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More about Elsdon
Visitors to Redesdale today would be forgiven for thinking Otterburn was once the seat of power in the area as it was a thriving village of industry and is known around the world as the location of the infamous Battle of Otterburn.
But it was in fact Elsdon that was the capital of Redesdale for thousands of years. Despite it being largely isolated, Elsdon was and remains the historic centre of Redesdale.
When visiting Eldon today you’ll be struck by the character of the village. Whilst many of the modern additions to the village have now gone, it retains its original charm.
As with many villages in Redesdale, community life is centred around the local inn, which in Elsdon is the Bird in Bush. Recently reopened under new management, expect to find local beers and ales, traditional home cooked food and a regular events programme.
Of course, one of the main reasons for visiting Elsdon is the Grade I listed St. Cuthbert’s Church which has pride of place in the middle of the village green. The church you see today isn’t the original building; that was probably made of timber and roofed with rushes. The majority of this church dates back to the 14th century, and in the 17th century a bell-turret was added, with further improvements made in the 19th century.
Visiting the church you’ll be struck by the many examples of Elsdon’s historic past, including the grooves where ‘the wild men of Redesdale’ sharpened their swords and the three horse skulls found in the church’s spire.
North of St. Cuthbert’s Church is Elsdon Tower, or Pele Tower, which was once the residence of the Rectors of Elsdon. Like the smaller bastles, Elsdon Tower was built as a site of refuge from attack. A barmkin round the tower provided a space for livestock, and the walls – which are nine metres thick in places – protected those inside. When the spiral staircase was built, a trip step – one that sits higher than the rest – was added to throw invaders off their footing. It’s not possible to visit Elsdon Tower today as it’s part of a private residence, but the building serves as a stark reminder of Eldon’s volatile past.
Don’t forget to spend some time in the village green, as this was once the focal point of the village. Not only was it somewhere to keep livestock, it also hosted weekly markets and village fairs. The green was also used as the site to deliver punishment to wrongdoers.
On the outskirts of Elson is Mote Hills, considered to be the best example of a motte and bailey castle in Northumberland. Built around 1080, the earthwork dominates the village and once housed a timber castle and courtyard. To really appreciate the scale of the structure, it’s best to view the site from the layby on Battle Hill.
And no visit to Elsdon would be complete without visiting the Winter’s Gibbet (sometimes referred to as the Winter’s Stob), a replica gallows that stands on the edge of the valley at the top of Battle Hill. The gibbet commemorates the hanging of highwayman and gypsy, William Winter, and his accomplices, Jane and Eleanor Clark, who murdered an old woman, Margaret Crozier of Raw Bastle. For many years, local villagers used to make a pilgrimage up the site, believing that chips of wood from the original gallows would cure toothache. The structure that stands today is a replica, complete with a concrete head.
If you visit the Old School Tea Room in Elsdon, which is run by Marion and Allan Graham, you can sample their legendary homemade Gibbet Cake.
Elsdon is a great starting point for walks and cycling in the surrounding countryside and there is accommodation available at the Bird in Bush.
The Lost Redesdale project
Redesdale contains a rich diversity of historic remains from Neolithic farming communities and Roman military occupation through to 19th Century Industry and First World War practice trenches.
The Lost Redesdale project aims to better understand and tell the landscape story of Redesdale, investigating its cultural heritage with local people through archaeological research and sharing the stories uncovered through creative interpretation.
Redesdale’s drove roads
Before the arrival of transport that could move livestock across large distances relatively quickly and easily, livestock was walked to markets and fairs on foot by shepherds and drovers.
Droving reached its peak in the late 18th and 19th centuries as demand for meat from the growing industrial towns increased. Scottish drovers would herd several hundred cattle and up to 2,000 sheep in one single drove along major transport routes like Dere Street and the Great Drift Road. These routes, and many others, were referred to as Drove Roads and there are many examples of them across Redesdale.
The routes down the North Tyne valley and the Great Drift Road, which ran along the Coquet/Rede watershed, were particularly important drove roads as they connected with Elsdon, Haltwhistle, and Woodburn where annual fairs would take place. Woodburn and Eldson in particular sat at the centre of a network of drove roads and feeder tracks.
Droving began to decline by the 1850s as drovers had to pay tolls to use certain roads and the enclosure of common land deprived them with a place for cattle and sheep to graze. The arrival of the railways would mark the end of large-scale droving and the movement of livestock over long distances by foot.
Many of Redesdale’s drove roads still exist today and feature in walks across the area, criss-crossing the River Rede over elegant stone bridges and old fords.
The Redesdale landscape though time
A series of reports produced by Revitalising Redesdale volunteers looks in detail at the landscape of Redesdale and shed more light on how the Mesolithic, Neolithic, Bronze Age, Iron Age, Roman/Romano British, and early mediaeval ages have influenced its geography.
The reports go on to look at the Post-Medieval period and Modern period (1901 to the present day).