Thursday, 8 January 2015

Walking around Harbottle

The Forestry Commission Car Park at West Wood just northwest of Harbottle is the start of the walk which is described in one of the National Park's leaflets as a Ranger's Favourite Walk. The track climbs moderately uphill onto the Harbottle Crags Nature Reserve. At first little can be seen of the village of Harbottle hidden amongst the trees but The Old Manse built in typical Northumberland style around 1850 and the ruins of the C12th castle sitting on its motte can be clearly seen.

Harbottle, a linear settlement of mostly late C18th and early C19th houses nestles in the beautiful Coquetdale, providing access to some very attractive countryside including the Cheviot Hills to the north and seen here the Simonside Hills to the south. In the village there is a good Church of England first school, a doctor's surgery, and a public house that also acts as a newsagents. 

Beautiful open moorland covered by upland heather and dwarf-shrub rises to a series of fell sandstone rock outcrops. One of these is the Drake Stone (right) a 9 metre tall erratic which has come to rest on the ridge above Coquetdale. Nearby rocks have also been scratched by the ice sheets and subsequent weathering has left scroll shaped swirls on their surfaces. Rumours of Druids and local folklore about healing children abound but it is probable that proximity of water, natural rock shelters and the excellent vantage point encouraged very early human attention. Interest in the site probably continued well into the C16th considering the activities of the Border Reivers. One might pass this way unobserved from Coquetdale to Redesdale across what are now the MoD Ranges.

Looking west over Harbottle Lough from Drake Stone to the Ranges beyond.

Drake Stone from Harbottle Lough. The lough is a landlocked body of water left behind when the last ice sheet melted. It is one of only three in Northumberland. 
Once much larger it is now reduced in size due to the growth of sphagnum moss covering the deep water to the east.

The short climb from the lough to the rather dense and spooky conifer plantation of West Wood passes over Millstone Edge Quarry. This is a shallow hillside quarry with broken millstone roughouts, remains of quarryman's huts, spoil tips and hollow ways.The quarry was known to have been in use from 1604 until about 1800.

The woodland path is rather dark with boggy patches and numerous tree routes to step over. It is a relief to emerge onto The Swire to look over Coquetdale once again. Below lies the tiny hamlet of Low Alwinton which comprises no more than the parish church, adjacent parsonage and a few cottages. The parish church of St. Michael and All Angels probably dates from the C12th but was largely rebuilt 1851-2.

After crossing the road bridge over the River Coquet the track broadly follows the left bank of the river and passes the Low Alwinton Lime Kiln.

Looking back across the River Coquet to Drake Stone and the Harbottle Hills

A short detour takes you to Harbottle Castle a ruined medieval castle situated at the west end of the village overlooking the River Coquet built about 1160 by the Umfraville family at the request of King Henry II as a defence against raids from the north.  In 1174, it was taken by the Scots and rebuilt more strongly. In the 1310s Robert the Bruce captured the castle, restored in 1336, but in ruins again by 1351. By 1436 the castle was rebuilt andowned by the Tailleboys. It was for a long time the residence of the Warden of the Middle Marches and used as a prison.
In 1515 Margaret Tudor, the widowed queen of James IV of Scotland and sister of Henry VIII, having been banished by the regent, the Duke of Albany, came to the castle with her second husband, the Earl of Angus. While there a daughter was born, Margaret who became the mother of Lord Darnley, the second husband of Mary Queen of Scots, and grandmother of James I.
In 1605 the king granted the castle and manor to George Home, Lord Treasurer of Scotland, but thereafter the castle fell into decay and much of its masonry was used in other buildings.

Looking north to the Alwin Valley between Lords Seat (left) and Clennel Hill.

At the end of the walk looking west to Drake Stone and the Harbottle Hills.

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