New book helps track history of the uplands

Coquetdale Community Archaeology members hard at work on a medieval site near Barrowburn.
Coquetdale Community Archaeology members hard at work on a medieval site near Barrowburn.

A new book, which explores the ancient tracks that cross the Cheviots in a comprehensive and well-illustrated way, has been published.

The Old Tracks through the Cheviots – Discovering the Archaeology of the Border Roads, by David Jones with Coquetdale Community Archaeology (CCA), is available now.

Years of research in the Cheviots are uncovering mysteries and shedding new light on the way people once lived and worked in the uplands.

CCA was founded in 2008 as result of a Northumberland National Park project.

With more than 100 members, the group rapidly made a name for itself.

In 2010, they rediscovered the long-lost remains of a medieval fulling mill on the River Coquet near Barrowburn; four seasons of careful excavation uncovered structures both in the river and on the bank, confirming that it had been built nearly 800 years ago by monks from Morpeth.

At a nearby site, the group has uncovered a high-quality medieval flagstone floor that was probably built at the same time as the mill and was part of the wool industry in the Coquet Valley.

Now members have expanded their horizons.

With grants from the Heritage Lottery Fund and the Northumberland National Park Authority, they have been studying the archaeology along the Border Roads — the ancient tracks that cross the Cheviots, joining England and Scotland.

With their origins lost in antiquity, these roads pass by prehistoric camps and farms, Roman forts, medieval field systems and the remains of droving, smuggling and raiding.

By blending archaeology with local history and material culled from archives, the group has produced a fascinating picture of ancient upland life.

The result is a fully-illustrated book called The Old Tracks through the Cheviots, which is out now and published by Northern Heritage of Blagdon.

Chris Butterworth, who chairs the group, said: “The book’s main aim is to help people understand the landscape that surrounds them.”

David Jones, CCA’s secretary who has managed the project, added: “Very often, people see shapes and structures in the hills – mounds, earthworks and ruins – but know little about them. Sometimes they just walk straight past them.

“We explain what they are, provide some of their history and describe how they fitted into contemporary society.”

In the book’s foreword, Dr Christopher Bowles, Scottish Borders Council’s archaeology officer, explains why knowledge of these tracks is so important.

He writes: ‘As this book will show, the history and archaeology of the Border Roads is critical to an understanding of the Border lands themselves.

‘But there is still so much we do not know about them.

‘Future archaeologists may be able to date them, accurately map their various braided paths, even tell what and who travelled along them, and why.

‘This book offers a glimpse of this exciting and rich seam of research.

‘I hope it encourages you to make your own journeys along them.’

Reflecting on why roads are so special, he adds: ‘They are persistently transient, liminal spaces that offer connection, but are in themselves the places where culture moves and changes the fastest.’

The 212-page book is priced at £14.99 and is available from all good bookshops, tourist information centres and heritage sites or direct from
Alternatively, you can call Northern Heritage on 01670 789940.

ISBN 978-0-9957485-0-7.