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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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:
One of the Turnbulls had thick lips.
There was a goat nicknamed Fatlips which warned of the approaching English by bleating loudly.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
Duddo Stone Circle, also known as Duddo Five Stones, is a 4,000 year old stone circle in North Northumberland, close to the Scottish Border.
There are known to be over 1250 prehistoric stone circles littering the countryside in the British Isles. Along with standing stones, henges, dolmens and cup-marks these mysterious relics from past civilisations are enshrouded in legend and myth. Stone circles began appearing around 3000BC and they range in size from spectacular rings such as Stonehenge to this rather modest example at Duddo.
The information board at the site reads as follows:
Duddo represents an exceptionally clear example of the relationship between a stone circle and its setting. The circle visible today is incomplete. Sometime before 1852 two stones were lost from the north-west quadrant, leaving only five stones remaining. Of these, the most north-easterly stone fell sometime during the 19th century and was pulled to the north to admit ploughing across the interior of the circle. It was re-erected around 1903.
Prior to that date the circle was known as Four Stones.
Radiocarbon dating suggests that the stones were erected around 2000BC and ancient cremated human remains have been found in a pit at the centre of the circle.
On this exposed hilltop the stones have felt the effects of 4,000 years of wind and rain erosion scoring deep cuts and scars in the soft sandstone and at least one of the rocks appears to bear man-made cup-markings whose symbolism is unknown.
The stones vary in height from 1.5m to 2.3m and are arranged in a rough circle with a diameter of about 10m.
Various nicknames have been given to the stones such as ‘Singing Stones’, perhaps due to the sound made by wind passing over their surface. Also ‘The Seven Turnip Pickers’ which could be a reference to the tale that seven farm labourers were turned into stone by God as punishment for working here on the Sabbath.
From some angles they resemble clenched fists or a set of receding teeth.
How to Get to Duddo Stone Circle
The location is marked on this map. There is space for a few cars on the grass verge at the point marked. Be sure not to block the farmer’s access.
The walking distance from the parking to the stone circle and back is under 1.5 miles (2.3km). Allow an hour for the round trip.
In a corner of the tranquil Protestant Cemetery in Macau lies the grave of Robert Morrison, recognised as the first Protestant missionary to China. He translated the Bible into Chinese and compiled and published an Chinese/English dictionary.
I visited the graveyard in 2015 and took this photo of his tombstone. The lighting was poor but you might just be able to make out that he was born in Morpeth in Northumberland on January 5th 1782.
Since I am familiar with Northumberland, Macau and Malacca (all places connected to Morrison) I thought I would see if I could find out more about this devout and steadfast man.
He is generally thought to have been born on a street called Bullers Green on the outskirts of Morpeth (though some say he was born in the tiny hamlet of Wingates, about 11 miles from Morpeth and moved to Bullers Green in infancy). The house at Bullers Green no longer stands but this is the location:
The inscription above the archway reads Victoria Jubilee Year. This house replaced the one in which Robert Morrison D.D. was born. (DD means doctor of divinity).
When he was three the family moved to Newcastle-upon-Tyne where his father established himself as a last and boot maker in Groat Market which might have looked like this at the time. The street has far less character today.
Robert, the youngest of eight children was a serious and hard working boy and had a strict religious upbringing by his Presbyterian parents. At age 14 he left school and trained as an apprentice in his father’s cobbler business. As a teenager he went slightly off the rails, falling into bad company and, like many a Newcastle lad, was prone to excessive drinking on occasion. However, after having the fear of eternal damnation drummed into him by his pastor he reformed his ways, and eventually passed his examinations as a clergyman and applied to the London Missionary Society to serve abroad. He learned some Chinese in London and was selected to start a mission to China. Although his wish was convert ‘poor perishing heathens’ the objectives set were more practical; to compile a Chinese dictionary and translate the New Testament into Chinese. Any conversions he achieved along the way would be a bonus.
It was no easy task and he was not made welcome. For a start Christian missionaries were banned in China, on pain of death for the preacher and the converts. That is why he only converted ten Chinese over a period of 27 years. Secondly Chinese were forbidden to teach their language to foreigners and anyone who has tried studying Chinese knows that it is one of the hardest languages in the world to master. Thirdly, the Roman Catholic priests in Macau did not want Protestant clergymen in their territory and pressed the Portuguese authorities to expel him. The East India Company, which controlled most of the British trade in Macau and Canton, did not allow missionaries to travel on their ships so Morrison was forced to arrive on an American ship disguised as an American. And the British and other foreign traders did not welcome criticism from a Bible-bashing Brit since they were nearly all involved, directly or indirectly, in the opium trade. Morrison described many of his countrymen as riff-raff, unjust, covetous, avaricious, lying, drunken and debauched. They in return regarded him as irritating, narrow-minded, scornful and completely humourless.
Somewhat ostracised he was left in lonely isolation he was able to devote himself to his dictionary and, only when this had been published and he had become fluent in Chinese, did he become useful to the East India Company who employed him as a translator. He married Mary Morton in 1809, the daughter of an East India Company surgeon, and they kept each other company in their seclusion. They had two surviving children but she died of cholera in 1821 and, since Morrison would not have his wife buried in a Catholic cemetery, the Protestant cemetery was established in Macau. He later remarried and had a further five children.
Morrison died in Canton on 1 August 1834 and his body was brought to Macau and buried next to his first wife and child. By the time of his death the entire foreign community in Canton and Macau had come to admire his character, even if they didn’t much like him. A fellow missionary, an American Sinologist called Samuel Wells Williams, summed Morrison up as ‘not by nature calculated to win and interest the skeptical or the fastidious, for he had no sprightliness or pleasantry, no versatility or wide acquaintance with letters, and was respected rather than loved by those who cared little for the things nearest his heart’.
Morrison’s name is also associated with Malacca (in Malaysia). Another missionary, William Milne, was sent out to assist Morrison, arriving in Macau in 1813 but he was not permitted to stay. After some time in Canton, he moved on to Malacca where, under Morrison’s guidance, he established a school called the Anglo-Chinese College in 1818. After Hong Kong became a British territory the school relocated there in 1843 under the name Ying Wa College. It is still going today. Milne died in Malacca and he is commemorated in Christ Church, Malacca.
Last month I walked north along the coastal path from Berwick-upon-Tweed up as far as the Scottish Border. On Google Maps it is marked as the Northernmost Point of England.
It would be an easy mistake to think that the northernmost point of England is the same location as the southernmost point of Scotland but that honour goes to Mull of Galloway in Drummore about 130 miles to the south-west as the crow flies.
The clifftop walk from Berwick to the border is a distance of around 3.5 miles each way. My route started near Fishermans Haven Beach and skirted a golf course on the fringes of town.
The Northumberland coastline is quite spectacular here with dramatic cliffs, isolated coves and clear seas.
Seagulls and other seabirds take advantage of the rugged coastline to nest among inaccessible ledges and crevices.
There are a lot of holiday parks perched on the clifftops in this area. This one is at Marshall Meadows Bay.
The border is marked with a welcoming sign. Let’s hope this does not become a hard border if Scotland ever achieves independence.
The sign on the other side informs us that ‘the English / Scottish border dates back to 1237 at this point when it was established under the Treaty of York. There were many subsequent disputes but in 1482 Berwick was taken by England and the Border fixed at this point. In July 1503 Margaret Tudor, the daughter of King Henry VII of England, met the representatives of King James IV of Scotland in Lamberton, thus leading to the eventual succession of James VI to the English throne. Tradition has it that she landed on the shore at a place called Meg’s Dub.’
Meg’s Dub and Lamberton are a short distance from here.
The main London to Edinburgh railway line runs close to the coast at this point and passengers might catch a fleeting glimpse of this sign from their train windows. Funny how the field changes colour from green to brown at the border.