near Minto village the other day I stopped to look around. I did not find the stone or cottage shown in the above photos. Presumably it is on private property on the Minto Estate.

Minto is a pretty planned village with a Gothic church built in 1831. The whole village was moved in 1827-1831 as the old location was spoiling the 2nd Earl’s view from his mansion.

The main street in Minto.

The war memorial. A plaque lists seven casualties from World War One and one from the Iraq War (2005). Although the soldier is dressed in a private’s uniform, the face is said to have been modelled on Lt. Esmond Elliot, son of the Earl of Minto, who was one of the seven casualties listed.

I expect the Minto Stone will be returned to Indonesia at some stage, if it hasn’t been already. Perhaps an additional inscription should be added to commemorate its 200 year stay in the Scottish Borders.

Edlingham Castle and The Hobbit Connection

Middle Earth fans know that the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit movies were filmed in New Zealand. But the green and pleasant shire appearing in this 2012 poster for the film The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is not a view from the NZ Hobbiton movie set but is actually a real life location in Northumberland, England.

The poster has been enhanced with some computer-generated imagery but behind Gandalf you can clearly make out the ruined outline of Edlingham Castle and a railway viaduct of the old Wooler to Alnwick line, disused for more than half a century.

As a comparison, I took this photo recently from a layby on the B6341 just below a rocky hilltop called Corby Crags near Alnwick. You could imagine Bilbo Baggins and friends feeling at home in this tranquil countryside.

Nearby Alnwick Castle was the filming location for a number of the Hogwarts scenes in the Harry Potter films so this scenic corner of Northumberland has a lot to offer lovers of the modern fantasy genre.

Edlingham Castle itself is well worth a closer inspection.

This stone manor house dates from around 1250 and was extended and fortified over the centuries to defend against raids by Border Reivers. The castle was abandoned in the mid 1600s and much of the stone was removed for use in other buildings.

Most of what remains is the living quarters (known as the Solar House) and the foundations of the curtain walls, the kitchen block, the gatehouse and barbican.

Next door to the castle is the medieval church of St. John the Baptist where one of the castle’s early owners, William de Felton, lies buried. The church tower was also built in the style of a fort to defend the occupants from the constant Anglo-Scottish skirmishes which plagued these borderlands from 1300-1600s.

The railway viaduct behind the castle was built in the 1880s and it is likely that much of the stone used in its construction was ‘borrowed’ from the castle.

How to Get to Edlingham Castle

The location is marked on this map:

Address:

B6341, Edlingham, Alnwick NE66 2BW

GPS / Co-ordinates:
55°22’36.3″N 1°49’06.6″W
55.376741, -1.818488

Opening Times

Any reasonable time during daylight hours.

Ticket Price

Free.

You can find more details on English Heritage’s website.

Nearby Attractions

Alnwick Castle
The Alnwick Garden
Cragside, Rothbury

Find more Northumberland attractions here.

Penshaw Monument

The Penshaw Monument near Sunderland was built in 1844 in memory of John Lambton, the first Earl of Durham and Governor General of Canada (1792-1840). A prominent landowner and mine owner, he was known as ‘Radical Jack’ for his support of the 1832 Reform Act which extended the right to vote to about one in five of the adult male population of England and Wales (women and poor people were still excluded, so not that Radical!). He also used his own money to support retired pitmen which boosted his popularity.

Theseum Temple in Athens

The monument is a grand folly, modelled on the 5th century BC Hephaestus Temple or Theseum in Athens, though a rather poor and scaled-down imitation of it. The money would have been better spent on his radical causes in my opinion but at least we can all enjoy the views from the monument which has been owned by the National Trust since 1939.

Situated on Penshaw Hill it can be seen from miles around. The singer Bryan Ferry grew up in this area.

A wall plaque reads:

This stone was laid by Thomas, Earl of Zetland Grand Master of the Free and Accepted Masons of England assisted by the Brethren of the Provinces of Durham and Northumberland on the 28th August 1844 being the foundation stone of a memorial to the memory of John George Earl of Durham who after representing the County of Durham for fifteen years was raised to the peerage and subsequently held the offices of Lord Privy Seal, Ambassador Extraordinary and Minister at the Court of St. Petersburg and Governor-General of Canada. He died on the 28th July 1840 in the 49th year of his age. The monument will be erected by the private subscriptions of his fellow countrymen, admirers of his distinguished talents and exemplary private virtues.

The columns are still blackened from the smoking chimneys of Sunderland’s industrial past.
Hairy cattle grazing next to the monument.

The Lambton Worm

Penshaw Hill’s other claim to fame is its association with the Lambton Worm. According to the legend and Geordie folk song, Penshaw Hill was the lair of a dragon-like monster which terrorised the local villagers until it was killed by a character who was also called John Lambton. Here is an extract, if you can understand the local dialect:

This feorful worm would often feed
On caalves an’ lambs an’ sheep,
An’ swally little bairns alive
When they laid doon te sleep.
An when he’d eaten aall he cud
An’ he had had he’s fill,
He craaled away an’ lapped he’s tail
Ten times roond Pensha Hill.

Penshaw Monument in the background, viewed from Herrington Country Park which was built on the site of a former colliery.

How to Get to Penshaw Monument

The location is marked on this map:

Address:

Penshaw Monument
Houghton le Spring
Sunderland
SR4 9JX

GPS:

54°52’58.9″N 1°28’51.8″W
54.883025, -1.481067

Nearby

Washington Old Hall
Victoria Viaduct

Find more Northumberland attractions here.