The tragic tale of Sir Bertram of Bothal

Beryl Holmes with the book.
Beryl Holmes with the book.

A famous Northumberland legend has been reproduced in a new book, published by a Warkworth woman to raise money for a cancer charity in memory of her brother.

Beryl Holmes lost her sibling Ray to the disease on December 23, 2014. During his fight, he was supported by Marie Curie Cancer Care, which provided invaluable care.

The Hermit of Warkworth

The Hermit of Warkworth

To give something back to the charity, Beryl has already reprinted Ian Smith’s popular book about Warkworth and released a colour-in trail of the village to help raise cash for the cause.

And now, as part of her fund-raising efforts for Marie Curie, she is launching The Hermit of Warkworth – The tragic tale of Sir Bertram of Bothal.

The fascinating book is made up of three elements, including the original ballad by Thomas Percy, taken from the early edition first published in 1771 and printed by famous Alnwick printer William Davidson.

This romanticised story tells the heartbreaking tale of Sir Bertram who accidentally killed his brother and the love of his life Isabel. Traumatised, remorseful and grief-stricken, he gave up all his lands and wealth and built, with his own hands, the tiny Warkworth Hermitage beside the River Coquet, where he lived in solitude for the rest of his life.

A picture of Sir Bertram of Bothal, with his brother and the love of his life Isabel.

A picture of Sir Bertram of Bothal, with his brother and the love of his life Isabel.

The Hermitage consists of a tiny chapel, dormitory and cell. In the chapel is an altar/tomb on which lies the effigy of a beautiful woman, supposedly the Lady Isabel, her hands raised in prayer. At her feet kneels the figure of the hermit, his left hand pressed to his heart, as if in sorrow. The whole story is summed up by the inscription over the doorway, which translated reads: ‘my tears have been my meat night and day’.

The book also contains a summary of the ballad and includes information about the Hermitage, taken from Ian Smith’s charming village guide.

Beryl said: “The legend of Sir Bertram of Bothal is romantic and tragic. Whether the legend is true or not, it has built up over the years. He lost the love of his life and his brother. The Hermitage has been there since the 1400s. It is a very historic little sort of building. It is carved out of rock and it is a fascinating place.”

The book, priced £3, is being launched at the village’s licensed café Bertram’s, which is named after the hermit, tonight, although the event is sold out. There will also be a raffle and tickets are available from the café or from Beryl, who is set to present a cheque of more than £2,000 to a Marie Curie representative.

Warkworth Hermitage

Warkworth Hermitage

After the launch, the book will be sold in Warkworth at The Village Store, The Greenhouse, Bertram’s and Cabosse. It will also be available online from northern-heritage.co.uk and Amazon, as well as from Beryl herself by emailing book.holmes@gmail.com
For more information, visit www.facebook.com/warkworthbook
Proceeds from the book and the raffle will go to Marie Curie. Beryl said: “I lost my brother to cancer. Marie Curie were the people who were there for his end-of-life care. Because of what they did, it allowed him to be at home. I am incredibly passionate about everyone having the right to have the right end-of-life care. Everyone should have the chance to have what they want for the end of their life.

“Marie Curie were unbelievably supportive when it came to Ray’s final weeks and they provide such a vital service. Without them, he couldn’t have managed his last wish, which was to die at home, and I really want to give something back to the charity.

“Marie Curie offered this service to us and they offer it to many, many people, but unfortunately there are still a lot of people who don’t get it.

“£20 raised for Marie Curie gives you one hour of overnight care, so that is why it is incredibly important to raise funds.”