Thursday, 15 May 2008

Walking to Heavenfield

Heavenfield lies to the north of Hexham, just beyond the line of the Roman Wall. It was here, in the year AD 634, that a little-known but momentous battle was fought, a battle which determined the racial destiny of the north of England, for it was at Heavenfield that the Celtic people lost their last hope of reconquering their lands from the Anglian invaders. At Heavenfield Cadwallon, the last Bretwalda (High King) of Celtic Britain met his end, and the hopes of his people died with him.

On a scorching day in early June, 1993, I decided to go to Heavenfield, to walk over the battleground and attempt to understand the events which had happened there all those many centuries ago.

My route took me through St John Lee, where I visited the beautiful, historic church, then through an overgrown bridleway with enough nettles to attract a Sunday School picnic, before I arrived at Acomb, a village blessed with three fine pubs. Never a man to spurn hospitality, I visited one before pressing on.

Three miles of idyllic country walking later, I saw Heavenfield over the yellow gorse which lined the lanes. A church has stood on the spot since the battle, and a cross has been erected by the local history society. I had the whole place to myself and was able to visualise the whole battle. Before leaving, however, I was saddened to see that the collection box in the church had been prised from the wall and robbed.

Back on the road, my spirits were raised by a visit to the "Fox and Hounds", a real-ale pub which stood on the crest of Stagshaw Hill. It was here that the famous horse-fair was once held, mentioned in Sir Walter Scott's "Guy Mannering". Sadly, the pub, like the horse-fair, is no more. It fell into the hands of the bank and was finally closed - another victim of "progress".

When I finally staggered into Corbridge, after many adventures with bullocks, closed "rights of way" and anti-hunt saboteurs, I was tired but happy. I really felt that I understood the battle, and, anyway, I had witnessed some marvellous scenery in the attempt!

The Battlefield
(This article is an extract from my 20 page, lavishly-illustrated A5-sized booklet "Walking to Heavenfield", available at £2, inc P&P, from the author at the email address given in the left-hand column above. The booklet describes all my adventures that day and gives a full account of the historic battle)

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