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More about West Woodburn

West Woodburn, situated in the south west of Redesdale, is a small village that sits on the A68. 

The Bay Horse Inn, a traditional country pub and accommodation provider, sits in the oldest part of the village. If you look above the door as you go in you’ll see the date 1797 inscribed in the stone – The Bay Horse was once one of only 10 buildings in West Woodburn before more houses, shops, and inns were built during the mid to late 1800s. 

Today, West Woodburn is a bustling village thanks in part to the opening of a council estate, White Acre, in the 1950s. West Woodburn has its own Post Office, garage and petrol station, and local shop. There are also lots of accommodation options for people looking to explore the area in more detail.

You might not know that West Woodburn once had its own railway station. Aside from the station at Redesmouth, Woodburn Railway Station was the only other place in Redesdale regularly served by trains. The station opened in 1865 and ran until the 1960s.

Habitancum and Robin of Risingham

The Roman fort of Habitancum (or Risingham as it is often referred to) now lies as grass covered mounds, but once housed 1,000 cavalry and infantry. The fort was built during the second century AD and was either abandoned or destroyed when large numbers of Roman troops were withdrawn. The fort was later rebuilt and was active until the garrisons were removed at the end of the fourth century. 

Habitancum was part of the network of forts and camps along Dere Street, which cuts right across Redesdale. Dere Street was the most vital communication link between the south and north of Britain.

Also close to West Woodburn are the Roman remains of a carved figure known locally as ‘Rob of Risingham’. Likely a local god adopted by the garrison at Habitancum, all that remains of the original figure are the legs because a disgruntled farmer in the 18th century, tired of visitors walking across his land to see the carving, reportedly blew it up to make gate posts. A miniature representation of Rob, made by Ron Charlton from West Woodburn, was added to the site in 1983 by the Redesdale Society. The god is seen holding a bow and a small animal, possibly a hare, in his hands, and is dressed in a tunic and cloak, with a square block or altar opposite his right knee. 

It’s possible to visit Rob of Risingham via a public footpath which runs parallel to the A68 near Parkhead. The coordinates are Latitude: 55.165 / 55°9’54″N, Longitude: -2.1562 / 2°9’22″W, OS Eastings: 390143.244414, OS Northings: 85647.097111, OS Grid: NY901856.

More about droving 

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.

Woodburn and Elsdon were at the centre of a large network of drove roads, which led to a major influx of Scottish drovers and carriers. Men from Redesdale would follow the routes in the other direction, transporting coal and lime by pack horse and cart to the estates and woollen mills in Scotland. 

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 of 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.

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.

More about bastles

Located around the Anglo-Scottish border areas, bastle houses characterise the threat from the Border Reivers and the hostilities between England and Scotland during the mid-16th to the mid-17th centuries. 

The two-storey fortified farmhouses, with living space on the first floor and byres for cattle and sheep on the ground floor, were originally built as homes and places of safety for rich freeholders, lairds and heads of border clans. Wealthy landowners had pele towers, which were taller than bastles, usually with three or four storeys.

These defensible farmhouses – named bastles from the French batir (‘to build’) – were stark and roughly built with irregular stone blocks. The walls were between 70cm and 130cm  thick with heavy wooden beams to hold the second floor. Windows on the ground floor would be narrow slits or vents to provide ventilation, but small enough that bars weren’t needed for protection. Access to the second floor was normally via a ladder but some bastles had staircases built within the gable walls.

Bastles were often built in small clusters, providing people with greater protection from attack. Many were extended to include a second building. 

Unique to Northumberland and the Scottish Borders, bastles were designed to protect people and valuable livestock from the robbery and violence that threatened this part of the country for centuries. 

There are many examples of bastles in Redesdale, including:

  • Hole Bastle (Bellingham)
  • Low Cleughs Bastle (West Woodburn)
  • Shittleheugh Bastle (Otterburn)
  • High Rochester Bastle (Rochester)
  • High Shaw Bastle (High Shaw Farm)
  • Iron House Bastle (Otterburn)

More about freshwater pearl mussels

A rare, globally threatened species, the freshwater mussel has been lost from many rivers across England. The River Rede, together with the North Tyne, is one of the only places in the country still supporting a population of freshwater pearl mussels, some of which are over 100 years old. 

Freshwater pearl mussels live in fast flowing, nutrient poor rivers with clean, sandy and stony bottoms. They improve the water quality for other species by filtering water through their gills.

Current monitoring of freshwater pearl mussels shows the population is failing to breed and is in severe decline. There are a number of theories about why this is happening, including excess sediment in the river and issues with diffuse pollution. The River Rede’s flow and form has also changed in many ways over the past century: it was straightened, gravel was removed, and more intense forestry and farming practices added soil to the river.  All this has impacted on the river wildlife, in particular the endangered freshwater mussels.  

The River Rede also supports populations of migratory Atlantic salmon and brown trout which are essential to the early development of the freshwater pearl mussel.

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 National Lottery Heritage Fund, Environment Agency and Northumberland County Council. 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.