Four hill forts of the valley
Rothbury Walking Festival is now in full swing and today we had a superb walk taking in both sides of the valley looking at the ‘Four Hill Forts of the valley’.
After meeting at the new Shepherds Walks centre in Rothbury we headed up through the village before climbing up along Gravely Bank. A well-deserved rest at the top gave us a great overview of the valley and also the two hill forts on the south side of the valley.
We continued to gently climb up to the first of the hill forts.
- Rothbury Hillfort -
Old Rothbury Hillfort is situated west of Rothbury on the northside of the valley and sits close to westhills camp.
The fort has a double ring fortification though in places only a single ring is visible.
There are traces of hut circles inside the enclosure.
It always seems a bit odd to find a hillfort half-way up a hill. You'd think it would have been too easy for attackers to lob missiles down from above.
But, the inhabitants of Rothbury must have had their reasons I suppose. The fort is on a nicely situated plateau, and there are traces of hut circles. They went to a bit of effort to build the double ditch and rampart system, though in some places there's just a single bank and ditch, as the natural slope is pretty steep.
From Rothbury Hillfort we continued to climb up before reaching and dropping down Physic Lane before doing a short detour to our next hill fort.
- West Hills Camp -
The site covers about 3 acres. This Iron Age multivallate hillfort is located on a spur overlooking a valley located to the south. The earthworks are well-preserved in their eastern and northern part where three lines of ramparts can be distinguished. There is a wide berm between two innermost ramparts.
It has never been excavated, although earlier field reports mention remains of hut circles, nowadays difficult to distinguish. East of the hillfort there are bedrock outcrops with Neolithic/Bronze Age rock art.
After visiting West Hill Camp we continued down to Thropton before crossing the River Coquet, crossing the valley floor and we climbed up to a well-deserved lunch stop at Tosson Lime Kiln.
The sun was out, we had picnic tables, what could anybody else ask for?
Everybody was now fully refreshed for our steep climb up to the next of our hillforts.
- Tosson Burgh Hillfort -
This Iron Age hillfort occupies a very dramatic location, it is visible from miles away (even from Rothbury). It occupies a carefully chosen naturally defended site overlooking the Coquet valley to the north, west and east. Though there are no traces of habitation within the ramparts, the fort is unexcavated, and such features may survive below ground level.
The strong situation of Tosson Burgh hillfort suggests that it was intended for use as a fortification, though a public display of power and status may have been equally important.
Though evidence of habitation may yet be found inside the rampart, the fort is not large in area, in common with many other hillforts in Northumberland, and is unlikely to have supported any sizeable population. Smaller hillforts may have served as defended farmsteads established by autonomous small groups, rather than proto-urban centres.
Onwards and upwards as we climbed up away from Tosson Burgh Hillfort through Rothbury Forest to Simonside. We skirted around the ridge but then climbed upto Dove Crag before following the ridge back down to our next hill fort.
- Lordenshaws iron Age Hillfort -
Lordenshaw Hillfort comprises 3 ramparts separated by ditches and a counterscarp bank with a 2 metres high inner bank. Within the hillfort there are the remains of Iron Age hut circles. There are two entrances to the site, one to the east and one to the west. There are many rock art sites close by the hillfort.
It is a truly striking Iron Age hillfort.
It was downhill all the way after Lordenshaws and the group had a real sense of achievement and so they should. They had visited the four hill forts of the valley and as they arrived back in Rothbury it had been a real walk to remember.
Craster and Dunstanburgh Castle
When planning this year’s Rothbury Walking Festival I thought let’s do a few ‘different’ walks and this was one – a trip to the coast.
The weather was a little cool as we all met at Craster and after a few minutes we were walking along one of the most famous coastlines in Northumberland between Craster and Dunstanburgh Castle.
Thankfully we had some sheep to look at on our journey with people from all over the country attending a walk there was a great mix that all gelled very quickly.
We soon reached Dunstanburgh Castle.
Recent evidence suggests that the site of the castle was occupied in prehistoric times: however, the principal remains date from the 14th century.3 In 1313, Earl Thomas of Lancaster, cousin of Edward II of England, began construction of a massive fortress. By the time of his execution in 1322, the castle was substantially complete. John of Gaunt improved the castle in the late 14th century as the Duke of Lancaster.
The castle did not play a significant part in the border warfare against Scotland. In the Wars of the Roses the castle was held for the Lancastrians in 1462 and 1464. The damage done was not made good and the castle fell steadily into decay. A report in 1538 mentioned it as being a "very reuynus howsse and of smalle strength" and another source in 1550 described it as in "wonderful great decaye". It continued to deteriorate and was robbed of stone for the building of other places in the area. The last private owner Sir Arthur Sutherland donated the castle to the Ministry of Works in 1929. The castle is now owned by the National Trust and in the care of English Heritage. It is a Scheduled Ancient Monument and a Grade I listed building. It lies within the Northumberland Coast Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
From Dunstanburgh Castle we headed onto Dunstanburgh Golf Course and then dropped down onto Embleton Bay from where we had some great views looking back at the castle.
We then passed inland and turned south again on our journey to Dunstan Streads. On our way we passed an old Lime Kiln and a Pill box which made for an ideal lunch stop.
After Dunstan steads we headed back towards the coastline and made our way back to Craster.
A truly great 5 mile walk with great company.
When I arrived at Hartside it was raining gently and Hedghope was in cloud, shades of my previous day on Cheviot! A quick chat with Linda and we agreed that it would be prudent to don overtrousers in addition to the waterproof jacket, it was only just after the summer solstice after all. Then the drizzle turned to rain and we sat in the car awaiting the arrival of the day’s clients who were quick on the uptake and dressed accordingly. It was good to meet-up with old friends from previous walks (Valerie and Darren, Linda and Muriel) and to meet some new faces (Rowland and Maria). As everyone assembled early we set-off exactly on the advertised start time, most unusual.
We managed to cross the moorland and start climbing towards Cunyan Crags before the first heavy shower caught us. They only lasted a few minutes but were quite intense with big drops. Fortunately the wind wasn’t anywhere near as strong as it was on the previous day but the hailstones still stung a bit, flaming June? We followed a quad bike track up onto Cunyan Crags and on to Dunmoor Hill which was surprisingly dry. The peat alongside the summit fence had largely dried out and even developed desiccation cracks. The new fencing, management for sheep and grouse and lines of shooting butts made an impact on everyone as did the extent of Threestoneburn Wood. The conifers of this huge plantation are due to be harvested soon and it will make a big difference to the appearance of the landscape east of Hedgehope.
We descended to the dip between Dunmoor and Hedgehope, “walked the planks” over the boggy bits before beginning the steady two kilometre climb up to the summit. The weather alternated between twenty-mile-an-hour fog (i.e. low cloud) and occasional glimpses of the hill between heavy showers so we were more than ready to crouch in the summit shelter for lunch.
The descent involved much less exertion except that the frequent showers had now liquefied the surface peat and the small stream that originates just below the summit beside the fence was now running; it had been dry on the way up. Slips and slides were the order of the day so we had to be careful on the way down. The fast moving shafts of sunlight picked-out the granite domes of Great and Little Standrop and we were able to see exposures of granite on the path down towards the Linhope Burn. A short detour to see Linhope Spout and take photographs from both the top and the plunge pool below saw us actually beginning to dry-off as we walked through the hamlet of Linhope. It was easy to appreciate the environmental difficulties of hill sheep farming in these hills having experienced such a wet day in summer. Similarly the difficulty of building and drystone walling with the irregularly shaped lavas found locally. All of the building corners, lintels and window frames were constructed of cut and shaped sandstone with the random stone of the lava being held in place by mortar. The contrast in both the materials and building techniques used in the construction of “the big house” and the adjacent farm cottages was noticeable too. Leaving the hamlet the location of Grieve’s Ash, an Iron Age settlement, was pointed out. Everyone had heard of Brough Law, which we could easily see from where our cars were parked. However the plethora of other hillforts in the area were largely unknown so the Northumberland National Park’s Hillforts Trail was mentioned as was the idea of looking at our route on Google Earth when everyone returned home.
Hopefully a good day was had by all and, despite the weather, I hope everyone enjoyed the day and saw and learnt something new, we certainly had a few laughs. The fact that Val and Darren are booked on walks over the next two weeks is encouraging, see you both soon.
Richard Monday, 24 June 2013