We have chosen today to drive through the striking Northumbrian countryside to one of my favourite places on earth. The visibility isn’t bad and it isn’t raining, this must count as summer. We drive along the back roads with the Cheviots as a backdrop but the Otterburn Ranges are being just that, shooting ranges, so, not wanting to be shot, we skirt the Northumberland National Park. A note for my Australian readers, unlike Australia, who seem to call any public open space a National Park, in the UK it has to be something seriously special to be awarded that status. This area is spectacular and Northumberland has to be one of the most beautiful counties if you like wide open expanses and a raw kind of beauty and I do. You will not find comfy chocolate-box scenery here but skies stretch forever and the sheep on the rocky outcrops are looking decidedly dishevelled in the period between lambing and shearing. I sometimes wonder if there is some weird genetic memory at work that attracts me to certain places. My great grandfather, John Hogg and his ancestors came from these wild outlying hillsides between Hadrian’s Wall and the Scottish border, before moving in to Morpeth.
We are heading for Thockrington where the Hogg family lived in the eighteenth century. I am 99% certain that my great great grandfather was baptised here. The grain of doubt comes from the fact that gg grandfather changed his age and birth place at every conceivable opportunity and even swaps John for George on one occasion. Despite having two ‘wives’ one of whom he acquired during the period of civil registration (whoopee, a marriage certificate with a father’s name you’d think) no marriage records have been found. Anyway back to Thockrington. This is an amazing place with views that are virtually unchanged since the Hoggs were here (as long as you stand with your back to the wind turbines). Here you are on top of the world, absolutely the right place to build a church and a truly spiritual place, whatever higher being you might subscribe to. I maintain that everyone should visit here but not all at once, obviously and not when I am here. If you take my advice be prepared for driving a fair way along single track road, possibly across cattle grids, depending on your direction of approach, driving through a farmyard and finding a church, a farm and absolutely nothing but awe inspiring scenery as far as you can see in all directions. Do it, it is worth it. Just to add to the glory the sun comes out.
We drive back through the ruggedly picturesque Great Bavington, which is probably where the Hoggs lived, whilst being baptised and buried in Thockrington; Bavington is a hamlet and not a parish in its own right. Bavington boasts the oldest Presbyterian Chapel in Northumberland. It now functions as a United Reformed Church. Outside is a plastic box full of water and snacks and walkers are invited to help themselves to sustenance in return for a donation. What a wonderful idea, I do hope it is not abused. Swooping swallows dart across the fields, these have been my favourite bird since I won a badly written book about swallows as an infants’ school prize. Lapwing and swifts are also in evidence. The hedgerows abound with a blue and purple comfrey, a variety that is new to me.
We are only a couple of miles from Wallington House and as I neglected to get my National Trust passport stamped yesterday, we decide to call in again for this purpose and also to use the facilities that are distinctly lacking in Thockrington and Bavington. As the weather is now almost seasonable, we take the riverside walk round the estate. This is great for flowers and birds and today’s tally includes a baby moorhen, Canada goslings, a goldcrest and even a glimpse of a retreating kingfisher. I have only seen a kingfisher a handful of times, the only disappointment was that this and the gold crest were not photographable.
There is an antiques ‘emporium’ near the campsite. There should be a government health warning about such things. Do we buy beautiful china, furniture or jewellery? No. Our idea of holiday souvenirs include a helmet, two small horn beakers and a substantial pewter mug to add to the stuffed rat that we purchased in Eyemouth, well they are tax deductible.
Well, dear readers this concludes the holiday, thanks for travelling along. Ramblings about my weird historical life will resume shortly, although I am about to enter that black hole that is the job I must not mention. Said job, family visits and other work will keep me from ‘normal’ life for a while. What exactly is ‘normal life’?