Bewcastle, Cumbria – St Cuthbert (again)

On Tuesday 9 January 2024 we had a hire car sitting on the drive – Bristol Street Motors in Hexham being unable to get the right part to repair ours and Motability having a duty to keep their disabled customer on the road (a duty they have failed to cover in the last four weeks as their “preferred supplier” Europcar just say “we haven’t got an automatic”). Sorry, rant over. Now we have a hire car, let’s get some miles on the clock.

As the sun sank slowly in the west we headed towards it, and ended up in the middle of nowhere – the lovely church of St Cuthbert, Bewcastle. I last visited it ten years ago and direct you to for a full blog. Last time I commented on the link to the village website – still working. Introductory letter from Bishop John Richardson thanking the community for raising £72,000 for urgent repairs – shame that the benefice letter attached to the church page is October’s.

To recap, Roman fort, then Norman castle, then castle rebuilt in stone. Yes, I will go and visit them properly (should I be making promises like this in my health??). Most stunning of all is the Bewcastle Cross – one of the finest to survive from Anglo Saxon Britain.

The page on the village website is excellent – – and has been updated since my las visit. Now with the addition of a 3D model. It probably dates from after 675 when Benedict Biscop brought masons from abroad (Rome and Syria) to work in building his new monastery at Monkwearmouth / Jarrow.

The displays in the outbuilding have not been updated in the last decade, but have stood the test of time. They tell the story from the hut circles of Neolithic times (4000-2000 BC), a six sided Roman fort constructed in AD 122, abandoned in 142 as the Empire extended north to the Antonine Wall, resettled about 20 years later as a real fort “on the edge of Empire”, last Roman occupants about 310. One board about a fascinating religious find. The story of the Castle, the church, the Reivers, the sheep, the military, and life in such a remote area. I love the mural by Kate Morris which stands on the end wall.

As I came out of the exhibition, the view of the Cross and the south side of the church was stupendous. It doesn’t really need any words.

I went into the church – this building dates to 1792 – and enjoyed the sun shining through. It was a bit cold and dark to do much of an explore, and there is a limit to how long I can leave Julie sat in the car. She did get out and came and had a look at the sunset and the cross, but we only had the manual wheelchair, so it was quite hard work. Rather annoyingly, the church had no card donation machine – surely worth having in this day and age – and I had no cash. I will have to come back to buy a mug!

I found myself singing “For all the saints”

The golden evening brightens in the west;

Soon, soon to faithful warriors comes their rest;

Sweet is the calm of paradise the blessed.

Alleluia, Alleluia!

As I commented on facebook “You wonder how many times the sun has set on the Bewcastle cross, and it puts daily moans and hospital appointments into perspective.”

Posted in Cumbria, Roman | 1 Comment

Barton, Cumbria – St Michael’s (again)

Monday 8 January 2024 and I caught the train to Penrith for a few hours with Clare. We had a leisurely coffee and scone in Pooley Bridge, then drove up the road to St Michael’s church, Barton – and realised I had been here. It was almost a decade ago – I described it last time as “a wonderful, chunky church”. It still is.

The porch was built in the C17 by Moses Sisson, although it contains earlier work and a C13 door. The shield of arms above the keystone was placed there for Sir James Lowther in 1703. I’m very glad they did some outside work in 2019, and grateful to the funders, but it is a shame the modern sign has such a prominent place.

Inside you walk straight into the Nave. It is efinitely Norman, built c 1150 by the de Lancastre family of the Barony of Kendal. The guidebook makes the point that the Norman Conquest only reached Westmorland in 1092. The south aisle, c 1250, leads to the south chapel, added in 1300 as a Chantry Chapel (for the singing of mass). The north aisle is 1280. The royal arms are those of George II, and the doorway above them was the only access into the bell chamber. The bottom arch was added around 1330 to take some (more) of the weight of the tower. It was when I saw this amazing construction, I was sure I had been to the church before.

The original chancel was shorter and lower, but enlarged about 1330, according to the guidebook, by monks from the Priory of Watre. Google gives me “Warter Priory” over in the Yorkshire Wolds. More research needed! It is suggested that the tower would have been a good defensive stronghold. Nowadays it is a home for Nativity characters – Clare made a friend!

The West window represents both St Michael and All Angels, and the Annunciation. It is early C20, by William Ernest Tower (1873-1955), partner and nephew of Charles Eamer Kempe – the Kempe firm was founded in 1868 Lots of lovely pre-Raphaelite touches. Note Mary’s lilies in the middle of the bottom row.

The East window dates from 1913 and depicts the Ascension and Christ as the good shepherd. It is in memory of Colonel Parkin. We liked the curtain – I suspect this is a church with a lot of draughts!

The South Chapel is a bit of a dumping ground, but the Victorian font came from the church of Eamont Bridge when that closed.

Here is a memorial to Donald George de Courcy Parry who was killed in 1918, at the age of 21. There is a photo of him at, but I can’t find much of his story. When I came in 2013 I wrote quite a lot about the WW1 links in this church. The Lych Gate, which I didn’t photograph properly this time, is a War Memorial too.

Let’s photo the altar, before going back out to a cold January day in the Lakes.

Posted in Cumbria, World War 1 | 2 Comments

northernvicar November and December 2023

One of my ambitions in life has been to see the Northern Lights. We should have been in Orkney for the last fortnight, and there have been some lovely photos from there. We have also seen photos from Northumberland over the last few months, but never seen the real thing. This evening the app started flashing red, a high chance of seeing them. So we went on an Aurora hunt. We drove north up the A68, then took the Bellingham road in West Woodside. There is a laybye on the north side of that road, and we could see a strange white pattern in the sky. When we pointed the phone cameras at it, we got different colours. Quite magical.

More time spent with Luke Jerram’s “Museum of the Moon” in Hexham Abbey – they had 26,500 visitors in the six weeks it was there.

I had a lovely railway trip to Glasgow to do Largs and Wemyss Bay. Then I had a Glasgow trip which ended up being a few hours in Carlisle, then buses across the Lakes, and a ride on the Windermere branch.

We started December with a meal at The Boatside to celebrate our 40th wedding anniversary, but otherwise had a quiet month. Having felt pretty good after stopping chemo in September, the cancer symptoms are back – so we’ll start chemo again in the new year. We read a lot of books and watched a lot of telly. Went to a beautiful Midnight Mass at Hexham Abbey. They had a little orchestra and the final voluntary was a movement of the Bach ‘Double Violin’ concerto – everyone in the Abbey sat in silence listening to it. Amazing crib too.

I finished the year with a busy Mince Pie special on the Tanfield Railway. Two trains running as so many people had booked. My son has purchased me an annual ticket – which seems a great act of faith!

Posted in Northumberland, Railway interest, Roman, Scotland | Leave a comment

northernvicar October 2023

I started October with a Curator tour of the Wartime history of the English Heritge house at Belsay. The house was requisitioned at the start of WW2. The then owner, Stephen Middleton, kept a close eye on it, and there are piles of letters of complaint he wrote to the army. At one point he covered everything with coconut matting – you can still see the marks. There are various signs of wartime – names on doors, a loo door which says “night time use only”, graffiti and items found under the floorboard.

Julie has been busy stewarding at Hexham Abbey for Luke Jerram’s Museum of the Moon.

There was a fascinating exhibition about Ladybird Books at Bailiffgate Museum in Alnwick. Lots of lovely illustrations. “Tootles the Taxi” was one we both remembered. What I didn’t know was that the artist, John Kenney, also drew some of the “Thomas” stories. The web tells me that there is a blue plaque to this gentleman at Kibworth in Leicestershire, he studied at Leicester College of Art, and died in 1972.

I also liked these pictures by John Berry for the 1972 book “On the Railways” – and his picture of a nurse. John was born in London in 1920 and studied at Hammersmith College of Arts. He got a scholarship to the Royal Academy, but it was the start of WW2. His Guardian obituary – – says “He went into the RAF and was sent to the Middle East. There, as part of a holding unit waiting to go into Tobruk, he offered to make up a poster advertising a national day of prayer. The artwork came to the attention of Air Marshal Arthur Tedder, who promptly had Berry seconded to the army as a war artist. It was a source of pride to Berry that he was the only war artist drawn from the ranks.” There are several examples of his work at

After the War he worked as a portrait painter and as a commercial artist. He painted the
original “tiger in the tank” for Esso, and worked for Ladybird for over 20 years, illustrating about 50 books. My eye was caught by his illustrations for “On the Railways” (1972) – the cover illustration of Southwark Cathedral and London Bridge station, the freightliner depot and electrification train, and the porter. Perhaps the porter typifies the way the railways have changed in the last fifty years. The nurse’s uniform has also changed!

A hospital trip to Manchester took me via the new station at Headbolt Lane. Medically they stopped chemo in September and have decided not to re-start it yet. As one consultant said, we’d give you chemo to improve your quality of life, and your quality of life is about as good as it can be. Part of me is very pleased, another part of me wants them to throw as many drugs at my cancer as they can. I haven’t got another date to go back to Manchester – most of my hospital treatment is now happening in the North East. I am pleased about that, but I still have some of the Manchester Metrolink network that is not coloured in!

On 13 October I went on a “Meet the expert” walk along Hadrian’s Wall from Birdoswald. Our expert was Andrew Roberts, one of their Roman team, and he got us thinking about the Wall, how it was built, why it was built and how it was used. We looked in detail at the bridge abutment at Willowford – the river has moved, so it now stands high and dry. Archaeology has suggested there were three different bridges at different stages of time – ranging from a simple foot crossing through to a wide roadway. How was the river defended, where did the roadway go once the river had been crossed? A fascinating morning.

Later in the month I went back with Julie, who went off and explored.

I had a couple of train rides with my brother – a ride on the Settle Carlisle and a trip round the Cumbrian Coast (plus a jaunt up the Ratty).

I had a jaunt north to see the Govan stones – which I have blogged separately. Then a Sunday to cover some freight lines in Yorkshire being used for engineering diversions. That included tea in Selby Abbey which has a steam loco in one of its windows. The Abbey has already been blogged at

Posted in Hadrian's Wall Walk, Personal, Railway interest | 2 Comments

Govan Old Church, Glasgow

Saturday 28 October 2023 was the oipportunity for a trip to Glasgow. Govan Old Stones had tweeted to say they were closing at the end of the month for a winter break, so why not visit now? I went Hexham, Carlisle, then the Glasgow & South Western via Dumfries – a beautiful (if long) ride. Then the Glasgow Subway to Govan. Govan Old Church is just down the road – a road with stunning (and uncared for) Victorian architecture on one side, and a 1960s grotty block on the other. The church itself closed in 2007 and is now a museum – with the website at There is also a lot on the Wikipedia page at The current church was built 1884-1888, designed by Robert Rowand Anderson (who trained under George Gilbert Scott).

There have been at least six churches on this site over the past 1,500 years. The distinctive teardrop-shaped outline of the churchyard is bounded by a wall along the line of a ditch dating back to at least 800 AD. It is amazing this survived when the whole area around became part of the industrial complex that was Govan in Victorian times. Time Team excavated here in 1994 – all the Time Teams are currently on the Channel 4 streaming service and we are working our way through them (I like being retired). One of the display boards on the path through the churchyard suggests what the site would have looked like around 1000 AD. Doomster Hill was used by the Kings of Strathclyde as a focus for royal ceremonies and public assemblies. It survived until the mid-1800s.

The Church only has stepped access and one small loo – there is building work starting to make flat access, better loos, workspace areas to rent out and (I think) a café. Inside there was a nice welcome and a chance to wander round the stones that are on display. Many of them were originally outside, part of this major religious centre.

To quote a display board: “The Govan stones were the work of skilled and knowledgeable craftsmen. They show artistic styles and influences from across Britain and beyond. … Many of the carvings show crosses, although few remain intact. These crosses are often decorated with interlace and knotwork, a style common in early medieval art. Such carving was not simply for decoration. It also probably had some religious meaning. Perhaps, it represented the many snares to ward off the devil, or maybe its flowing and intricate designs were intended to help worshippers meditate in prayer. … Artistic styles from nearby areas have influenced the decoration of the stones from Govan. The ‘sun stone’, one of the earliest carvings, has a snake headed boss from which it gets its name. This has similarities with cravings from the important early monastery of Iona in Western Scotland. … [It] also features a horse and rider, a common motif on Pictish sculpture from further north in Scotland.”

The animal on The Cuddy Stane has long ears, so must be  donkey (known locally as a cuddy). Is it Christ on Palm Sunday?

The Jordanhill Cross was originally a cross, and is a beautiful bit of carving.

There are various other stones dotted around the church, some of which have been reused.

Another display panel tell us that “This Kingdom was ruled from nearby Dumbarton Rock in the 6th-9th centuries. … By the 9th century [it] was hemmed in by powerful neighbours. Standing between the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Northumbria to the south of the kingdom of the picts and the Gaelic kingdom of Dal Riata in the north, Strathclyde was a contested land. Finally, is was attacks by the Vikings that led to the first collapse of the kingdom, In AD870 Dumbarton Rock was besieged for four months before falling. [Then] a new kingdom arose, centred on Govan and Partick. … It was only in the 12th century, when King David founded a cathedral nearby at Glasgow, that Govan finally began to lose its political importance.”

The church displays a wonderful collection of Viking hogback tombstones. These date from the 10th and 11th centuries.

The Sarcophagus is beautiful – you can explore a 3D image at

The building itself is worth an explore, though my phone photos are not very good. The organ was being played – though it could have done with a tune. It must have been an amazing place of worship in the days it was full – though now we want warm churches I hate to think how much it would cost to heat. There is a photo of recent ministers, and I wonder what they would make of the fact their church is now a museum – I know that the work of the church is much bigger than any building, and I’m sure Christians are hard at work in Govan, and I am well aware that a museum telling the story of the area’s Christian past is a force for good – but I left with mixed feelings.

Posted in Scotland | 4 Comments

northernvicar September 2023

We’re back in Northumberland, and the gardens at Belsay (English Heritage) are looking beautiful.

I had a trip on the South Tynedale Railway and a hospital visit to Manchester via Liverpool. At Carlisle I was pleased to see 46115 “Scots Guardsman”, built by the North British Loco Company in Glasgow in 1927. It is the loco which featured in the film “Night Mail”.

Beautiful National Trust gardens at Wallington.

A trip to George Stephenson’s birthplace at Wylam – a rarely opened National Trust property.

A trip to Carlisle, for lunchtime communion and a meet up with Clare. I decided I felt sorry for Bishop Samuel Waldegrave, bishop of the Diocese 1860 to 1869, who lies at the east end of the Quire, hidden behind the altar, surrounded by the frame for the staging block. Born at Cardington in Bedfordshire in 1817, he went to Balliol, graduating with a first in Classics and Mathematics. He remained in or near Oxford until he became bishop here in 1860. He was a firm Evangelical, a very zealous man, working hard to improve the lot of the poor in his diocese. He was bishop for only nine years before illness intervened and he died in service.

Leadgate and Ryton blogged separately for Heritage Open Days – which also meant lunch at the Tanfield Railway and a happy hour watching the main line diversions through Wylam.

A Grand Central trip up the Durham Coast, and another hospital jaunt to Manchester. Life is such fun!

Posted in Cumbria, National Trust, Northumberland, Railway interest | 1 Comment

Humshaugh, Northumberland – St Peter’s (again)

I blogged St Peter’s in 2010 and 2014, and visited again on Saturday 23 September 2023. In 2014 they were debating moving the church entrance to the side where people come. A decade later they have gone for the cheaper option – a new sign! At the main entrance they have built an excellent ramp, and they leave the door open to welcome.

The inside hasn’t changed much – I didn’t photo the food bank box (will we ever be able to stop collecting for food banks?), but it was nice to see tourist leaflets available. The Chancel ceiling has seen it all, and the eagle keeps an eye on everything.

Outside I had a wander round the churchyard – the web means I can see that Susan and Katie died in an RTC on the Military Road (may they rest in peace). There is also information about Joseph Scott – I assumed some nasty railway accident, but it seems as if his family lived in a house opposite the station, so we are talking geographical area rather than building itself. Good to visit this church again.

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Ryton, Tyne & Wear – Holy Cross

I came to Ryton just a couple of weeks ago to pick up an Argos order from the little branch of Sainsbury’s, but fortunately I checked as the church of Holy Cross which I wanted to visit this Heritage Open Day (17 September 2023) is not the church in the centre of the town. It is down nearer the river at NZ 151648, so I parked on the old village green. Most of the other cars were parked for walking down towards the river and railway. The map marks a Motte nearby – must go and explore properly. The church has a long drive, but it was open, welcoming, with no guidebook or leaflet – fortunately Pevsner has far more to say that he did about Leadgate. The church website is at and they have a heritage page with a series of links (but no where does it say when the church is open). I got a nice welcome and they had had quite a few people through for Heritage Open Days.

The church is Early English, dating to about 1220, with the addition of the spire in 1360. Nice porch and what a wonderful noticeboard – please refresh the notices!

A large church – it must cost a fortune to heat – and a font which dates to around 1660 (the original was, of course, destroyed by Commonwealth troops), but where the fish comes from, I didn’t ask.

They have done a nice job with a kitchen/servery at the back, though I wonder what Frances feels about always being in the kitchen. You have to be thin to get up the (1886) spiral stairs to ring the Millennium Bells – four original, four added, see the church website.

A couple of hatchments, though no details anywhere – I’m trying to think if I’ve ever seen Hatchments with dates and ages on before.

There is a splendid list of Vicars, but – like most of them – it has no space for anyone else. Is this the monument Pevsner describes as “Deacon with book, late C13”?

There is some lovely woodwork in the Chancel. Pevsner says the altar rails are C16 and the stalls and screen date to post-1660. I wondered if some were Victorian additions.

The pulpit looks later. The lady is Helen, mother of Constantine, finder of the true cross.

Finally, let’s photo the side altar, and go outside to enjoy the churchyard. One booklet says this is where industrial Newcastle meets the countryside – you certainly feel a long way from the City when you are here.

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Leadgate, County Durham – St Ives

Sunday 17 September 2023, one of the Heritage Open Days. St Ives church, Leadgate, NZ130551, was buzzing. A talk was just starting, there were local history displays, some mining art, and a cup of tea available. Sadly there was no simple guide leaflet and no leaflet to take which might have told the punters something about what the church is actually doing (surely you have something to advertise when lots of new people are coming into church?). Bit frustrating, but I thought I’ll get enough information about the church from Pevsner. Having found my copy of Pevsner’s County Durham (reprinted 2002) he deals with the church as follows: “a large, plain, E.E. stone church of 1865-8 by C.H. Fowler. N aisle 1879. Towerless” (page 354). This could be a short blog! We came across Fowler at Hepple – – and he has a Wikipedia page –

The church has a very active facebook page –, and they have a page on The building is on the Heritage At Risk Register – There is a lot about the village at This is a railway map I found at the Tanfield Railway. I did travel the line through the village, it used to run opposite the church. I was on a railtour which was one of the last trains to Consett steel works after closure. A coal mine and three blast furnaces used to be nearby – the world has changed in the last few decades.

These picture displays and slide show were fascinating.

I also enjoyed looking at some of the publications produced by the Consett works and those produced more recently – the Local History Society seems to be a very regular publisher. The mistake I made was not to read one written by a previous Vicar about why the church is dedicated to St Ives – apparently the only church in the Northern Province to bear his name. He was a man of Brittany, 1253-1303, a renowned lawyer and champion of the poor (those two attributes are not mutually exclusive, however much we think they are). I did a google, but got sidetracked by the branchline from St Erth to St Ives, and by the Chapel on the Bridge in the Cambridgeshire version.

It is a large church, very high, and must have had some money spent on it recently. They have a nice disabled loo – shame there still has to be a portable ramp to get into church.

Rather nice that the Colliery banner has found a home at the west end of the church, though the churchwarden refused to move the font to improve my picture!

There was an exhibition by Bernard Nixon (I can’t find any more details of him on line).

There is a lovely selection of stained glass. Here are a couple. There are also a couple of War Memorial windows – and look at the number of names on the list. Frightening.

The East window is a “Light of the World” and needs some work. Although the candles were lit, the Chancel was roped off, which was annoying, but the reredos is rather splendid. I enjoyed the church, and I wish them well.

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northernvicar August 2023

We started the month with a trip north over the Border to Melrose, and a visit to the Roman Museum at Trimontium – It reminds us that the Romans did move north – by 79 AD they were pushing into southern Scotland and constructed their fort at the place of the three hills, the three peaks of Eildon. There were Iron Age forts here, indeed several thousand people may have lived in the area the Romans conquered. This same site was to be used several times over the next hundred years or more, as the site was abandoned and reoccupied according to the ebb and flow of fortune, both military and political. Its last occupation may have been by the emperor Septimius Severus as he marched north in 208/9 in a final effort to subdue the natives.

The museum had a good range of material, though much of the stuff excavated at the start of the C20 is in the National Museum in Edinburgh. Some beautiful finds, examples of Roman craftsmanship from elsewhere in the Empire, replicas and reconstructions, and some excellent videos and AV. They also had a wonderful bookshop which (as always) proved expensive. Must go on a day when they are doing some guided walks on the site, which is about a mile down the road, beside the River Tweed. There may well have been a thousand cavalry stationed here, so add on the hangers-on and all the others who gravitated to a Roman fort, and we are talking several thousand people. The Empire did not always stop at Hadrian’s Wall.

We also enjoyed Priorwood Garden and the Abbey, though I didn’t get enough photos for a separate blog.

We enjoyed Chesters Roman Fort, you can read a previous blog at

I had a Manchester trip on Tuesday 8 August and had a ride on the trams. I am telling myself I am having “railway adventures” – it sounds more fun than “hospital visit”

Cherryburn is a lovely little National Trust property not too far away – It was the home of Thomas Bewick, the engraver. The Bewick Society have a good website too – Lovely house and garden.

I have blogged Lanercost Priory separately. We drove north on Monday 21 August when we should have knuckled down to more unpacking, but it was a lovely day and we went for a drive.“We’ll head towards Bellingham and find a coffee … Let’s turn left and see if the café’s open at Falstone … Perhaps we could stop beside Kielder Water … Let’s follow the road on through Kielder …” We passed a house called “Deadwater”. “I’m sure there was a Deadwater station”, I said. Next thing I knew we were at the Border. This is not a major border crossing. As you can see, we parked in “No Man’s Land” between the stone England sign and the metal Scottish one. I seem to remember there was one occasion during Covid when the Scottish and English rules were very different and Nicola was threatening to have a police presence at every border crossing. I feel sorry for the panda car which got the Deadwater crossing! We continued to Jedburgh and had lunch, before returning the same way.

Who else would go to a hospital appointment in Manchester via the Colne branch line?

A trip on the Tanfield Railway on Sunday 27 August.

The month finished with a ride to Saltburn with my nephew.

Posted in National Trust, Northumberland, Personal, Railway interest, Roman, Scotland, Trams | Leave a comment