Blanchland - pretty as a postcard
PUBLISHED: 08:31 26 June 2010 | UPDATED: 17:26 20 February 2013
The picturesque and beautiful village of Blanchland lies beneath rolling fells and nestles in a wooded corner of the upper Derwent Valley, right on the border between Northumberland and Durham. Tom Fennelly has a look around
Even with a Durham County postcode and administered by the Northumberland County Council, Blanchland has always retained its own very distinct identity, shaped by a rich and colourful history.
Although in Northumberland, two of the roads from the village lead into County Durham. Blanchland lies about 25 miles south-west of Newcastle and is equidistant west of Durham City. The nearest major road is the A68, seven miles to the east of the village.
It is without doubt one of most attractive small villages in the North Pennines Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, truly a picture postcard setting.
Blanchland is believed to have taken its name, which means White Land, from the habits of the monks who founded the Abbey in 1165.
This conservation village has many listed buildings clustering around the remains of the Abbey which was dissolved by Henry VIII in 1536. Much of the present village was built with stone from the abbey and its buildings.
Blanchland is the centrepiece of an estate owned and conserved for three centuries by a charitable trust, the Lord Crewe Charity. The village was much loved and visited by the poet and playwright WH Auden and Alfred Wainwright, best known for his books on Lakeland walks who passed through on his less well known Pennine Journey.
It has been much painted and photographed and was used for filming scenes in Jude the Obscure and featured in the TV films of Catherine Cooksons Gambling Man and A Dinner of Herbs.
Blanchland flourished during the 19th century lead mining bonanza and in the surrounding hills and hamlets industrial archaeology is very evident.
The Post Office is the hub of village news and gossip
Located within the old Gatehouse of the mediaeval Abbey is the Blanchland Post Office, which has one of only three white-coloured post boxes in Britain. As well as offering full postal services, the current owners Jacqui and Ian Dart run general grocery shop, selling newspapers and magazines, souvenirs, wines and spirits. The Post Office is the hub village news and gossip.
Above the gatehouse overlooking Blanchland Square, which was the monastic outer court, is the Gallery Upstairs, which occupies the complete upper floor of building. Among others,
it showcases the work of watercolour artist Gordon Lamb. Gordon and wife Jean have run the gallery since 1999
and it showcases the work of locals artists, displaying a range of contemporary art and craft in an atmospheric mediaeval setting.
As well as fine art, glass, wood, silverware, pottery, photography, textiles, some unique clocks are featured in the Gallery Upstairs, which is open all year.
Creativity of a very different kind can be found in another part of village where Get Ahead Hats run by Carol Forster has won a deserved reputation for fabulous millinery and accessories and attracts customers from far and wide.
Making something new from the past is very much a speciality in Blanchland and nowhere can this be seen and enjoyed more than in the White Monk Tearooms, which opened in the old village school in 2004.
Proprietor Vivienne March and her staff serve up a tempting menu of morning coffees, light lunches, and traditional afternoon teas all prepared and baked on the premises using local sourced ingredients.
A hotel that was once part of the Abbey with a ghost and a priests hiding hole
In the Blanchland tradition, the present day Lord Crewe Arms Hotel was originally built as the Abbots Lodge, Guest House and Abbey Kitchens. The lounge and bar were store rooms and the giant fireplace would have been used for smoking and curing meat.
There is thought to be a priests hiding hole inside the upper chimney and the ghost of a woman caught up in events around the Jacobite uprising of 1715 is said to haunt the upper floor.
The hotel lawn occupies the former Abbey Cloister and is bounded by the present Abbey Church, which was built in 1752 using parts of the old abbey, mainly the tower and north transept, the crossing and the sanctuary which were formed into one building.
Walking in and around Blanchland and the surrounding countryside is rewarding activity at any time of year. There are a number of local walk leaflets courtesy of the North Pennines Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, including a 20km long route designed for horse-riders and cyclists alike, based on the 18th Century packhorse trails which were once used to transport lead and other goods to far-off towns.
Blanchland is ideally situated close to the Northumberland National Park with Hadrians Wall, Kielder Water and Forest, and the North Pennines. Hexham is just 10 miles away in Tynedale and Stanhope in Weardale is an attractive drive of nine miles away.
116 Walter de Bolbec, who was given land on the north side of the River Derwent by Henry 1, granted monks from the German Order of Premontre land to build an Abbey.
1327 King Edward 111 visited Blanchland Abbey while attempting to thwart an invasion by the Scots.
1536 Blanchland Abbey was dissolved by Henry V111 and the estate passed into by the ownership of the Radcliffes (Earl of Derwentwater)
1620s The Forsters of Bamburgh take over Blanchland
1699 Nathaniel Lord Crewe, Bishop of Durham, marries Dorothy Forster.
1708 Nathaniel Lord Crewe, Bishop of Durham, bought the Bamburgh and Blanchland estates from the Forster family.
1715 Tom Forster and James Radcliffe (Earl of Derwentwater) supported Jacobite Uprising as the Old Pretender James Stewart was related to the Radcliffes. Forster led the English Jacobite army but was defeated. Both were imprisoned in London and Forster's sister Dorothy arranged his escape to France. It is her ghost which is said to haunt the Lord Crewe Arms Hotel.
1721 Nathaniel Lord Crewe died childless and his will set up the Lord Crewe's Charity to bequeath his personal lands for the benefit of the clergy and poor in the parishes in his estates. This continues to this day.
1752 Blanchland Abbey was repaired and established the Parish Church
1813-1818 The village was substantially repaired and improved by the Lord Crewe Charity
1855 Blanchland School was built
1861 The population of Blanchland was 523
1930 WH Auden stayed at the Lord Crewe Hotel
1938 Alfred Wainwright passed through the village on his Pennine Journey
1981 Village School closed
2004 White Monk Tearooms open in the old school b building
The Post Office is at the hub of the community in Blanchland, as in many villages of the North East. If you rely on the village post office where you live, tell us how important it is to your village. We want to help protect these vital institutions.