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Morpeth and its River

Below Morpeth lies a fine woodland valley walk.

Distance 8.5 miles (13.7km)

Minimum time 2hrs 45min

Ascent/gradient 420ft (128m)

Level of difficulty Easy

Paths Woodland paths (muddy after rain) and field paths, 9 stiles

Landscape Wooded valley, attractive park

Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 325 Morpeth & Blyth

Start/finish NZ 198859

Dog friendliness On lead through town and on roads

Parking Car parks within town

Public toilets Signed in town

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1 From the Town Hall, walk east along Bridge Street to the end, continuing around to the left along the main road towards Pegswood. Immediately after the Old Red Bull Inn, take an enclosed path on the right that later rejoins the main road. Cross to a footpath rising through the woodland opposite, signed 'Whorral Bank and Cottingwood Common'. Bear right when you get to a fork, past a residential home, and then go right at the next junction to again meet the main road.

2 On the far side, a path, signed 'Bothal', descends into a lushly wooded valley through which flows the River Wansbeck. There follows a delightful, undulating walk for some 2¼ miles (3.6km), eventually ending over a stile by a sawmill. Walk to the lane beyond and turn right across the river.

3 After climbing from the valley, the lane continues above the wood. Where it later bends sharply left at Shadfen Cottage, go ahead over a stile into a field corner, and carry on at the edge of successive fields beside the right-hand boundary. Eventually, the way passes right of a deep excavation, once an opencast coal mine, before falling towards a stile into woodland. Drop through the trees to a bridge over a stream.

4 Re-emerging into open fields above the far bank, follow a path ahead between the cultivation to gain a tarmac track past Parkhouse Banks. After 120yds (110m), immediately beyond a drive, turn through a gap in the right-hand hedge, signed 'Whorral Bank', and walk away beside the field edge. At the corner, slip right through another gap and carry on along a track past a cottage and through fields to a railway bridge.

5 Keep going over the field beyond to a stile, there dropping across a rough pasture back into wood. Soon joined by a track, continue down to a junction by the river and turn left above the bank. Emerging from the trees, bear left along a field path that leads past a cottage, the ongoing track returning to the river.

6 Over the bridge, a street leads around past the ambulance station into town. Go ahead to St George's Church and then turn left over Telford Bridge to Castle Square. Cross into Carlisle Park and, beyond the flowerbeds, bear right following the main drive to a riverside promenade. Walk upstream past Elliott Bridge to the top of the park and there turn right over Oldgate Bridge to return to the town centre.

The 16th-century travel writer, John Leland, described Morpeth as a 'fayrer towne than Alnwicke', a sentiment still upheld by the town's natives. It certainly is an attractive place, with many streets lined by fine Georgian buildings and a sprinkling of some that are considerably older. But it isn't a museum either, and its work-a-day bustle reflects a long tradition as a market town, just over 800 years in fact. This walk leads you past some of its most interesting sights, but there are others too, which are worth wandering to.

Little remains of the town's original buildings, which witnessed the often bloody events that marked its early history as a frontier town. Fortified shortly after the Norman Conquest, the first defence was a motte and bailey surmounting a mound, Ha Hill, overlooking the river in what is now Carlisle Park. This was superseded by more sophisticated fortifications on the higher ground behind, of which the 14th-century gatehouse still survives. The town had an abbey too, founded a little way upstream as a daughter to the great Cistercian monastery at Fountains. The medieval looking 'castle' opposite the park entrance, however, only appeared in 1821, serving successively as the gaol, police headquarters and then courthouse before being converted to residential use.

The old town bridge was replaced in 1832, its passage so narrow that, on two occasions, the mail coach crashed through the parapets to meet an untimely and watery end. It was replaced by Thomas Telford's graceful three-arched span, which, before the bypass was built, carried the Great North Road. At its northern end stands the Chantry, built in the late 13th century to serve as a chapel and tollhouse for the original bridge. Its chaplain began the town's first grammar school, which, refounded after the Chantry was dissolved along with the monastery by Henry VIII, continued in the building until 1858, when it moved to Cottingwood. The elegant Town Hall, gifted in 1714 by the Earl of Carlisle and re-fronted by Lord Joicey two centuries later, stands near the clock tower, which dates from around 1640 and served as the town gaol until the beginning of the 19th century. From its bells, the nightly curfew was rung at 8 o'clock.

Morpeth has associations with many notable people, including Vice-Admiral Lord Collingwood, Nelson's second in command at Trafalgar, and Dr John Horsley, dubbed the 'Father of British Archaeology' and minister of St George's Church for 23 years. Laid to rest in St Mary's churchyard, just south of the town, is Emily Davison, one of the suffragette movement's most determined activists. Repeatedly imprisoned for her defiant protests, Davison became a martyr in 1917 when she fell beneath the King's racehorse, Anmer.

While you're there

Some people may be surprised to learn that Scotland doesn't have a monopoly on the bagpipes, in fact they can be found in various forms from Africa to Russia. Housed in the 13th-century Chantry is a fascinating exhibition focussing on the Northumbrian version of this rather unusual instrument and the wonderful music that it produces.

Where to eat and drink

There is a choice of pubs and eating houses in the town, amongst them the Black Bull, fronted with regency bow windows and an Adam doorway and the Queen's Head, which was once a vicarage. Alternatively, try the Cobbler's Coffee Shop, entered through the doorway of Amos Atkinson's shoe shop.

What to look for

Go quietly through the woods beside the river and keep your eyes open, for you may see red squirrels scampering amongst the branches. Increasingly marginalised by the grey squirrel, which was introduced from North America in the 19th century, it is Britain's native squirrel. A rarer sight is the brilliant iridescent flash of a kingfisher, or even a glimpse of roe deer, browsing amongst the dark foliage.

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