A Travellerspoint blog

Entries about houses

Quintessential English villages

Ford and Etal

Northumberland’s only thatched roof pub, Etal

Nestled in the valley of the River Till in rural Northumberland, only a few miles from the border with Scotland, are two quintessential English villages. Ford was built as a model village by Lady Louisa Waterford while neighbouring Etal is a pretty village with Northumberland’s only thatched roof pub.

There is plenty in these few small miles to keep you occupied for several days – two ancient castles (though only one open to the public), rides on a light-gauge railway, an old corn mill, nature reserves and even (though we haven’t yet been there) a prehistoric stone circle.

Ford model village

Typical Ford houses

There have been people living in Ford since the time of the Norman Conquest and probably long before – Bronze Age carvings near here suggest that there may have been a settlement here even back in those days. But the village as we see it today is the brainchild of one woman, Lady Louisa Waterford, the widow of the 3rd Marquis of Beresford who owned the Ford Estate. Lady Waterford was committed to the welfare of the tenants on the estate. She rebuilt the village and also built a new school (which today is known as Lady Waterford Hall – see below).

Typical Ford houses

The houses have a pleasant uniformity although in some ways they look more suburban than rural, perhaps because of that same uniformity. Certainly when built they must have been far pleasanter and more salubrious to live in than the run-down cottages and hovels that were here before. Today many of the houses are still occupied by workers on the estate, and the village also has a few tourist-focused shops such as a second-hand bookshop and an antique shop in the old forge.

The Ford Estate was bought by the Joicey family in 1907. The same family purchased Etal a year later and thus the joint estate of Ford and Etal came into being. The Joicey family still own all of this area today.

Lady Waterford Hall

Mural in Lady Waterford Hall

When Lady Louisa Waterford remodelled Ford village to improve the lives of workers on the estate, she also had a new school built for their children to attend. That school, opened in 1860, is now the village hall and is known as Lady Waterford Hall in her honour. The village hall in most villages would not be on the tourist route, but this one is exceptional because of the legacy Lady Louisa left inside. A talented artist who was associated with John Ruskin and the Pre-Raphelite movement, she spent 21 years decorating the interior walls with stunning murals depicting Bible scenes as a teaching aid for the pupils.


More of the murals

In Lady Waterford Hall

Many of the figures who appear in these were modelled on local people and displays in the hall point these out. Some of her other works and her sketchbooks are also on display but it is the murals that are her most impressive legacy, and reason alone to come to Ford.

Another mural, and the exterior of the hall

Waterford Memorial Fountain

The Waterford Memorial Fountain

At the western end of the village street stands this ornamental fountain, erected by Lady Louisa Waterford in the autumn of 1864. It consists of a granite column rising from a stone basin. At the top of the column is the figure of an angel with a down-turned sword and a shield. This angel is almost certainly the Archangel Michael, to whom the village church is dedicated. It faces west towards Ford Castle, its back to the village.

The fountain is a memorial to her husband, the third Marquis of Waterford, who died in a hunting accident in 1859. On the west face of the base of the column is an inscription to him:

‘This fountain is placed by
Louisa Marchioness of Waterford,
in grateful and affectionate remembrance of her husband,
3rd Marquis of Waterford K.P.; born April 26th, 1811; died March 29th, 1859’

On the north and south faces are inscribed quotations from the Bible. The ones on the south side are clearly linked to the idea of the fountain:

‘“With joy shall ye draw water out of the wells of salvation.”
Isaiah Chap.3, Verse 3
“Drink ye, drink abundantly, O beloved”
Song of Solomon Chap. V, Verse 1’

While on the north side (although illegible now because of age and lichen) is a quotation from the passage Lady Waterford is said to have been reading with her husband on the morning of his death:

'Now Absalom in his life time had taken and reared up for himself a pillar, which is in the king's dale: for he said, I have no son to keep my name in remembrance: and he called the pillar after his own name: and it is called unto this day, Absalom's place.’

Ford Church and Castle

The church with castle beyond

Ford's two oldest buildings, situated on the outskirts of the village, are Ford Castle and the Church of St. Michael and all Angels. Parts of each date back to the 12th century. As we were with my elderly mother-in-law and needed to minimise walking we didn’t visit either, but we did stop to get some photos as they looked lovely on this beautiful July day.

The castle has been largely rebuilt since its 12th century origins, several times – by Sir John Hussey Delaval between 1761 and 1764 and by Lady Louisa Waterford between 1861 and 1863. It must have been in need of this regular attention as being so close to the Scottish border made it vulnerable to frequent attacks. Its most significant claim to fame is that King James IV of Scotland spent his last night here before his fatal battle on nearby Flodden Field in 1513.

During WW2 the castle was used by the Red Cross as a convalescent hospital. It is now used as a residential centre for school trips, and for weddings and conferences, so it’s not possible to go inside, but you can get reasonably close if you want to get some photos.

View from the church's graveyard

The parish church, dedicated to St. Michael was originally built in the 13th century. The west wall and parts of the south aisle are part of that original structure but most of the building dates from 1853 when it was remodelled by the well-known Newcastle architect John Dobson (who was responsible for that city’s Central Station among many other projects). It is a Grade II listed building. Lady Waterford is buried in the churchyard and there is apparently an unusual grave slab with bagpipes on it by the west wall close to the entrance door. As I said, we didn’t go close enough to see it properly, but that sounds worth hunting for.

Heatherslaw Light Railway

A view from the train

A ride on this little train will be the highlight of a visit to this area for children I am sure, and is good fun whatever your age, as well as being a relaxing way to enjoy the pretty countryside. It runs from Heatherslaw to Etal and back, a distance of 6.4 kilometres. The journey there and back takes 50 minutes, or you can alight in Etal to explore the village and castle before returning later, which is what we did.

Heatherslaw Light Railway - arriving in Heatherslaw, and riding the train

This 15 inch gauge railway is the most northerly steam railway in England. It has two steam locomotives, ‘Bunty’ and ‘Lady Augusta’, and one diesel, ‘Binky’. The coaches are all covered, and some have open sides while others are glazed. The route follows the River Till and winds through its meadows, with views largely of agricultural land. In Etal the locomotive is detached, turned around on a turntable and reattached to what was the rear of the train for the journey back to Heatherslaw – another fun thing for the kids to watch!

The turntable at Etal

Heatherslaw station is built on the site of the old Ford and Etal sawmill which burned down in the mid 1980s. The railway has been operating here since 1989, the vision of one railway enthusiast, Neville Smith, who achieved his ambition to create his own 15 inch gauge passenger carrying railway in partnership with the late Lord Joicey who had been looking for just such a project to enhance tourism on Ford and Etal Estates. Today it is operated by Neville’s son Paul and has become one of the main attractions in the area.


Slate-roofed cottages and pub sign, Etal

In contrast to the stone of Ford’s houses, in Etal most buildings are whitewashed. Several of the cottages are thatched, the others have the more typical Northumbrian slate roofs. The village pub, the Black Bull, claims to the only thatched pub in the county (see photo at the top of the page). There is also a small tea room, but the main reason to come here is Etal Castle.


Etal Castle

This castle was first built as a manor house by the Manners family in the late 12th century, and fortified by Robert Manners in the mid 14th century, creating a castle to serve as a defence against Scottish raiders. It fell to King James IV of Scotland's invading army in 1513 on their way to defeat at nearby Flodden, although it had already by this time been abandoned as a residence.

Today it is largely in ruins, although the chapel houses an award-winning exhibition about the Battle of Flodden and Anglo-Scottish warfare. We didn’t visit this but were content instead to wander round the ruins for a while, soaking up the atmosphere and enjoying the late afternoon sunlight on these old stones.

Etal Castle

Although sleepy today (and never large) Etal was in the past a more substantial village, home to a number of pitmen and to businesses such as a carter, blacksmith, grocer, post office, dress maker, stone mason, butcher, joiner and cartwright. By the end of the 19th century there was a ferry across the River Till, operated by a Mary Sutherland, and a mixed Infants school in the village. Today its main focus is tourism, but not on a large scale, and a few minutes will suffice for a stroll along its main street – unless of course you are tempted into the tearoom or pub!


This page, like most of my Northumberland pages, is based on material I wrote on Virtual Tourist. Usually I would write about places I visited as soon as I could after the trip, but this one was an exception. At the end of our day spent exploring these two villages, things took a tragic turn. My lovely mother-in-law Teresa, who accompanied us, was taken ill in the night, rushed to hospital and never recovered. We lost her six weeks later.

For a while all memories of what had been a wonderful summer’s day were tainted by those of how it had ended, and it took me three years to feel able to write about our day out on VT. When I did, that page was dedicated to Teresa, a dedication I am happy to repeat here. Not all women get on with their mother-in-law, but I struck lucky. Teresa welcomed me into the family with open arms 38 years ago, treating me as the daughter she never had, and for that I will always be grateful.

Chris and Teresa at a coffee stop on the way to Ford

Posted by ToonSarah 03:36 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged art people trains castles monument history church village houses Comments (13)

A sacred pool

Around Holystone

The sream running from Lady's Well down to Holystone

The Lady’s Well

Just outside the small village of Holystone is a surprising sight, an atmospheric little pool surrounded by a grove of trees.

The water tank, which is what it is in essence, has had several purposes over the centuries. It was probably built by the Romans to serve as a watering place on the road from High Rochester Roman fort to the River Aln, which passes nearby. They captured the natural spring with a low stone retaining wall to create a large, rectangular pool of clear water.

Lady's Well

According to legend, in Saxon times the water was used for the baptisms of early Christians. It is said that in AD 627 St Paulinus baptised 3,000 Northumbrians here. He was a 7th century Roman monk sent by Pope Gregory I to the Kingdom of Kent in south-east England with a mission to convert the Anglo-Saxons to Christianity. He served in Kent until AD 625, when he accompanied Aethelburg, the sister of King Eadbald of Kent, to Northumbria for her marriage to King Edwin. There Paulinus managed to convert the king and his leading nobles to Christianity and began to spread his mission throughout Northumbrian territory. He was named the first Archbishop of York and died in AD 644. It is now thought that the myth associating him with Holystone stemmed from a misreading of the writings of the Venerable Bede, and that if he did baptise 3,000 people at one go, this took place in York rather than here. Nevertheless the story persists in many descriptions of the site.

More plausible is a link to the 6th century St Ninian, Bishop of Whithorn in south western Scotland between AD 500 and AD 550. He is said to have preached here and baptised his converts to Christianity in the waters of the well pool. Certainly he has been linked to numerous wells beside Roman roads throughout Northumberland, and it’s quite possible that he did visit in an attempt to spread Christianity, but again any association between him and the well is unsubstantiated.

In Medieval times, the pool was dedicated to the Virgin Mary by the Augustinian nuns in the priory at Holystone, now long gone – closed down by Henry VIII during the Reformation and its stones used for building Harbottle Castle. It was at this time that the name of Lady’s Well became attached to the pool.

Statue of St Paulinus

It later fell into disrepair but was repaired in 1780 when the stone edging walls were rebuilt and a 15th century stone statue of St Paulinus was brought from Alnwick Castle and placed in the centre of the well. It is likely that the stone slab at the east end of the tank may also date from this time; this may have served as some sort of altar (although again the legends about St Paulinus claim that he knelt here, making it a holy stone, from which derives the name of the village).

NT sign

During this period the well was thought to have healing properties so became a destination for those seeking cures as well as for pilgrims worshipping Our Lady and/or St Paulinus.

In the second half of the 19th century the statue was removed from the centre of the well to the south west end and a stone cross erected in its place. The statue is situated within the socket hole of a large roughly squared stone of unknown origin and date but not unlike the base of a medieval cross – some say that this, not the ‘altar’ stone at the far end of the pool, is the holy stone that gave the village its name.

The powerful spring that feeds the pool continues to serve as the source of Holystone village’s water supply. Signs at the site ask visitors not to disturb the water in any way. This is such a tranquil spot, with an air of mystery about it, that the mood itself is not conducive to messing around, talking loudly or causing any such disturbance. Certainly when we were there the other visitors we saw were on the whole respectful , with even the couple of toddlers running around easily dissuaded by their parents from throwing anything into the water, as if they too felt the atmosphere a little.

Incidentally, although as the sign indicates this site is owned and managed by the National Trust, there is no charge made to visit, nor any donation requested.

Rather than walk directly from the village we followed a suggestion in a small guide book we have for Northumberland walks and parked in the Forestry Commission car park a short drive away. It was a pleasant short walk through the woods and across a rather over-grown meadow to reach the pool.

Walking through the forest and past the stream that runs away from the pool

We returned via a farmhouse at the edge of the village, across some fields and back to the car park along the road.

Woodhouses Bastle

On the way back we stopped at Woodhouses Bastle, which I’d spotted at the side of the road into Holystone. A bastle is a defensible farmhouse. These were built in this region as a response to the warring conditions along the English/Scottish border during the 16th and 17th centuries. Woodhouses is considered one of the best surviving examples. It sits on private land but it’s possible to get close to it by climbing a permissive path along the edge of a field, which is what we did to get some photos.

Woodhouses Bastle

A little further down the road we encountered this typical Northumbrian traffic jam. The sheepdog seemed to have been given the afternoon off as he was sitting in the tractor which was doing all the work of herding the sheep!

Northumbrian traffic jam

Posted by ToonSarah 03:57 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged buildings water religion history statue houses woods farm pool saints Comments (14)

(Entries 1 - 2 of 2) Page [1]