Hadrians Wall Country: Pt 2 – Featherstone, Northumberland

After a visit to the historic town of Haltwhistle, we moved a few miles down the road towards Featherstone Castle, on the South side of the river South Tyne…


Status: Northumberland, Village, England

Date: 28/12/2014

Travel: Car

Eating & Sleeping: Featherstone Bridge, Featherstone Castle, River South Tyne etc

Featherstone 1

Featherstone is only a small village with a few buildings around the local countryside, yet it still has its fair share of landmarks. Arriving in the area, we pulled up next to Featherstone Bridge, a stunning single arch sandstone bridge which crosses the South Tyne.

The bridge carries traffic into Featherstone coming from Haltwhistle and the A69 main route between Carlisle and Newcastle. Completed in 1775, the structure is the only bridge between the 1 over the A69 which crosses the River, and the village of Coanwood a few miles South of here. It’s only single track so go carefully if you are crossing it, as due to it’s reasonably steep angle you wouldn’t see any traffic approaching from the other side of the bridge until you reach the summit.

The River itself has it’s source high up in the pennines near Penrith, and interestingly nearby are the sources of the River Tees (which flows through Stockton-on-Tees to Middlesbrough) and the River Wear (which flows through Durham and into the North Sea at Sunderland). After a long route which takes it North, through Cumbria and East into Northumberland, the South Tyne merges with the North Tyne just a few miles West of the town of Hexham, and becomes the combined River Tyne. This then continues to Newcastle, flowing underneath the famous 7 bridges between Newcastle City Centre and Gateshead, including the most well known 1, the Tyne Bridge. The river concludes its journey when it meets the North Sea after the final push between the towns of North Shields on the North Bank, and South Shields on the South Bank. Whilst the area around Newcastle is administratively now part of the new county of Tyne & Wear, the Tyne is the historic border between Northumberland (Newcastle) and County Durham (Gateshead).

Featherstone 2

We kept moving, a few miles South down the road, following the course of the river, to Featherstone Castle, a fantastic construction on the South bank of the river. The Castle has grown up steadily over the centuries, starting with the original hall thought to date back to the 13th century. The hall is now located in the West part of the building, directly in front of us here.

In the 14th century the next addition was a tower to the South-West of the original Hall, which is shown to the right on the picture. The rest of the building was then built between Sir William Howard in the 17th century, and Thomas Wallace (1768 – 1844) between 1812 and 1830. Thomas was the son of James Wallace (1729 – 1783) who had bought the Castle off the Fetherstonehaugh family in 1789. The Castle had been in their hands since it was originally built, aside from a short period in the 17th century when Sir William Howard was in possession of it. Many of the original features are no longer recognisable due to extensive restoration and improvement works. The complex is much larger than it appears to be from the front, and if you view it on Google satellite view you will see it is quite a large complex.

The Wallace’s continued to reside here until the middle of the 19th century when Thomas left it to his nephew, James Hope (1807 – 1854) and it remained in their immediate family.

Featherstone 3

This all changed in 1950 when the building was sold and became Hillbrow School, originally founded in Rugby near Birmingham by John William Vecquerary in 1859, from what was then Prussia. The land that made up Prussia is now shared between various Eastern European countries as well as Denmark, Germany and Belgium.

The School had been forced to relocate after an explosion badly damaged the previous building in 1940. It stayed here at Featherstone until 1961 when it moved to Ridley Hall, not far from here.

Featherstone also had another part to play in the 1940’s, as during World War II a large POW camp was constructed along the banks of the river nearby, and housed both Italian and German POW’s until 1948. The only remains of the heavily fortified camp are some of the old buildings and foundations, which are open to visitors. The Castle itself is again a private building, but its easily visible from the road and there doesn’t appear to be anything stopping visitors having a quick wander around the grounds.

Around the main steps up to the building are some stunning stone figurines in the shape of Lions.

Featherstone 4

The entrance to the Castle grounds is marked by a small gate, and well as some 19th century walls which include the buildings to the right at the back of the picture.

Featherstone as an area is fascinating, and is a beautiful little historic village not far from the border with Cumbria. There is plenty to see in the area, and it lies close to the Hadrian’s Wall path, where we would end up later in the day. Your best bet to travel to the area is by car, as aside from a bus link there aren’t any other public transport options.

We pressed on towards another nearby Castle, called Blenkinsopp Castle, back on the route towards Haltwhistle…

Hadrians Wall Country: Pt 1 – Haltwhistle, Northumberland

Our next trip took us around numerous towns and villages close to Hadrian’s Wall, via a few Castles, an ancient Priory and then to the Wall itself. Our 1st stop was a town claimed to be at the centre of Britain…


Status: Northumberland, Town, England

Date: 28/12/2014

Travel: Car

Eating & Sleeping: N/A

Attractions: Centre of Britain, Centre of Britain Hotel, Market Square, Tourist Information, Old Mechanics Institute, St Wilfrid’s Church, Church of the Holy Cross, War Memorial, Memorial Gardens, Old Town Hall, Tyne Valley Line etc

Halt 1

Haltwhistle town centre is split up into a number of sections, with the main one being the Market Square in the middle of the town, so we parked up and set out to explore. Haltwhistle was granted a charter to hold a Market in 1306, by King John (1166 – 1216). The law had developed in England to stop new Markets appearing within a days ride of another 1, as it was thought they would take business from the existing Market. A charter would only be granted if a location exceeded this limit. Unless a charter had been officially granted then businesses could petition the King to have the Market shut down.

There are various interesting buildings lining the square, starting with the 1st building on the right behind the cars, known as Numbers 18 & 20 Market Square. This quaint little building dates back to the early 19th Century, and was originally built as a house, later being altered to feature the shop on the ground floor, whilst maintaining residential space above.

It is officially listed as “Sams Chop Suey House” however at the moment it appears to be occupied by “Haltwhistle Tandoori” so it must have changed hands since the listing was granted in 1987.

The short squat building to the left of the overall building is called the old Ironmonger’s Shop, at Number 16, built around the same time as Numbers 18 & 20. It has been given the same painted front as Numbers 18 & 20, overlayed on squared rubble walls. Both buildings are topped by stunning Welsh slate, presumably from somewhere near the Dinorwig Quarries in North Wales.

Halt 2

In the centre of the square stands a tall lamppost, pointing the way to various places around the UK, from North Orkney at the far North of Scotland, down towards the Isle of Portland in Dorset, Southern England. It is a play on the famous Land’s End Signpost in Cornwall, the most South-Westerly point in Great Britain, which points towards New York as well as back towards Scotland.

This came about because Haltwhistle is now known as the “Geographic Centre of Great Britain”, although this claim has been disputed. There are various measurements used to define the centre of Great Britain, or the UK as a whole, and depending how you look at it, it can be a number of places. The Haltwhistle measurement was taken by measuring the distance to the sea from here along the 16 main compass points:


Again this is dependant on how far you measure, as the Scottish Islands of Orkney are included in the measurement, as they almost adjoin Great Britain anyway, however the Islands of Shetland are excluded as they are further out, away from Great Britain itself. As you can see from the signpost, it identifies both Portland, the furthest South you can get in England in a straight line from here, and Orkney as being 290 miles away each.

Another interesting feature of the square, a number of which are located around the town, are the new information points with a foot pedal at the bottom. As you pump it up using the pedal it begins to give you spoken information about the local area, and if you pump it enough it will finish the talk, however if you stop pumping too early it will stop talking. Amusingly Gemma pumped it so much by accident it ran through the whole talk twice in a row!

Halt 3

Directly across the other side of the square, away from Numbers 16, 18 & 20, lies the “Centre of Great Britain” another early 19th Century building which also forms an overhang over the walkway down to some fine stone residential buildings. The listing states that the building incorporates some old late 16th century masonry on the left, presumably the area above the overhang. The building is currently occupied by a laundrette, and is named after Haltwhistles new status.

Halt 4

The back of the building looks remarkably different to the front, which has a new 20th century shop front, and of course a brand new paint job. Just a few years ago the building was a light green colour as shown on Google Street View, however now it has a lovely golden colour, along with a neighbouring building which looks remarkably similar.

To the right of the overhang is a building called a “Bastle” which is a specifically fortified building. Haltwhistle is very close to the border with Scotland. The border area, in both England & Scotland, was once notable for the Border Reivers who pillaged and plundered each others landed until the 17th century. Fortified buildings, including Pele Towers became very common in the area. We found a number of the “Bastle” buildings around Haltwhistle, and they all have a plaque on them to identify them as such.

Halt 5

There appear to be a few buildings taking advantage of the branding of “Centre of Britain”, including the Centre of Britain Hotel & Restaurant. It appears to be a more recent name change, as the listing has the Hotel down as the Red Lion Hotel instead.

This building is quite interesting architecturally, as if you look to the right, you can see the remains of an old Pele tower from the 15th Century, which has been incorporated into the main structure of the wing to the left added in the early 18th. The listing states that the street was “refenestrated” in the late 18th century, which means that the walls between the buildings were opened up, so presumably up until this point the tower and the wing were separate, before the interior wall was knocked through.

Haltwhistle is already full of surprises, and as the paint scheme on the 2 buildings suggests, the owners of the Hotel also own the Laundrette, which is a handy resource for their Guests as well as the general public.

Halt 6

Directly opposite the Centre of Britain Hotel is the “Manor House Inn”, a beautiful old Coaching Inn, presumably on the CarlisleNewcastle route. Travellers around Britain had to rely on horses before the invention of the automobile, and many new settlements grew up around the regular placement of Coaching Inns, where a weary traveller could find a bed for the night and a fresh horse to continue their journey. A good example was the “Graham Arms Hotel” in Longtown, named after the Graham family who founded the Hotel as a Coaching Inn in the 18th century, and subsequently created a town around it.

Halt 7

Our final stop in this area of town was the old “Church Hall”, just a few buildings further up the street. The large date stone behind the Zebra Crossing, to the left of the main door states that it was laid by the “Lord Bishop of Newcastle”, who at that time was Norman Straton (1840 – 1918, former Bishop of the Isle of Man), in 1908.

The appearance of the building suggests that its no longer in use, and it also isn’t included in the listed buildings register for Haltwhistle, presumably as the original fabric of the building has altered, with what look like new windows having been installed in the ground floor window frames.

Haltwhistle once had it’s own Town Hall, completed out of a stunning sandstone Ashlar in 1861. Haltwhistle has never been it’s own County Borough (distinct from the County Council, abolished in the 1970’s) however it does have it’s own Town Council, who once met in the Town Hall. The building is sadly no longer used for administrative purposes, and is now used by local businesses, but it’s still rather interesting architecturally. Unfortunately I didn’t know it was there until I started doing some extra research for this post, but I have seen pictures of it.

Halt 8

Located directly behind Numbers 16, 18 & 20 Market Square lies the local Church, the “Church of the Holy Cross”. This fine Parish Church is one of the oldest buildings in the town, as the oldest sections date back to the beginning of the 13th century, just 100 years after the invasion of England by the Normans.

A major refurbishment was carried out in 1870, spearheaded by R.J. Johnson (1834 – 1921, Architect from the Liberton suburb of Edinburgh, Scotland). The work resulted in the rebuilding of the Western portion of the Nave, as well as the roof pitches, which were heightened, making the roof steeper. This was probably linked to drainage issues on the roof.

Its quite interesting that if you don’t have the same sense of curiosity as we do, and feel the urge to explore every road that you see, you might not even know the Church was there, if you had arrived on the high street by bus. You can’t even see it from the Market Square, and it took a little exploration before we spotted it.

Halt 9

Leaving the area around the Parish Church/Market Square and heading West along the high street, you will pass a number of other stunning stone buildings, starting with the imposing form of the Haltwhistle Methodist Church, shown to the right. It was completed in 1882, replacing a much older building which had previously stood here.

It sits to the right of the old “Mechanics Institute” HQ, housed in a fine building that was built 20 years after the Church, in 1900. Today the building houses the local library, as well as the Tourist Information Office, which was unfortunately shut when we visited. It has to be one of my favourite Haltwhistle buildings, as its a stunningly elegant construction which is a fine addition to an already well crafted high street featuring various old stone buildings.

Halt 10

Just a few yards West of the Mechanics Institute lies a large memorial garden, in the centre of which sits the Haltwhistle War Memorial. It pays tribute to the soldiers from the town who lost their lives in World War I, and later World War II. It’s therefore perhaps fitting that behind the Memorial sits the local hospital, a new modern building completed in June 2014, replacing the older 19th century version demolished in 2012.

Uniquely for a hospital it also incorporates hotel style rooms, where relatives of people receiving long term treatment in the hospital itself can stay, and remain close to their loved ones.

Halt 11

Looking out from the War Memorial, the tall tower/spire of Saint Wilfrid’s Catholic Church, which until recently also housed the local United Reformed Church, graces the skyline. The history of the two congregations is similar to the situation which occurred in the Scottish border town of Coldstream, where the congregations eventually merged from a number of different buildings, into a single one.

The original St Wilfrids was completed in 1865, and lies at the other end of Haltwhistle, past the Market Square and the old Church Hall. It gained the name St Wilfrids in 1920, and became the focal point of a large congregation. The separate United Reformed Church inhabited this building at the West end of the town. The history of the two Churches became intertwined in 1991, as St Wilfrids congregation was out growing the Church itself, so the then Parish Priest, called Father Tom Power, contacted the United Reformed Church. They agreed to merge their Churches into one building, with enough space for both congregations, and this West Church became the new St Wilfrids, whilst retaining its status as a United Reformed Church. This unique arrangement lasted until 2009 when the United Church moved out, and St Wilfrids took ownership of the whole building.

It’s incredible that we hadn’t come across this type of Church sharing before, yet in just a few months we had found two examples, one in Scotland (where the congregations merged to form one church) and one in England (where two Churches co-habited the same space).

Haltwhistle is a great little town, in one of the most beautiful areas of countryside in the UK, Northumberland, just a few miles away from the Northumberland National Park, Kielder Forest Park, and of course Hadrian’s Wall. The nearby cities of Carlisle and Newcastle offer great shopping destinations, famous landmarks and history, as well as good travel links around the rest of the UK. Haltwhistle itself has some beautiful buildings, and with it’s new status as the Centre of Britain it has a brand to build around itself.

Haltwhistle has it’s own train station, opened by the Newcastle & Carlisle Railway in 1838. The NCR is now part of the Tyne Valley Line, with regular trains running between Carlisle & Newcastle, via Brampton, Hexham and Gateshead. The line is named after the River Tyne, formed by the South Tyne which runs through Haltwhistle, which merges with the North Tyne west of Newcastle. Occasional train services also continue through Newcastle to Middlesbrough in Yorkshire, and through Carlisle to both Whitehaven, and Glasgow via Dumfries. One service that sadly no longer runs is the branch line towards Alston, the highest town (by altitude) in Britain. The line closed in 1976, and the track has been removed, but it once had its terminus here in Haltwhistle. A heritage line in Alston has relayed part of the route in narrow gauge form and runs steam passenger trains 3 miles out of Alston, and have ambitions to eventually complete the route all the way to Haltwhistle one day.

Bypassing the town is the main A69 route, between Carlisle and Newcastle. Local buses use this route to connect Haltwhistle with the two cities, as well as Hexham, famous for it’s impressive Abbey in the centre of town.

There is plenty to see in the area, and if you get to visit this part of England then its well worth stopping in Haltwhistle, which would also make a great base for exploring the area, which includes the famous forts along Hadrians Wall, as well as the Anglo-Scottish Border, less than an hour away. We kept moving, towards nearby Featherstone Castle…

Anglo-Scottish Borders: Pt 6 – Ayton, Scotland

Our last stop of the day was the small town of Ayton, just a few miles outside of Eyemouth, famous for it’s incredible Castle…


Status: Scottish Borders Council Area (historically Berwickshire), Town, Scotland

Date: 18/10/2014

Travel: Car

Eating & Sleeping: N/A

Attractions: Ayton Town Hall, Ayton Castle Gate, Ayton Castle, Ayton Bell etc

Ayton 1

We started outside the old Town Hall, or Tollbooth as it is commonly known in Scotland. It contains 1 of Aytons most famous landmarks, the old Clock Tower of the villages Tollbooth, completed in 1880 according to the date stone located above the doorway. Whilst Ayton is only a small village it was once an important stop on the A1 between Edinburgh & London, which ran directly through the village, before a bypass was completed in the 1980’s.

Like many places it was the location of a Coaching Inn, as in the olden days travellers used horses to get around, and required regular stops to change horses or stay the night. The major town of Berwick-upon-Tweed is located 8 miles South of here, also on the A1, however Ayton was the 1st settlement the road reached in Scotland as Berwick is over the border in England.

Ayton 2

The history of the modern day village actually only begins in the 19th century, as it was purposefully designed and built as a new settlement in the grounds of the Ayton Estate, named after nearby Ayton Castle. The name Ayton supposedly once meant “Eye-Town”, after the Eye Water, a local river which passes through the estate and reaches the North Sea a few miles away in Eyemouth.

The village was designed by James Gillespie Graham (1776 – 1855) around 1845, and his new village replaced the earlier settlement here which had a particularly bad reputation for its appearance and cleanliness, as James Bothwell, a Scottish Diarist had to stop here for a few hours whilst a new horse was fetched for him from Berwick, and he was most displeased with what he saw. He described the village as “a dirty little village” so when Ayton Castle burnt down in 1834, the new owner of the estate, William Mitchell-Innes, took the opportunity to replace the village as well, and Graham had the job of designing both.

There have obviously been numerous additions to the village since it was redesigned, as the Clock Tower only features 3 Clocks, which suggests that there were no buildings directly behind it when it was built. Today of course there are residential streets to the rear of the Tower, but the Clocks are only visible from the High Street, facing North, South and West.

Ayton 3

Just down the road from the Tollbooth there appears to be an old Bell, at the High Street end of a road called “The Crofts”. I am unsure exactly what the Bell is for, and it was only later when I was looking through the pictures that I noticed there is a plaque on the building to the right, which probably explains exactly where the Bell came from. It’s possible it used to sit in the Tollbooth Tower and was eventually replaced.

Ayton 4

We left the main area of the Village, and stopped outside the main Gate to Ayton Castle, just outside the Village itself. Ayton Castle burnt down in 1834, so I imagine that whilst the main body of the actual Castle was also rebuilt and redesigned, the Gate most likely dates from this period as well.

It’s a stunning piece of architecture, and is typical of a style called “Scottish Baronial”, which is widely featured throughout the country and is notable for its use of the conical turrets and spires.

Ayton 5

Unfortunately Ayton Castle isn’t currently open to the public, as it has closed for renovation work, with a view to opening again sometime in the near future. This meant that we couldn’t get past the stunning entrance gate, but we did find a road leading down the edge of the estate which affords a stunning view of the Castle, allowing you to take in the full building at once.

Ayton 6

When it was 1st built many centuries ago, Ayton Castle consisted of a Peel Tower, a tall rectangular fortified Tower House, built by a local clan called Clan Home, sometime prior to 1497 when it was captured by the English. This led to the Treaty of Ayton, which was signed by England & Scotland in the nearby Parish Church, to broker peace between the 2 countries. This then itself lead to the Treaty of Perpetual Peace 5 years later in 1902, when Henry VII (1457 – 1509) of England, and James IV (1473 – 1513) of Scotland agreed to work together to secure the Anglo-Scottish Border with a common set of rules. Needless to say this was never fully adhered too and skirmishes continued for the next century until the 2 crowns became 1 in the Union of the Crowns.

The Tower was soon replaced by a Grand Mansion, which stood proudly on this site until 1834 when the great fire occurred and destroyed the entire building. The present building was completed by Gillespie during the 1850’s, and was later expanded a number of times, and a billiard room was added in 1860. 1 of the most famous moments in the buildings history occurred in 1873 when the famous American Author Samuel Clemens AKA Mark Twain (1835 – 1910, who wrote the Adventures of Tom Sawyer, and the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn) visited the Castle. He apparently took a shine to the main fireplace in the dining room, and after buying it from the owners of the Castle he took it back with him to the USA. It still exists, in the Mark Twain Museum in Connecticut.

Today the Castle is still the standout feature on the Ayton Skyline, and was the perfect place to end our latest road trip, as after gazing at its many turrets and admiring its fine design, we set off for home, after a day of epic exploration around the Scottish Borders, and Northumberland…

Anglo-Scottish Borders: Pt 5 – Eyemouth, Scotland

After leaving the beautiful surroundings of Etal Castle in Northumberland, we crossed the border into Scotland, and drove to Eyemouth, which for us would be a landmark arrival…


Status: Scottish Borders Council Area (historically Berwickshire), Town, Scotland

Date: 18/10/2014

Travel: Car

Eating & Sleeping: N/A

Attractions: Eyemouth Beach, North Sea, Eye Water, The Coble House, Gunsgreen House, Town Hall, Watch Tower, The Auld Kirk, War Memorial, Market Place, Fishing Disaster Memorial, Willie Spears Statue etc

Eyemouth 1

We parked up on the seafront, and gazed out across the rough waters towards the north sea. The cliffs are so rugged here in Eyemouth, and are known for containing rich Red Clay. The beach here is the perfect place for a walk, and as we stood there and let the gentle sea breeze flow around us, we slowly made our way round towards the Harbour, famous for its landmark buildings…

Eyemouth 2

On the edge of the Harbour we found “The Coble House”, a charming little building built sometime around the 1850’s. It gets it’s name from its former, rather distinctive, roofing arrangements. When it was built, instead of installing a traditional roof, a “Coble” was used, a small traditionally used fishing boat, common in the North East of England and South East of Scotland.

Aside from the upturned boat used as the roof, the building is also notable as the former location of the harbours Barometer, which could have played a pivotal role in the towns history, had it been listened to. On October 14th 1881, the local fishermen consulted the Barometer before heading out into the North Sea, and although it gave them a low reading forecasting awful weather, they decided to go out anyway. They were soon trapped in a large storm which struck the area, and sadly 129 fisherman from the town drowned, as well as a number from other local towns and villages. A Memorial in their memory stands elsewhere in the town, which we found later.

Eyemouth 3

Reaching the Harbour itself, the basin was full of small fishing boats, trawlers and all the equipment you’d expect from a fully working harbour. The Harbour is sheltered from the sea by the large concrete walls which separate it from the beach, as well as by a 2nd concrete wall further in, shown above on the right. The near side of the wall is a separate marina area, whilst behind it the Eye Water flows into the Harbour, from it’s source in the Lammermuir Hills, about 22 miles away.

Eyemouth 4

The standout building in the Harbour has to be “Gunsgreen House”, a fine Georgian Mansion which overlooks the waterside, sat atop a mighty defensive wall. It was completed in 1753 to designs by James Adam (1732 – 1794, Scottish Architect), after he was commissioned by John Nisbet, a rich Eyemouth merchant. It’s an incredible building, and must have been the envy of the town when it was completed. As you can see it sits alone, making John privileged enough to get some of the best views in town from his window. Today the building is open as a Museum, and you can find out more on their official website here.

At 1st I thought it might have been the local Customs House, and I was surprised when it turned out to be an actual house. The point about the Customs House is actually quite interesting, as although Eyemouth is a port, when duties were put in place on incoming goods in the 18th century by the British, the nearest Customs House was 20 miles North of here in Dunbar. This made Eyemouth a smugglers haven, as the coastline in this area of Scotland is very rugged, and Eyemouth offered a safe landing point. Eyemouth soon became notorious for the amount of contraband that smugglers brought through, and apparently there were numerous tunnels in use underneath the town.

Eyemouth 5

Just a few yards to the right of Gunsgreen House lies the Houses Dovecote, which is staggering considering a Dovecote is usually considered somewhere you would house birds such as pigeons or doves. I think the birds inside were better protected than John himself, as the tops of the walls are lined with battlements. Completed in the 19th century, again this building got 1 over on me as I thought it was some kind of defensive Castle for the harbour, but to find out its a Dovecote was an interesting surprise.

Eyemouth 6

The view back across the Harbour, past Gunsgreen House and the various tugs/fishing boats is quite something, especially at this time of day, as the sun was starting to set and cast a long shadow across the main houses on the quay, but there was still enough light for it reflect off the still water and make the area shimmer.

Eyemouth has a number of Museums, and 1 of the most interesting from an aesthetic point of view has to be the Eyemouth Maritime Centre. From the outside it has been designed to look like a large ship sat on the quayside, with the officers quarters at the back of the ship, and even cannons located just below the roof down the side. At the front of the building is the ships bow and you can walk past it through the main door into the Museum, which contains various maritime exhibits from the last few centuries, including details of smuggling activities in the town, and the tragic fishing disaster of 1881. You can find out more on their official website here.

Eyemouth 9

We left the appropriately named Harbour Road, and headed West up Manse Road which is located directly opposite the Maritime Centre. It leads up to a small square, and a plethora of interesting buildings, starting with the “Auld Kirk”, shown above.

This stunning building was originally completed in 1811 by Alexander Gilkie (1756 – 1834, Berwickshire Architect), as Eyemouths Parish Church. A plaque on the side of the building states that a Mr Elliot later made alterations to the building, specifically the Tower/West Front, in 1836. At some point prior to 1981 it fell out of use as the Parish Church, when it was converted into a Museum & Tourist Information Centre, which it remains today. Unfortunately the building was shut by the time we got there, but I am told that there is a large tapestry inside from 1981, commemorating 100 years since the Fishing Disaster.

Eyemouth 10

Directly opposite the Auld Kirk lies the charming Town Hall, an impressive Ashlar building from around 1880. Up until recently the council of the Burgh of Eyemouth would have met here, but now it appears to be slightly derelict, and may have been converted to flats, since the Burgh was abolished in 1975 when the other local boroughs of Berwickshire were merged to form 4 districts of the newly created Scottish Borders Council Area.

Eyemouth 11

Leaving the square, we took the road heading North past the Town Hall, called “Market Place B6355″ which would take us back to where we started. On the corner of the square sits the Lodge of St Ebbe, at Number 70. It’s a pleasant enough building to look at, but what it makes it really interesting is the bronze plaque that was installed on the wall in 1934. It states that:

“In this building Burns was made a Royal Arch Mason, on 19th May, 1787.”

This of course refers to Robert Burns (1759 – 1796), the famous Ayrshire Poet who travelled all over Scotland from the Borders to the Highlands. He had already been created a Mason in the village of Tarbolton in Ayrshire, in 1781. Burns is 1 of Scotlands National Treasures, and his poems continue to be widely distributed today. Burns later died at the young age of 37, in the Dumfriesshire town of Dumfries.

Moving on, we soon arrived in the Market Place, and were greeted by a statue of Willie Spears (1812 – 1885) who lead a peaceful demonstration in 1856 to the nearby town of Ayton (where the statue is pointing) after large tithes (akin to a tax) was levied by the Church of Scotland on the fish caught out at sea. His campaign eventually lead to the tithes being abolished, however they were far from the last disaster to befall the town. In 1881 bad weather was widespread during the later months, and Willie foretold that if the local fisherman tried to go out in it there would be a disaster. Sadly he was proved right, and the disaster did indeed occur, as mentioned earlier, on 14th October 1881.

The Market Place is a pleasant area, and you can see the tower of the Auld Kirk rising up above the buildings to the rear.

Around the square are a few buildings of notes, starting with the old Parish School and adjacent School Masters House, completed in 1821, again to designs by Gilkie. The building remained in use for a number of years, eventually becoming a Public Subscription Library in 1880. Today it is occupied by the local newsagents.

Next, as the plaque on the side states is:

“One of the oldest buildings in the town is thought to date from 1640 with many later alterations. Once a brew kitchen, a confectioners in the 19th century, and a Barber’s shop until 1990. Restored by the Rutherford family in 1996 as an antiques shop and home”.

Its incredible that this seemingly incongruous looking building in the centre of town is so important, and looking at it, it does have a certain historical quality about it. It just shows that whilst you may look round a town or city expecting to see grandeur, tall Churches and towers everywhere, some of the most important historical gems could be on a random street corner.

Eyemouth 16

Moving further up the road we came across the towns War Memorial, erected after World War I in memory of all the towns folk tragically killed during the conflict, whose names are all inscribed on the Memorial.

Interestingly, when it comes to World War II it is listed as “Great War II”, as of course World War I was originally known as the “Great War”. I presume the extra names were added in the 1940’s after the end of the war.

Our final stop was directly opposite the Car Park by the beach we had originally arrived at, in the former Churchyard where the Fishing Disaster Memorial is located. It’s a poignant reminder of that fateful day, made even more so by the main feature atop the memorial, a stunningly crafted stone effigy of a broken mast.

On the edge of the Churchyard, sat high up on a stone wall, is an old Watch House, from 1849, presumably used as an observation point to look out to sea.

We had had a great exploration of Eyemouth, but what made this trip extra special for us is that, as of walking down to Eyemouth Beach, Gemma and I had completed (in a number of segments) the epic 190 miles between the extreme South West of Scotland, at Portpatrick in Dumfries & Galloway, through to Eyemouth on the East Coast, via nearly everywhere in between. We have now done coast to coast, and covered every inch of the road route in between when all our different road trips through Dumfries & Galloway and the Scottish Borders are taken into account. It’s been 1 hec of a journey, and we have seen some incredible sights on the way, all of which can be found under the relevant sections on our Scotland County pages on this website.

Despite its proximity to the East Coast Main Line (ECML), the major route between London and Edinburgh via Berwick, Newcastle, York etc, there is no train station in Eyemouth. In 1884 a branch line was created from the ECML, running 3 miles straight to Eyemouth, and apart from a 12 month closure from August 1948 due to severe flooding, the line remained in regular use until the Beeching Cuts of 1962, and the line was removed. Today the only public transport available into and out of the town are local buses which run into both England & Scotland.

Eyemouth is a lovely little town, and its the 1st time we have visited the coast of Scotland this far to the South East, a title previously held by the town of Dunbar in the Lothians. However, despite everything we had seen during our road trip today, there was still 1 more stop for us, the small town of Ayton, 2.5 miles to the West…

Anglo-Scottish Borders: Pt 4 – Etal, England

We had just watched a narrow gauge steam train, headed by an engine called Bunty, leaving the station at the Heatherslaw end of the Heatherslaw Light Railway, bound for Etal Castle. We made our way round to Etal, and soon caught up with the train outside the Castle…


Status: Northumberland, Village, England

Date: 18/10/2014

Travel: Car

Eating & Sleeping: N/A

Attractions: Heatherslaw Light Railway, Etal Castle, Village Hall, Old Presbyterian Church, St Marys Church etc

Etal 1

As we arrived, “Bunty”, the steam locomotive at the head of the train had just turned round, and prepared for the return journey to Heatherslaw. We watched it puff out of the station, where its passengers had alighted at the ruins of Etal Castle.

Etal 2

Etal Castle is made up of 2 main surviving sections, the Keep in the centre of the complex, and the Castle Gate at the East End. The Keep dates back to 1342, when the Castle was built for the Manners Family, specifically Robert Manners, after he was given the right to “crenellate”, in other words to fortify his property, by King Edward III (1312 – 1377) of England. Being so close to the Scottish Border, he could argue that he was vulnerable to attack by the Scots, necessitating the fortifications.

Robert and his family lived in the tower, protected by the outer walls, a watch tower and the Gatehouse. The walls were to prove vital in its defence, as the family were attacked in 1428 by the Heron family, bitter rivals of the Manners, who lived in Ford Castle, just a few miles South of the village. William Heron lead the attack, and was subsequently killed in the battle, making it a victory for the Manners. The family were safe for the next 100 years, until King James IV (1473 – 1513) of Scotland took the Castle in 1513 as he began his invasion of England. He was eventually killed at the Battle of Flodden in Branxton, a mere 6 miles West of Etal. The English subsequently took possession of the Castle, and ultimately bought it off the Manners in 1547 and it was used as a Garrison. England & Scotland entered into a Union of the Crowns in 1603, and as the same Monarch now ruled both, the 2 countries stopped invading each other constantly (notwithstanding the English Civil War), and the border region became much safer. The Castle was no longer needed, so it was sold off, soon being abandoned in the 18th century.

In 1908 Lord Joicey bought the building, restored the remains and today it is protected by law, in a prominent position by the river Till. The Joicey family still live in the area and own the Ford estate which covers the village of Ford, Heatherslaw and Etal Castle. The family eventually gained the title of Baron, and the 5th Baron of Joicey, James Joicey (Born 1953) helped to set up the Heatherslaw Light Railway.

Etal 3

Round at the East side of the complex, you can gaze up at the impressive Main Gate, in remarkably good condition. Like the rest of the complex it was built in 1342, and a large portcullis once held back intruders from entering the Castle, along with a small drawbridge. It cast a stunning silhouette in the late afternoon sun, and I don’t envy any army that had to force entry when it was a complete structure.

Etal 4

Etal is only a small village, with as little as 500 residences. A short residential street leads from the Castle East to the High Street, which passes through the town North to South. There are many beautiful little thatched cottages such as this one on the South side of the residential road, and the entire place is incredibly neat and tidy.

Etal 4a

On the other side of the road, the North edge, are buildings in a similar layout yet a completely different style, with brick and what I assume is Welsh Slate which is widely used in the area, as well as a few other Thatched houses.

Etal 5

1 of these buildings is used as Etal Village Hall, and looks immaculate. It’s at the heart of the village for local events, and there is something about the tiles on the roof that make it look like a perfectly sculpted model.

Etal also contains 2 Churches, 1 functioning and 1 former. The former Church is the old Presbyterian Church directly outside Etal Castle, completed in 1880, and now in use as a Joiner’s Shop. The other is located on the other side of the High Street, and is called the Church of St Mary, designed by William Butterfield (1814 – 1900, English Architect who also designed St Ninians Cathedral in the Scottish city of Perth) in 1858, for the Lady Augusta Fitzclarence so she would have somewhere to bury her late husband, and sadly later her daughter who died 2 years after her husband.

We soon headed out of Etal, towards the next major stop of our road trip, which would take us back over the border into Scotland, to the coastal town of Eyemouth…

Anglo-Scottish Borders: Pt 3 – Heatherslaw Light Railway & Mill, England

Our next stop was at a site midway between the villages of Crookham & Etal, which contains a Heritage Railway, as well as Northumberlands last working Water Mill…

Heath 1

Heatherslaw Cornmill

The site, known as the Ford Estate, is located on either side of the River Till, with Heatherslaw Cornmill sat on the West side, towards Crookham. The Mill was originally built in the 18th century, and has been restored for 21st century usage. The River is used to power a large waterwheel, which turns the millstone via a series of gears. This grinds wheat from the local area to make flour, which is sold in the shop, as well as used to make other products such as biscuits.

The shop contains a variety of local produce, and the Mill itself is a working Museum, and you can pay to walk around the inner workings. From outside you can hear the clinking of machinery, and its famous as the only remaining Watermill in the whole of Northumberland. You can find out more about the Mill on their official website here.

The River Till begins its journey as the River Breamish, which becomes the River Till a few miles out of Chillingham. It then flows past the village of Etal and becomes a tributary of the Tweed just East of Coldstream in Scotland.  You can cross the River using Heatherslaw Bridge, an Iron pedestrian bridge built in 1877 by a firm from Glasgow called A & J Main and Co.

Heatherslaw Light Railway

On the far side of the river lies the Heatherslaw Light Railway, a narrow gauge railway using a gauge of 381 mm. The idea for a railway here was devised by Mr Neville Smith, an engineer who had aspirations to open this very type of railway, with the idea of transporting passengers. The man who owned the Ford Estate, which covers Heatherslaw and nearby Etal Castle, James Joicey, 5th Baron of Joicey (Born 1953) wanted to increase the tourism industry in the area. James soon approved Nevilles idea, and in 1989 the railway opened, and originally it ran straight to nearby Etal, along a route 1.25 miles long. In 2003 it was extended to 2.25 miles, and the route was changed so it now follows the River Till round to Etal Castle, so it acts as a small public transport system between Heatherslaw Mill and Etal Castle, perfect for tourists.

The main locomotive in use is called “Bunty”, the large blue engine shown above. It was designed by Neville Smith himself, and built by Alan Keef Ltd, a narrow gauge engineering company from Herefordshire. Supposedly the name Bunty comes from the nickname that Neville gave his wife, Bernice.

Bunty replaced the previous main engine called “Lady Augusta”, built by the Ravenglass & Eskdale Railway in Cumbria. She began hauling trains when the railway opened in 1989, and was the primary engine until the arrival of Bunty in 2010. Augusta is due to leave during 2015, but a new diesel engine is due to join.

The railway here is fascinating, and is built on the former site of the “Ford Forge”, which opened in 1767, and remained in use until at least 1840, and probably beyond. You can take a ride on 1 of the railways charming little coaches round to Etal Castle, whilst enjoying the sites of the river. You can find out more on their official website here.

We just missed the last train of the day, which chuffed out of the station as we watched, so we took the car and met it at the other end, at Etal Castle…

Anglo-Scottish Borders: Pt 2 – Coldstream, Scotland

We soon arrived in the town of Coldstream, which is separated from England by just a few metres of water, in the form of the river Tweed. It is also one of only 2 large towns in Scotland to physically sit on the border, the other being Gretna, so we set out to explore one of Scotlands final frontiers…


Status: Scottish Borders Council Area (historically Berwickshire), Town, Scotland

Date: 18/10/2014

Travel: Car

Eating & Sleeping: N/A

Attractions: River Tweed, Anglo-Scottish Border, War Memorial, Former West United Free Church, Former Free Church, Former East United Free Church, Parish Church, Coldstream Guards Memorial, Coldstream Gazebo, Coldstream Bridge, Market Square, Marjoribanks Monument, Former Rodger Memorial Church etc

Cold 1

Our exploration of this charming little town started outside “The Besom”, a local pub, situated in 1 of Coldstreams many fine Listed Buildings. This particular 1 is officially called “75 High Street”, and can be dated to the 19th century, however the Listing also says that it is “incorporating earlier fabric” which suggests it may be much older.

The layout of the building suggests that it was always intended to be a public house, with the open plan ground floor for patrons and guests, and the living quarters on the 1st floor. There have been a number of alterations since it was built however, in 1890, 1910 and 1954, so what could have started out as a house may have later been converted into a pub.

Cold 2

Just past the building to the Besom’s right, High Street connects with Victoria Place, which heads North West past one of the towns former Church buildings. This particular 1 was called the Free Church of Coldstream, later being renamed the “Rodger Memorial Church” in 1929 after Alexander Rodger, the 1st Minister after its opening in 1846. In 1891 there was an extension which included the Tower, complete with Clock & Bell. The building remained in regular use until 1950 when it merged with Coldstreams West Church.

Today it is occupied by a Bar & Function Room, and the main windows of the building are boarded up. Its a shame its no longer in use, but at least the building has been preserved.

I had at 1st thought it was the Town Hall or Tolbooth when we arrived, as it is 1 of the stand out buildings in the town, rising high above most of the other high street buildings. It’s distinctive 25 ft Clock Tower makes it an instant landmark, and it is especially prominent on roads leading towards the town when the skyline is on the horizon.

We moved back to the High Street, and almost directly opposite the Besom is a small public garden called Henderson Park, which runs from the High Street to the edge of the River Tweed, which snakes its way around the outside of the town, and forms the border with neighbouring England. There are a couple of local landmarks located here, including:

1) The Gazebo

Located to the right of the line of Scottish Flags fluttering in the wind, lie the 18th century ruins of a 2 storey stone Gazebo, a small fortified installation with battlements, facing out across the river.

2) Coldstream Guards Memorial

This large stone was gifted to the town in 1968 by the “Coldstream Regiment of Foot Guards” after they were granted freedom of the burgh. Further down it also notes that it was very close to here that General George Monck (1608 – 1670, 1st Duke of Albemarle, English Soldier from Devon) made his way across the Tweed into England in 1660, and marched to London, culminating in the exiled King Charles II (1630 – 1685) being restored to the British throne after the English Civil War.

The Coldstream Guards themselves are quite a famous regiment, part of the Foot Guards Regiments in Britain. They were formed in 1650 by the aforementioned General Monck, and their 1st battle was ironically against King Charles II himself before he was forced into exile, when they met at the Battle of Dunbar, resulting in the Guards, part of Cromwells Parliamentarian Army, emerging victorious. It wouldn’t be until the eventual death of Oliver Cromwell (1599 – 1658) and the failure of his son to command his protectorate that Monck decided the best course of action was to allow George, who had already contacted him, to return to Britain.

Cold 4

Looking past the Gazebo and the Memorial, we got our 1st glimpse of the Tweed, which we had already encountered a number of times from both the English & Scottish sides, in Peebles, Melrose and Berwick-upon-Tweed. It begins its journey near Tweedsmuir, a small village in the hills of the borders, then snakes its way through the major towns to Coldstream. The river doesn’t actually become the border until just West of here, and continues as such until a few miles out of Berwick-upon-Tweed. Originally the river, which keeps going and flows between the former towns of Berwick and Tweedmouth, was still the border, and Berwick was part of Scotland. Berwick swapped hands numerous times throughout history and today it remains English, so the border was repositioned a few miles North of the town, on the A1 between Edinburgh & London. Berwick and Tweedmouth now form 1 large English town called Berwick-upon-Tweed.

The rolling hills of the English county of Northumberland stretched out ahead of us, and would later provide the backdrop for the 2nd stage of our road trip.

Cold 5

For now though, our attention was focused on Scotland, and looking East we spotted the main bridge over the Tweed here, appropriately called simply “Coldstream Bridge”. Completed in 1767, it was designed by John Smeaton (1724 – 1792, English Engineer, famous for the 3rd Eddystone Lighthouse in Plymouth) in 1763. Not long after the bridge was built, in 1787, the famous Ayrshire poet Robert Burns visited Coldstream, where he crossed the bridge and arrived in England for the very 1st time.

The presence of a bridge here also allowed runaway brides-to-be from England to reach the Scottish Border, where the laws were different and didn’t require parental consent over 14 for boys and 12 for girls, and weddings were carried out in the Old Toll House on the Scottish side of the bridge.

This gave Coldstream a similar status, albeit less well known, to that of Gretna in Dumfries & Galloway, located directly over the River Sark, which forms the Anglo-Scottish border there.

To the left is the Marjoribanks Monument, which we would visit later when we pulled up on the bridge…

Cold 6

We left the gardens, and made our way West along the High Street, heading towards the Parish Church. The High Street is chock full of Listed Buildings, each of which has its own place in the towns history.

For example, on the right the 1st building you can see is “Number 69 High Street”, a beautiful sandstone building from the start of the 19th century. Today it houses the local post office, and merges seamlessly with the white stretch of dwellings next to it, which make up “Numbers 61 – 67 High Street” which were probably built around the same time. Most of them contain shop floors with residential areas across the 1st floor and the attic. These types of building are some of my favourite, they are neat, unobtrusive and have that elegance that you see in the stunning terraces of London.

Traders and shop owners will have come and gone from this set of shops over the last 300 years, each 1 going about their daily business, watching history change around them. It’s incredible to think that many of the buildings we live and work in today have watched Wars, Governments, Counties and in some parts of the world Nations, come and go. History is fluid, ever changing, but not everything gets carried away by the flow.

Cold 7

In the previous picture you can just see the tower of the Parish Church further up the street, and this is the view you would get if you were stood directly outside it. As I said earlier, the Parish Church congregation merged with that of the West Church in 1963, and it became the main home of the Church of Scotland in Coldstream.

The original building was completed in 1795, and stood looking over the High Street until 1906, when the majority of the building was rebuilt by John More Dick Peddie (1853 – 1921, Scottish Architect from Edinburgh who also designed the Dundee Arch, sadly later demolished when the Tay Road Bridge was built).

The main body of the Church is stone, with an Ashlar Tower at the West End. The design in general of the Tower is quite common throughout Scotland, with some great examples of similar buildings located in Lanark (Tollbooth) and Irvine (Old Parish Church).

Cold 8

Coldstream, despite being such a small town, has a plethora of Churches, and aside from the Rodger Memorial Church, we also located the West Church, shown above. It was originally built as West United Free Church in 1907, replacing the previous incarnation of the Church on the site from 1806 which had been known as St Cuthberts. The architect was George Reavell Jr from Alnwick in England.

In 1905 the East (another local Church) & West Churches entered into a Union together and the 2 churches became 1, using 1 building. As I mentioned earlier the Rodger Memorial Church then joined in 1950, and the 3 Churches all worshipped here. This lasted until 1963, when the West Church itself merged with the Parish Church, and vacated the building. Today it is used by the Coldstream Community Centre, and appears in better condition than the Free Church, if slightly less iconic.

Cold 9

Directly to the left of the Former West Church, you will find the towns War Memorial. It was erected at the culmination of World War I, to commemorate the soldiers from Coldstream who sadly lost their lives in the conflict. Around 1994 it was discovered that 2 names had accidentally been omitted from the Memorial when it was erected, those of Wellwood Johnston, and William Johnston, Brothers who moved here from Hertfordshire, and died in Gallipoli in Turkey in 1915. In 2004 their names finally took their rightful place on the Memorial, alongside their kinsmen.

The upper bronze plaque lists all the names of fatalities from World War I, whilst the lower plaque commemorates the victims of World War II.

We left the High Street, and wandered down Market Street, the next road along from the Parish Church. It leads down into a small Market Square, which contains a number of Listed Buildings, mainly to the right of the picture.

Amongst these is “Numbers 27 & 28 Market Place”, in the form of the tall brownish coloured Ashlar building, sandwiched between the 2 lighter buildings. The buildings facade was completed in the late 19th century, however it was merely a replacement for the previous facade covering the rest of the structure, built a century earlier. It stands out really well in the square, thanks to its 3 storeys, which dominate the 2 storey buildings which characterise the rest of the area.

To it’s right you can see “29 Market Square”, completed around 1800. It was likely built around the same time as Numbers 27 & 28 however the difference in style suggests they were designed and built separately. On the other side lies “Numbers 24 & 25 Market Square” built as individual houses sometime around 1900. Today they have been combined, and together they form the “Castle Hotel”.

Also in the Market Square is a large mosaic of the Coldstream Coat of Arms, which features a shield, with a fish in the centre, surrounded by moons, stars, a sun and a rose. The fish could possibly be a Salmon, as the Tweed is well known for its high level of Salmon stocks, which would have been an important source of food here centuries ago.

Cold 12

On the way out of town, we pulled up on Coldstream Bridge to get a proper look at the impressive column, which is topped by a statue of Charles Albany Marjoribanks (1794 – 1833) whose Father served as the Lord Provost of Edinburgh (equivalent to Mayor). Charles himself went on to become the MP for Berwickshire to the British House of commons in 1832, a title he held until his untimely death at just 39 in 1833.

Coldstream is a beautiful little town, with some stunning buildings, from numerous Churches to the great Column that now towered over us. Its proximity to England makes it the 1st proper border town between England & Scotland, as Gretna wasn’t built until World War I, and Gretna Green isn’t technically directly on the border, but a mile or so North of it. The Scottish Borders and Northumberland share a lot in common, but different flags fly proudly on either side of the river.

In 1849, a new railway station opened just on the other side of Coldstream Bridge, in the English village of Cornhill-on-Tweed, on the Alnwick to Cornhill line, which joined up to the Kelso to Tweedmouth line here. The line ran all the way from Kelso to Berwick, where it connected up with what is now the East Coast Main Line from London to Edinburgh. Cornhill station was eventually renamed Coldstream in 1873, but shut completely in 1965, severing the rail links in the area. At the moment the Scottish Borders has no actual railway stations within its boundaries, however that is soon to change, as the rebuilding of the Waverley Line from Edinburgh to Carlisle as far as Galashiels is nearly complete, and trains shall once again pick their way through the luscious hills of the Borders. With no rail connections, for public transport you will have to rely on buses, which run from Kelso towards Newcastle-upon-Tyne in England, as well as St Boswells, Galashiels, Eyemouth and Jedburgh in the Borders, and as far North as Dunbar & Edinburgh in the Lothians.

Cold 13

We left Charles stood on his Column far behind us, as we looked once more towards the hazy outline of the English county of Northumberland, as we continued our journey Eastwards, via the Heatherslaw Light Railway, and Etal Castle…