A beautiful sunny spring day last week – and we were off for a walk. One of our favourite walks, this one is bookended by Norham’s fine church and it’s equally magnificent castle. Sometimes we start with the castle, sometimes with the church. You can see in the map below how the route runs in a circle – first along a loop in the Tweed and then inland to complete the circle.This day, we decided to start with the church.The Church of St Cuthbert at Norham is one of the churches we like best in the locality, and on this day it was looking particularly fine, garlanded with early spring blossom.Just inside the churchyard, in the damp and dark gloom of the churchyard wall, there are ramsons – wild garlic. They were everywhere on this day’s walk – a pungent smell when crushed underfoot. This church is a distinguished building historically and architecturally. It dates from 1165 (the same age as the nearby castle). Kings have met here (Edward I and John Bailliol of Scotland in 1292). 1320 saw it fortified by Robert the Bruce as he attacked Norham Castle. You can read more of its fascinating history on the church’s own website.Just look at those Norman arches – what patterns!This small face on the east end looks down on us from the past. I think that’s a grimace: Enjoy yourself – or else!The graves stand as solemn markers to those who went before. Was Grace Friar Nicholson a book-lover, I wonder, with those two open volumes above her tombstone?No doubt that this person loved dogs – what a fine way to be remembered!Time to leave the churchyard with its moving mementos, and set out on the walk proper. A narrow path leads down, through the fields, to the Tweed.Oh – the magnificent Tweed! Such a glorious river, flowing down from the Scottish Borders, and marking on its eastern course the border between Scotland and England. That’s Scotland on the far bank where the swans are sailing by.
What really strikes me as I look on this view is how deceptive were the green and blossom we had been enjoying in Norham church graveyard. It is still early in the year – the trees on the far bank are dun-coloured without their new leaves out.
Our path continues along the Tweed, well-managed by the good folk of Norham. It is a truly inviting walk.Before long we approach Ladykirk and Norham bridge, and this gentle path ends.Ladykirk and Norham bridge – as the name says – runs between the Scottish village of Ladykirk and the English parish of Norham. A fine late nineteenth century bridge. Just look at the detritus on the other side! Over the winter the country experienced heavy heavy rainfall, particularly in the west of the UK, where the River Tweed rises. As we walked along the Tweed, we were increasingly reminded of the floods, and damage, and basic mess this land had experienced thanks to the heavy rain.Here, at the foot of the steps leading up to the bridge crossing, you can see more rubbish – including plastics, bottles and other man-made undesirables. All swept down by the torrent of the Tweed.Nature is fighting back – with hosts of wild garlic and celandine flowers.This is fishing country – paradise, I would guess, if you have a deep pocket. An old fishing shiel, a little boat, grazing sheep … What better place to stop for a bun and a flask of coffee? But also note the detritus, caught in the branches of the tree. We reckoned this to be some 15 feet above the current height of the Tweed – there’s been serious flooding here.It is such a beautiful river. The stories of ancient bitter Scots and English fighting are all around, and particularly marked in the histories of Norham Castle, Ladykirk church (built at James IVth of Scotland’s command entirely of stone so that it could survive being put to the torch) and nearby Flodden field. As for the Tweed, well “Men may come, and men may go, but I go on forever.” Thank you, Tennyson. It’s deeply reassuring.Just before we turn up from the Tweed, we find these scummy eddies. One’s instinct is to assume this is man-made pollution, but Stephen (most conveniently) is reading Tristran Gooley’s How to Read Water and he informs me that it may be warm temperatures acting on natural ingredients that produce this effect. It might, of course, be the result of chemicals running of the fields. Best not to speculate.
At this point, the path moves away from the Tweed, and we enter wooded country. Part of the pleasure of this walk to me is, indeed, the variety of landscapes we pass through. There are primroses ..and celandines …and ramsons again! Just look at those banks of wild garlic on both sides of the path!It’s not long before we see our next “marker”. There, glimpsed through the trees, is one of the viaducts of the old Kelso to Tweedmouth railway line.It’s quite a job to scramble up to the top …and you have to go carefully …because trees are growing into the masonry …and the old iron railings are falling to pieces.But it is wonderful to be at the top – you can see the Tweed snaking away where we left it.There are few things to my mind as poignant as a dismantled railway line. All that effort put into the building, all the excitement of travel, all those ordinary everyday journeys! This line took holiday makers from the mills in the Border towns to our home village of Spittal on the north sea coast. You can just imagine the trains chugging along this track.Such a fine piece of engineering.
The next piece of the walk took us along the road.Roads are not favourite walking, but it’s sunny, there’s almost no traffic so we have the world to ourselves – and look at that burgeoning rape crop about to break into heady yellow flower on the field on the right!There’s another “marker” along this part of the journey and it’s this that makes the road walk worthwhile. This is Norham railway station. And it’s for sale – it went up for sale in 2013 for a cool £420,000.It was a railway museum for many years, but was closed, alas, by the time we discovered it. More of its history here.And – yes – that is a letter box in the wall, a Victoria Regina too! How amazing must it be to have your own private letter box!!Before long we leave the road and the route took us into a watery world again – over a bridge …and alongside a stream.It’s cool and dappled after the hot road walk. Once more we’re walking through banks of wild garlic.Now time for our final “marker” – our pièce de résistance, you might say. Here we turn in to Norham castle.It’s such a fine castle, with all the attributes that one associates with castles – moat, drawbridge, slit windows for arrows to pass through. And it has a fine history to boot. It was built in the 12th century by the Bishops of Durham as a defence against the Scots. Again and again it was besieged by the Scots – nine times in all – and captured four of those times. One of those times of Scottish ownership was just before the battle of Flodden. James IVth besieged the castle for several days, battering the walls with his powerful artillery.It sits in a magnificently commanding position right up on high above the River Tweed, looking straight over to Scotland.From the castle you look down on those small folk in the village.And that’s where we’re heading now for the very final leg of our journey back to Norham church. Norham village is a pleasure to walk through, looking sunny and simple in the 21st century compared to those bitter fighting times of earlier centuries. Daffodils, village green, war memorial. Village perfection (but who knows what lies below this well-behaved surface …)Back to the church …– and that heavenly blossom where we started.