The weather forecast was none too good as we initially set of for the village of Bothal, possibly often on the itinerary of birdwatchers because of the pool nearby. Our trip was in the main a none birding outing and because of the weather I was hoping maybe for some Turneresque skies to enhance some landscape photography. It was appropriate then, that our first stop was at Bothal as this was on J M W Turner’s schedule of visits on his tour of Northern England in 1797. Turner, the greatest of British artists in my view, was only twenty-two at the time. His sketches of Bothal, the castle and church remain very recognisable today, although the houses of today are a great deal more up-market and no doubt expensive. Turner depicts a horse and rider in the sketch of the castle, and coincidently a horse with rider came along the road today.
The castle, a private residence, has a long history and having taken some photographs of it we took a walk in the Church grounds where bird finds included several Nuthatches and Mistle Thrushes, both species calling loudly. The Mistle Thrush’s vernacular name of Storm Cock proved appropriate today, as you will later find.
Much of the present church is between 600 and 800 years old. Inside, which because of Corvid we were unable to enter, holds fragments of an Anglo-Saxon cross suggesting a much earlier church on the site. Of course, as to be expected there are Victorian additions. The doorway has a carved inscription reading WH 1578. We must return in the future when access can be gained to see medieval stained glass, but we did take note of the medieval stone coffins outside. The graveyard was very natural and contained many trees of age. The war memorial outside the front of the church is flanked by weeping Ash and Japanese Maple. The Ash representing the tears of the bereaved and the Maple which turns bright red in autumn, symbolising the blood of the fallen.
On route to Swarland we passed Davison’s Obelisk built in 1807 in memory of Horatio Nelson at the bequest of Alexander Davison, a friend of Horatio Nelson who he first met at Quebec, Canada. Davison became Prize Agent responsible for the sale of French ships taken at the Battle of the Nile. At Swarland we looked over the Parkland of what had been the estate of Alexander Davison who had planted groups of trees to represent ships of the British Navy at The Battle of the Nile. Only four of these groups are now still extant, one group being close to the road. The line of the road represents the line of French Ships.
We next made north to Edlingham Church and Castle. The weather began to close in and on arrival at the small parking area by St John the Baptist Church, the rain became heavier until we were amidst a heavy squall. The sky became a mix of leaden grey cloud and mist as the light faded. We admired the church in these gloomy conditions whilst we chatted and ate lunch in the security of the car.
Once the rain eased somewhat I decided to venture out and photograph the church. The gloominess did not appear to be disappearing until suddenly there was signs the darkness lifting.
The earliest church on this site dates to around 740AD, although the first stone church dates to the 11th Century. Fragments of this Saxon church can be found in the lintels of the door. Much of the remainder is 12th Century and the tower was added probably for defensive reasons around the early 14th Century. Narrow slit windows could be used by archers. It is thought that the church was used in the 17th Century to imprison moss-troopers.
From the church it is a short walk to the castle and the nearby burn, a tributary of the River Aln, is close by.
I was extremely impressed by both the church and castle, the latter’s Solar Tower being an especially imposing site. My mind retuned to Turner and I could not help feeling that the painter missed a trick in not visiting this site on his trip north. The tower dates from the 15th Century but other structures are from an earlier date.
Our first sighting of the castle at close range was in the dullness of the recently ceased storm, but as time passed beams of light began to lighten up the outer walls and it wasn’t long before light cloud was dissipating and we were under cerulean skies. As we had approached the castle the roosting Jackdaws had been disturbed and they appeared to make a noisy retreat to trees nearby and did not return until we left. We’d had the remains of this imposing castle all to ourselves and we had the privilege of viewing both castle and church in varying moods and weather coditions. I began to imagine the joys, celebrations, sadness and bloody violence this site had witnessed over the centuries.
Deciding that a visit to the nearby Viaduct can be made at a later date, we drove a little way up the road for the views across the verdant fields toward The Cheviots. As we took photographs a Common Buzzard flew north of us as corvids mobbed it, and its mewing call seemed to reflect a solemn mood.
We took a long detour on our return home and passed the road to Clennell Hall (the family home of Luke Clennell, an apprentice of Thomas Bewick and Bewick’s principal assistant on The History of British Birds). He later became an artist in his own right, moved to London, suffered mental illness and died in an asylum in Newcastle in 1840) and Alwinton. Along the way we had sightings of many Redwing and Fieldfare, and Kestrels. As we drove along the Coquet valley we followed the serpentine movement of the bright silvery river, now lit by bright sunlight. The day had certainly been one of multiple moods.
Addendum. If willing to pay a not unsubstantial amount, Turner’s drawings and paintings following his tour north can been seen in David Hill’s Turner in the North. Possibly cheaper to visit the Tate Gallery in London and see Turner’s paintings there. I’m pleased I purchased my copy years ago at a reasonable price when first published!
Anyone who reads this blog on a regular basis (I hope someone does), will know I have fondness for the poetry of John Clare. I have noted that Turner visited Stamford on his return journey south, the town close by Clare’s village of Helpston. Clare would have been four years of age at the time, so there will have been no meeting of the two. However, both I am sure would in later years have become very much aware of one another. John Clare was introduced as a boy to poetry by James Thompson’s poem The Seasons. His copy of the poem was purchased at Stamford I believe. It is interesting to note that Turner too was inspired by the same poem. I must research into whether the two men ever met when Clare made his short visits to London in later years. The two men could well have had much in common.