Just a few miles to the west of Alnwick, in the sandstone hills above Corby’s Crag, there is a rock overhang. Little known and infrequently visited, its story spans eight thousand years of our history. The chance find of some pottery remains in the 1980s led to a formal excavation which revealed fragments of flint, dropped by the earliest inhabitants of Northumberland who used this overhang as a shelter. These hunter gatherers of the Mesolithic age started to arrive about 8,000 years ago following the end of the last ice age.
Much later, in about 2,000 BC, this same spot must have been held in some reverence as the cremated remains of a loved one were interred here in a pottery vessel. Was it the view towards the distinctive outline of Simonside, itself thought to be a sacred mountain, that made this place special to these people of the Bronze Age?
The discovery of more modern artefacts such as broken clay pipes showed that the shelter was being used by miners who were digging for coal in the numerous bell pits that were in the area.This is just one of the many hidden historic sites that can be found in Northumberland that can provide an antidote to those more popular – and crowded – places which our heritage industry encourages us to visit, such as the county’s abbeys, castles and stately homes.
It is a similar situation with our landscape. Our tourist publications are dominated by the same series of images – Bamburgh castle and beach, Lindisfarne and so on. But there are so many more places to visit – by car, bicycle or on foot – which, while possibly lacking the grandeur of the more famous neighbours, still have the power to capture the imagination.One of my personal favourites is Blawearie, on the moors above Old Bewick. A ruined house sitting in isolation, it has an atmosphere which is hard to describe. Now roofless and abandoned, the mature trees and adjacent rock garden show that this was once a family home. The walk uphill from Old Bewick is one for strong shoes, but well worth it, and the views across to the Cheviots give a great excuse to rest awhile as you climb the trackway.And just a few miles to the north is the mysterious Cateran Hole. A series of steps leading down to an underground chamber – clearly man-made, but why, and by whom? There are legends of tunnels to the Hen Hole on the side of The Cheviot, but the place remains an enigma.