Having headed to Newcastle and stayed the night following LNER’s inaugural service from Kings Cross to Middlesbrough (read about that here), I had most of the day before I was due to catch another relatively new service back to London that evening. Taking the opportunity to do some exploring, I looked at my options and opted first to head north, to explore the East Coast Mainline (ECML) stations of Morpeth and Cramlington, along with the communities they serve.
Of the ECML stations north of Newcastle, Morpeth is one of the easier ones to get to with services provided by all of the operators that run over this section of the line. Of these, the stopping service provided by Northern is the most regular, terminating and starting at Morpeth once an hour with most running to/from Carlisle via Hexham & Newcastle. CrossCountry has four northbound and five southbound services call each day, whilst all Lumo services call at the station (currently two per day each way). LNER have seven services per day in each direction call at Morpeth whilst TPE have five depending on how they’re feeling… All in all, this averages at about one Northern and one other service each hour.
The town of Morpeth is about a ten-minute walk north of the station, however my first stop, Morpeth Castle is just at the bottom of the ramp from the station to street level. A castle was first built on the site in the 11th century, however this was destroyed by King John in 1216. A new castle was built in the 1340s, however little now remains of this apart from the gatehouse and some parts of the walls. The whole castle site is a scheduled ancient monument and Grade I listed, and the gatehouse has now been restored by the Landmark Trust as luxury holiday accommodation.
My next stop was Carlisle Park, which lies between the castle and the River Wansbeck and there is a path that runs down the north side of the castle hill and connects the two. However during my visit this route was impassable due to a fallen tree and so I headed back out the way I had come and round the side. Carlisle Park is an award winning park which contains the William Turner Garden, formal gardens, an aviary, ancient woodland, and plenty more. Northumberland County Council have produced an excellent booklet on the park and its history, which you can find here.
Continuing into the town, I took a look at a couple of Morpeth’s numerous historic buildings. At the east end of Bridge Street is Morpeth Chantry, a Grade I listed building adjacent to the site of the ancient bridge across the river. Built in the late 13th century it had a joint use of being both a chapel and a toll house for the bridge. Following the suppression of chantries in 1547 a charter was granted for the establishment of a Grammar School which occupied the site until 1846. The chantry is now home to Morpeth Tourist Information and the Morpeth Chantry Bagpipe Museum.
The other historic building I took a walk to look at was Morpeth Clock Tower, located at the other end of Bridge Street from the Chantry. The tower is Grade II* listed and stands 60ft tall with walls more than a meter thick. Constructed in the early 17th century, it was built using recycled medieval stone giving it a much older appearance. The top story of the tower was built in the early 18th century to house the peel of bells acquired by Morpeth’s MP which hung in the belfry until the 1950s when they were recast to celebrate the Festival of Britain.
Having explored Morpeth for an hour or so, and with more of the North East beckoning, I headed back to the station via a quick stop for a Greggs breakfast roll (when in Rome…). Catching the hourly Northern service, it was a short eight minute ride one stop down the line to Cramlington, a town 10 miles north of Newcastle city centre.
Alighting at Cramlington station, I knew I had an hour to explore the town as the station is only served by the hourly Morpeth to Carlisle Northern service. With a 15-minute or so walk to Cramlington Village (the original part of Cramlington) I knew I didn’t have long to explore, however if I’m honest this wasn’t a problem. On the whole Cramlington consists of a large shopping area, the old village and a number of newer housing estates following the town’s development as a ‘new town’ in the 1960s.
Bypassing the shopping centre and the ‘new’ town centre, I headed straight down Station Road until I entered into Cramlington Village and was greeted by a rather lovely, decorated village square, although even this has been encroached on by the new town with a Wetherspoons now occupying the local pub. The main thing for me to see and explore was St. Nicholas’ church, the parish church and marked site of Commonwealth War Graves, with five war dead buried in the churchyard. Of these one perished in World War Two, whilst the other four lost their lives in World War One. Of these, Private J Shield died on the penultimate day of the Great War, whilst Serjent J W Brabban actually died more than two weeks after the official end of the war.
Having explored St. Nicholas’ church yard and finding the church itself closed, there was very little else to do in the town and so I headed back to the station in time to catch the train to explore more of the North East. Continuing south my next stops were Manors, Newcastle and Chester-Le-Street, however they are for future blog. Morpeth is definitely worth a visit if you’ve got a day to spare in the area, however unless you are particularly interested in war graves, I personally wouldn’t say Cramlington is worth a visit (no offence!)