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Otterburn's Battlefields

Skirt a medieval battlefield and a training ground for modern warriors.

Distance 4.5 miles (7.2km)

Minimum time 2hrs

Ascent/gradient 300ft (91m)

Level of difficulty Easy

Paths Bridleway, moorland track and metalled road

Landscape Open moorland with extensive views

Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer OL42 Kielder Water & Forest

Start/finish NY 889929

Dog friendliness Keep on lead on roads and near sheep

Parking Roadside car park at eastern end of Otterburn village

Public toilets Beside bridge in Otterburn

Notes Close to MOD danger area. When red flags flying, walk may be inadvisable. Contact Range Control Officer on 01830 520569 or 0191 239 4261

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© AA Media Limited 2015. © Crown Copyright Licence number 100021153

1 From the car park, walk through Otterburn. About 100yds (91m) after passing the Church of St John the Evangelist, turn right on to the road to Otterburn Hall. At the top of the incline, go on to the public bridleway on the left, past farm buildings and into a field. Follow the bridleway alongside the wall and through a gate into the next field. Continue, this time with the wall, which gives way to a wire fence, on your right.

2 Go through the next gate and, keeping in the same direction, cross the field to a gate through the opposite wall. Go through the gate and across marshy ground past a small plantation, now mostly cut down, to a junction with a metalled road. Follow this to the right, across a cattle grid and around the bend to the left, up a gentle incline.

3 About 100yds (91m) after the bend, follow a grassy track across the hillside to the right, past a sheep pen. This leads to a gate, beyond which is a military warning notice. Go through the gate and continue across moorland, gently downhill. The ground is boggy and the track indefinite in places, but it leads to a better track which follows a fence on your right to join a metalled road at Hopefoot farm.

4 Follow the road to the right, crossing a bridge over the stream, then through woods, to join the main army camp to Otterburn road at Hopefoot Cottages. Turn right and follow the road past Doe Crag cottages and across a bridge to the entrance to Otterburn Hall. Go through the gate opposite this on to a footpath, signposted to Otterburn and leading across a field.

5 Follow the track, passing a sports centre on your right. At a bend in the wire fence, the track forks. Follow the left fork downhill, across two small footbridges, through a kissing gate and along the river bank. The track may be muddy and overgrown at times. After crossing a stile, the track brings you into Otterburn, just opposite the Percy Arms. Turn left and return to the car park.

Until the mid-19th century, Otterburn was a hamlet hidden away in the Northumbrian moors. The main coach route from London to Edinburgh passed through Wooler and Coldstream. By 1841, the Newcastle to Jedburgh road had been extended to Edinburgh, and Otterburn became an important staging post on that route.

The fame of Otterburn, however, rests on the battle fought there in 1388. This period was characterised by unrest along the Scottish border and frequent incursions by both English and Scots. In response to an invasion by the English three years earlier, a force of some 50,000 Scottish soldiers crossed the border in two divisions. The main force crossed near Carlisle. A smaller, diversionary force, of 300 cavalry and 2,000 foot soldiers, under the earls of Douglas, Moray and Dunbar, attacked through Northumberland.

Having reached as far south as Durham, the eastern division, laden with plunder, returned north. At Newcastle, they engaged in a series of skirmishes with a force led by the Earl of Northumberland's son, Sir Henry Percy, knicknamed Hotspur because of his lightning raids against the Scots. During one of these encounters, Douglas captured Hotspur's pennant and threatened to raise it on his own castle.

To avenge this gross insult, Hotspur pursued Douglas northward and caught up with him at Otterburn. Heavily outnumbering the Scots, Percy attacked their position on the moonlit night of 19 August. During the battle, Douglas was mortally wounded, but the Scots fought so well that Percy was captured and held to ransom. An estimated 100 Scots were killed compared with more than 1,000 English.

Otterburn became known as the battle that was won by a dead man. It inspired the ballad Chevy Chase, one of the earliest poems in the English language. Harry Hotspur, together with his father and brother helped depose Richard II and replace him with Henry IV. He later turned against the King, and died at the battle of Shrewsbury in 1403. He is also a character in Shakespeare's plays, Richard II and Henry IV.

Modern warfare also finds a place at Otterburn. In 1911, the War Office bought 19,000 acres (7,695ha) of land to the north for use as an artillery range. The Otterburn Training Area was extended during World War Two and now covers 58,000 acres (23,490ha), about one fifth of the total area of the Northumberland National Park. It is the largest firing range in the UK.

While you're there

Five miles (8km) north of Otterburn, in the village of Rochester, is Brigantium, a reconstruction by archaeologists of many of the Stone-Age, Iron-Age and Romano-British remains to be found in Northumberland. This is well worth visiting, particularly if there are children in your party. Just above the site is the Roman fort of Bremenium.

Where to eat and drink

The Percy Arms in Otterburn once offered hospitality to stagecoach passengers travelling between Newcastle and Edinburgh. It continues to provide excellent meals in a very pleasant atmosphere. The Border Reiver Shop and Coffee House is also very good for light refreshments.

What to look for

The site of the Battle of Otterburn is not known, but is thought to be somewhere near the second field you cross after leaving the village. The remains of Percy's Cross, which commemorates the event, can be seen in the small conifer wood at the bottom of this field, to your left, where the field adjoins the A696. There is a car park in the wood.

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