Beacon reflects grisly part of our history

Peter Athey at the beacon.
Peter Athey at the beacon.

A BLOODY raid by the Scots into Northumberland almost five centuries ago will be marked by the lighting of a beacon, not far from where they committed a grisly murder.

West Thirston poet Peter Athey teamed up with farmer Judy Fortesque to build and erect the replica beacon at Glantlees Farm, near Newton on the Moor, which will be fired on Saturday at 6.30pm.

It was inspired by actual historical events which took place in the same month in 1522, when notorious border reiver Mark Kerr of Cessford, near Kelso, descended on the Shilbottle area with a band of light horsemen.

Intending to provoke the Earl of Northumberland at nearby Warkworth, Kerr wanted to set fire to the hamlet at Whittle, but was frustrated to discover that neither he nor his troops had remembered to bring flint or tinder.

Instead, they murdered a pregnant housewife, dealing her three mortal wounds to the head and another to her side, with a dagger, which also caused her unborn child to die.

As they fled into the darkness, the alarm was raised and beacons were lit across the whole north of the county warning that reivers were abroad.

In retaliation, the Earl sent out his own raiding party – including 100 of the best horsemen in Glendale – who subsequently burned a path across the Borders, from Coldingham to Kelso, taking 24 prisoners, 60 horses and 200 cattle in a single night.

Peter said: “As I’m now in my 76th year, I thought I had better construct and light the beacon now – just in case I am not around to do it in 11 years’ time on the 500th anniversary.

“We hope to have quite a gathering of musicians, poets and local history groups in attendance, plus someone who can blow a hunting horn. Being a poet, I also composed a fictitious poem to go with the beacon.”

Peter also hopes that the beacon can also be lit to mark calendar events, such as Hallowe’en, Bonfire Night on November 5 and New Year’s Day, as well as private functions such as birthdays.