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Episode 24: Northumberland

Where is Northumberland?

In our twenty-fourth episode we mentioned lots of interesting places and things in Northumberland, so here are some pictures and links to more information if you're curious to find out more!

Hadrian's Wall

Marching 73 miles from coast to coast, Hadrian’s Wall was built to guard the wild north-west frontier of the Roman Empire.

Hadrian’s Wall was a rich and vibrant place. It was a border, but it was also a place where borders were crossed. Here, soldiers and civilians from across Europe and North Africa met, traded and served together at the north-western frontier of the Roman Empire.

Many settled in this wild, foreign place across the sea and adopted local customs, worshipping native gods even while preserving their own traditions.


Newcastle upon Tyne – or simply ‘Newcastle’ as it is most commonly referred to – is one of the most iconic cities in Britain, famous for its industrial heritage, eponymous brown ale, popular nightlife and distinct regional ‘Geordie’ dialect.

Located in the North East of England on the banks of the River Tyne, the city has undergone several transformations since it began life as a Roman fort on Hadrian’s Wall in 122AD.

The settlement was known as Pons Aelius, or Aelian Bridge in Latin, ‘Aelian’ being the family name of Emperor Hadrian. In the wake of the Roman’s departure from Britain in 410AD, Pons Aelius was renamed Monkchester and subsumed into the influential Anglo-Saxon Kingdom of Northumbria.

It was under Norman rule in 1080 that the city gained its current name. The area was then called Novum Castellum, meaning ‘New Castle’ and a castle has remained on the site ever since.

The stone Castle Keep which still remains today was built by Henry II between 1172-1177. The main gatehouse, known as the Black Gate, was built by Henry III between 1247-1250.

Newcastle remained a stronghold against invasions from the Scots during the Middle Ages, thanks in part to the 25 foot defensive stone wall which was erected in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries to encircle the town.

Although the wall was largely destroyed in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, there are still a number of sections which remain today, particularly to the west of the city.

The Howick House

The Howick site lies on a particularly striking section of the Northumbrian coast near the village of Howick.

In 1983 amateur archaeologist John Davies discovered Mesolithic flints, including microliths and some blades, eroding from the site. The discovery of more flint artefacts in January 2000 by Jim Hutchinson led to an investigation of the area by Dr Clive Waddington and Dr Nicky Milner of Newcastle University.

A full investigation of the site took place between June and August 2002. A programme that included fieldwalking, geophysical survey, test-pitting, sediment coring, and soil analysis, as well as a large open area excavation around the site, meant this would become one of the most detailed Mesolithic excavations undertaken anywhere in Europe.

The dwelling is truly ancient. Thirty-three radiocarbon dates from the site have been obtained and these date the construction of the first hut to around 7,800 BC.

The Howick House is the earliest dated evidence for human settlement in Northumberland and is one of only a few Stone Age dwellings known from the British Isles.

Duddo Five Stones

Three-quarters of a mile north of the village of Duddo, Northumberland stands the remains of a Neolithic/Bronze-Age monument.

A small stone circle over 4,000 years old, ‘The Duddo Stones’ are also known by other names including, ‘The Singing Stones’ and ‘The Women’.

They are currently under the ownership of English Heritage and are located on private land.

The Goat Stones

The Goatstones are a simple but intriguing monument just 4 kilometres or 2.5 miles north of Hadrian's Wall but while the Roman wall may be popular with visitors at any time of the year this little monument stands in quiet solitude even on the brightest of summers days.

It seems that there were only ever four stones here making the Goatstones an unusual form of stone circle known as a 'four-poster' of which according to English Heritage there are only about twenty examples in England.

The stones may have been arranged around a low cairn in the centre of the monument although very little trace of this remains to be seen today.

An interesting inclusion at the site is a set of cup marks on one of the stones. These occur on the shortest stone located towards the east of the circle where between ten and twelve man-made depressions can be seen on its flattened top surface, possible grooves can also be seen on a couple of other stones.

Bamburgh Castle

The imposing location of Bamburgh, on top of a high basalt crag overlooking expansive sands and the wild North Sea, has made it one of the star attractions of many a book on castles.

In medieval texts it was identified as Lancelot’s Joyeus Garde Castle in the Arthurian tradition. The ancient capital of the powerful kingdom of Northumbria, there has been some kind of defensive structure at Bamburgh since at least the 6th century.

The first written reference to the castle dates from AD 547 when it was captured by the Anglo-Saxon ruler Ida of Bernicia. At this point, the fortifications were made of wood. The early name of the site, Din Guyardi, predates Ida.

Bamburgh was subsequently the seat of the kings of Northumbria, possibly taking its later name of Bebbanburgh from Bebbe, the second wife of Ida’s grandson King Aethelfrith of Bernicia (593-617).

King Oswald of Northumbria, son of Aethelfrith and his first wife Acha, was the ruler who invited Saint Aidan to preach nearby and so brought Christianity to the kingdom. Oswald granted land to Aidan to create the religious foundation at nearby Lindisfarne.

After his death in battle, Oswald became patron saint of Northumberland, with a cult that extended far beyond the region.

Christianity was well-established in north east England by the 8th century, but the kingship was increasingly weak. On June 8th 793, a fateful day for Northumbria, Viking raiders attacked the monastery of Lindisfarne. Viking raids on wealthy targets continued, the balance of power shifted, and kingdoms elsewhere on the island became dominant.

In 1095, the massive Norman keep at Bamburgh was constructed and the next stage of the history of Bamburgh began. Bamburgh was temporary home – and sometimes prison – to members of the Scottish aristocracy.

During the Wars of the Roses, Bamburgh was a Lancastrian stronghold that came under fierce attack.

By the early 1600s, Bamburgh was ruinous and in private hands, those of the local Forster family. It later became a hospital and a school, before being bought by the wealthy local industrialist, Lord Armstrong, who began the work of restoration but died before it was completed.

Alnwick Castle

Alnwick Castle is the second largest inhabited castle in England, second only to Windsor Castle.

Alnwick Castle was built in the 11th Century to control and protect the border, symbolising status and power for the new Norman barons across the country.

A result of its role in history, the castle boasts numerous defences, including 2 metre thick walls, a 7 metre deep moat, two baileys and thick oak gates.

The castle was attacked by then King of Scotland, William the Lion, in 1173 and 1174. He was captured during the second attack and forced to pledge fealty to King Henry II.

The grounds surrounding the castle were landscaped by Lancelot “Capability” Brown. The works of “Capability Brown” are still renowned today as some of England’s most beautifully designed landscapes.

The Holy Island of Lindisfarne

Lindisfarne Priory on Holy Island was one of the most important centres of early Christianity in Anglo-Saxon England. It is still a place of pilgrimage today, the dramatic approach across the causeway adding to the fascination of the site.

St Aidan founded the monastery in AD 635, but St Cuthbert, prior of Lindisfarne, is the most celebrated of the priory's holy men. Buried in the priory, his remains were transferred to a pilgrim shrine there after 11 years, and found still undecayed - a sure sign of sanctity.

From the end of the 8th century, the isolated island with its rich monastery was easy prey for Viking raiders.

In 875 the monks left, carrying Cuthbert's remains, which after long wanderings were enshrined in Durham Cathedral in 1104, where they still rest.

Only after that time did Durham monks re-establish a priory on Lindisfarne: the evocative ruins of the richly decorated priory church they built in c. 1150 still stand, with their famous 'rainbow arch' - a vault-rib of the now vanished crossing tower.

The small community lived quietly on Holy Island until the suppression of the monastery in 1537.

The Lindisfarne Gospels

The Lindisfarne Gospels has long been acclaimed as the most spectacular manuscript to survive from Anglo-Saxon England.

It is a copy of the four Gospels, the biblical books recounting the life of Christ, along with the associated texts that typically form part of Gospel-books, such as chapter lists and letters written by St Jerome.

The copying and decoration of the Lindisfarne Gospels represent a remarkable artistic achievement. The book includes five highly elaborate full-page carpet pages, so-called because of their resemblance to carpets from the eastern Mediterranean.

Hexham Abbey

Hexham Abbey is one of the earliest seats of Christianity in England. Since its beginning, it has witnessed periods of immense turmoil and change, across the region and within the English Church itself.

Tynemouth Castle and Priory

The complex history of Tynemouth headland spans over 2,000 years. It is dominated by the remains of a medieval priory, which was protected like a castle by walls, towers and a gatehouse.

After the monastery was suppressed in the reign of Henry VIII (1509–47), Tynemouth headland became a coastal fortress and remained so until 1956, because of its strategic position at the mouth of the river Tyne.

Newminster Abbey Ruins

The ruins of Newminster Abbey are located on the west side of Morpeth, near the south banks of the River Wansbeck. This Cistercian abbey was founded in 1137; most of the visible remains date from 1180.

The abbey runis are located on private land, with no public access, and a Scheduled Ancient Monument.

Hulne Priory

Sitting in the grounds of Hulne Park is Hulne Priory, also known as Hulne Friary or Hulne Abbey.

Although it was dissolved in 1539, by which time the church and buildings were demoilished or ruined, it is said that it's probably one of the best and earliest friary of the order in England and has remains of the only surviving Carmelite infirmary.

Brinkburn Priory

Brinkburn Priory is tucked away amongst the woodland, within a picturesque loop of the River Coquet.

The 12th-century church of the Augustinian Priory was completely reroofed and restored in the mid-19th century. It is one of the best examples of early Gothic architecture in Northumberland.


All across northern England there are tales of Boggarts (sometimes called Boggles).

A sort of malevolent version of Hobgoblins, Boggarts were nasty little creatures that usually resided in a family’s home but sometimes lived in marshes.

Once one had become attached to a family, it was impossible to escape as they would follow them if they attempted to move away.

Boggarts caused milk to sour, dogs to go lame and things to disappear around the house, but if they were given a name things would get much worse as they would become uncontrollably violent.


Illustration by Tiffany Turrill

A Bluecap is a fairy like creature, although some say one is a Goblin. They are found mainly along the Anglo-Scottish border, where they live in mines.

Bluecaps work alongside miners, appearing to them as a small blue flame and are deemed hard workers so much so they expect to paid. But don’t think about fobbing one off as they won’t accept anything less than what they’re owed!

As long as you treat one well, they will lead you to rich mineral deposits.


Illustration by Alan Lee

Redcaps are a type of goblin from Northumbrian and Scottish Borders folklore. Described as short, heavily built and resembling old men, redcaps possess prominent teeth and red eyes, along with long, thin fingers tipped with hooked claws. Each wears a large red cap as well as heavy iron boots. Invariably they carry a long pike or scythe, again constructed from heavy iron, which they use to kill their victims.

While many related creatures such as boggarts and kobolds have a reputation as malicious tricksters and troublemakers, redcaps are considered far more malevolent.

Bloodthirsty and violent, redcaps take their name from their practice of soaking their cloth caps in the blood of their victims. As with many creatures of English folklore, names for the beings most frequently known as redcaps vary from place to place; they are sometimes called powrie on the Scottish side of the border.


There's a malicious creature found in Northumberland and Durham England who must be a close friend of Shucks. This vile old spirit is a shape-shifter called the Brag.

Unsuspecting travelers in Northumberland may encounter a Brag as a lonely horse or donkey idling along an isolated road, quiet field, or windy moorland.

Thinking the animal is wonderfully tame, the poor traveller will climb onto the animals back, only to be taken on a wild ride until thrown into a cold pond or thorny bush in total terror.

The nasty shape-shifter then runs off laughing at the scratched, drenched, and otherwise humiliated soul who is now thoroughly bewildered about what just happened.

The Brag does not always appear as a horse however, at times appearing as cattle, headless men, or as pots of gold.

The Cauld Lad of Hylton

Hylton Castle was built for William De Hylton around 1400 and is most famous for its ghost, the "Cauld Lad of Hylton," who is said to haunt the ruined castle.

Some say that it is the spirit of a stable lad by the name of Roger Skelton who was murdered by one of the Lords of Hylton. The staff of Hylton Castle would sometimes say they had seen or heard the ghost of the stable boy and he would shout out "I'm cauld, I'm cauld" which in the local mackem dialect means I'm cold - hence 'Cauld Lad.'

Being a young boy and a ghost, he was mischievous and enjoyed throwing dishes around, but he would only do this if the servants had left the kitchen tidy. If they had left it untidy the ghost would clean up for them, so naturally the servants would more often than not leave the kitchen untidy!

It is also said that sometimes the Cauld Lad would get bored with the castle and go down to the River Wear and sail the Hylton ferry by impersonating the boatman. After taking the passengers fares he would leave them stranded in the middle of the river.

The Laidly Worm of Spindleston Heugh

This story tells of the old king of Bamburgh whose much-loved wife passes away, leaving the kingdom in mourning. With the king’s son, Childe Wynd, unheard from since his departure in search of fame and fortune the duty of comforting the old king falls upon his daughter, the kind Princess Margaret.

Many women attempt to attract the king’s attention but his sorrow blinds him until the appearance of a beautiful but evil witch at the castle who uses her power to beguile the king and marry him, becoming the new queen.

When the lords and chieftains visit to give the new couple their blessing the knights are enraptured by Princess Margaret and the jealous queen whispers a curse which can only be undone by the return of Childe Wynd, presumed dead.

Princess Margaret awakes the next day to find herself transformed into a dragon, only able to crawl and shriek. The princess flees from her terrified courtiers and finds a nearby cave, emerging only when she becomes so hungry she cannot stand it. The dragon feeds on the livestock of farmers for miles around until the kingdom decide to appease the beast with daily offerings.

Childe Wynd, fighting with the Franks, hears of the misfortune at home and builds a ship of rowan wood for his return voyage. Wynd is able to navigate into Budle bay where the dragon waits for him on the beach.

Rushing toward the dragon, sword in hand, Childe Wynd hears a gentle voice from within his adversary and is compelled to act with love. He bows and kisses the dragon who retreats to its cave and emerges as Princess Margaret in her original form.

The evil queen escapes, her spell undone, the heir returned, and the princess’s true beauty eclipsing her own. When the evil queen is captured Childe Wynd has her transformed into a toad-like-creature, her outer state now reflecting her true nature and only her bright, shining eyes remaining the same.

The Beast of Bolam Lake

Beautiful Bolam Lake (here shown frozen-over) is around 9 miles from Newcastle upon Tyne, and a couple of miles from Belsay. It's a lovely place for a gentle country walk, with woodland, wildlife and paths around the picturesque lake suitable for pushchairs and wheelchairs.

Yet, this little spot of tranquility is the setting for Northumberland’s very own Bigfoot legend.

For many years there have been sighting of a huge man shaped hairy beast with glowing eyes and strange beastly noises. Trees snapped without explanation, many a local have fled in fear.

All sightings have been at night, and there is a theory that it it may actually be a paranormal apparition, which would explain why he hadn’t been discovered.

The Wizard Earl

Henry Percy, 9th Earl of Northumberland (April 27, 1564—November 5, 1632) was an English aristocrat. He was a grandee and one of the wealthiest peers of the court of Elizabeth I, who under James I was a long-term prisoner in the Tower of London.

He is known for the circles he moved in as well as for his own achievements. He acquired the sobriquet The Wizard Earl from his scientific and alchemical experiments, his passion for cartography, and his large library.

Although his title was from the north of England, Percy had estates in the south at Petworth House and at Syon House, a few miles north of Richmond-upon-Thames, acquired by his marriage to Dorothy Devereux (sister of Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex) in 1594. Though it did produce a male heir, Algernon, the marriage was not successful, and the couple separated after a time.

Algernon Percy

Henry's mild deafness and slight speech impediment did not prevent him from becoming an important intellectual and cultural figure of his generation.

The Percy family was still largely Catholic, while Henry was at least nominally Protestant. When it became clear that the Protestant James VI of Scotland was likely to succeed Elizabeth, Henry sent Thomas Percy, a recent Catholic convert, on a secret mission to James's court three times in 1602. He said that English Catholics would accept James as king if he reduced the persecution of Catholics.

Shortly before James's accession to the English throne in 1603, Robert Cecil, 1st Earl of Salisbury, warned the king against Henry Brooke, 11th Baron Cobham, Sir Walter Ralegh, and Percy. This theory of the "diabolical triplicity" rested on innuendo about the occult interests supposedly cultivated by the School of Night, the intellectual circle led by Percy.

His second cousin Sir Thomas Percy went on to become one of the five conspirators in the Gunpowder Plot of 1605. When the plot was discovered, Sir Thomas fled and was besieged at Holbeache House in Warwickshire.

On November 8, 1605, a marksman shot dead both Robert Catesby and Sir Thomas with a single bullet. As a result, the Earl of Northumberland was suspected of being part of the plot and spent the next 17 years as a prisoner in the Tower of London. He also paid a fine of £30,000.

Still a rich man, Percy made himself comfortable in the Tower of London. He took over Martin Tower, and had a covered-over bowling alley installed. Raleigh, who preceded him to the Tower with a death sentence hanging over him, he saw regularly.

From 1616 Robert Carr, 1st Earl of Somerset and Frances Carr, Countess of Somerset were inmates, and he was on social terms with them. Frances promoted the marriage of his second daughter Lucy Percy to James Hay, 1st Earl of Carlisle, while as a father he disapproved and required Lucy to reside with him; but Frances outwitted him.

Because of his interest in scientific experiments and his library, Henry acquired the nickname "The Wizard Earl". The library was one of the largest in England at the time. He was a patron to Thomas Harriot, Nicholas Hill, Robert Hues, Nathaniel Torporley and Walter Warner. The astrologer John Dee, nearby Syon House at Mortlake, was also a friend of Henry, and their circles overlapped.

Harriot had been a navigational tutor to Ralegh and his captains. From 1598 (or possibly from 1607) Harriot lived at Syon House. There he used a telescope to make a map of the moon several months before Galileo did the same. He may have been the first person to observe sunspots.

Percy had also connections to the literati. George Peele wrote a poem The Honour of the Garter, dedicated to Percy and for the occasion of his admission to the Order of the Garter, on 26 June 1593. Christopher Marlowe also moved in the same group, and Percy was a friend to John Donne.

In William Shakespeare's Love's Labour's Lost (1594), there is a mention of the "School of Night". It has been argued that this refers of a circle of scientific investigators which met at Syon House.

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