Dodging Storm Dudley on Dere Street

..with Mr Vasey

Piercebridge – Fawcett – Stanwick

Durham Dales – Escomb

I took a trip into the Durham Dales with my friend Graham Vasey. County Durham is a bit of a mystery to me, growing up on the south bank of the Tees I’ve always viewed County Durham as a place of declining post-industrial townships, hastily built in the service of king coal and the ironmasters; Institute walls maintaining memories of pit explosions, collapsing shafts and pals whose bones fertilise foreign fields. Graham is slowly enlightening me and correcting my ignorance.

We arrived at Escomb to visit the beautiful seventh century Saxon church of St John, itself once a ruin, now saved and restored.

Boundary walls topped with raw slag and scoria brick paving speak of the district’s recent past

Keys at No.28

Stone

An austere beauty, each stone block tells a tale, many of them were carved by Roman hands

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Layers of time – the nearby Roman fort at Binchester became a convenient quarry for the Saxon masons; an intact Roman arch, its underside reveals traces of Medieval fresco

The altar cross recycled, below it a beautiful Frosterley Marble Grave slab

Two sundials, one the oldest in England

The key to the interpretation of the sculpture lies in Saxon mythology, to a period before the emergence of the cult of Valhalla and the Viking Gods. For just as the beast’s head has little resemblance to a stag, so too it bears little resemblance to a wolf. We are looking at a chaos monster… Nicholas Beddow 1991

sundial leflet

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The Devil’s door and Roman Lewis hole

Bishopton Fairy Hill

Bishopton Motte s

Bishopton is a pleasant village situated on an eminence a few miles West North West of Stockton. A little to the east of it are the foundations of a circular fortification which was raised by Roger Conyers, who made a powerful resistance there against the troops of William  Cumin, the Chancellor of the King of the Scots, when, supported by that monarch and the Empress Matilda, he usurped the See of Durham, in the middle of the twelfth century.

A conical mound, sixty feet high, stands in the centre of the fort and is surrounded by deep trenches. It is known in the locality as the Fairy Hill. The story goes, that the people were once carting away this hill, and had got it partly removed, when a mysterious voice was heard which said ” Is all well ? ” ” Yes” was the reply, ” then keep well when you are well,” rejoined  the voice, ” and leave the Fairy Hill alone.” The admonition was not attended to, however, and the work went on again. In a short time the workmen came upon a large black oak chest it was so heavy that it took several men to carry it to the nearest blacksmith’s shop. Hoping to find it full of gold and silver, they immediately got it broken open, when, alas, it turned out to be full of nails. The chest long remained, perhaps still remains, in the blacksmith’s shop, where the aunt of my informant, a trustworthy woman, has often seen it.

Legends and Superstitions of the County of Durham

William Brockie 1886