A Travellerspoint blog

Entries about people

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)

Ancient history in the Northumbrian hills


Looking out from Lordenshaw Hill Fort

The hills to the south of Rothbury in the heart of Northumberland are known as the Simonside Hills. The area is scattered with pre-historic remains, showing that man has inhabited this region for thousands of years. According to the National Park website:

‘Ancient cairns mark the summit of the ridge. Below, in the forest, there is a Bronze Age cemetery and swords from this era, unmarked by fighting, have been found on the lower slopes of Simonside.

Below the ridge lies Lordenshaw hillfort.

The beacon of Simonside was used to warn of a Scots invasion during Tudor times.’

The same website also says that, ‘Today, Simonside appears as an open expanse of wilderness, with a great deal of modern forestry planting in evidence. It is however a managed landscape in the truest sense and regular burning of the heather in the interests of promoting a healthy game bird population lies at the heart of its maintenance as a "wild" open space.’ I will say a little more about that game bird population later …


We visited this site in late August, when the heather was at its most glorious and on a beautiful sunny (albeit windy) day. It’s an easy climb up a wide grassy path to reach the hillfort.

The path to the fort

The hill fort was built around 350BC. It is roughly circular and has two entrances to the east and west. It is surrounded by two concentric ditches, the outer one of which has a diameter of 140 metres. The innermost part of the site, the inhabited area, has a diameter of roughly 70 metres and is on two levels. It contains the remains of several dwelling huts and what appear to be smaller structures, the purpose of which is unknown.

As a non-expert the site can be difficult to visit and interpret, as there is no signage at all. That helps to preserve its special atmosphere but makes it hard to work out which stones are significant, and which might just have been left lying there! However, I have done my best to work out exactly what it was I photographed!

A dwelling house

The above photo shows the most clearly defined of the several dwelling houses that have been identified at the site.





Lordenshaw Hill Fort - burial cairns?

I think the above photos are some of the burial cairns on the hill top which pre-date the fort, being from the Early to Middle Bronze Age (between 3000 and 4000 years ago). According to one source I found, ‘it was around this time that a change came in the way the dead were interred. Rather than placing the bodies or cremations in elaborate long-barrows, the inhabitants of the northern England usually placed the remains in simpler stone or earth mounds’ (see http://www.gefrin.com/lordenshaws/lordenshaws.html).



The eastern entrance

The above photos were taken at the eastern entrance to the fort, where three large stones mark where the pathway cuts through the ramparts.


Ditch to the south of the eastern entrance

Ditch to the north of the eastern entrance

Above you can see the ditch surrounding the fort, looking in both directions from the eastern entrance. This is the outermost defensive ditch with a diameter of around 140 metres. Below is another section of the ditch, on the north side.

Surrounding ditch

Prehistoric rock art

Lordenshaw is known particularly for the large number of rock carvings in the vicinity of the fort, which pre-date it by at least one thousand years. It is difficult to say exactly how old they are, and no one is sure of their function. Some sources I’ve come across say that they date from the Neolithic or New Stone Age and are about 5,000 years old. Again, without signage we found it hard to search them out, and we missed the most famous examples – we will have to go back! But many of the decorated rocks were used in the building of the fort so are scattered around the hillside. Here are a few photos of some we did find - I think!




Carved stones (?) at Lordenshaw

Scattered stones

Views from the fort

It is easy when you are here to appreciate why those Iron Age people chose this spot for their fort, as it commands wonderful views over the surrounding countryside. From the south side, where we ascended from the car park, you can look across to the next ridge of hills and see south east to the lower land there – nowadays dotted with wind turbines.

View to the south east

As we rounded the hillside to its northern flank we could look down over the small town of Rothbury and see the imposing Cragside House nestled among the trees. Cragside was the Victorian home of was the home of William Armstrong, the first Baron Armstrong, who founded the Armstrong Whitworth armaments firm. Armstrong invented the hydraulic crane, among other things – you can read more about him in my Newcastle blog, https://toonsarahnewcastle.travellerspoint.com/19/. Thanks to his inventiveness Cragside was the first house in the world to be lit using hydroelectric power.

Cragside House seen from Lordenshaw

The ‘glorious’ twelfth

While exploring Lordenshaw we could hear the intermittent sound of gunfire. At first I thought we must be near a military firing range, but we later realised that the shooting was coming from the hillside to the south where a grouse shoot was taking place. The law in the UK prohibits the shooting of game before certain dates, and in the case of grouse that date is the 12th August – known as the ‘Glorious Twelfth’ although it is far from glorious for the grouse themselves! It may be of some comfort to learn that according to a cousin of my husband’s, who works for a gamekeeper in the Tyne Valley, the shooters are usually so poor that very few birds are actually hit!

Distant view of grouse shooters on the Simonside Hills

As we returned to the car park after our walk around the fort, the grouse shooters were doing the same, descending the hillside opposite. I grabbed a few candid shots of this very English scene!




Grouse shoot beaters and dogs, Lordenshaw

Posted by ToonSarah 07:23 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged landscapes people history views dogs archaeology customs Comments (14)

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