Land Beyond Domesday

The Domesday book was William of Normandy’s great survey of England, as he consolidated his realm after his invasion of England in 1066 – though the Domesday Book wasn’t begun until 1085. As the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle has it:

Then, at the midwinter, was the king in Gloucester with his council … . After this had the king a large meeting, and very deep consultation with his council, about this land; how it was occupied, and by what sort of men. Then sent he his men over all England into each shire; commissioning them to find out “How many hundreds of hides were in the shire, what land the king himself had, and what stock upon the land; or, what dues he ought to have by the year from the shire.”

Bandley Wood (c) John Bainbridge 2019

Contrary to popular belief, William the Bastard (as he was better known at the time) didn’t achieve victory in 1066. It took several bloody years to subdue England. In some parts of the country – in the north and the west – his troops carried out what can only be described as ethnic cleansing of the Anglo-Saxon and Norse populations.

Nevertheless, the Domesday Book is very useful for historians. I often referred to it when I was writing topographical books and articles in the past. But, in reality, the Domesday Book is a snapshot of late Anglo-Saxon England, for the Normans were had only just begun to make their mark by 1085.

So it always comes as a surprise that you can walk in parts of England that get no mention at all in the Domesday Book, as we did the other day. For much of what we now call Cumbria doesn’t feature in Domesday at all. Why Not? Because at the time they were not in England at all – they were in Scotland. And even then they were mostly settled by Norsemen. The Vikings who had gone beyond raiding, settling instead.

Bandley Wood (c) John Bainbridge 2019

A couple of blogs ago, I mentioned the Hoff Beck (two Norse words) and the fact that the Eden Rivers Trust has established a walk along some of its length, describing our walk from Bandley Bridge (first recorded as a crossing place in 1292) to Rutter Force. (Force – another Norse word).

The other day, we strolled the other part of the Hoff Beck walk to the settlement of Colby – another place, like nearby Appleby, settled by the Norse folk. Look at the -by at the end of those names. A clear indicator of a place-name of Norse origins. Appleby might have gone on to be the County Town of Westmorland, and, even though a Roman road ran by it, it probably didn’t exist before the Vikings settled there.

Bandley Bridge is interesting, for though the footbridge is relatively modern, there must probably have always been a bridge there, for there is no obvious ford and the 1292 record specifically refers to a brig or bridge.

Bandley Bridge (c) John Bainbridge 2019

It’s in lonely countryside, walked mostly by locals and those ramblers who’ve sought out the Dales High Way track across and around the Pennines. It’s a place full of atmosphere too, probably not changed that much since those ancient times.

We followed the Hoff Beck down to Colby, where the little river becomes the Colby Beck, before seeking out the greater waters of the River Eden. A long drawn-out hamlet, Colby, of cottages of varying ages. No doubt many built on sites that were used a thousand years ago. And, in a gap between the settlements, there’s a field full of bumps and mounds, which might repay some archaeological investigation. I often wonder if it was the site of the original Norse settlement.

We crossed the Colby Beck at a bridge over what was clearly an ancient fording place, and took the farm track towards Colby Laithes. Go beyond the farm and there’s a set of large stepping stones not marked on the Ordnance Survey map, but which look as though they’ve been there for centuries. You can cross them and follow the River Eden much of the way back to Appleby.

The Track To Thistley Hill (c) John Bainbridge 2019

We didn’t, preferring the higher path over Thistly Hill, which offered fine views over the snow-covered Pennines. An old track this, for although it seems to be a headland path around the edges of fields, it is wider than most headland paths and distinct on level and vegetation from the neighbouring fields, suggesting that this is a old way, from which the hedge on one side has been removed.

It eventually enters woodland just before Appleby, at an interesting junction with another old track coming up from the river. Paths that have almost certainly existed for centuries, and perhaps for the thousand years when this was all the territory of the Norsemen, part of Scotland, and way outside William the Bastard’s Domesday Book.



In the Steps of the Egglestone Abbey Monks

When you walk out from the little County Durham town of Barnard Castle to the ruins of Egglestone Abbey, you are not just walking in the steps of the Premonstratensian monks who lived there, but also following in the tread of Charles Dickens and JMW Turner, and many other Victorian luminaries.

Barnard Castle (c) John Bainbridge 2018

Turner painted scenes on the River Tees here, as did other Victorian artists such as my great favourite Atkinson Grimshaw. Charles Dickens stayed at Barnard Castle while researching northern schools for his novel Nicholas Nickleby, the original for Wackford Squeers of Dotheboys Hall lived not far away. Thomas Humphrey who inspired Master Humphrey’s Clock had premises in the town. Oliver Cromwell also visited during the English Civil War.

The House where Oliver Cromwell stayed (c) John Bainbridge 2018

The town was a favoured place of King Richard III, who even today is held in great affection by the locals. Ignore the Tudor propaganda – as medieval kings go he was positively enlightened, and beloved in the North of England.

Some of this walk was in the past in Yorkshire, but county boundary alteration has moved this area firmly into County Durham.

Green Bridge (c) John Bainbridge 2018

One of the best ways of visiting some ancient abbey is to walk to it – there’s something reminiscent of pilgrimages in such journeys. And undoubtedly the medieval monks of Egglestone Abbey would have used the very same paths we trod.

The path we took out is now part of the Teesdale Way, which follows the River Tees along its travels to the North Sea. Only a couple of miles out to the abbey, but well worth it.DSCF0112

We crossed the Green Bridge footbridge below the town – the metal bridge, made in Darlington in 1882 is an impressive structure; originally the Tees was crossed here by stepping stones –  and followed the true right bank (true right or left is defined by having your back to the source of the river). There are some lovely properties in the little suburb of Lendings. Soon we reached a residential caravan site. The Teesdale Way could do with rather better waymarking here, though a helpful employee told us the way – steer right away from the river following the exit signs. Just as you reach a football field, take the Teesdale Way opposite.

VLUU L110, M110  / Samsung L110, M110
Bow Bridge (c) John Bainbridge 2018

This is really beautiful pastoral countryside, the River Tees not far below. Some grand woodland and old pastures.

The paths reached a quiet lane which took us down to the river, where we watched the trout feeding. Just into it comes the its tiny tributary the Thorsgill Beck – now there’s a Norse name to conjure with: the Thor perhaps from the Norse god of thunder, though just possibly from thorpe, meaning a small settlement; the Gill, a narrow valley, from the Norse original gjel; the Beck, a small brook, from the Norse bekkr. You are certainly brushing with history on this walk.

VLUU L110, M110  / Samsung L110, M110
Egglestone Abbey (c) John Bainbridge 2018

Just before the beck meets the mightier Tees, it is crossed by the present-day road bridge, itself quite old, but also by a more original crossing – Bow Bridge, a hump-backed packhorse bridge, which dates at least to the 1600s, but is possibly even more ancient.

On high ground above are the ruins of Egglestone Abbey, dedicated to SS Mary and John the Baptist, founded by the Premonstratensian canons between 1195 and 1198. Never one of the great abbeys of England. In fact in the 1200s there was an attempt to downgrade it to a priory. It retained its abbey status, though it was always a poor foundation.DSCF0134

There were turbulent times in the years following: the Scots ravaged it in 1315 and on several other occasions. And of course it was put out if existence as a religious house following the Dissolution of the Monasteries. In 1548, the site was granted to Robert Strelley by Henry VIII. He turned it into a farm, but over the following centuries it  gradually fell into ruin.DSCF0137

Today it is run by English Heritage and there’s free admission during daylight hours. Despite its troublesome past, there is an air of tranquility about the place. We were the only visitors, apart from some jackdaws who were nesting in the heights of the old walls. There are a few ancient grave markers, and the tomb of local worthy Sir Ralph Bowes, who died in 1482.

The Tomb of Sir Roger Bowes (c) John Bainbridge 2018

So peaceful were the ruins of the old abbey, that it was hard to tear ourselves away, but more architectural joys awaited us.

A little further down the lane we crossed the Tees at the impressive Abbey Bridge, which doesn’t date to the nearby monastery but only to 1773, when local landowner JS Morrit wanted better access to his country estate at nearby Rokeby.  Rokeby, by the way, inspired the long poem by Sir Walter Scott, who was much enthused by this part of Teesdale. This was still a toll bridge until well into the 20th century. It can be quite busy so cross with care.

Abbey Bridge (c) John Bainbridge 2018

We followed the opposite bank back towards Barnard Castle, through riverside meadows, passing on the way an old flax mill, called Low Mill, which probably made fibres for twine and thread for sewing shoes and gloves.

An interesting walk through history. We’re planning more walks through history on the Teeside Way, so do keep following…