The walk up to Ros Castle Camp is a favourite one of ours. It’s not a long walk, and the reward of just fabulous views right across north Northumberland is well worth the steep climb. Looking up from where we parked the car, it doesn’t appear to be far to walk at all.But the walk was surprisingly muddy.When you pause to look back, you realise just how far you have climbed. Our little white car is just a blip on the road.At the top, you are blown away by the views – and sometimes by wind! (not on this walk which was almost completely windless). From here you can see for miles and miles and miles …..
There’s Bamburgh Castle on the coast ….and the Farne Islands ….In the other direction, you can see the Cheviot range …You can also see all too clearly the much-lamented wind turbines obstructing the views of the coast.To help identify the places you can see from here, the National Trust has set up a topograph. It’s a nice little stone enclosure from which to take photographs.On each of the four stone walls lie metal plaques indicating with precision what you can expect to see on a good day. This plaque points from Coldingham (on the left) to Dunstanburgh castle (partially obscured, but on the right). In between, it points to Norham, Berwick-upon-Tweed, Magnetic North, North, Lindisfarne, Budle Bay, Bamburgh Castle and the Farne Islands.Here is the view to our home just south of Berwick-upon-Tweed. (Not that we could see Berwick from here – it was obscured by the hills.)This is a great place to stop for a bun and a flask of coffee. King of all you survey.You may well ask where the castle and camp are. Apparently – according to Wikipedia – there was a 3,000 year old Iron Age hillfort here. Unfortunately, the remaining defences – banks and quarry ditches – are concealed by the bracken, and the visitor really has no sense of it having ever been a hillfort.
There is another modern construction here – a triangulation station (commonly known as a trig point). At the base, you will find the Ordnance Survey bench mark code: S3697 (useful if you’re into “bagging” trig points!)But on the other side, there’s another plaque that tells some more of this place’s history.
Ros Castle Camp. This height with its wide prospect was a favourite resort of Sir Edward Grey, afterwards Viscount Grey of Fallodon K.G., Foreign Secretary December 1905 to December 1916. In 1936 it was presented to the National Trust as part of a National Memorial to him.Edward Grey haunts and fascinates me. As the plaque tells us, he was Foreign Secretary for the surprisingly long period from 1905 to 1916. And, yes, he was the Foreign Secretary who took Britain into the First World War. He was one of those rare people in a position of extraordinary and terrifying power whose actions have undoubtedly influenced world history – and millions and millions of lives. Of course, you can’t pin responsibility for the First World War on him – he was reacting to the Kaiser’s actions, and he took his decisions alongside the rest of the British Cabinet. That he realised what disasters this war would entail is shown by his famous remark: “The lamps are going out all over Europe, we shall not see them lit again in our life-time.”
The Greys were a Northumberland family of some distinction. Edward Grey’s great-great-uncle was the Earl Grey, famous for the Reform Bill he introduced, and probably even more famous for the tea named after him (apparently created to conceal the chalky taste of the local water). Earl Grey’s family home, Howick Hall, is nearby, as is Sir Edward Grey’s home, Fallodon (here photographed in 1932).Together with his first wife, Dorothy Widdrington of nearby Low Newton Hall, Edward Grey loved the Northumbrian countryside and way of life. (Rumour has it that theirs was a chaste marriage and he had affaires and illegitimate children in London). For many years he lived this strange dual existence with power and importance and sophistication in London alternating with frequent weekends at home in Northumberland and birds and walks and fishing there. Unlike modern travellers, Grey was able to avail himself of the family right to stop mainline trains at little Fallodon station, a few hundred yards from his door. (This ancient right came to the family as part of the deal when the railway was constructed through Grey land. It, of course, no longer exists – the station has gone, and I read somewhere that the railway authorities bought it off the family in exchange for free unlimited travel!). This picture is of Grey in 1918, a couple of years after he had ceased to be Foreign Secretary. By this time his sight was severely limited – he had struggled with deteriorating vision for quite a while as a result of severe degeneration of the retina and choroid in each eye. He had longed to retire from politics earlier (and that would undoubtedly have improved his health and consequently his eyesight) but was restrained by Prime Minister Asquith.
So ironically, Grey – an enthusiastic and knowledgeable birdwatcher and walker (he wrote a book called The Charm of Birds with his second wife), was only finally free to enjoy his beloved Northumberland when he was almost blind. Here he is in 1931, a couple of years before he died,When I walk up to Ros Castle Camp, I think of Edward Grey taking the same path, weighed down with the cares of State. And as we watched kestrels and partridges, I thought of how little he could see. He would have been able to smell the place though – and wow, did it smell wonderful the day we visited! Fresh and clean and heathery.
It is churlish to complain on a day with such gifts, but I do prefer it when the heather is flowering and purple as it was one August day last year.That day I brought home a small posy of heather to remind me of a glorious walk. This trip I’m having to resort to a virtual posy.