How ancient crags gave up their secret

Environment Editor Tony Henderson on roadside revelations.

Environment Editor Tony Henderson on roadside revelations.

For those taking the road from Rothbury to Alnwick, the journey is enriched by one of the finer views in Northumberland.

The B6341 affords a panorama of the Cheviot Hills and much else, including Edlingham Castle and the adjacent medieval church.

For thousands of years, people have been looking out over the same vista from one rather special vantage point.

Just above the road is Corby's Crags, the location of a natural rock shelter.

The shelter lies beneath a sandstone dome and it was here, more than 30 years ago, that teacher Peter Cheffings chanced upon pieces of pottery which turned out to be 4,000 years old.

He showed the pottery to Hexham archaeologist and author Dr Stan Beckensall, who decided to investigate.

On the top of the dome he found prehistoric rock carvings, with another groove, picked out with a hard stone, on the floor of the shelter.

Inside the shelter were also the remains of flint knapping from the making of Stone Age tools from 8,000 years ago.

The groove ran to a triangular stone, covered by soil. The slab sealed a pit, in which Stan discovered an early Bronze Age burial pot - now in Newcastle University's Museum of Antiquities - containing cremated remains.

The people of 8,000 and 4,000 years ago were followed by a succession of others who used the shelter.

Pieces of clay pipes, glass and even a teacup were evidence of continual, occasional occupation.

Iron tools had also been used to fashion an armchair from the rock - probably, thinks Stan, the work of miners who worked bell pits in the area.

Below the rock shelter are what is left of walls and ditches from an Iron Age settlement, while a polished Neolithic axe found in the vicinity is also now in the Museum of Antiquities.

They are part of the record left on the landscape by the weight of history, which also includes a prehistoric cup and ring marked rock in nearby Lemmington Wood which also has rare Fifth Century rune marks.

Indeed, the Saxons of Whittingham Vale are believed to have fought Danes coming from the coast at Battle Bridge, near Edlingham, in 875.

Eadwulfingham is recorded in 737, meaning the homestead of the sons of Eadwulf. Edlingham was one of the Northumbrian villages given to Cuthbert by King Coewulf, who gave up his throne to become a monk on Lindisfarne.

The castle lies in the vale below the B6341, and it has its origins in a two-storey moated hall house built in the 12th Century by John de Edlingham.

It included a parlour, chambers, kitchen, bake and brewhouses.

In 1295 the property was sold to William de Felton, Sheriff of Northumberland, who fortified the place with ramparts on the inner side of the moat and a gatehouse.

The next bout of home improvements came in the 14th Century, which saw the building of an impressive solar tower, which combined domestic comforts and better security.

The thick-walled tower and turret, which was defended by stone curtain walls, had fine fireplaces, ribbed vaulting, window ledge seats, carved figureheads and decorative plasterwork.

The evolution of the castle site illustrates the contrast between the peaceful 13th Century in Northumberland and the unrest of the 14th Century.

After 1420 ownership passed to the Hastings family, and then in 1514 to George Swinburne of Capheaton.

By the 17th Century Edlingham Castle was in decline, with ground floor rooms being used to house animals.

The castle eventually fell into ruins, which were covered by wind-blown soil until excavations in 1978 and conservation work in 1985 restored the profile of the building and made it safe for visitors.

It is now in the care of English Heritage.

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