Yesterday I managed to take a half-decent photograph of a bluebell (that’s it above, I was quite pleased with it), explored two 12th century churches, visited a cathedral and witnessed four colleagues throw themselves off the top of it, tracked down three more First World War Memorials, conned my way into the Military Garrison Church and visited a rural life centre, where I became a bludger … and I was still home in time for tea.

It was a pretty full on day, so let’s break it down into bite-sized chunks.

The weather report on Friday told me it was going to rain all weekend. It lied. When I sat in the garden with my coffee when I got up there were distinct signs of blue above so I grabbed the camera and headed out. First stop was an old church (more on that later) and then heading back through Guildford, I realised I was in time to see four of our reporters abseil off the cathedral tower in aid of the fund to repair the building. As I’d sponsored them, I thought I’d go and make sure they got the job done.


Now poor James here was first over the edge and it  was chucking it down with rain when he made his descent.


It had brightened up by the time Matt came down. And all four actually completed the challenge so I had to cough up the cash.


They were helped by a bit of patriotic cheerleading on the ground :)

Having never visited Guildford Cathedral, I thought I’d take the opportunity to go and explore.

It’s made of brick, featured in The Omen and was begun in the 1930s only for work to stop during the Second World War. When building restrictions were lifted, work recommenced and services were held there from 1947, although it wasn’t consecrated until 1961.

It’s imposing with its stark red brick sitting at the top of Stag Hill overlooking the town. Inside, it is beautiful in an austere sort of way and it has lovely lines, which I quite enjoyed.



But I have to confess, I don’t really like it.


It’s peaceful and it has an air of serenity.


And everyone there was very lovely and welcoming. And for a while I couldn’t figure out what was wrong with it.


And then I realised … it has no history.

You see, I don’t visit churches to be spiritual, I go because they tell stories. And this cathedral has no stories to tell, no quirkiness to uncover, no gargoyles insolently mooning at me from on high. It’s just too new. It can’t help it, it’s not its fault … it just really isn’t my cup of tea.

It was fun watching the guys jump off the roof though.


And I did love the view across Guildford from the top of Stag Hill.

So, wanting to step back in time a little, I headed to a couple of small villages further south in the county. And by accident stumbled across the Rural Life Centre at Tilford, so I thought I’d take a look. It was woodworking day but there weren’t many people there.

I did, however, meet a lovely man who was turning wood on a foot-powered lathe. He reckoned humans had been working wood in this way for millennia. He let me have a go and it was loads of fun. Apparently this officially makes me a Bludger. I shall be adding this to my CV. In fact, we are having our annual reviews at work at the moment and under the ‘do you have any skills not utilised in your current role?’ box, I shall now be able to write Bludging.


I shall fill you in on conning my way into the Garrison Church, the First World Ward Memorials and the two 12th century churches I found in another post.





Colster 1b

I’m getting used to going on a church hunt and finding the doors locked. I can understand it, although it is a sad reflection on society, but I know that some light-fingered members of the population might be tempted to walk away with precious items, or others just damage the building for the sake of it.

I wasn’t too bothered about this on Wednesday’s little sojourn, however, because what I wanted to see was on the outside of the buildings (see Thursday’s rude gargoyles post). Man wasn’t remotely concerned – apparently it IS possible to have too much of a good thing.

However, every single one of the four churches we visited had an open door policy and so I got to go inside. They are obviously very trusting in this part of the world, or else they have a very low crime rate – either way, I was happy.


Colster 8b


In fact the only issue we had was my complete inability to negotiate the junctions of the A1. Heading towards Colsterworth, I managed to miss the exit I wanted and decided I could just as easily take the next one and drove aimlessly round the countryside for a while, with no signal for the sat nav on Man’s phone. When we went to the next church I came off the A1 100 yards early and ended up sitting looking at a concrete bunker!

When we did finally make it to Colsterworth, we found a lovely little village on a hill being almost entirely dug up for road works. It made parking a little interesting, but we got there in the end.

St John the Baptist Church, Colsterworth, Lincolnshire. Pretty little place. Looking at the village and the number of older looking cottages, it was probably considered a sizeable settlement in days gone by. The church is certainly reasonably substantial. Roman remains have been found about half a mile away and it is pretty close to the great Roman road Ermine Street.

Colster 9b

As you may be aware, I went on a hunt for gargoyles and grotesques, which I found in abundance and not all of them were rude! Some of them were still designed to scare though.

Colster 10b

This guy looks very angry about something.

Local research reckons the origins of the  church were in Saxon times (you can read about it here), with additions or improvements made in the 12th, 13th, 14th, 15th and 19th centuries. It is a Grade I listed building , which at least affords it a certain amount of protection.

The first thing I noticed when I walked in was this amazing herringbone stonework and the distinct line above the rounded arches where the herringbone stops and straight brick work replaces it.

Colster 7b

This, apparently, was the original outside wall. Well, I say original, it is the older part of this building, there may have been an early wooden structure or a pagan temple on the site. But this stonework is Saxon. In the top right of the picture you can see an opening that experts believe may have been an original window.

Colster 4b

Here’s a close up.

Inside the church is also the remains of a Runic cross estimated to be from the 9th or 10th century. Just look at that lovely carving.

Colster 6b

I wonder if people will be admiring our current gravestones in 1,000 years time? Somehow I doubt it. These things, however, appear to have been built to last.

Colster 3b

Here’s another view of that lovely north wall and at the end of the aisle you can see a rather beautiful font.

Colster 2b


The stem is 15th century and it is highly decorated. Parts of the bowl are estimated to be 12th century. Can you see the difference in the shape of the arches?

But what really makes this church unique is this.

Colster 5b

If you go through the door at the eastern end of the north aisle, squeeze yourself into the four-foot gap behind the organ and look up (or straight ahead if you are taller than 5ft 2!), you find this sundial, carved by Sir Isaac Newton at the tender age of nine years.

This was Newton’s childhood church. He was born on Christmas Day 1642 (we were on the Julian rather than the Gregorian Calendar then) a few months after the death of his father in Woolsthorpe-by-Colsterworth, a little hamlet nearby. His home, Woolsthorpe Manor, is now in the hands of the National Trust. A few years later his mother remarried the Reverend Barnabus Smith, vicar of St John the Baptist. So this carving was probably created in around 1650 ish.

Apparently the young Sir Isaac was not overly enamoured with his stepfather and once threatened to ‘burn them and the house down over them’ – no love lost there then.

He did, though, appear to be better disposed towards this church because when he died he left the grand sum of £3 in his will for repairs to the church floor.




Easton 1b

Yesterday Man and I went on a gargoyle hunt. More specifically, we went on a hunt for rude gargoyles.

I like gargoyles and in fact most types of stone carvings. Gargoyles are decorative water dispensers, used to channel excess rainwater off the roof of the church. Grotesques are carvings, they don’t serve any sort of practical purpose and often decorate roof lintels inside or out. Friezes are many grotesques purely for decorative purposes. Corbels are stones that help support the roof – again either internal or external – that can be decorated and many of these decorations are a corbel table. I went in search of a very specific type of grotesque and gargoyle yesterday and found both.

Ever since I first read about the Mooning Men on the Great English Churches website, I have wanted to see some. Now I think I have a pretty good collection of photos but, as always, there are plenty more to collect. The churches I visited are not Churches Conservation Trust churches, these are all in use, and they don’t feature in Simon Jenkins’ 1,000 Churches (but they really should).

We started our little journey at St John’s in Colsterworth in Lincolnshire where we came across a couple of lovely examples of what I was looking for.

Colsterworth 4b

Here we go. He is definitely displaying his bum to the outside world.

Colsterworth 7b

Here he is from another angle. And, if you look closely, he has his head between his legs (wait till you see what some of the others have stored there!!) … and you can see where the rainwater would have spouted from.


Colsterworth 6b

This one’s a grotesque (no water spouting from the orifice here) and there is distinct genitalia there. How rude :) This is on the door arch, visible to all the pious parishioners on their way to prayer.

Colsterworth 2b

And what on earth is this one doing! Most unsavoury for a place of worship.

Honestly, I think these are absolutely hilarious – and this was just church number one. I love the way it illustrates how sensibilities have changed over the years. Can you imagine someone building a church now and announcing they were going to decorate it with a man with his bum out and testicles and a (in some cases) penis on display. People would recoil in abject horror.

From Colsterworth we moved on to Ryhall jjst down the road but in the county of Rutland and another St John’s.

Ryhall has a really impressive frieze but that is going to have to wait for another post because this one is just about bums.

Ryhall 2b


And here we have the bottom scratcher. Quite brazen in his pose, he is looking directly out from the wall and quite clearly scratching his testicles! Also, despite the fact that he is clearly not used to get rid of water, the mason has put a strategically placed hole in his bum. What on earth is he trying to say with this?

Ryhall 1b

This one also has his bottom out, although it isn’t quite so brazen.

Now from Ryhall, we made our way to Easton on the Hill, which took use just over the border into Northamptonshire I believe, where we found the crudest  example yet.

This is All Saints Church in one of the prettiest little villages I’ve ever seen. And, as you approach the south porch of the church, above your head on the tower is this.

Easton 2b

Now there is a local legend that says he is pointing his bum in the direction of Peterborough Cathedral in protest at the stonemason not being paid. But other reports say there is no substance in that and suggest that, like other gargoyles, these Mooning Men were simply warding away sin and evil from the sanctity of the church.

He is certainly a good example though … and worth a look from a slightly different angle.

Easton 5b

Maybe the stonemasons just had a sense of humour? Or maybe, these weren’t thought funny at all but were designed to say ‘ya boo sucks’ to the devil.

From Easton to Oakham, county town of England’s smallest county, Rutland.

It has quite a majestic church – another All Saints.

But adorning the walls of this building, there are another couple of characters who aren’t being very saintly at all.

Oakham 2b

Yep, another mooning man with his head stuck between his legs and his testicles on show.

Oakham 1b

And another, only this one’s a little deformed … his genitalia is roughly the same size as his head!

Now there was me thinking that English church parishioners in the Middle Ages were a distinctly pious lot. Obviously I was wrong, or the notion of pious has changed slightly over the years, or there is some sort of sacred symbolism here that I’m just not aware of.

Whatever the answer, I had a pretty successful day yesterday as far as I am concerned. I certainly found what I set out to find.

Now the other thing I found, that I really wasn’t expecting and was a huge added bonus, is that every single one of these churches was open yesterday. So I also got to go inside and find out a bit more about them. And, in doing that, I learned about Isaac Newton, Anglo Saxon headstones and a woman called Tampon. So I think each church merits a little, slightly less tongue in cheek, post of its own at some point.

In the meantime, the guy responsible for the website mentioned at the top of this post, Lionel Wall, has written what I think is a very interesting document about the Mooning Men and a group that he calls the Demon Carvers of the East Midlands which, if you feel like it, you can read here.

Incidentally, apparently there are female versions of the Mooning Men … you know I am going to have to find some :)

Many will know of my Fifty before Fifty challenge and that one of those challenges is to attempt to visit all of the Churches Conservation Trust churches. And, as you can see from the countdown clock on the right, I only have 18 months to go.

Well during my period of blogging absence, I also failed miserably to knock many of my challenges off my list (except perhaps reading) so I really have to get a bit of a gallop on here.

On Monday, Man and I went to Skegness. It’s his birthday this week when he will once again become as old as I am for six months and he wanted to ride a roller coaster (more on that in another post). However, it seemed a wasted opportunity to drive straight past a perfectly good church, so we took a little detour to Haceby, Lincolnshire.

I checked before hand and the church of St Barbara was open all day. 170b

And indeed it was. I love locations like this. It was a couple of miles off the A52 up a single track road and when we arrived it was pretty  much in the middle of nowhere.

Haceby was mentioned in the Doomsday Book and must once have been a thriving village. Now it is a farm and a couple of cottages and this pretty little church on a hill.

Now it was called St Barbara’s but the CTC pamphlet inside the church said St Margaret. That confused me. A little research and I discovered it actually had a double dedication. I find St Barbara more interesting. Turkish, over-protective dad who locked her in a tower to stop her getting sullied by the outside world (Rapunzel origins?), she secretly became Christian. He didn’t like that, tried to kill her, a miracle created a hole in the wall and she escaped. Chase ensued, he caught her, there were a couple more miracles. He chopped her head off and was struck by lightning on the way home – serves him right. On the other hand, another argument is she didn’t exist at all.

So, the church. It dates from the 12th century and was added to over the next 400 years.


The outside is quite plain, no gargoyles or grotesques, but I did find this tiny little blocked door in the north wall.


I love these tiny doors, they must have had very miniature clergy. Apparently the arch around the door is called a Caernarfon Arch because it is predominantly found in castles in Wales. Why is it here? We’re a long way from Wales.

St Barbara’s is famous for the remnants of a wall painting.


This was originally a Doom painting, you can just make out the devil directing a group of big-bellied lost souls towards hell on the right and Christ sits at the top with saved souls and angels.

But is has been overpainted with the Royal Coat of Arms of Queen Anne and you can see the lion on the left and make out the three lions of England and an Irish harp on the shield in the centre.


The interior is light and airy. You can see the very plain 14th century font in the corner.


The arch to the bell tower caught my eye. It is seriously wonky. The right hand side appears to bow quite drastically. Really, it isn’t just the camera angle, it is definitely lopsided.

But for me the exciting part of this church was in the porch.


Graffiti. We all know how I love graffiti – ancient and modern – it appeals to the reprobate in me and, for me, it brings the people using this fine building to life, makes them more real. There are a few dates on here. TE was merrily scrawling away in 1677 for example.


On the other side, it looks like someone has engraved the sails of a windmill. There are certainly a lot of windmills is this lovely flat part of the world and I can only imagine there were more in times past, so it’s not beyond the realms of possibility.


Strangely, if I saw modern graffiti on a church, I would probably say it was desecration and not be impressed at all – but I enjoy this old graffiti and I wonder who the local vandals were.


These I thought were strange. On the seat in the porch there are several outlines that look distinctly like footprints to me.


I can’t find any information about them except a few mentions that they are there. Well, I know that, I saw them, what I want to know is why people felt the need to etch round their feet.

It’s nice to be on the church trail again, I’ve missed it. According to my list, I have now checked off 50 CTC churches – so, less than 300 to go then.

Before we leave St Barbara’s, Man noticed this.

There’s a cheese string in the churchyard :)


Well it amused me anyway.

You know there’s a lot more to Chelsea than a football team and a reality tv show. To be honest, I’m not hugely keen on either of those.

Sloane Square

Sloane Square

But I’ve fallen in love with Chelsea, it is just so cool.

Sloane Square and the King’s Road are still so vibrant – although I do wish I had been old enough to appreciate it in the 1960s and 70s when the King’s Road really was the epitome of cool.

Chelsea’s history goes back a lot further than that though. There was the Anglo Saxon settlement, a few Romans, medieval lords and a few kings along the way. The fountain these two are sitting in front of features images of Charles II and his mistress Nell Gwyn.

Sloane Square fountain

Sloane Square fountain

The King’s Road is named for these two. It was once a private road. King Charles lived at one end, the lovely Nell at the other. The road was built so he could gallop along it in private to see his lover.

The road really became famous in the 50s, 60s and 70s. In the late 1950s, Mary Quant opened her shop here and the King’s Road became eponymous with fashion, music and coolness. Mary created the mini skirt, hotpants, and huge great spidery eyelashes.

114bThere is still a Mary Quant shop here, only now it is in the rejuvenated Duke of York Square.

065bThis is the recording studio where the Beatles created the album cover for Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Just around the corner is a house formerly owned by Eric Clapton and probably party central for many a year. Bowie lived nearby, as did Mick Jagger.

118bAnd the Sloane Square Hotel is reputedly where Paul McCartney met Jane Asher and began their relationship.

Chelsea is also home to the Royal Chelsea Hospital where the Chelsea Pensioners live.

057bThat one’s a model, I’m really not sneaking up and surreptitiously snapping snoozing pensioners.

Around the hospital, Chelsea almost has a village feel. These two are contenders for my new home (if I had a fair few million pounds to spare that is).


Beautiful aren’t they, especially in the spring, but sadly they are megamillions and, therefore, a little outside my budget.

Now just along from the Royal Chelsea Hospital (next door in fact) is the National Army Museum. I actually didn’t know it was there. As you walk past you may miss an extraordinary piece of history because it’s just a little unobtrusive.

058bBut this is an actual piece of the Berlin Wall, complete with original graffiti. I think it was presented to the museum because the British Army spent so long manning Checkpoint Charlie, but I’m not really sure.

059bAnd a little bit further along again was once the home of Oscar Wilde. Wilde was living here when he had an affair with the Marquess of Queensberry’s son. Old Queensberry wrote Wilde a letter that he deemed offensive so he tried to sue him for libel but the ensuing trial laid bare Wilde’s hidden life and resulted in his prosecution (and eventual jail sentence) for gross indecency with men. Bet he wished he’d left the old Marquess to rot.

Incidentally, the judge who jailed Wilde was his neighbour in this street too.

063bJust a little way further round the corner I found this. Now my guide for the afternoon, a lovely man called George from The Tour Hub London (where do you think I got all this information from?) wasn’t sure whether this had actually been Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s studio but thought probably not. It looks like both the studios (there are about seven of them) and the apartments around them were just named after him, having been built by Edward Holland. Chelsea Art School began life here in 1904. Anthony Devas had a studio here, as did noted Vogue fashion photographer Ronald Traeger who photographed, among others, Twiggy.

Finally, this is Hans Sloane.

050bOr rather, it’s a statue of him and it sits on the King’s Road, on one corner of Duke of York Square. He was a physician and a collector. You’ve probably guessed Sloane Square was named after him.

He was president of the Royal College of Physicians, President of the Royal Society (he succeeded Sir Isaac Newton) and Royal Physician to Queen Anne, George I and George II. He was the first Baronet of Chelsea and also founded the Chelsea Physic Garden. He was a collector of natural history and when he died, he bequeathed these to the nation (on condition parliament paid his executors £20,000) and they formed the beginning of the British Museum and the Natural History Museum.

Thanks Mr Sloane, you left us quite a legacy.





002bThis is St Aidan’s Church in Bamburgh, Northumberland. It has a history interesting enough to merit several posts all of its own.

Opposite this church is a row of little cottages and it is in one of these cottages that our heroine for today was born.

graceGrace Darling, born in November 1815, was the seventh of nine children born to William and Thomasin Darling. William was a lighthouse keeper, just like his grandfather had been, and Grace and her brothers and sister were brought up on the Farne Islands off the coast of Northumberland.

Lighthouse keeping was a family affair and Grace often took her turn at keeping watch. It was this that led to her becoming one of the most reluctant media darlings (excuse the pun) ever.

In the early years of the Victorian age, railways were still being developed and ships provided the quickest mode of transport up and down the coast of Britain.

The SS Forfarshire had been built in 1834 at a cost of £20,000. She was a paddle steamer with luxury accommodation 132ft long and 20ft wide.

On September 5 1838 the Forfarshire was in Hull. It loaded cargo and passengers for a journey to Dundee. There were supposedly around 40 passengers. I say supposedly because passenger records did not exist then. Around 22 crew, the captain, John Humble, and his wife were also aboard and the ship sailed at around 6.30pm.

Over the next 24 hours there were a number of problems with a boiler which involved the crew having to carry out repairs at sea. Some felt the ship ought to head for Newcastle instead of soldiering on but Capt Humble assured them nothing was wrong.

The SS Forfarshire passed the Farne Islands and was almost to Berwick when the weather changed dramatically. They had already had to put to partial sail because of the boiler problems and the turn in the weather was unwelcome to say the least.

The boilers, overworked in the storm, failed completely and as the ship got to St Abb’s Head at about 1am on the morning of Friday September 7, with no engines Capt Humble made the decision to turn around and seek shelter.

He spotted the light of a lighthouse and headed in that direction, thinking it to be the lighthouse of Inner Farne. But it was Longstone, not Inner Farne, he saw and he brought the ship crashing on to the rocky islands that surrounded it.



This is Longstone. It looks calm and serene on a sunny day in July but in a raging storm in the middle of the night there are probably few less hospitable places to be than among the scores of little rocky islands miles of the Northumberland coast.

As the Forfarshire crashed, several crew and one passenger launched a lifeboat. Whether they had the intention to try and rescue other passengers who knows, as it was the lifeboat drifted away from the wreck and out of danger.

The wrecked ship broke in two. The back, together with all the cargo, the steerage passengers, the captain and his wife, sunk and was lost. Some drowned in their cabins and some were swept overboard.

The front of the ship stuck on the rocks and a few passengers managed to cling to the deck.

After a while John Tulloch, ship’s carpenter, and passenger Daniel Donovan climbed off the ship and on to the rock and encouraged the others to do the same.

This included passenger Mrs Sarah Dawson and her two children. They also brought the body of the Reverend Robb, found dead with his hands clasped in prayer in the engine room, from the ship.

At Longstone Lighthouse only Grace and her parents were in residence, most of the siblings had moved away and the one remaining brother had gone fishing to the mainland.

Grace and her father had spotted the ship and thought all were lost but as day began to break they realised there were survivors on the island.

The two of them took a boat, a local design known as a coble, and rowed through the raging storm against the swell of the current more than a mile around dangerous rocks.

grace rowing

They got the coble close enough for her dad to jump off and she single-handedly held the boat in place while the rescue began. There were more survivors than they had thought so they took an injured man and Mrs Dawson as well as two crewmen, including John Tulloch, aboard and left the others with Daniel Donovan, the body of the Reverend and the bodies of both of Mrs Dawson’s children who had died in the night on the island.

They rowed back to Longstone where Grace took care of the injured man and Mrs Dawson while her father and the crewmen rowed back to get the other survivors.

In daylight, when the lifeboat from Seahouses on the mainland was scrambled, led by William, Grace’s 19-year-old brother who had gone fishing, the crew found no survivors on the rock, just the bodies of the Dawson children and the Reverend and the wreck of the Forfarshire. The lifeboatmen did not realise that Grace and her father had beaten them to it.

When word got out about the daring rescue, Grace Darling found herself in the unwanted spotlight of the media, which she hated.

Newspapers clamored for her story, people sent her money and the image makers of the day arrived, not to take her photograph but to paint her portrait…is that more arduous than today’s paparazzi? Who knows, but Grace hated it. There was even an agent, a spin doctor called Robert Smeddle, who helped fuel the flames of the media frenzy.

Queen Victoria sent her £50, people wrote wanting a lock of her hair, or a piece of her clothing or worse, they turned up in boats at Longstone with the same demands. Tales of her heroism were published as far afield as Japan, Australia and the USA with little mention of her father’s efforts.

It was the story of a young woman who risked her own life to save those of nine strangers.

The Duke of Northumberland took her under his wing and became her guardian in an effort to protect her from it all but Grace hid herself away more and more and eventually fell ill.

She was sent to Alnwick to stay with cousins and then inland to Wooler where the air was thought to be purer, before eventually being brought back to Bamburgh where she died of tuberculosis on October 20 1842. She was 26.

There are two memorials to Grace Darling at the church of St Aidan in Bamburgh.



This effigy inside the church originally stood under a canopy outside the church but was brought inside when it was in danger of becoming damaged.



This is the replacement under the canopy and nearby Grace is buried in a grave with her parents.

Opposite the church is the Grace Darling Museum, run by the RNLI. It is small but well kept and free to enter and it contains the coble that Grace and her father used in their rescue.

Was she the first media superstar? Well there can’t have been too many prior to that. She certainly caught the attention of the world and the media attention was as unwelcome to her as it is now to celebrities who feature on the news pages.

The main difference is that Grace Darling had performed an act of heroism and the media attention was uninvited and unwelcome, whereas many who feature in our newspapers today have done nothing of merit and have actively courted publicity and fame … until they don’t like it any more and scream press intrusion.

In Grace’s case the press, thanks in part to the spin doctor Smeddle, did seem to be intrusive and they really should have left the poor woman alone to carry on with her life.

And I say that as a journalist of more than 30 years.



Recently, Man and I spent a wonderful holiday in Northumberland.

There were a couple of reasons for choosing that location: a) we’d never been before; b) we heard it was beautiful and c) there are an awful lot of castles and as part of my Fifty before Fifty challenge, I have decided to try and visit every castle in England before my fiftieth birthday.

So, here’s a very quick tour of the ones we saw – I think alphabetical order is appropriate here.



Alnwick Castle

Huge, imposing (expensive) and also closed. Mainly because we did a quick check in on the way home and got there at 8am.

This is still the home of the Percy family, Dukes of Northumberland and is, apparently, a fabulous day out. Sadly we didn’t have all day to spare.

Built after the Norman conquest, it has been remodeled several times and played a big role in various skirmishes with the Scots, as did most of these border castles.


Bamburgh Castle

Probably one of my favourites, mainly because of its coastal location. Again it is huge and imposing. I’d love to know what that little dome thing is to the right of the photo.

This castle is built on a rocky outcrop and in the fifth and sixth centuries there was a fort here belonging to the Din Guarie. It may have been the capital of the kingdom in this part of the world.

Aethelfrith passed it on to his wife Bebba, which is where the name Bebbanburgh, or Bamburgh, comes from. The Vikings destroyed in in the 10th century and it was rebuilt by the Normans.

Another reason I like it is because it is my ancestral home. It was once owned by Robert de Mowbray, Earl of Northumberland and an ancestor of mine (Mowbray is my maiden name). Shame we picked the wrong side at the Battle of Bosworth Field, things could have been so different :)

545bbBerwick Castle

Just visible through the trees here is Berwick Castle, once the last bastion of the north, or the south, depending on which way you look at it because the castle was founded in the 12th century by the Scottish King David.

Its location has meant that it has changed hands on numerous occasions, alternately being Scottish and English down the centuries.



Dunstanburgh Castle

Another coastal beauty and once the biggest castle in Northumberland. There is evidence of prehistoric activity on this rocky outcrop, but the main body of the castle was constructed in the early 14th century by Earl Thomas of Lancaster, cousin of Edward II, and later completed by John of Gaunt.

It covers about 11 acres and was a favourite subject of Turner to paint.

140bEtal Castle

Now what’s a tiny little place like Etal doing with a castle? The little villages of Ford and Etal (will be subject of yet another post) have now joined forces to become a tourist attraction. Once they both had castles and were constantly feuding with each other.

Ford’s castle is now some sort of educational facility and the public is not allowed near it, sadly.

Robert de Manners, nobleman and doctor, got permission to ‘crenellate’ his manor at Etal (thereby turning it into a castle, in 1341.

The castle was a site of pilgrimage for people seeking medical and dental treatment from its owner and Robert is renowned for creating one of the earliest translations to English from Arabic of the 11th century medical text by Ibn Butlan Taqwim al-Sihhah. Obviously he was a very learned man and I think that’s very cool.

959bLindisfarne Castle

I loved Lindisfarne Castle and, again, that was mainly due to its location. Lindisfarne is a special place.

This is a 16th century building, and its construction sort of coincided with the dissolution of the monasteries. Subsequently a lot of stone used to build the castle was taken from Lindisfarne Priory.

It sits on Beblowe Hill, the highest point of the island.

In 1901 it became the property of Edward Hudson, founder of Country Life magazine, and he had Sir Edwin Lutyens remodel the castle and Gertrude Jekyll the gardens. You don’t get much more impressive than that at the time.

602bMorpeth Castle

Now considering Morpeth is the county town of Northumberland, the castle is a bit bland now. The original motte and bailey was destroyed in 1216 by King John and a new castle created in the bailey in 1346.

Its claim to fame is that in 1644 a garrison of 500 Lowland Scots held for Parliament against 2,700 Royalists for 20 days.

In the 1940s it was given to the Borough of Morpeth and has since been a family home and holiday accommodation.



Prudhoe Castle

This castle, on the south banks of the Tyne, is another that started life as a motte and bailey, built sometime in the 11th century.

Following the Norman Conquest, the castle was owned by the Unfraville family and when the last Umfraville died, his widow married a Percy and Prudhoe became the property of the Earl of Northumberland.

It has changed hands several times since then but returned to the Percys in 1557.

It became the property of the Crown in 1966 and is now managed by English Heritage.

And finally …

221bWarkworth Castle

Another English Heritage property (it’s a good job we have membership), Warkworth Castle and the town of the same name lie on a loop in the River Coquet.

Historians seem uncertain as to whether it was originally built by Prince Henry of Scotland of Henry II of England but they do know it belonged to the fitz Richards and the de Claverings before eventually becoming the property of that Percy family again. Definite property magnates specialising in castles were the Percys.

Alan Percy, 8th Duke of Northumberland, gave the property to the crown in 1922 and there it has stayed.

So, there you have it, a whirlwind tour of nine castles of Northumberland. According to my list of castles, there are 21 in the county so I am still 12 short.

I’m just going to have to go back … damn :)