The River Blyth Connections: Branches and Sources

The River Blyth Connections: Branches and Sources

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Apart from the River Blyth and its tributary the River Pont, the source of which lies further West from the estuary than the source of the River Blyth itself, there are twenty-six named burns and sikes which feed into the River Blyth. This is about the interesting sites and settlements along the valleys that share a common connection and heritage.

The River Blyth is about 32km (19.9m) in a direct line from source to mouth. It is 44.9km (27.9m) travelling along the river.

The River Pont is 37km (23m) in a direct line. It is 32.7km (20.32m) from source to confluence approx.

Second Bridge over the River Blyth looking towards the source

It is a smaller cousin of its neighbour the River Tyne which is approximately 107km (66.5m) from the source of the North Tyne near Keilder to the mouth. The River Blyth rises near Kirkheaton at about 200 metres (656ft) above sea level, not much less than the source of the Tyne as it happens.

The Port of Blyth is an artificial harbour which was once fordable near the mouth of the river, similar to the way the River Wansbeck continues to be.

[Video explaining rising of a river... Tees]

It is often said that Northumberland is the county of castles. But it is also a county of stately homes and no area more so than the Valley of the River Blyth and its tributaries. In the turbulent and violent times of medieval Northumberland every person with the means to do so built a defensible dwelling. This was usually a tower house. Most townships or manorial estates had a resident landholder and therefore most townships had a tower house at its centre. In the more peaceful times of the 17th-18th centuries these tower houses were replaced by country houses. Often the house was built onto the tower as at Belsay and Ponteland. After the civil war many towers were pulled down completely and a home built in its place as at Capheaton and these were often by new landholders who had come from the merchant class as at Blagdon where the Ridley family purchased the property of the ancient Fenwick family whose fortunes had wained.



The How Burn rises at Sir Edward's Lake which is part of the Capheaton Hall estate. Capheaton Hall, built by Trollope, the builder of Netherwitton Hall and Newcastle Guildhall, according to Pevsner, was "...the first unfortified substantial house to be built in Northumberland" after the violent and turbulent middle ages and Civil War period. The Swinburnes, a knightly family of the major Bywell Barony of the de Baliols,  had been in possession of the estate since the late 13th century, although their main residence at first was Gunnerton and Swinburne in the Chollerton area. The Swinburnes became well connected and married into several of the other local gentry families thereby extending their landed estates. They backed Charles I during the Civil War and ended up being exiled when the King was beheaded. They returned during the reign of Charles II and built the hall in 1688. The Swinburnes were staunch Catholics, but luckily for them their lands were not sequestered during the Jacobite rebellion of 1715. The leading Swinburne was on his death bed attended by his sons who played no part in the rebellion. The Earl of Derwentwater was a cousin of the Swinburnes who led the rebellion. He paid with his life, and land, part of which were what we now know as Blyth Town. By 1763 Capheaton was inherited by Sir Edward Swinburne who created the lake and carried out substantial improvements to the house. Still owned by descendants today it is now a hotel and wedding venue. The stately hall was built on the site of a fortified tower which was in existence by 1415. It was moated and had a drawbridge and carried a beacon on the roof to warn of  danger from reivers in the area. This was obviously a quite substantial dwelling. The Swinburnes were also in possession of the neighbouring township of Stamfordham.

Sir Edward Lake Capheaton

Gentry-status superior bastle house of the 16th century but later extended in the 18th century.

Devil's Causeway
A roman road which ran across this exact spot passing by Great Whittington and Hartburn on its course from the military road to Scotland. Earthworks are visible at Hartburn.

Harnham Hall Buddhist Monastery

Between the How Burn and Blyth at Harnham is the Ratanagiri Buddhist Monastery, opened in 1981, a "monastic residence for about eight sangha members and adjacent lay retreat". www.ratanagiri.org.uk
At the rear of the present house stands a medieval hall. A tower house was here between 1412-15. Part of it was pulled down in 1500 and a manor house built up against it.

Shortflatt Tower

Now a luxury wedding venue it is on a lovely walking route near Bolam Lake and Shaftoe Craggs. A large pele tower, licence to crenellate was granted to Robert de Reymes in 1305. It was purchased by the Hedley-Dents in the mid 18th century and was inhabited as a family home until recently. It has been improved upon in recent centuries and a habitable wing added to the large tower. www.northoftyne.co.uk/shaftoewalk


One of the larger villages in the valley it has an association with the Swinburne family of Capheaton as landholders dating back to 1399. A pretty village with an archaic wide village green it is a popular drop in for travellers and tourists especially the Swinburne Arms pub. The Village Lock up, in a prominent place, is an unusual and rare curiosity which dates to the early 19th century. The original chains are still in place on the walls. It was a place for prisoners to be held before a JP could be summoned to deal with the indicted, mostly drunks. It is believed there was an earlier building on the same site. There is mention of a fortified tower house in 1415 although it no longer exists. It is believed the Swinburnes built the tower as a residence for the vicar which was the major parochial centre of the area.

Stamfordham Lock Up

Belsay Castle and Hall

Between the Coal Burn and Ogle Burn it is one of the major historical properties and attractions in the area and is managed by English Heritage. It was owned by the influential knightly family of Middleton who added a habitable wing to a large medieval tower in the early 17th century. And then in the 18th century built a fine hall, which is now a major tourist attraction.There is much in the way of archaeology and structures of  note including Bantam Folly within the estate. This is an ornamental farm building.


One of the prettiest, unspoilt, villages in Northumberland, populated by only a few hundred people. It has a picturesque pub and church and now also boasts an outdoor adventure centre. The township came into the possession of the Blackett family at the turn of the 17th century. They were rich merchants of Newcastle, a street acknowledges their influence even today in the city. They built Matfen Hall on the site of an earlier Jacobean house, the residence of the previous landholders the Douglas family, between 1832-5. Soon after they constructed high-quality housing in a self-contained community as an estate village for their workers. The Blackett arms adorn one building in the village with the motto "nous travaillerons en esperance (we will labour in hope). The residents purchased the old red telephone box when it was no longer needed, carried out renovation and turned it into a tourist information hub. The ancient and important family of Fenwick had their seat from the 12th century at Fenwick Tower, Matfen. This was described as having covered a considerable space with more than one tower. The licence to crenellate was granted in 1378. The tower was largely demolished in 1775 and a hoard of buried gold coins was found. The Fenwicks had sold the estate to the Blacketts in 1659 due to financial problems. They took up residence at Wallington and later built a stately home in place of the medieval tower. North Fenwick farmhouse, near Matfen was a late 16th to early 17th century bastle house.


Ouston Airfield
Opened as RAF Ouston in 1941. It was first home to Polish Fighter Squadron No 317 who were equipped with Hawker Hurricanes. They sent a Junkers JU88 into the North Sea on the 2nd June of that year, their first kill. After the war it was used as a training facility. During the Cold War, to be made more operationally ready, a runway was extended to 6,000ft. In 1967 Ouston acted as the regional airport for a period of five months when the runway at Newcastle was being renovated and extended. It was for a time during the early 1960s used as a motor racing circuit with both Jim Clark and Jackie Stewart attending meetings here. The airfield fell into disuse when the British Army Albermarle Barracks was sited here in the 1970s.

East Matfen Deserted Medieval Village
Remains of a village and field system can be seen as earthworks, especially from aerial photography. It had a large village green with houses facing onto this. In the 17th century the landholder moved the inhabitants to other nearby settlements and turned this area into parkland.

Cheesburn Grange

It is now a contemporary art, design and culture centre in a grand country house and estate built by John Dobson in 1813 for owner Ralph Liddell. The Riddels were a gentry family from Swinburne Castle on the Tyne. The present owners are descendants. A grange was an outlying farm of a monastic institution, in this case it was granted to Hexham Priory. It was one of two granges belonging to Hexham Priory on this stretch of river. It was disposed of in the 16th centuries on the dissolution of the monasteries. (See Milbourne Grange)

Middle Newham Deserted Medieval Village

One of many DMV sites in the area. Earthworks near Middle Newham Farm (There are also East and West Newham farms) indicates a medieval settlement on both sides of the road with remains of at least eight properties. The evidence of medieval farming also still exists in the form of ridge and furrow.

Dissington Old Hall beside Medburn Village

Pevsner wrote: "A walled garden of the early 17th century is all that remains of the original manor house. In the garden two broken 17th century statues". The current Dissington Hall is now an enterprise hub and conference centre, privately owned from 1968. The house was commissioned by mine owner, from Chirton, North Shields, Edward Collingwood and was completed in 1797. The Delaval family owned Dissington from the 12th century. It was part of the barony of Callerton, which also included Seaton Delaval. A junior branch of the family were resident here, but in the late 17th century this branch of the Delavals came into possession of the Seaton Delaval estate. They sold the estate to a kinsman Edward Collingwood. Even when the descendant namesake Edward Collingwood, a 60 year old bachelor, built the new hall in 1797, he still preferred Chirton Hall as his main residence.

Beacon near Cadgers Burn
The cairn on Beacon Hill may have been the site of a beacon or large fire used for sending signals throughout the country. There are several such probable beacons listed in this area. Often they were placed on the top of a tall building, as at Capheaton Castle. A chain of them was lit to warn residents of incoming raiders during the turbulent period of the 14th - 16th centuries.

Ogle Castle

The Ogles were a knightly and influential family in this area since prior to the Conquest in 1066. There are considerable remains and earthworks of their former moated castle and village, now a farm site, which in 1632 comprised 16 houses. They were given a licence to crenellate in 1341. The Ogles had another base at Bothal Castle on the River Wansbeck.

Kirkley Hall

Is a 17th century country mansion which came into the possession of the Ogle family during this century. In 1946 it was acquired by Northumberland County Council and became an agricultural college. It now is also home to a small zoo. In 1788 the Rev Newton Ogle erected an obelisk commemorating the accession of William and Mary in 1689.
The manor of Kirkley was granted to the de Eure family in 1267 and Sir William Eure was recorded as in occupation of a tower house there in 1415.  In the early 17th century the manor came into the ownership of the Ogle family and in 1632 Cuthbert Ogle built a new manor house close to the site of the old house.
The house was substantially rebuilt by The Reverend John Saville Ogle in about 1832.
Kirkley Obelisk


Lies on one of the main highways between Newcastle and Scotland. The Blackbird Inn was the manor house of the Errington family and includes a former pele tower. The Erringtons were a major gentry family especially from the 17th century in the Tyne Valley. A truce between England and Scotland is rumoured to have been negotiated here in 1244. It was said to have been destroyed by Douglas in 1388 while being pursued north by Harry Hotspur prior to the Battle of Otterburn. The river bank has now been turned into a picturesque park and walk. Occupied from 1325 the tower was bought and restored in 1580 by the Earls of Athol where a Jacobean mansion house was built incorporating the tower. It was lived in until 1788 when it became a public house.

Ponteland Park


Another major village which was a crossing point on a main route between Newcastle and Scotland. A picturesque village it had a church here by 1190. The present church dates from 1871. Two former hospitals were built just to the North of Stannington.

Stannington Children's Sanitorium
The first purpose-built children's tuberculosis sanatorium in the UK. The hospital open in 1907.

Site of St Mary's Mental Health Lunatic Asylum

Whitehouse Farm
This opened as a visitor centre in 1997. Later a zoo licence was obtained.

Tranwell Airfield
Known as RAF Morpeth during WWII. It was a training site. Some buildings and archaeology still remain but it is now used as a site for a Sunday car boot sale and point-to-point racing.

Blagdon Hall

The home of the Ridley family, peers of the realm since 1900. The Ridleys purchased the estate, and Blyth estate in 1723, and were entrepreneurial in the development of these lands. The Fenwick family of Matfen were the owners in medieval times. The manor was said to be "... of a status to expect a manor house but there is no evidence that the previous manor house was fortified in any way."
Blagdon as a private home is not usually open to the public. It is an extensive estate with many businesses and tenants operating from here. It was tenants who organised an open day of the grounds, to raise funds for the Red Cross, that I visited recently. The house is a seven-bay, three-storey ashlar  built mansion begun shortly after 1692 when the Fenwicks sold the property to Matthew White, merchant of Newcastle.
The gardens are centred around the Snitter Burn which has been dammed in a couple of places to form a lake. Three bridges and stepping stones ford the Snitter Burn. Lining the lake at various points are a chapel, summer house, temple and an ice house. A garden was made from the quarry which was used to provide the building materials for the house. It features a chapel with various inscriptions to the Ridley family. Other plaques commemorating Ridley family members can also be found at other locations around the estate. Other delights include a walled garden, ornamental sky lake and a pair of bulls on plinths.

Hartford Hall

was built in 1807 for mine owner and political writer William Burdon. The estate was owned by Tynemouth Priory in medieval times who leased it to a single sheep farmer.

Humford Woods
The site of the confluence of the Horton Burn and the River Blyth is the site for a park and picnic area. It once was a working mill site and settlement and even had an outdoor swimming pool at one stage.

Plessey Woods Country Park
The confluence of the Pegwhistle Burn and the River Blyth, a former quarry with a house built into the quarry face and coal mining area has now been turned into a country park managed by the local authority. An art trail has recently been installed here.

Pegwhistle Burn Confluence

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