Hexham - where time stands still
PUBLISHED: 22:50 15 September 2012 | UPDATED: 21:52 20 February 2013
A lifetime is but a fleeting moment in comparison with the history of Hexham, where ancient stones define protection and security Worords & pictures by Andrew Smith
Theres something reassuring about being somewhere that is old, permanent and seemingly indestructible. I like to think I possess such qualities but, regrettably, I doubt I will achieve a Grade 1 heritage listing.
Hexham, on the other hand, qualifies on all counts. It is constant, dependable and a proven survivor of the ravages of time and tempest.
This grand old town, one of the anchor locations of the North East, exudes stability in an ever-changing world.
Its a place to linger, to sit (on the rare occasions that the sun appears this year) and to watch the world go by.
Old stones laid well over a millennium ago give protection, not only to the buildings they enclose but to the courtyards and alleyways they create.
For 1,300 years the good folk of the Tyne Valley have come together within and outside Hexham Abbey walls to pray, to trade, to chat and to enjoy being in a place where time appears to stand still, or at least slow down.
Such was the scene on the warm and sunny afternoon I visited Hexham. It wasnt market day but the market square, bordered by the magnificent abbey, the 15th century Moot Hall and the 16th century Shambles covered market was thronging with people, meeting, talking and sitting for a while with friends or alone people of all ages, drawn to a place where they could relax and feel secure.
The talk, as ever, was of the weather, family and acquaintances, work and occasionally politics life, in fact, just as it always has been and, hopefully, always will be.
Hexham, like Alnwick, Morpeth, Durham and Barnard Castle, to name but a few, is at the hub of a largely rural community. It offers a fulcrum, a market place, a cultural treasure chest for dozens of farms, hamlets and village communities around about.
Its also fashionable, a sought-after location in which to live for those who work on Tyneside. The half-hour drive west to Hexham from the centre of Newcastle transports the city worker into a rural idyll which boasts an excellent quality of life.
There is excellent shopping, from the now accepted but initially opposed Tesco store on the fringe of the town centre to the numerous small, bespoke, quality shops clustered around the compact town centre.
Theatre, music, dance, films and exhibitions are all available at the Queens Hall Arts Centre and the abbey itself stages occasional exhibitions and the popular Hexham Abbey Festival of Music and Arts.
With the Duchess of Northumberland recently appointed as Patron, this years 60th anniversary festival takes place from September 21st to 29th. (See the panel for more information.)
For the sports enthusiast, Hexham Racecourse offers racing throughout the year in a beautiful setting overlooking the Tyne Valley and Hexham Golf Club provides a 6,300-yard par 70 parkland golf course running along the banks of the Tyne. There are also excellent championship-standard golf courses linked to hotels within a few minutes drive of Hexham.
The Wentworth Leisure Centre, close to the centre of Hexham, offers a full range of sports activities, including two swimming pools, a bowling alley and an international-standard athletics field.
But in my opinion Hexham shouldnt be a place in which to work up a sweat. Its quality lies in its calmness. Back to lingering, and watching the world go by.
This years Hexham Abbey Festival of Music and Arts, celebrating 60 years, has the theme New Beginnings. It features concerts, recitals, exhibitions and street performances. Dates and times may change - go to hexhamabbey.org.uk/festival, before you travel.
Friday, September 21
7.30pm Film: In Search of Haydn
Saturday, September 22
10.30am Fun on the Flags.
7.30pm HAF Chorus Concert, Haydns The Creation.
Sunday, September 23
10am Festival Eucharist, Mozarts Coronation Mass.
3pm Aquarelle Guitar Quartet.
6.30pm Choral Evensong.
Monday, September 24
1pm Alistair Vennart, Viola.
7pm Twilight Concert: Voces8
Tuesday, September 25
7pm Twilight Concert: Red Priest.
Wednesday, September 26
1pm Rowan Pierce, Soprano.
6.30pm Choral Evensong.
8pm Celebrity Organ Recital: Thomas Trotter.
Thursday, September 27
6.30pm Choral Evensong.
8pm Mugenkyo Taiko Drummers.
Friday, September 28
1pm Emmanuel Vass, Piano.
7pm Twilight Concert: The Temperance Seven.
Saturday, September 29.
7pm Twilight Concert with Candlelight: Amsterdam Cello Octet.
There will be an exhibition of work by members of the Network Artists groups interpretation on the festivals theme of New Beginnings. Their artworks will be exhibited in the abbey from September 17th to October 1st and all the pieces will be on sale.
Sketching the festival
To mark the 60th anniversary of the festival, local artist Cathy Duncan will be sketching the comings and goings at this years event. Her daily results will be exhibited in the abbey throughout the festival week and will be available for vistors to buy.