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Things to See Round Newcastle


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It is hard indeed to realize that Newcastle of to-day, as seen from the great, new, ferro-concrete bridge across the Tyne, is actually identical with the charming old city, of probably less than two hundred years ago, of which there exists so delightful a sketch in the ancient Trinity House, in Broad Chare. Yet even from this twentieth century swirl of eddying smoke two features stand up in silent protest against the grimy realism of the "Industrial Revolution." One is the stately "crown" of S. Nicholas' Cathedral, which, amongst ancient buildings, is unparalleled in England, and only poorly paralleled in Scotland. The other is the gaunt, Norman keep of that earlier "new castle" that has given Roman Pons Aelii a modern name.

This sharp contrast between old and new, so characteristic to-day of England as a whole, is peculiarly characteristic of the big northern coalfield. From the reek of ugly collieries we step, almost in a moment, into secret spots of primitive rusticity. Farther afield, as we go west and the coalfield ends abruptly, are moorland and river scenes of startling beauty. Durham, Jarrow, Hexham - these are names with which to conjure in the splendid fabric of English history. Bywe11, Brinkburn, Coquet - these are splashes of brilliant colour on the rich canvas of English landscape.

Let us go east, down crowded Tyneside, where squalid towns are almost continuous. Almost at once we are arrested by the significant name of Wallsend, on the northern bank of the river, and remember with a thrill that this was really the eastward termination of that great Roman wall of Hadrian that stretched in unbroken continuity from the Solway to the Tyne. Cross the polluted stream to Jarrow, and you regard the actual walls that witnessed the life and death and labours of the "Father of English History." The electric tram lands you almost within a stone's throw of one of the two monasteries - the second, at Monkwearmouth, is only a few miles south - that were founded by Benedict Biscop on his return from Gaul in 675. There you see primitive Saxon balusters, turned, like those of St. Albans, in a lathe; there is the mutilated wooden chair that tradition assigns to Bede himself; and there, though no longer in its proper place, is the original dedication stone that commemorates the building of the present church by Abbot Ceolfrith in 685.

Journey to Monkwearmouth, now a dreary suburb to Sunderland, and you find a still existing monument of yet earlier date, for here the base of the west tower is almost certainly a part of Benedict's original erection, "after the manner of the Romans in which he ever took delight." Farther down the Tyne, where at last its inky waters seek salvation in the sea, stands a later, medieval monument, on a high cliff above the confluence, that emulates, without rivalling, "high Whitby's cloister'd pile." Tyne-mouth Priory is now mostly a splendid thirteenth century choir, with tall, graceful lancet windows.

Starting again from Newcastle, we go south in high expectancy, for Durham is our goal, and Durham is supreme. Even so, there are places that arrest us on our way. Chester-le-Street, for instance, has a fascinating church, with its odd, two-storied "anchorage" - we know that John de Wessington was anchorite here in 1383; with its curious west steeple, in which an octagon is interposed between tower and spire; and above all, perhaps; with its dim, mysterious "aisle of tombs," placed here in one long line to the number of fourteen, by the "pedigree proud" Lord Lumley (d. 1609), who, as Camden tells us, "had them either picked out of the demolished monasteries or made anew." Hither S. Cuthbert's restless body was brought by his faithful monks in 883 - you may see his famous wooden coffin to-day in Durham Cathedral library - and here it remained till its final translation in 955. Thus, for nearly three-quarters of a century - for where S. Cuthbert's body consented to lie in peace, there, at this time at any rate, the Bernician bishop had his stool - Chester-le-Street was numbered amongst Saxon sees.

Going farther south, we encounter cleaner country; and presently Lumley Castle, a characteristic example of a common northern type - four angle-towers and a central court: it is really more domestic than defensive, though defensive echoes survive - appears in proud predominance on its upland to the east. Between us winds the Wear; and a little farther up, in a deep, secluded dell, are the picturesque fourteenth century ruins of Finchale Priory.

Durham, though supreme, does not owe this supremacy merely to pride of place. In fact, though conspicuously set on a hill, the hill itself is oddly inconspicuous, being surrounded by bigger heights. Thus it has none of the far-flung splendour of Lincoln and Ely Minsters, or of Laon, in the He de France. Only when we descend from the tableland that surrounds it do we properly appreciate S. Cuthbert's "lordly seat." Seen thus at closer quarters, from the lovely "Banks," for instance, along the Wear, there is nothing grander of its kind in England: "Half church of God, half castle 'gainst the Scot".

One leaves Durham with regret, but the regret would be more poignant did we not next go west from Newcastle, up the pleasant vale of Tyne. Here, such is the wealth of detail, it is hard to pick and choose: whether Ovingham, or By well, or Corbridge, with their grand pre-Conquest towers; or Ryton, with its marble effigy of a deacon - priests, of course, are common enough; or Corstopitum, with its newly excavated foundations of a Roman city; or Prud-hoe, with its Norman keep on a steep bank above the river; or Aydon, with its unrivalled, early fourteenth century manor-house.

At , at least, we shall linger long, for Dilston is rich in that intangible delight that high romantic interest lends to beautiful natural scenes. Here was the home of that young, gallant Lord Derwentwater who rode with a heavy heart in response to his wife's alleged imperious taunt - "Give me your sword, and you shall take my fan" - in the first Jacobite rebellion, in 1715. He duly participated in that ill - fated cause - and was executed on Tower Hill, February 24, 1716. Hexham, as viewed from the noble old bridge across the river Tyne - and a broader and more copious inland stream than the Tyne at Hexham you will seek in vain through the breadth of England - presents much the same sky-line as Sussex Rye - a pyramid crowned by a bold church tower. Here, in short, is one of the most romantic towns in England, a worthy compeer to Richmond and Durham. Its Moot Hall is a good example of a so-called "peel"; whilst the medieval prison, that formerly belonged to the Archbishops of York, as Lords of the Regality from 1105 to 1545, is apparently unique. Here are ancient streets with such odd-sounding names as Hen-cotes, Bottle Hill, and Priest-popple!

It is the great priory church, however, refounded for Austin Canons in 1113, that overshadows all else. Yet "this text-book of Early English architecture" - it is Early English architecture of a strictly northern type - has suffered hardly less severely than Durham from the excesses of irresponsible "restoration."

Point after point at Hexham is unique, or almost unique: its wooden pulpitum, whereas all other pulpita are stone; its Saxon "Frith-stool," rivalled only at Beverley; its fifteenth-century paintings of the gruesome "Dance of Death"; its imaginary portraits of seven, out of its twelve, pre-Conquest bishops (681-821); its slype, here placed inside the transept; and its night-stair from the dorter. Yet it is underground that the visitor must seek for what, after all, is most wonderful in this lovely church of many wonders. S. Wilfrid, between 671 and 678, built two monastic churches, at Ripon and Hexham respectively, which were apparently the marvel of their age. Of each the crypt remains; but that at Hexham is the larger and more interesting.

For the best part of the Roman Wall, between Chollerford and Cumberland, Hexham is the most convenient base: between Chollerford and Newcastle it has mostly disappeared, though the Vallum remains in places. Those who come west along General Wade's great highroad, made after the Jacobite rising of 1745 to give quicker access from east coast to west: If you'd seen this road before it was made You'd lift up your hands, and bless General Wade, come virtually along the top of its foundations: the Wall, in fact, was levelled to furnish cheap road-metal! Chesters, at any rate, about four miles north from Hexham, and known anciently as Cilurnum, has still something to exhibit more substantial: here you even see in the North Tyne, fairest of all Northumbrian rivers, the abutments and piers of a Roman bridge. For the archaeologist, indeed, who is also fond of pretty scenery there is no pleasanter summer task than to explore the Wall westward. Beyond Carraw it runs for miles on the edge of lofty, basaltic cliffs, at the north foot of which nestle the small Northumbrian lakes, or "loughs"; whilst the view extends from Cross Fell to "Muckle Cheviot."

Nor is it merely things Roman, though these in a sense predominate, that make the neighbourhood of Hexham so alluring. Ten miles south, at Blanchland, on the solitary reaches of Upper Derwent, is one of the quaintest little settlements in England, built in a square round a village green, and entered through the gateway of an old Pre-monstratensian abbey. Westward, up the South Tyne, are picturesque old " peels " at Langley and Willimoteswick. Northward, up the North Tyne - the two unite near Hexham - are still more fortalices, ruined or still inhabited, at Simonburn, Chipchase, Haughton. It is a border-land of poetry and romance.

We have left ourselves, alas! all too little space to deal with the pleasant country that lies north of Newcastle. If chiefly in search of lovely scenery we shall be tempted to strike north-west, by the old "Carter road" to Edinburgh, which, crossing the rolling Ottercaps, descends into lonely Redesdale near the diminutive hamlet of Otterburn. Around in every direction roll the wild green moors of Northumberland, so different in aspect and sentiment alike from the wild purple moors of north-east Yorkshire. Here, too, antiquities abound on every side - a Roman camp at Rochester; a medieval, fortified parsonage and a Norman "motte" at Elsdon. But it is directly north, along the road towards Berwick, that, the antiquary pure and simple will be drawn as by a magnet. In that direction lie Bamborough, Dunstanborough, Lindisfarne; all will be found in Scott's magic description, in "Marmion," of the voyage of S. Hilda's nuns, as they coasted north with unhappy Constance:

They saw the Blythe and Wansbeck floods Rush to the sea through sounding woods;

but to visit these to-day would be clearly beyond our limits. We may venture at least as far as "Warkworth, proud of Percy's name," with its fortified bridge across the Coquet; with its splendid old castle.

A little north is Alnwick, cold and grey, where the Percys still reign, to all outward seeming in feudal pomp, in a castle that has been not inaptly described, as viewed, for instance, from the Lion Bridge across the Alne, or on the long descent from Rothbury, as the "Windsor of the North." There you will find a stately gate-house, crowned curiously with menacing stone figures and preceded by a barbican that is scarcely rivalled in scale and magnificence, if rivalled at all, at Warwick. There, on the old Norman "motte," is a strange species of hollow "tower-house" that is only less remarkable in eccentricity of planning than the fourteenth century "tower-house" at Warkworth.

Wander in the huge parks, which are also wild and beautiful - at Alnwick hill and dell unite in combinations that remind one of Bolton Abbey and Chillingham - and you will find yet other antiquities. Of the house for White Canons, founded in 1147, there remains, it is true, nothing but a gate-house and the excavated ground-plan; but the ruins of Hulne Priory, established for Carmelite Friars, afford also the best extant example of a church and domestic buildings of this Order.

We must linger a moment at Morpeth on the journey back south. Hidden deep in the narrow valley of the Wansbeck, it occupies one of those peninsular sites - dead flat at Yarm: on a hill at Richmond and Warkworth - that are utilised with such relative frequency, probably for defensive purposes, all over the North of England. Morpeth has curiosities: a belfry, like that at S. Albans, that recalls Flanders more than England; a bridge-chapel that survives, like that at Derby, though the bridge itself is mostly gone; and traces of two successive castles on two parallel spurs of hill. But it is in its glen scenery, east and west, where Wansbeck sometimes slumbers in sluggish pools, sometimes ripples over a pavement of mossy sandstone rock, that the collieries are most readily forgotten. Of Newminster Abbey, in one of those winding hollows, there is now little to be seen; yet it must not be forgotten that this was the youngest daughter of the great Cistercian house of Rievaulx.

Higher up stream, in the same direction, are the ruins of Mitford Castle, in a lovely situation. Lower, and on the other side of Morpeth, is stately Bothal Castle, in one at least equally beautiful.

The licence to crenelate was granted to Robert Bertram in the middle of the fourteenth century. The gate-house is rectangular, with semi-octangular currets. Near the castle is the interesting little church of S. Andrew, originally dating from the thirteenth century, and well restored.

Newcastle, no doubt, is a dingy spot, though it has some splendid modern streets and some relics of historical import. But at least it is a vestibule through which on every side we enter on a store of fairy treasure.


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Pictures for Things to See Round Newcastle

OTTERBURN AND THE OTTERBURN, WHERE WAS FOUGHT THE FAMOUS BATTLE OF CHEVY CHASE
OTTERBURN AND THE OTTERBURN, WHERE WAS FOUGHT THE FAMOUS BATTLE OF CHEVY CHASE >>>>
THE CASTLE, NEWCASTLE
THE CASTLE, NEWCASTLE >>>>
THE WATERFALL IN JESMOND DENE
THE WATERFALL IN JESMOND DENE >>>>
STEPPING STONES AT JESMOND DENE, AND THE OLD CHURCH AT JARROW
STEPPING STONES AT JESMOND DENE, AND THE OLD CHURCH AT JARROW >>>>
THE UNLOVELY BUT FASCINATING NEW BRIDGE ACROSS THE TYNE AT NEWCASTLE
THE UNLOVELY BUT FASCINATING NEW BRIDGE ACROSS THE TYNE AT NEWCASTLE >>>>
A SAXON MONASTERY AT MONKWEARMOUTH
A SAXON MONASTERY AT MONKWEARMOUTH >>>>
CASTLE OF NORTHUMBRIA, FAIR STREAMS, AND NOBLE RIVERS TO THE SEA
CASTLE OF NORTHUMBRIA, FAIR STREAMS, AND NOBLE RIVERS TO THE SEA >>>>
BOTHAL CASTLE AND RYTON CHURCH
BOTHAL CASTLE AND RYTON CHURCH >>>>

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