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West Northumberland sundial trail

The West Northumberland Sundial Trail

The trail begins in the fourteenth century porch of St Andrew's church, Bolam in Northumberland. Three miles from Belsay, which is on the A696, the church is on the road from Bolam Lake to Whalton. Bolam town has disappeared but the Anglo-Saxon tower of the church still looks across the Wansbeck valley. As you stand in the porch facing the door into the fourteenth century south aisle, look to the right, where there are two lines of a mass dial that is now partially obscured by the porch. The aisle was originally added in the twelfth century and it is thought the door was reused. So the mass dial could be anything from twelfth to fourteenth century.

Our next stop is Capheaton Hall, seven kilometres up the A696 from Belsay. Take the left turn to Capheaton and you will find the gates to Capheaton Hall on the left at the top of the road through the model village. Built in 1668 for Sir John Swinburne, the privately owned and Grade 1 listed hall has three vertical, declining sundials on the east, south and west facing walls. Ring Mrs Browne-Swinburne for permission to view them.

As you leave through the gates, notice the horizontal sundial (picture below) in the front garden of the dower house on the right.
A further 1.5km along the A696, turn left onto the B6342 for Great Bavington. You arrive in the farmyard and while you park you may find yourself wondering where the village is. An interesting information board opposite the footpath sign explains all. From here, you can see the derelict house to the north from which the sundial shown on a plinth below was taken.

There are three sundials to see. Follow the footpath to the top of the tiny cobbled street and turn right into a grassed area. You are now behind the United reformed church and the first sundial is a rather worn, vertical south facing dial (above). The church was built in 1725 as only the second Non-Conformist chapel in Northumberland. The dial has Roman numerals from V to V. The iron gnomon has an S shaped support. The second sundial is also vertical, mounted on a plinth on the wall of a terraced cottage a little way down the cobbled track. The face of its thick stone dial plate is also worn but the gnomon is a replacement, with a C shaped support. (right). The third very worn, vertical dial has been moved to the rendered wall of a house on the north side of the village. It has Arabic numerals from 6 to 6 (below)

It is worth taking the track northwards out of the village and after 1.5km turning left at the T junction because there is a tiny café between there and the A68. Once refreshed, turn left onto the A68 and almost immediately right and follow the signs to Birtley. Just as you reach the village turn about 300 degrees left into the drive of Town Head, whose owner has a cheery vertical sundial in the shed, dated 1758 and rescued from a house being demolished in Allendale

To get to Stamfordham, our next and bountiful destination, return to the A68 and turn right, drive 12km and turn left onto the B6318. Left again onto the B6309 after East Wallhouses. Start at the church of St Mary the Virgin, 13th century but rebuilt in 1848 mostly from the original stone. On the south wall of the nave is fixed a vertical dial dated 1768, reminiscent of the dial in Birtley. It also has a sun motif, but this dialplate is broken, held together with iron brackets. Next go east along the north side of the green to numbers 11 and 12, on the shared red-brick wall of which is a vertical, southfacing dial. The gnomon is out of alignment.

At the end of the road, turn right onto Grange Road and go down to the T junction. Turn left and park in the little layby 50m along on the right. Across the road is the Old School House and on the south wall is a sombre looking vertical sundial, with hour lines from 8am to 4pm as perhaps befits a school and an appropriate motto, 'Carpe Horam'. It is dated MDCCCLVIII.
To complete the circuit and go the 9km back to Belsay, retrace you steps into Stamfordham along Grange Road, which is the B6309 and connects with the A69, where you turn right.

Many thanks to Tony Thick of Bolam, Northumberland, who wrote this sundial trail