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Blanchland is known for its 18th-century sandstone houses © Draco2008, Flickr
Seemingly unchanged for hundreds of years, Blanchland is more historically alluring than any other village in the region.
Seemingly unchanged for hundreds of years, Blanchland is more historically alluring than any other village in the region. Walking over its humpbacked bridge on a summer’s evening when the 18th-century sandstone houses are soaked in orange light is pretty hard to beat, but for me, Blanchland is at its most timeless in winter when the smell of coal seeps into the surrounding countryside, leading ramblers down off the heather slopes and towards the yellow glow from the Lord Crewe Arms.
The village almost certainly gets its name from the French white-robed Premonstratensian Canons who established an abbey here in 1165. Everything else you see grew around the abbey – and in some cases from its walls, including the pub, once the Abbot’s lodge, kitchen and guesthouses and which still features its priest’s hole.
St Mary’s Church, hidden by trees just beyond the embattled gatehouse, is hugely atmospheric inside and clearly built out of the ruined abbey with a soaring archway and lancet windows of the Early English style; the rest was reconstructed in the 18th century. A medieval stained-glass panel near the altar shows a white-robed monk, the folds of his cloak still just visible.
According to folklore, during the turbulent centuries of cross-border fighting the monastery almost evaded plundering by the Scots who had lost their way on the fells in heavy fog. Unfortunately, the untimely ringing of the bells announcing it was safe to come out of hiding revealed the abbey’s whereabouts to the invaders. Blanchland later suffered under Henry VIII and eventually came into the ownership of Lord Crewe, Bishop of Durham.
Once you’ve wandered around the centre and admired the stone square of cottages, visited the church, tea rooms and fetching post office (note the stone cheese press outside and the white post box), you might consider taking a stroll down to the wooded banks of the River Derwent.
A longer – and more strenuous walk – could take you up on to the heather moors that enclose Blanchland (take OS Explorer map 307 with you). A recommended route starts at the north end of the village by the car park. Follow the road that climbs out of Blanchland, passing Shildon’s stone cottages on your right after half a mile or so. Note the evocative ruin of the Shildon leadmining engine house on the wooded slope to your left. It dates to the early 19th century and once housed a steam-powered pump that drew water out of a nearby mine. After passing Pennypie House, continue straight ahead over grouse moors in the direction of Burntshield Haugh. Once you reach the brow of the hill, turn left along an old packhorse track (the Carriers’ Way). Ponies once carried smelted lead along here to the River Tyne. Return to Blanchland via Birkside Fell, Newbiggin Fell, Newbiggin Hall and Baybridge (note the old chapel). Blanchland’s annual agricultural show is held over the August Bank Holiday.