‘The best laid schemes o’ Mice an’ Men, Gang aft agley‘. The words of Rabbie Burns ring through my head as we sit stranded at the side of the A697 a mile south of Longframlington, hazard lights flashing.
This is no great surprise for us, really. Our relic of a car has many ongoing issues but since she mostly limps her way round anywhere and we have a really sympathetic local garage owner we’re stubbornly loath to part with her.
I arrange a visit from the RAC but since it’s a Saturday and is snowing they’re extremely busy to the tune of a four hour wait. The prospect doesn’t sound appealing so Hogs dons a pair of rubber gloves from the first aid kit and starts poking round under the bonnet. A 2″ rubber elbow connector has gone squidgy and popped off making the car think some catastrophe has struck. He pushes it back on and despite the car starting up again with no issues, we decide to reevaluate our plans. We were originally heading towards Wooler with plans to walk Yeavering Bell and the Tors, but they’re still quite a way further north and aren’t known for their strong phone signal (should we find ourselves stranded again).
Hesitancy gripping us, we about turn and gingerly head back towards home, but not to admit full defeat we do so via the coast and decide to stop off at our favourite stretch of coast for a walk so that the day isn’t a complete write-off. We’ve walked Cresswell beach so many times now. We’ve seen the submerged prehistoric forest, the Pele tower, the pillbox disguised as a cottage, double rainbows stretching across the golden sands and we’ve even been aurora hunting here; it’s a firm favourite that’s for sure.
But on this trip we discovered some hidden gems that have completely eluded us until now, and we fell deeper and deeper in love with this sleepy little corner of Northumberland.
It all started on the dunes. We had parked up in our usual car park opposite the Drift Cafe and walked along the beach for a mile or two enjoying the crisp winter air and the dogs frolicking madly on the sand as the tide crept in. Walking up onto the dunes to begin the return leg we spotted what looked like a ruined farm building off in the distance through the fields. It didn’t look like much, but we have a particular penchant for old abandoned farm buildings so off we trotted to try and find a way through to it. There’s a footpath leading off the road that goes right through to Widdrington so we venture down it in the hope that it heads in the general direction we want to go. After a short way we cross a stile into a farmers field and skirt the edge of it realising that the path would lead straight to the building.
As we get closer we realise it’s not a farm building. It’s much bigger than that and has dressed stones around the window openings. It looks almost like a chapel…
This building, this practically unmarked ruin standing earnestly in a seemingly insignificant field is the Low Chibburn Preceptory; a Medieval/Post-Medieval Hospitaller preceptory dating back to the 1300’s. The building sits on what would’ve been estate land on the Lindisfarne Pilgrimage road. The building was defended with a moat and gatehouse, both of which have long since disappeared.
At the dissolution of the monasteries in the mid 1500’s the land was given over to Sir John Widdrington and a Dower House was built on to the Preceptory building. What remains of the Preceptory today is actually quite stunning but the grounds are overgrown with nettles and weeds – we visited in January when they were arguably at their lowest and it still required a bit of careful foot placement to get round the building.
There’s a real sense of grandeur about this ruin. Some of the remaining walls are loosely wedded by thinning timbers presumably from the restoration work carried out by Northumberland County Council but they put extra perspective on the building. The window and door openings display beautiful dressed stone and gothic style arches. But then you turn a corner in the Chapel end and find an opening all but sealed up with modern bricks; this is a remnant from the second world war when the building was used as a lookout/pillbox. This stretch of coast was part of a key line of defence so it must’ve made perfect sense to put the crumbling remains of an abandoned building to use at such a necessary time.
I’m thrilled and disappointed in equal measure. Thrilled to have found this treasure of a ruin nestled in a field along the coast, but disappointed that we’d never heard of it or found it sooner! All the times we’ve been to Cresswell. All the walks we’ve done here. All the times we’ve spoken to friends and looked at websites and researched local stuff and we’ve never come across it.
Walking back across the fields to the main road we can’t stop talking about it, and I almost trip myself up trying to Google more info. It backs up our reason for starting this site in the first place – no matter how long we spend exploring, Northumberland always has something new to show us.