START: Bamburgh, Northumberland
FINISH: Belford, Northumberland
DISTANCE: 7.1 miles
APPROXIMATE TIME: 3 hours
MAPS: OS Explorer 340
2017. A new year had arrived. A new year for new walks. I had already started writing up this blog and, with sharing my journey around the coast with the world, I was increasingly keen to continue muddling my way around the British coastline to see what undiscovered wonders I could come across and write about. The previous September I had reached the most northerly point of my walk at the beautiful village of Bamburgh, from which I had walked southwards down the coast towards Craster. This time, I would be heading northwards, all the way to the border town of Berwick-upon-Tweed over a couple of days, along with a bonus walk across to the holy island of Lindisfarne.
First things first I needed to book myself into some accommodation. A number of B&Bs were considered – a couple of establishments in Belford were emailed, along with a whole raft of places in Berwick. One-by-one they replied with varying prices – some were excellently priced, others a bit more exuberant than what I had budgeted for. Eventually I settled on the Tweed View Guest House in Berwick as it ticked every box – great reviews, great location (it was right next to the train station and regional bus routes), close to the shops and most importantly it was excellent value – only £40 per night for single occupancy!
I had booked myself in for 3 nights during the first week of April. The plan was to get the bus to Bamburgh on the Saturday and then walk the 7 or so miles to the village of Belford, where I would then get the bus to Berwick and check-in to my accommodation. Sunday’s walking would then involve a long ramble from Belford all the way to Berwick, before finally on Monday I would get the bus to Beal crossroads where I would walk along the causeway across to Lindisfarne and have a look around the island, before retracing my steps back to Beal.
So the first day finally arrived. After an hour’s bus ride from Teesside to Newcastle I then jumped on the X15 bus which took well over three hours to get to Bamburgh. The bus isn’t slow or anything, it just visits every nook and cranny along the Northumberland coast between Newcastle and Berwick. Whilst the ride was very scenic, my backside had well and truly given up the ghost by the time I got to Bamburgh. I got off the bus near the castle, and I looked a bit of a pillock as I was walking stiff legged and patting my backside to get some feeling back into it.
On the journey to Bamburgh there had been a number of heavy showers every so often, and cloudy skies were threatening more rain at the start of the walk so I had to quickly put on my waterproofs. This involved some effort due to a mixture of stiff legs and numb arses but I got there in the end.
I started the walk next to the magnificent castle, which was looking quite mysterious and haunting underneath the brooding cloudy skies. Indeed there are a number of ghostly stories associated with the castle including that of The Pink Lady. According to the story, a beautiful Northumbrian princess lived at the castle many centuries ago. Her father the King, like all fathers are wont to do, disapproved of a boy the princess was in love with and so he sent the boy away overseas for seven years and forbade any form of contact between the two. Naturally the princess was a bit upset and as time grew on she became more and more depressed. Hoping to finally kill off the princess’ love for her overseas beau, her father concocted a story that her betrothed had married someone else. Naturally this brought on another bought of depression from the princess and so in a misguided attempt to cheer her up the King ordered the castle’s seamstress to make a beautiful pink dress for her.
Upon wearing the new pink dress for the first time, the princess climbed up the stairs to the castle’s highest battlements and promptly threw herself off on to the rocks below. I guess some people just can’t be grateful. Not long after her bout of terminal ingratitude her lover returned from his jollies overseas and was understandably inconsolable at the death of the princess. Although nobody knows what happened to him, the ghost of the princess is said to return to the castle every seven years, where whilst wearing her pink dress, she glides her way from the castle to the beach where she can stare morosely out to sea waiting for her beloved to return.
I didn’t stay near the castle for too long in case a disgruntled princess decided to jump off the battlements and land on me, so I followed a sign for the Northumberland Coastal Path which led me along a narrow track way through the dunes to the west of the castle. I soon reached a metalled road which led to the club house at Bamburgh Golf Course. The road headed gradually uphill as it led away from the village so I was able to get really good views (albeit cloudy and misty) up and down the coast. Looking back towards Bamburgh Castle I could make out the Farne Islands lying a couple of miles off the coast (below).
It was starting to rain again as I reached the lighthouse at Blackrocks Point (above), but it was quite muggy so I was beginning to boil under all my waterproofs. For the next half an hour this was my entire state of being as the weather alternated from heavy showers to bright sunshine and back again. It was a bit annoying as I kept having to take off my waterproof coat to cool down and then rush to put it back on 5 minutes later when the heavens opened. Anyway I couldn’t complain too much as the coastal scenery was magnificent and there were some good views up the coast towards Lindisfarne, which admittedly at this time was shrouded under a blanket of mist.
Past the lighthouse, I had to walk through Bamburgh Golf Course for a little while. Usually I tend to find that footpaths which go through golf courses tend to be poorly signposted, almost as if the owners are trying to deter walkers from entering. This wasn’t the case at Bamburgh Golf Club. Every so often there were wooden stakes lined with blue paint at the top which were easy to spot and follow, resulting in a much easier walk to negotiate my way around the fairways. After a little while the path left the golf course (although I would have to cross it a couple more times later on) and headed along the coastline. By this point the sun had come out and the view across Budle Bay was glorious. I could see a couple of people walking across the Bay in the distance and I was tempted to follow them as it would cut so much time out of my journey, however I didn’t know what time the high tide was going to be in that day and with me not knowing the layout of the area, I decided to keep following the Northumberland Coast Path.
A little further along the shoreline was a tumbledown large concrete structure. Built during the Second World War this structure was the remains of a gun emplacement designed to defend the Bay which could have been used as a possible invasion site. It was possible to walk inside the building where I got a great view across the Bay. It was quite easy to imagine the soldiers who will have looked out across at the same view, eyes scanning the horizon for an invasion that never came.
The Bay was once an important medieval port, having been given its charter in the 13th century by King Henry III. During the 18th and 19th centuries increasing demands for burned lime to be used in agriculture led to a major development in the local economy as a number of limekilns sprang up nearby Budle Bay. Ships then transported the locally produced burned lime from the Bay to various ports around the country. The harbour has now long gone, buried under centuries of silt and sand. All that remains is a crumbling jetty where once over the lime was loaded onto ships.
Just past the old gun emplacement, the coastal path turned inland. I wouldn’t touch the shoreline again until halfway through the next day’s walk near the causeway to Lindisfarne. I had to take a massive detour inland as currently there is no right of way around Budle Bay, at least until the England Coast Path arrives here in 2020. For the time being I had to content myself with entering Bamburgh Golf Course once again, waiting for a group of golfers to tee off, one of whom commented on how I had picked a very nice for a walk. He was right. By now the sun was blaring down, and all trace of waterproofs had been stowed away in my large rucksack.
After crossing one last fairway the Northumberland Coast Path soon reached the coastal road between Bamburgh and Warren Mill. I followed the road for a hundred yards almost as if I was heading back into Bamburgh, before a sign pointed me down a narrow road and then almost immediately another sign directed me to head across a number of fields. The path began to climb and I got a great view of Bamburgh Castle in the distance as I worked my way past a small plantation of trees.
THE LAIDLY WORM OF SPINDLESTON HEUGH
I soon came to another road which skirted around the edge of a caravan park. A little further on there was a gap in the hedge next to the road with a Northumberland Coast Path pointing westwards past a line of caravans. At this point I got out my map just to make sure I was on the right track and I noticed that the hill next to me was called Laidley Worm’s Trough. Knowing that “worm” in this instance meant a dragon rather than the type usually found in a garden I wondered if there was some sort of legend associated with this place, a bit like other North Eastern dragon-related folk tales like the Lambton Worm near Penshaw in County Durham and the Sockburn Worm near Darlington.
Intrigued, I got my phone out and was hoping to be able to connect the internet to find out more, however I couldn’t get a signal so I had to look it up once I got to the B&B that evening. The Laidly Worm of Spindleston Heugh is believed to be a 13th century Northumbrian ballad (although more likely dates from the 18th century having been composed from various local folk tales by Reverend Robert Lambe when he published a compilation of folk songs in 1778).
The story of the Laidly Worm goes as follows:-
Once upon a time during the Anglo-Saxon era there was a King called Ida who lived at Bamburgh Castle. His wife had sadly died leaving him behind two children – a son and a daughter. His son, Childe Wynd left the castle to seek adventure abroad as most young men are wont to do, whilst his beautiful and popular teenage daughter, Princess Margaret, stayed behind. One day whilst the King was out hunting he met a stunning woman called Behoc, who he then married (I assume weddings were a lot quicker to arrange in those days). However unbeknown to the King, Behoc was in fact an evil sorceress. He brought his new Queen back to Bamburgh Castle where Princess Margaret greeted Behoc warmly, however all was not well as the new Queen was jealous of the Princess’ beauty and so decided to get rid of her.
One day the Queen lured the Princess to a cave where she cast a spell on Margaret. From that day nobody saw the Princess again. Understandably the King was a bit upset, and became even more troubled when news of a large and terrifying dragon had appeared on Spindleston Heugh, just a few short miles from Bamburgh Castle. The dragon was greatly feared and became known as the Laidly (loathsome) Worm. The dragon terrorized the local lands, destroying everything with fire and devouring entire flocks of sheep. To placate the hungry dragon, the locals would bring food to the bottom of Spindlestone Heugh so that the dragon wouldn’t eat their sheep and cattle.
News of the Laidly Worm spread far and wide, and soon reached the ears of Childe Wynd who was busy partying overseas. Vowing to return to his home and ridding the area of the loathsome dragon, he and his men set about building a boat so that they could make a journey across the sea (obviously the ferry wasn’t running that day). On seeing the Childe Wynd (or should that be Wild Child?) approaching Bamburgh the evil Queen set about trying to stop the boat from landing. First she sent some imps to attack the boat. However they were warded off by the magic wrought about the rowan wood that the boat was built with. The Queen then set the Laidly Worm on them, who with its terrible fiery breath drove the boat back out to sea.
Childe Wynd was able to land on Budle Bay, where he followed the dragon on his own to its lair. Just as he was about to strike the worm dead, he saw that it was crying. Touched with pity, Childe Wynd sheathed his sword and was amazed when the dragon rumbled “Strike me not, for I am your sister”. The dragon then went on to tell her presumably shell-shocked brother about how the Queen had turned her into a hideous worm and that the Queen’s evil had overridden the Princess’ good nature and forced her to terrorize the local area. The dragon explained that the only way the enchantment could be gotten rid of was if her brother kissed her scaly face three times before sunset. Understandably, Childe Wynd was a bit perturbed about having to kiss a great big ugly dragon with foul fiery breath who just also happened to be his sister. However, not one to turn down a challenge, Childe Wynd plucked up the courage to pucker up and he kissed the dragon three times (following a bit of a pause between the second and third kiss when he felt a bit ill). With a great roar the dragon melted away before Childe Wynd’s eyes until all that remained was Princess Margaret.
Wrapping her up in his cloak, they returned to Bamburgh Castle where the evil Queen Behoc was waiting. Childe Wynd touched the Queen with a branch from a rowan tree, which promptly turned the Queen into a big ugly Laidly Toad. The surprised toad then bounced down the castle’s steps to a dark cave deep below the castle. It is said that the toad is still there waiting. According to legend the enchantment can be lifted if a willing volunteer is brave enough to kiss the toady Queen when a portal to the cave opens every seven years on Christmas Eve. So far the good people of Bamburgh must be happy with their wives and girlfriends as there has been no sign of Queen Behoc being freed from her amphibian prison.
SPINDLESTONE AND OUTCHESTER DUCKET
Anyway, there were no dragons or giant frogs about that day so I continued on my way underneath the seemingly watchful wooded heights of Spindlestone Heugh. I crossed a couple of fields, passing nearby an old limekiln which hinted at the area’s industrial past, before descending deeply down through a wood where I soon reached a narrow country lane. At this point I could hear a load of gun fire – presumably there were people about shooting game birds, however in rural areas you sometimes never know what the folk are getting up to. Indeed over the next couple of days the sound of gun fire followed me almost wherever I went, so either shooting game is a very popular pastime up here or someone really didn’t like me and was taking pot shots at me. Anyway the country lane led me to the attractive small hamlet of Spindlestone with its old water mill, now a holiday cottage overlooking Warren Burn. I crossed Warren Burn via a road bridge and followed the road as it wound its way uphill.
On reaching the crest of the hill I noticed a tall narrow building sitting in the field to my left which looked like an old windmill without its sails. A handy interpretation board on the wall outside the building stated that it was called Outchester Ducket it and was an 18th century construction which was possibly used as a dovecote (ducket being a shorter term for a dovecote). It is marked on the OS maps as being a windmill, however there is no evidence that it was used as one the past. Nowadays it has recently been renovated into luxury five-star accommodation.
Just past the Ducket was a T-junction with a Northumberland Coast Path sign directing me northwards along a country lane. A short distance later there was a fork in the road and I followed the left fork until another sign pointed me across some more fields. Soon I got a view of my final destination at Belford as I could see the village laid out in the valley below me. I could also see a number of trains shooting up and down the East Coast Main Line, and a distant roar of traffic hinted at the existence of the A1, both of which would have to be crossed before I reached Belford.
First up was the East Coast Main Line. Having crossed a rusty railway line which led to a disused quarry, I had to pass through a small section of bog where the ground was flooded and the path had disappeared underwater. Just before I crossed the railway line, I used the phone provided which connects through to the signalman at Berwick to ask whether it was safe to cross. Trains using this section of track can easily be travelling at 100mph or more so I wanted to make sure. The signalman said it was ok to cross as long as I didn’t dawdle. A little further on the path reached the busy A1 road. This was more tricky to cross than the railway and it took me about five minutes to safely get across as there was plenty of traffic about. After the A1 there was a short walk alongside Belford Burn before I reached Belford itself.
Belford is an attractive village which dates back to medieval times. Like most settlements in this part of Northumberland it was targeted by numerous Scottish raids during the decades-long conflict between England and Scotland. When things became a bit more peaceful the village became an important post and coaching stop on the Great North Road (now the A1). It was said thatMargaret Tudor, daughter of King Henry VII, stayed overnight in Belford on her way up to Scotland to marry King James IV of Scotland in 1502. A number of coaching inns sprang up in the village including The Blue Bell Inn, which was built during the 18th century to provide accommodation for weary travellers making the long arduous journey from London to Edinburgh by horse-drawn coach.
Nowadays the village is much more quieter as the Great North Road now bypasses the town following the road being diverted in the 1980s. It was certainly a pleasant way to finish off the walk as I made my way through to the village to the journey’s end at the bus stop near The Blue Bell Inn, which is still popular with travellers in the 21st century.
Even though it was a walk where over half of it was spent away from the coast, it was still an enjoyable journey as I got to experience some of Northumberland’s fantastic scenery. As I got the bus from Belford to Berwick I was able to see where I would be walking the following day when I would complete the rest of the Northumberland Coast Path. As the views along the coast grew increasingly more picturesque on the way to Berwick I became more excited about the following day’s walk and I really hoped I would enjoy it. Did I enjoy it you ask? Well I guess you’ll have to read the next blog post to find out! Happy reading!
The Laidly Worm
Spindlestone and Outchester Ducket