Flodden Field is the more famous, but Northumberland’s most eerie battlefield site is at Halidon Hill.
The place can be haunting and sombre, especially with the steady patter of rain and an unwelcoming, slate-grey sky.
Scotland slumped to a crushing defeat at the battle in 1333 as they attempted to take back the besieged town of Berwick. The Scots were picked off by a hail of arrows as they tried to charge across the marshy ground up the hill and were decimated when they finally met the English army, breathless and exhausted. English losses were said to be as low as fourteen with the Scottish suffering thousands of dead.
There are no folk tales of famous phantoms reputed to haunt the spot, but a feeling of dread and unease certainly prevails – especially down on the killing fields towards Bogend farm where hundreds of pig sties now stand.
The day started badly for the Scots when their champion, a local Borderer called Turnbull, and his large black dog, were slain in single combat by an English knight from Norfolk called Robert Benhale in a precursor to the main action. And it just got worse.
A waymarked Defra-funded heritage Permissive Path now runs through the working farmland at the bleakly evocative site of the slaughter, and nearby there is an animal trail and restaurant at Conondrum Farm, England’s most northerly, just off the A1 a couple of miles north of Berwick.
Park at the Conondrum farm shop (where you can pick up a handy map and information sheet) and head back down the road that you travelled up to the farm buildings at the entrance and turn right up the road, heading uphill.
Climb steeply up Halidon to the mast and turn right onto the Permissive Access path, heading between the hedgerows.
Pass the entrance to Camphill farm on your left and continue up the lane, enjoying the fabulous views of the North Sea to your right.
Turn right to the information board and then head downhill on the grass track by the field edge, heading down towards the Sea. At the bottom of the field follow the Defra Conservation Walks waymarker to the left, past the small knot of trees and on, bearing right at the next waymarker then right immediately as you pass through the gate into the next field.
At the next waymarker on the fence turn left, across the top of the crop field by the line of gnarled old trees and follow the track as it drops to the right, going through the wooden gate then turning immediately left following the trackway up to the next fence and over, following the track up to your left by the burn to the next information point. Look out over the killing fields, now inhabited by hundreds of smart pigsties, down by Bogend house. The Scottish position was up on the hillside behind you.
Turn around and head back to the fence at the top of the crop field, then turn left and head straight downhill on the track towards the A1 and North Sea.
Go through the gate at the bottom of the hill and turn right, taking you straight back to your vehicle at Conondrum farm.
The smart perspex boards around the trail give information, but they cannot express the uneasy, black sense of defeat that seems to hang heavy in the atmosphere.
You certainly feel that Turnbull and his faithful dog have never left the scene of their demise and they have thousands of invisible ghostly fallen comrades with all kinds of awful injuries watching on in their full battle gear through the drizzle.
The Scottish leader Sir Archibald Douglas, William IV, Lord of Douglas, Hugh, Earl of Ross, Maol Choluim II, Earl of Lennox, Alexander de Brus, Earl of Carrick, Kenneth de Moravia, 4th Earl of Sutherland, Alan Stewart of Dreghorn and John Campbell, Earl of Atholl were among the Scottish noblemen that were slaughtered with their men that fateful day.
Halidon is a morose spot that encapsulates much of the County’s bloody history – and if you take the time stand in silence and allow yourself to get immersed in the atmosphere, the ghosts of the Scots’ dead will chill you to the bone.
The 650 acres is mixed arable land and the trail was opened with grant aid from Defra. Be aware that the use of Permissive Paths by the public is allowed by the landowner, but there is no right of access over it. The Battle Trail is open all year round, while the cafe, shop and farm trail are seasonal and re-open at Easter 2013.
Category: Northumberland History