Along Till Side

FOLLOWING the course of a river is a pleasant but long business, and Till is a meandering stream. Often as a boy I listened to a rustic but highly intelligent native arguing that the flat green haughs above Etal and Milfield Plain must at one time have been submerged by a gigantic lake. Mr. G. G. Butler, in an address delivered in 1904, set forth a similar idea and supported it with geological data. One of his points was that beds of clay, not mixed with stone and boulders as it is when of glacial origin, but deep and continuous, are formed by the deposit of the finest river sand in still lake water. This condition is fulfilled at the tile-sheds of Flodden and Ewart. Borings by Sir Horace St. Paul produced even stronger evidence. On low haugh land near Humbledon Buildings, where clay is at the surface, he bored seventy feet without getting through it. At another place he bored first through twenty-five feet of dry sand and gravel, then through soft and wet sand and gravel, after which he came to a bed of clay, which he bored to a depth of a hundred feet, when the rods broke. It is at least imaginable that the Till at that epoch found an outlet through the now dry gorge of Haiden Dene and flowed directly into the North Sea.

When Sir Walter Scott characterised the river as the ” deep and sullen Till ” he had probably been looking at it from Flodden Hill. Primitive man gazing on the same prospect would, according to the hypothesis, have seen a great sheet of still water on which floated the coracle canoe or whatever was used for water transport by ” the man in the barrow.”

There is still a suggestion of the lake about the Till above Etal. A stranger would have to fling in a stick to find the way it travels, and in stormy weather it produces quite formidable wavelets. It has always been dangerous mainly because its deepest holes are nearest the edge. A bathing schoolboy may wade for long distances in mid-stream while a six-foot man could not keep his head above water if he tried to stand upright near either bank. This and the tremendous floods which occur when its feeders are swollen with rain may account for its surly rhyme, which, however, according to an old tradition, bears a reference to the Scottish flight after Flodden :

Tweed said to Till What gars ye rin sae still ? Till said to Tweed Though ye rin wi’ speed And I rin slaw Yet where ye droon yin man I droon twa.

But it is no longer surly or sullen when once it has tumbled over the cauld at Etal. Just below that are stepping stones over which the impecunious schoolboy may cross when he has not the copper which Charon exacts at the ferry. This change in character is reflected in the fishing. In the still reaches by the haughs lie the monsters. You may, on an autumn day, watch the salmon leaping the mill dam on their way up-stream. The bull trout and whitling, the pike and the perch, have innumerable strongholds in the pond weed which flourishes. Shoals of red-finned perch, in the deeper pool, tempt the child with his first home-made rod. But when Till, like a quick-change artist, doffs the sober livery in which he has been clad and streams away towards Twizel, rippling and singing over rock and stone, he becomes a joy to the trout fisher, who, how-ever, finds one drop of bitterness in his cup. He likes not the grayling introduced some years ago.

The vegetation on the bank, too, is different. By, or rather in, the still waters grow borders of sedges – usually called” segs ” for short – with rushes here and there. In old days when bee-hives were made of straw laced with willows and basket-making, particularly swills – an extra long basket used on the farm for potatoes and turnips–willows were planted on the banks. That the name Willow Ford is as old as the battle of Flodden suggests that the industry is as old too. But the willows are neglected now. If a typical one were photographed it would significantly illustrate the line in ” Hamlet,” ” a willow grew athwart the stream.” Untended, they are more picturesque than ever.

But where Till is prettiest the sky is shut out with the foliage of trees. They are of sorts which vary from the hazel to the oak.

Recent plantings have been mostly of Conifera. Soft woods are the fashion just now both for use and beauty, but they give a certain park-like and artificial appearance which spoils the simple primitive charm of the timber trees beloved of our forefathers.

It makes very little difference whether you walk up or down the bank of a river ; but up used to be convenient when bent on a walking tour, because there is a railway station at Twizel and it makes a good starting point.

The famous bridge is the best place at which to leave the high road. One is glad to omit the short section of the river between it and Tillmouth where ” the chapel fair ” referred to in Marmion ” has been hopelessly ” restored.” Once a castle of note stood at Twizel, but it was destroyed during the war which followed the espousal by James IV of the cause of Perkin Warbeck. A ruin visible from the railway carriage represents an effort at building made in the eighteenth century by the Sir Francis Blake of that period. It was never completed, or indeed used, except as a quarry for stones when the present residence of the Blake family was built.

The grey Tudor bridge can never be seen too often. ” Greate and strong and of one bow,” as Leland described it, it is a good example from a good period. But were it a cast iron County Council bridge of to-day it would be interesting because of its past (I hope the bull will not obscure the meaning). Over it on the fateful day of Flodden passed Surrey’s vanguard and artillery.

The walk up-stream discloses little of antiquarian interest. It is impossible to go anywhere in Northumberland without coming across remains of fortified buildings. From the twelfth to the seventeenth century Border people had always to keep watch and ward against the foe. The owner of a few cows and a nag or two had to have a place to drive them when a foray was on. One can realise the life they led from what happened in London when an air-raid was always a possibility.

The pleasure of this walk is mainly derived from nature. Under the leafy shade it is cool on the hottest summer day ; cool too are the very colours of running water, here showing a million reflections in its brown depths, there gleaming fresh and white as it foams over a boulder whereon alights that energetic companion of your walk, the water ousel, ever like the village idiot nodding his head. The heron and the kingfisher love the shallow streams, and often the brown owl mistakes the gloom of the forest for the passing of day.

Old mills, mostly ruined, occur frequently between Twizel and Etal. They are generally approached by bridle paths only, and so recall the time when yeomen took their corn to be ground on the back of a packhorse and brought home the meal less the millers ” moulter ” or multure. The miller continued to be the ” stout carie ” depicted by Chaucer up to the time of Thomas Bewick. Later it became more usual for the meal to be delivered by the poker – the word was probably connected with ` pokes,’ as bags or sacks were called. Much cheating went on over that indefinite levy on the ground corn, the multure, pretty much as Chaucer described in the Reeve’s Tale.

Etal Village, embowered in trees, with thatched houses and gay little gardens in front of them, is one of the prettiest villages in the county.

Etal Castle was ” in very great decay ” when the Border Survey of 1542 was made. It never recovered from the hammering it got before Flodden and is now ruinous. Bowes described it as ” being of the Erie of Rutland’s inheritance,” and it was a Manners who built it in the twelfth century. His arms may yet be seen above the entrance gate. There remains also ” the wall of stone and lime ” built by Sir Robert de Manners in 1342; when what seems to have been originally a mansion-house was crenellated and fortified.

In the time of Queen Bess it was held by the Collingwoods under a lease of three lives. Afterwards it passed into the hands of George Home, Earl of Dunbar. a Scottish favourite of ” the wisest fool in Christendom.” Dunbar sold it to the Carrs, from whom Lady Fitzclarence was descended. She was married in May, 1821, to Lord Fitzclarence, son of William IV and Mrs. Jordan. Hence the portraits of that famous actress and the souvenirs of William that used to adorn the interior of Etal House before it was sold on the death of Lady Fitzclarence.

The river, held in check by the mill-dam, is here like a pond. It is crossed by a ferry which starts at the bottom of a declivity on the summit of which the castle is placed. Up stream on the right bank a footpath goes. Follow it and before crossing to the green haugh look into the stream, and if the water be clear you may see the ruins of a bridge. Where they reach the other side there is an avenue of trees showing where the main road used to go. What would one not give to be carried back on a Time Wishing Carpet to Mid-September, 1513 ! for over that bridge and along the road, grass for four hundred years, were drawn the Scottish guns captured at Flodden and the English artillery. One looks, till the oaths of the teamsters, the orders of officers, and the jabbering of victory-flushed men seem to rise above the clamour of the jackdaws on Etal Castle.

This was the ” brigge at Etayle ” the decay of which is lamented by Bowes. It ” afforded ready passage when the river Tyll is waxengreate and past the rydinge upon horseback.” So he calls out to have it ” re-edyfied,” and during the last four centuries this has been suggested again and again. The very last time I was at Etal an old inhabitant dwelt upon the advantages, and showed how without a bridge at Etal the way is very roundabout to places on the main road between Cornhill and Wooler. But no one has yet rebuilded the bridge.

The ferry used to be kept by an old man who had in his cottage two fine pictures of a Peregrine Falcon and a Hen Harrier, both from Henhole near Cheviot. Every time he showed them he told the same story of the painter who, burning with enthusiasm, took these and other pictures to an Edinburgh publisher. What surprised the unworldly artist was that the Scot, though acknowledging the merit of the drawings, asked, “But would it pey ? ” He was struck dumb for a moment by a question which was the last he would have thought about ; then, with a ” It’ll take a langer shot than me to tell that,” he folded up his possessions and took his departure. How times and manners change ! The artist of today would put that query first.

There is no trace of a road now except a footpath across the green haugh with a rush-covered bog in the middle of it, while to the right of it is a declivity still called the Balks, an interesting survival of the open-field system of cultivation. The names of many hamlets are reminiscent of the same system. Such are Crookham East Field, Crookham West Field, Ford West Field, and so on. The common field was divided into what are variously called ridges or riggs, selions or stitches. A three-course rotation prevailed. Autumn-sown wheat or rye one year, spring-sown corn the next, or, as an alternative, peas or beans. Every third year the land was fallowed.

Above the Balks is a hamlet named Keek Out, where watch was kept for the marauding Scot. Not far off is Pallinsburn House, with a fox-cover at the back and in front a wooded park sloping gently down to the edge of the gull-pond, a famous breeding resort of Larus ridibundus. The gulls used to be called Askew’s Hens, from the name of the family, one of whom built the house. Watson Askew forbade his guests to shoot there – a severe trial for a sportsman, since wild duck come to it in considerable numbers, as well as water-hens, coots, grebes and their kind. Often Colonel Askew, a fine old sportsman who used to be a frequent visitor, was heard to mutter as the duck came flying over in the dusk ” Damn you, I’ll shoot you ! Damn you, I’ll shoot you ! ” But he never did. Tradition says the gulls came from Morebattle about 1750, when the Kale, then a tributary of the Bowmont, broke its banks and flowed to Teviot, the water of the lake escaping too. But Marden Bog must have attracted ridebundu in the dark ages, and the pond was a part of it.

It is beautiful in spring to see the pond, which is set with wild flowering shrubs and trees, such as gorse and broom, the white-thorn and the laburnum. The noisy birds make a Babel of the place, and as they fly to and fro their white wings flashing among the tree shadows of the adjacent old plantation and the clamour of their voices bring a touch of the sea inland. They usually come when March is blustering out the last two or three of its days, and go away when the harsh note of the corncrake rises from the fields of waving corn and clover.

Seven miles from Berwick, on the way to Etal, is the hamlet of Duddo – from Dod, a round-topped hill, and hoe, a height. On a rocky eminence which rises unexpectedly from the surrounding cornfields are the walls of an ancient pele of the Lords of Tilimouth, which was destroyed by the Scots a few days before Flodden. It was further ruined by the working of the neighbouring coal seams. There are only a few cottages by the roadside, called the village. On Grindon Rig, in the direction of Norham, are the Duddo Stones, striking monoliths, from five to ten feet high. They may have formed part of a Druidical circle.

Crookham, standing high on jutting ground, is a finely situated village looking across Till to the Etal Haughs, and with Flodden and the blue Cheviot range in the opposite direction. But it has no resident squire to beautify it, no church except a plain, square slated Presbyterian meeting-house, and for long its population has been dwindling. In old times it was a nest of farmers and yeomen, and no other village near could turn out so many tough fighters, each on his own nag. During the early years of Lady Waterford it had a miscellaneous population of horsecopers, crofters, and other smallholders, bondagers, and those who kept lodgings for the packmen, pedlars, clock-menders, and the other ” gaun-folk.” Many of them lived in houses thatched down to the ground, and each cottage had a midden at the door. Mrs. Armstrong (Besant’s heroine, Dorothy Forster) ended her days here as the wife of a faithful old farmer.

There is a ruinous stone building which tradition asserts to have been a tavern at the Battle of Flodden.

Leaving it and going along the river bank one passes Ford Forge, which was one of the last places in Great Britain where spades and shovels were forged by the agency of water-power.

Ford Castle stands in a well-timbered park on ground which rises from the north bank of Till at a distance of about a mile from the river. It was a strong Border tower till partially destroyed by James IV before Flodden. The legendary tale that the royal squire of dames lost the battle through dallying with Lady Heron is not in accord with fact. Ford Castle is well placed for watching what takes place in Glendale, a fact illustrated by a pleasant anecdote. For more than half a century the vicar of Ford was the Rev. Thomas Knight. Old inhabitants still remember him in an old age” frosty but kindly ” – the frost is purely an allusion to his snowy hair ; a warmer-hearted man never lived. Mr. Knight in his young days was a bit of a sporting parson, but, becoming involved in the Oxford Movement, he thought it best to give up every form of sport except fishing, to which he remained addicted to the end of his life. But he ceased to shoot or hunt. Nevertheless e’en in our ashes glow their wonted fires ; though he would not ride to hounds any more, he mounted the old rectory tower part of the castle, from which he could follow almost every run, thus at the same time enjoying the hunt and salving his conscience.

This was in the day when the old Earl of Wemyss was M.F.H. Of him many a good story is told. Once at least the laugh was against him. He hated the music of wandering minstrels with a mania almost. One day the meet was at Ford Bridge. As the field began to gather, a man appeared on the scene with a barrel organ. It happened that Captain Gooch, brother to the Rev. Harcourt Gooch, then curate to Mr. Knight, was present. He did not lessen the M.F.H.’s annoyance by his question : ” I say, Wemyss, do you always have music at your meet ?

Ford Castle was built in 128z by Odinel de Forde. His daughter married Sir William Heron, who thus became owner of Ford. Since his day it has been in the possession of Carrs, Blakes, Delavals and Beresfords. From one of the last-mentioned it was purchased by Lord Joicey.

As a military stronghold, Ford ceased to have importance after the battle of Flodden. Sir Robert Bowes, in the “Book of the State of the Marches,” says it was burnt by James IV a little before he was slain. The antiquarian interest was fatally injured by Sir John Hussy Delaval, who, in 1761-4, rebuilt much of it in the sham Gothic of the period. Lady Waterford, a hundred years later, tried to undo the mischief, but the feat was impossible. The church is of the thirteenth century, but restoration and improvement have obliterated many of the most interesting features.

Ford’s pleasantest time occurred when Louisa Lady Waterford was in her early widowhood. Thomas Knight was rector and Lady Fitzclarence was at Etal. Lady Waterford was a Stuart, the third daughter of Baron Stuart de Rothesay. At Lord Eglinton’s famous tournament, a revival due to the influence of Sir Walter Scott, she had been chosen Queen of Beauty, and retained her charms to the end – a countenance that one would not call majestic only because of the vivacity with which it was so frequently relaxed, mobile lips, large grey eyes set wide apart and shining with native kindness and candour, won friendship at a glance. The only fair criticism I ever heard passed upon her was that of a lady belonging to a neighbouring family who called her” an organisation for relief of the undeserving poor.” The hit did not imply that the poor were undeserving, but that Lady Waterford, in her rôle of Lady Bountiful, was at the mercy of every knave who could fabricate a pitiful story – a weakness no doubt, but a lovable weakness.

Lady Waterford was one of the many Northumbrian friends of Rossetti and the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, and no inconsiderable artist herself. The school at Ford is decorated with a series of frescoes illustrative of Bible scenes and characters, such as Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, Jacob and Esau, Moses among the bulrushes, etc. Local interest used to be stimulated by the fact that Lady Waterford used a number of the villagers as models for her figures, but as these characters die or leave the district the identification tends to become lost.

Mr. Knight, the rector, lived several years after the celebration of his jubilee, and his personality is still affectionately remembered, not least by the large proportion of English Presbyterians in the neighbourhood.

The village of Ford has been highly extolled for its beauty. As a matter of fact Lady Waterford trimmed it up so that it lost some of the most typical characteristics of a Northumbrian village.

Let it not go unchronicled that the Castle used to have its ghost. It was firmly believed in the countryside that the ancient and stately shade of Lady Delaval used to parade certain of the rooms and had been seen by countless visitors.

Milfield is a village on the high road about a mile from the river. In that ill-conceived incursion of the Scots called ” the Ill Road,” just before Flodden, Sir William Bulmer was able to conceal his horse, archers and bowmen in the tall broom between Wooler and Milfield, so that he surprised Lord Hume and his 3,000 horsemen, killing 400 and making 200 prisoners.

There is a pleasant little house of the Greys at Milfield Hill.

Ewart House, where Sir Horace St. Paul, a famous worthy of the nineteenth century, lived, is a little higher up still. Internally it is interesting, with its pictures, tapestries, and old nicknacks.

Near it is the interesting hill called Yeavering Bell. It is worth climbing if only for the fine view from the summit, which gives you at a glance the typical features of a fertile Northumbrian landscape in Glendale. Streams meandering through neatly hedged and well tilled fields, rows of hinds’ cottages, farmhouses with a warm glow of red pantiles, and far away the Eildon Hills in one direction, Holy Island in another.

Farther on is Wooler, beloved of anglers, who from this centre can fish the Till and easily reach the Glen, the College, and the Bowmont if their taste lies in the direction of burn fishing and Cheviot air. Wooler used to have the distinction of being a market town with no railway station near it, but this was changed with the opening of the Alnwick and Kelso line. Today it has added golf to its other attractions, and indeed must be a place of healing to the busy who come in to rest and reinvigorate nerves worn out by the strenuous life of the local metropolis.

Henry I granted the barony of Wooler to Robert des Muschamps, and the name in a variety of spelling crops up continually in the deeds relating to its wide territory. Muschance, Muscynes, and Musceyne are Northumbrian renderings of it.

Wooler has a wishing-well which is sometimes described as a monument of dead superstition, but the last time I was there the number of crooked pins dropped into the well and lying under its clear water indicated that the old beliefs had not yet died out.