A delightful wander along the Tweed, returning past Norham's former railway station and ancient castle.
Distance 4.5 miles (7.2km)
Minimum time 1hr 30min
Ascent/gradient 205ft (62m)
Level of difficulty Easy
Paths Field and woodland paths, 4 stiles
Landscape Undulating river valley, agricultural land and woods
Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 339 Kelso & Coldstream
Start/finish NT 899473
Dog friendliness On lead near livestock
Parking Roadside parking in Norham
Public toilets Close to village centre
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1 Leave the village green by the cross, heading along Pedwell Way to St Cuthbert's Church. In the churchyard, walk along a grassy path between the graves to pass behind the north side of the church, where you will find a stile marking the head of an enclosed path down to the Tweed. Follow the river bank upstream, shortly arriving at Ladykirk and Norham Bridge.
2 Immediately beyond, go over a ladder stile on the left, turn right and continue at the field edge. Towards its far end, approaching Bow Well Farm, look for a stile which takes the path down a tree-clad bank and out to a lane. Walk right and, at the end, pass through a gate, signed 'Twizell Bridge', to carry on across a pasture in front of a cottage and then through a second gate into a wood. An undulating path continues above the river.
3 When you reach a path junction by a footbridge, go left through a broken gate. Bear left again a little further on and climb to another junction at the top of the wood. Now turn right to walk above Newbiggin Dean, passing beneath the stone arch of a railway viaduct. Shortly, at a fork beyond a stile, take the right branch, signed 'East Biggin', which eventually leads out on to a lane.
4 Turn left, climbing over a hill to descend between the piers of a dismantled railway bridge. Just before here, to the left, is the former Norham Station, which closed in 1964. Its buildings are now restored and house a railway museum. Continue to walk on to the end of the lane.
5 Turn right, but then leave some 250yds (229m) further on, through an opening on the left, signed as a bridleway to Norham Castle. Keep ahead along the field edge to the bottom corner, where a gated track continues beside a brook through trees. Shortly, go left over a bridge into a field, and there turn right, following its edge out to a lane. Turn left and walk past the entrance of Norham Castle, eventually returning to the village.
Walking through the spacious streets of Norham, where low cottages and splendid mini-town houses lead to an open green graced by a cross that has stood there for centuries, it is hard to believe that this was once the most dangerous place in all England, or so we are told in Sir Walter Scott's epic poem Marmion. Yet, he was probably right, for when the bold knight, Sir William Marmion, actually came to Norham in 1319, it was indeed a troubled place, a state that had existed since the Norman Conquest in 1066 and was to continue into the 16th century.
Once William I established himself in England, he assumed the country would buckle down to Norman order, but the north was not so inclined. A series of revolts incited William to embark upon a campaign of death and wholesale destruction that became known as the 'Harrying of the North'. However, even that was only effective in the short term and he delegated the job of governing these unruly people to the Bishops of Durham. Dubbed the Prince Bishops they became very powerful and, in effect, ruled Northumbria as kings. However, the trouble didn't stop there, because the Scots had always regarded the land as theirs anyway, and for centuries the North was repeatedly devastated, either by battle or from the passage of one warring faction or the other, plundering food and just about anything else of any use as they passed through.
Norham's castle was founded by Bishop Ranulph Flambard in 1121 as a defence against the Scots. Yet, in spite of a formidable situation on high cliffs above the Tweed, they still managed to take the castle twice during the next 16 years. Under the control of the bishops, the fortress was rebuilt and extended from 1157 into the 13th century, with such effect that it withstood a 40-day siege in 1215. A century of peace followed, but with the return of hostilities, Norham was again in the front line. During the next 200 years, it was besieged six times and captured twice, the last occasion being in 1513 as the confident Scots made their fateful journey towards Flodden. Afterwards, the English undertook extensive repairs to strengthen the defences against the modern artillery that had been its downfall. However, the political wind changed and the castle passed to the Crown in 1559, after Bishop Tunstall refused to take the Oath of Supremacy. No longer required as a strategic outpost, it gradually declined to the spectacular ruin that it is today.
Recent archaeological work suggests that the area was probably first fortified during the early Iron Age. The high embankment towering above the field path, leading towards the castle near the end of the walk, is believed to be part of an earthen rampart defending the eastern aspect of the headland above the village. Traces of a third outer medieval bailey and more recent artillery emplacements were also found, indicating a much larger fortified enclosure than was previously considered. The field path to the castle is thought to have been created after Norham Station opened, to provide a ready access for Victorian visitors, eager to realise the romantic dreams inspired by Scott's poem and Turner's painting of the castle.
You've got a choice in Norham as the village is blessed with two inviting pubs, the Victoria Hotel and the Mason's Arms. Both serve appetising food in an attractive setting and offer children's menus for the younger members of your party.
Drive to nearby Horncliffe, where the Honey Farm contains a fascinating exhibition explaining the complex society within a beehive and how the best honey is produced. Just beyond the farm is Union Chain Bridge, one of the engineering marvels of its day. When built, it was the longest wrought iron suspension bridge in the western world, a record held until Telford's Menai Bridge opened five years later in 1826.
Pop into St Cuthbert's Church (you'll pass it on the first part of the walk), whose tradition goes back to the days of the Celtic saints, when St Aiden crossed the Tweed here on his way to Lindisfarne in ad 635. The first stone church was founded in 830, but the present building dates from around the same time as the medieval castle. Look for the effigy of a 13th-century knight, discovered buried near the side altar during restoration works in 1883.