Discover the rolling countryside between these very different estate villages.
Distance 6 miles (9.7km)
Minimum time 2hrs
Ascent/gradient 525ft (160m)
Level of difficulty Easy
Paths Lanes, tracks and field paths, 2 stiles on Walk 4
Landscape Undulating farmland broken by small woods and copses
Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 339 Kelso & Coldstream
Start/finish NT 925392
Dog friendliness Mostly on lead; grazing land and game coverts
Parking Free car park by Etal Castle
Public toilets At Etal Castle, Ford Forge and in Ford village
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1 Walk through the village of Etal to the main road and turn right towards Ford, shortly leaving along a lane on the left-hand side to Leathamhill. When you reach the cottages, go right on a track beside the sawmill, signed 'Heatherslaw and Hay Farm', and keep on across the fields beyond.
2 At the bottom, by Shipton Dean, go through a gate on the right into a strip of wood. Beyond, head down the edge of successive fields to regain the main road opposite Heatherslaw Station. Cross to the lane opposite, following it over a bridge and around past Heatherslaw Mill.
3 Keep going to Heatherslaw farm but, after the right-hand bend, leave through a five-bar gate on the left, signed 'Ford Bridge'. Pass a shed and go through a second gate. Bear right, crossing to another gate in the far corner of the field by the river. Continue above the Till to Ford Bridge, there following the field edge away from the river to a gate leading out to a lane. Head back along it, crossing the bridge to a junction.
4 To the right, the road winds up to Ford. Go past the entrance to the church and Ford Castle before turning left into the village. At the bottom, opposite the Lady Waterford Gallery, turn right to ascend to a junction opposite Jubilee Cottage.
5 Now go left but, where the lane later bends sharply right beyond the former stables, leave through a gate on the left into a wood, signed 'Hay Farm'. Ignore the obvious track ahead and, instead, bear left on a path through the trees to a stream. Continue over a bridge to emerge in a field and follow its perimeter to the left above the wood.
6 Instead of going through the corner gate, turn right up the field edge to the top of the hill. There, pass left through a gate and cross a small field to a track in front of Hay Farm cottages.
7 Walk as far as another track on the right, which leads past barns to a junction. Turn right to enter a gate 20yds (18m) along on the left, signed 'Heatherslaw and Leathamhill'. Follow the field edge to a power cable post and then go right, following the boundary down and eventually passing a wood to reach the bottom corner. Drop through a gate into the trees to a bridge over a stream. Through a second gate, turn left along the field edge to return to Point 2. Retrace your outward steps to Etal.
Although Etal and Ford are peacefully united under the ownership of the Joiceys, history reveals a bitter feud between the two families that originally held them. With the establishment of Norman rule in the North, the manors of Etal and Ford were granted sometime in the 12th century to the Manners and the Herons respectively. It seems that conflict arose out of a power struggle between them, which finally came to a head in 1428, when William Ford was killed in an affray at Etal Castle. His widow accused John Manners of maliciously killing her husband and, although John subsequently forked out a hefty compensation, the feud rumbled on for another ten years.
The first manors would have been little more than stout wooden structures, surrounded by palisades as defence against intruders, with stone buildings appearing later only as means allowed. The Herons were the first to be granted a licence to crenellate, in 1341, and the Manners soon followed, building up their existing hall into the tower house that still stands at Etal's north western corner, and adding the enclosing walls and gatehouse a little later. The two castles suffered many attacks from marauding bands, with Ford being largely destroyed in 1385. But it was not until 1513 that real trouble arrived, when a force of 30,000 Scots appeared with James IV at its head, after taking the castles at both Norham and Wark. The defence at Etal collapsed after a brief bombardment and the capitulation of Ford quickly followed. Yet, for whatever reason, James seems not to have pressed home his advantage, for he lingered a few days at Ford allowing the Earl of Surrey vital time to bring an army north. They met days later at Flodden and, although heavily outnumbered, the English routed the Scots, killing James along with many of his nobles. Etal, now back in English hands, was used to store the captured Scottish artillery that James had hauled south with his army.
As the century progressed, the area settled down and the need for stark fortifications became a thing of the past. Etal deteriorated and was finally abandoned as a home, the Carrs, its then owners, building a mansion to the east of the village in 1748, whilst Ford was remodelled shortly after as a grand country house. The two villages have developed very different characters, Ford portraying the best of early 19th-century town planning, whilst Etal gives the impression of a romantic pastoral age. Yet these pretty cottages are in fact newer than those at Ford. Although remodelled when the Carrs built their grand house, by the late 19th century, Etal's quaint thatched cottages had become totally insanitary and when Lord Joicey bought the estate in 1908, he had them completely rebuilt.
The Black Bull in Etal is the only thatched pub in the county and serves coffee and a good selection of bar meals. If you get stomach pangs on the way round, call in at the Granary Café at Heatherslaw Mill. You'll also find teas served from a cottage opposite the Lady Waterford Gallery in Ford.
Take a ride on the Heatherslaw Light Railway, a 15-inch gauge steam railway running between Heatherslaw Mill and Etal Castle. The line opened in July 1989 and, for much of its length, runs beside the River Till, which is rich in wildlife. The train's passing appears not to disturb it, and there is often a good chance of seeing some of the more elusive species, such as a kingfisher or even an otter.
Pop into the superbly restored Heatherslaw Mill as you pass. There has been a watermill here on the river since the 13th century, but the present structure, built as a corn mill, is only around 150 years old. It incorporated a kiln for drying the grain as well as a store. The original machinery produces stoneground flour, used to make a range of delicious cakes and biscuits.