Weekend walks: The Dyvel’s in the detail

SPECTACULAR ... the stunning countryside south of Riding Mill in Northumberland.
SPECTACULAR ... the stunning countryside south of Riding Mill in Northumberland.

Dyvelston, near Corbridge, flourished in the 12th century. But it did not survive.

Sitting comfortably ensconced in the Dyvel’s Inn I wondered about such an unusual name. Where had it come from? Perhaps a feudal baron had held sway there.

I also wondered about the ill-fated settlement’s end. The Dyvel’s Inn is a pleasant, cosy pub, just a short walk from Corbridge Railway Station.

In my socks, I padded across the carpet to the bar and collected my drink. The descent from the hills had left me rather dishevelled and muddy ... so I’d removed my boots at the pub door.

The walk, at about eight miles, had begun at Riding Mill Railway Station, with me following the A695 through the village to the Beauclerc road. Another memorable place name!

People have been living in Beauclerc since the mid-13th century but, while wandering through the picturesque village, it occurred to me that the name sounded Norman. I wondered if the hamlet’s origins are in fact a couple of centuries older and it was maybe home to a Norman lord.

From Beauclerc, a footpath took me across the lower slopes of the Tyne Valley to Riding Hills. It was quite a battle against the terrific westerly wind that came howling down from the hills with icy jaws.

The scenery, however, was beautiful. To my right lay the Tyne Valley, smooth and green, but beyond it were wilder heights. Rugged moors were bathed in golden sunshine, but winter’s grip was also evident, with distant peaks being snowy white.

I paused, to take shelter from the gale under a massive old oak tree. Behind me there lay a medieval village with possible Norman origins and on my right could be found a Roman road, Dere Street.

If only the tree under which I was standing could talk and describe the events it had witnessed over the long centuries. History’s roots are deep here!

From Riding Hills, I joined the road to Temperley Grange – and was faced with yet another steep climb! “Oh Lord,” I thought. “Here we go again.”

It really was quite a bank, but worth it, as always. You’ve got to get up a height for the best views!

To the left, there lay a flame-covered Slaley Forest and further to the south a ridge of land that was like a beam of light, the sun was so bright.

Out there were the wild but beautiful moors above Blanchland.

At the top of Prospect Hill, I was ready for a break so rested the rucksack against a gate and poured a cup of tea from my flask.

As often happens on my weekly excursions, I was struck by the sheer scale and beauty of the landscape. And the colours! They were glorious! There was brown heath, green fields, yellow moors and red-brown forestation.

There were miles of this, stretching away into the frosty distance. Especially impressive was the great green shadow of Dukeshouse Wood, which lies just south of Hexham. The presence of winter had become even more evident, with a massive snowstorm moving across the hills. It was an awesome sight.

Having finished my tea, I shouldered the rucksack and took to an open road where sunlight glittered on icy leaves. The pleasant country lane passes Temperley Grange and a footpath can be followed north over the fields. On the other side of these is another place with a memorable name: Snokoe Hill.

The area is now covered with trees but there was once a quarry here. There was little sign of it now but, gazing into the depths of the forest, I realised that perhaps just a few decades ago this would have been a scene of heavy industry, with the din of hammering and chiselling instead of the swaying of trees. The track descended Snokoe Hill, a gale crashing through the trees and snow flakes swirling into my face.

“Wow,” I thought to myself, “this is getting all Scott of the Antarctic.” This was because of the challenging terrain and a sudden disorientating blizzard but I safely negotiated the steep bank. This took some time and care as the incline was slippery with mud and ice and laced with the roots of trees, easy to trip over.

From the bottom of the bank, the trail took me into woodland and this afforded shelter from the wind. The snow showers however swept through the forest and I was pleased to be wearing my new winter coat!

A huge tract of woodland now covered the land to the west. This comprised a collection of forests: Swallowship Wood, Sunnyside Plantation and Dukehouse Wood. On the banks of Devil’s Water could be glimpsed Dilston Castle. There has been a fortification on this site since around the 12th century.

Somewhere in that area, under the earth, there lay the remains of the village of Dyvelston. As to why the settlement was abandoned … it occurred to me that this may have been due to the Plague. Many towns and villages were ravaged by it. The path descends Snokoe Hill, eventually leaving the forest before swinging east to Ladycutters Lane. I followed this for a short distance before taking the footpath into Corbridge and making for the the Dyvel’s Inn.

My route after lunch was the riverside trail from Corbridge to Riding Mill. This offered rather less strenuous walking after the exertions of the morning and was somewhat welcome! There were also great views of the River Tyne to enjoy.

On striding into Riding Mill, I was pondering the mysteries of the landscape. They lie, literally, beneath our feet.

Today’s journey had taken in thousands of years of history, from the Romans to the Industrial Revolution. There had been the intriguing histories of a village, Beauclerc, and a quarry, to ponder. Most mysterious of all was the ancient settlement of Dyvelston. As for its name, I was still mulling this over … the dyvel was probably in the detail!

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