I have many favourite places and locations in my areas, but the village of Blanchland on the Southern edge of Northumberland is definitely on my list. It is an absolute gem of a village – a hidden gem really.
I am often asked by visitors what is my favourite place in my areas of North East England and Cumbria. and I always respond by telling them it is one of the most difficult questions I am asked, because I love everywhere so much!
Blanchland is located in Northumberland, in the upper reaches of the Valley of the River Derwent, which separates the village from County Durham, it is set in a beautiful wooded valley and within the boundaries of the North Pennines Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
The village has an amazing history back to 1165 when the land was given by the Lord of the Manor, Baron Bolbec, to a group of Monks from Premonstre in Northern France. They were known as Premonstratensian monks who wore white habits so became known as the White Monks. This is the likely origin of the name Blanchland – the land of the white monks. The village grew around the Monastery and its Church of St Mary the Virgin. One of the legendary stories in its history goes back to 1327 when a raiding Scots Army came along looking for the monastery. The story goes a thick mist developed and they couldn’t find the Monastery and continued on. Sadly, the monks rang the bells rejoicing, but the sound carried across the hills and the Scots came back, broke in, set fire to buildings and crops and after killing several of the brethren made off with their spoils and stealing the cattle too. It was King Edward 3rd who chased the Scots and came to the Monastery and paid for the repairs.
Later, the monastery was partially destroyed during the Dissolution of the monasteries and its lands changed hands through marriages to Tom Forster, Jacobite and MP for Northumberland, who sold them in 1704 along with the Bamburgh Estates to Lord Crewe, the Bishop of Durham, who had married Dorothy Forster in 1699.
On the death of Lord Crewe in 1721 he had established Trustees, Lord Crewe’s Charity, who later in 1721 onwards rebuilt the village and the remains of the Abbey church.
The delightful village is built in a form of interlocked squares, roughly representing the original monastery’s inner and outer courts, and a range of dependent houses outside.
The medieval gatehouse, once entrance to the Abbey precinct still remains with the village post office accommodated below. The Lord Crewe Arms Hotel is built from the remains of the Abbots lodge, guest house, lodging houses and kitchens. The present bar of the hotel with its stone vaulted roof was store rooms and the lounge has a huge fireplace with a priest hole hidden inside.
Over the years many famous visitors have frequented the hotel, including Wystan Hugh Auden, remembered for his love of champagne and playing piano in the bar. Auden was known as the Pennine Poet. His poetry, plays and writing include many references to the North Pennines area and Blanchland, which he described, saying “No other spot brings me sweeter memories”.
On 28th September 1938 a young man wandered into the village. Dressed in sports coat and flannels and carrying a rucksack. He was exhausted and hungry after walking over the moors from Westgate in Weardale. He was Alfred Wainwright, who would become known as the famous fell-walker, guidebook author and illustrator. In 1938 he walked a route which became known from his publication of “A Pennine Journey”, his own walk to Hadrian’s Wall, although it wasn’t published for another 50 years. Wainwright remembered arriving at Blanchland. He was so tired and a bit delirious and he said, as he remembered:
WAINWRIGHT QUOTE: “When you set foot in Blanchland, you step into the Middle Ages, you feel oddly out of place as you wander through the old stone arch and enter the square courtyard which is the heart of the village”
But he never contemplated scenes of monastic life and thought Blanchland was some sort of olde-worlde military camp. He said ” instead of walking in with a rusksack you should gallop in on a fiery steed, bending low to avoid the arch and pull up with a flourish amid a cloud of dust” “A sports coat and flannels make you grotesque here. Clanking armour is the men’s wear. Your walking stick should be a glittering lance”
From the agricultural life of the village, the population then grew as mining for lead and other minerals in the surrounding areas became the major source of employment. Those days have long since gone, but on walks around the village and immediate area you can still see remains of its industrial past.
The popularity of the village is growing. It has been well used in TV and film locations. The buildings and village layout are a delight, from the beautiful Blanchland Abbey dedicated to St Mary the Virgin, to the water supply in the courtyard, The Lord Crewe Hotel where the rear courtyard garden was formerly the cloisters, to the ancient gatehouse arch, the post office and the rare white post box, the use of old stonework from former mine workings where you can see the fossils enclosed or the unusual shapes cut from the stones, some of which were use in old mine shaft workings.
This is an estate village and is managed by the Trustees of Lord Crewe’s Charity.
Blanchland really is a hidden gem, and you will love it!.
If you want to enjoy a tour of the area and the village look at the website links and please let me know. I would be so happy to show you one of my favourite places.