Five Miles of Beltingham & Briarwood.

OS Grid reference. NY785635

Beltingham is a small village in Northumberland. It is situated 1 mile southeast of Bardon Mill and 10 miles to the west of Hexham. Attractive stone houses surround a little green. There is a fine Georgian house near the church, and another that once was a bastle house. It is either an idyll or a hell! Sneeze and it’ll be news! The church is dedicated to St. Cuthbert and has stood here for 700 years. It is rendered in the perpendicular style. The small, quiet graveyard may well be a lot older. At the rear of the yard stand two ancient yew trees. The largest of which is strapped in iron belts to keep it from collapsing. It is one of the oldest trees in England & was a sapling when the Romans were here!

briarwood 4
The ancient Yew at Beltingham

Briarwood: The first walk in about a year that has been accompanied by rain. Still, we three (Raymond, Malcolm & myself) are dressed for it, so, no problem. We park at Ridley Hall and head back down the lane & into Briarwood. The rain only serves to bring out the colours; the sandstone cliffs that border the woods, the pines, moulding leaves, heavy with water, the moss, the lichen, the rough stone step details.

briarwood 5

The Allen runs high & slow. Everything is sodden. The river broke its way through these woods during the ice age, cleaving the sandstone.

We consider sitting in the shelter of the lychgate to eat. It seems ideal. But Raymond doesn’t appear wholly convinced. “My only concern being that it is used for coffins.” This is reason enough. So, after scouring the graveyard, we decide that beneath one of the old trees is the most appropriate place. It is raining hard & I make a note to pack one of my tarps for the walks next year. Also, I should treat myself to a flask. It is the wettest lunch all year. Rain runs over Raymond’s hood & down his nose.


Raymond: black tea with sugar. A banana (that he doesn’t eat).

Malcolm: Honey roast ham, turkey, stuffing sandwich. Tea.

Mike W: Coronation chicken sandwich, tea, yoghurt.

Nick: Vegetarian bubble & squeak sandwich. Water (with apple cyder vinegar & squeezed limes). A banana (that I don’t eat).

“What is this tree?” says Malcolm.

“Another Yew,” says Raymond.

“Sort of a double yew situation,” I say. But there is only the sound of the rain.

We wonder about some scraps of red ribbon that are tied onto the branches of the other ancient, strapped, Yew across the other side of the graveyard. It is posited that they are Christmas decoration. But this seems unlikely as they are scant & would be quite unnoticeable until one is right up close. “Quite possibly part of someone’s quiet pagan ritual,” says Raymond. We consider this for awhile. The tree & the setting certainly suggest something along these lines. Something witchy. “A love spell probably.” I like this.

This is perhaps the last walk of the year. Malcolm is away in York next week & has Christmas stuff to arrange. Raymond has choir practice for an xmas show. He also has extra shifts at work. “Well, it’s a bit of overtime,” says Malcolm. “Regular pay,” says Raymond. He has escaped having to wear any silly Christmas jumper, plastic reindeer antlers, etc having employed his traditional ‘get out clause’ whenever any silly work issue raises its head. “Oh, I couldn’t possibly do anything like that. I’m Jehovah.” He is not, but this is enough to put pay to any further insistence from the overly PC management & fellow workers!

Malcolm suddenly laughs.

“Double yew! Very good!”

Sandstone briarwood

It’s a mad, mad, mad, mad world.

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