Skip to main content
Home > QR code navigation > Otterburn Mill – Farming & History

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.

Find out more about the projects taking place.

The Redesdale landscape through 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).

This particular report looks at Otterburn Village and Otterburn Training Area (OTA).

Farming in Redesdale 

People have farmed the land in Redesdale for 5,000 years; ever since neolithic people settled in the area. And in that time many of the farming traditions and techniques have remained the same.

Soil samples suggest the climate was once warm enough to grow cereals, beans and vetches at higher altitudes than is possible now. Evidence of arable farming can also be seen thanks to the querns or grinding stones discovered in prehistoric settlements. 

Farming communities in Redesdale relied on large grazing areas that extended well beyond their home settlements. The land  – called outbye – included land held in common and the open wastes. Whilst the inbye land was cultivated, all flocks and herds grazed together from April to August on land which included temporary shelters, called shielings, that were built by herdsmen.

The Enclosure Movement in the 18th and 19th centuries would transform the landscape in Redesdale and have a huge impact on farming and the local economy. Enclosures granted tenants land in return for loss of rights to the common pastures. The changes in land utilisation led to the closure of flour mills and an increase in unemployment. Many people abandoned their farms or chose to leave Redesdale for a new life in America.

The subsidies offered to farmers after the Second World War would see cattle and sheep farming increase in Redesdale, but the end of productivity subsidies in 2003, along with BSE (Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy) and Foot and Mouth, would have a major impact on farming communities. 

Today, improvements to farm management, animal health and advancements in veterinary science has bolstered farming in the area once again.

More about Rattenraw Farm 

The Rattenraw Farm is one of three settlements in Redesdale that historians think was active during the late Iron Age. The settlement’s location next to High Rochester Roman Fort (Bremenium) suggests that it may have been linked with the fort.

Revitalising Redesdale has been working with the landowners and volunteers from Tynedale North of the Wall Archaeology Group (NOWTAG) to investigate the farm’s diverse heritage.

A Community Archaeology Survey conducted in 2018 of an enclosed settlement at Rattenraw Farm can be read here. An archaeological dig at Rattenraw Farm in 2019 resulted in the discovery of 2,000-year-old jewellery and other significant finds. The excavation was organised as part of Revitalising Redesdale’s Lost Redesdale community archaeology project.  Fifty-three volunteers took part in the dig, with people of all ages, from six to eighty picking up a trowel and digging in. Read more here.

Learn more about the excavations at Rattenraw Farm here.

Excavations at Fawdon Hill 

Fawdon Hill in Otterburn is said to be the location where the Scots camped before fighting the English in the Battle of Otterburn. Archaeological surveys and excavation in 2019 and 2021 investigated possible prehistoric features at the site, along with its links to the Battle of Otterburn.

The investigations in 2019 revealed evidence for a likely bronze age ‘ritual’ landscape, represented by probable burial cairns including cup-marked stones. A later excavation in 2021 further substantiated this, with radiocarbon dating evidence obtained, placing at least one site firmly in the Bronze Age period. The cairns excavated on Fawdon hill in 2019 and 2021 seem to be part of a complex of features representing both settlement and a ceremonial site possibly involving human cremation, represented by the remains of a likely pyre over the possible settlement remains. This pattern reflects other Bronze Age landscapes of upland Northumberland which often contain settlements, fields and funerary monuments in close proximity to each other, along with simple rock art.

Read the excavation reports in full here.

Smoutel Ford

The river crossing at Smoutel Ford was lost because so much stone and gravel was removed during the mid-1900s. Revitalising Redesdale’s work will reintroduce about 1,400 tonnes of boulder and cobble-sized stone to the river bed, to recreate the ford and associated rocky riffle features. This will reinvigorate the flow in this deeper section and improve the habitat for fish, river flies and mussels.

This restored section of the Rede had suffered from a lack of gravel upstream to feed the riverbed, so as well as reconnecting the bridleway, this action will benefit river ecology beyond the 300m restored length. 

The Smoutel Ford project has been supported by local land owners and received funding from Northumberland County Council, The National Lottery Heritage Fund (NHLF) and Environment Agency (EA). Already you can see how much the river flow is changing, from slow and flat, to bumpy rapids and small pools.

The River Rede

The River Rede – a major tributary of the Tyne – rises in the wild, upland bogs of Northumberland Wildlife Trust’s Whitelee National Nature Reserve at Carter Fell on the English-Scottish border, before feeding into Catcleugh Reservoir and flowing past Rochester and Otterburn to join the North Tyne near Redesmouth. 

As the streams flow through the surrounding moors, the peat bogs regulate the water quality and flow, helping the river to support salmon, trout and freshwater pearl mussels.

The river and its tributaries add to the wider habitat diversity in the area too. Otters often hunt along the Rede, along with adders and common lizards, as well as palmate newts which live in small pools along the burn. 

Led by Northumberland Wildlife Trust, Revitalising Redesdale is working to restore Redesdale’s peatland, which will help hold more water on the fells and reduce sedimentation downstream. Find out more about our Peatland Restoration here.

Find out more about other places to visit in Redesdale through the landing pages for the interpretation panels along the valley.
For information about self guided walks in the area see our walks page with downloadable pdfs of 18 walk routes.