The historic market town of Morpeth is a pleasant place for a walk, surrounded on three sides by the River Wansbeck. It’s a small town (the fifth largest in Northumberland) with a population of around 14,000 in the 2011 census. Northumberland County Council is headquartered in Morpeth although Alnwick is officially the county town of Northumberland. Morpeth is perhaps not quite as atmospheric as Alnwick or as historic as Berwick but it has a certain charm with many well preserved old buildings.
I started my walk at the HSBC branch, which is my closest branch even though it is an 80 mile round trip from my house. Thank goodness there is seldom any need to visit a bank anymore!
Morpeth Clock Tower stands next to the bank. It was built between 1604 and 1634 using stones reclaimed from an older structure. Over the centuries it has served as a gaol and a meat store among other things. The top storey (the belfry), accommodating six bells, was added in 1706.
Passing the Market Square along Newgate Street I made my way down to the stepping stones and crossed the River Wansbeck. From here the riverside path soon arrives at Carlisle Park.
Carlisle Park, located in the heart of Morpeth, is a great amenity for the town’s residents. It was opened in 1929 on land donated by the Countess of Carlisle and it comprises a formal garden with a floral clock, a small aviary, an ancient woodland, kiddies play area and paddling pool, tennis courts and bowling green, boat rides and more.
This view is taken from the top of Ha Hill, a bare grassy mound which was topped with a timber stockade around 1080 by William de Merlay, 1st Baron of Morpeth. It was destroyed by King John in 1216.
On a neighbouring hill stands a building known as Morpeth Castle which was originally a gatehouse for the actual castle. After many years of dilapidation it was renovated in 1991 and is now available as a holiday let. If you fancy a short stay in this historic building you can find out more on The Landmark Trust’s website.
Amid the park’s flower garden is this statue of one of Morpeth’s most notable personalities, Emily Wilding Davison (1872-1913), a prominent suffragette in the struggle for women’s rights. She famously threw herself in the path of the King’s racehorse at the Epsom Derby on 4th June 1913 and she died of her injuries four days later. She is buried at the nearby St Mary’s churchyard. The crenellated building facing the statue is Morpeth Court which was part of the old county gaol and courthouse complex built in 1822 in the style of a medieval castle. It has now been converted into service apartments.
In a corner of Carlisle Park is the William Turner Garden, a walled herb garden created to celebrate another influential Morpeth figure, Dr William Turner, born around 1508. He was known as the ‘Father of English Botany’ and was a pioneer in cataloging English plants, listing their scientific names (and inventing them for those plants that did not have them). He was also a doctor and investigated the link between hygiene and health, a novel concept at the time. He was also widely traveled in Europe, and was a rebellious and outspoken preacher which got him into trouble with the established church and the King. The garden is planted with medicinal herbs which were used in Turner’s time.
I crossed back over the river to the town centre via the Chantry Footbridge which was built in 1869 on the site of a much older bridge.
Next to the bridge stand The Chantry, the oldest building in Morpeth and one of only four bridge chapels in England. It was founded in the 13th century and the priest who served here used to collect a toll from travellers using the bridge in return for a blessing. Part of the building served as a school and William Turner is believed to have been educated here. By the 1850s the school had moved and the chapel was no longer in use. The Chantry has since been used as a mineral water factory, a theatre, cabinet maker’s workshop, cigar shop, butcher’s, rod and gun shop, tea room and ladies’ toilet among other things. Today it is home to the Tourist Information Centre and the Northumbrian Bagpipe Museum (which were both closed due to Covid but hopefully I’ll look inside next time).
Bridge Street is the main shopping street in town and leads back to the starting point of our walk.. The black and white Tudor-style building houses Grape & Grain, one of the Northeast’s leading independent wine and spirits merchants stocking an impressive variety of quality wines, craft beers and artisanal spirits
This map shows most of the places mentioned in this article: