A Day in… Hexham

By | Category: Travel destinations

A Saxon stone Hexham Abbey

A Saxon stone Hexham Abbey

About 30 minutes outside Newcastle as you drive west towards Carlisle, you come across Hexham. It’s more than just a market town, here is one of the most significant Christian sites in English history. It was here that Wilfred founded his abbey just a few miles south of Hadrian’s Wall. Why he picked such a place I don’t know. Why you should pick the town for a days’ visit is easier to explain.

Hexham isn’t big; it won’t leave you with a feeling that you need to rush to see it all in a day. You can enjoy it at ease and, say, use it as a base to pop up and see the wall either by car or using the AD121 bus that allows you to get on and get off if you get a day’s rover ticket.

But start first in Hexham. If you drive there is quite a lot of parking, some tucked away between the Old Gaol, some at the Woodside Leisure Centre and some in the town centre. Expect to pay though. If you come by bus or train from Newcastle, you’ll find the bus fare could be half that of the train but it takes almost twice as long.. By train you hug the Tyne for some of the way from Proudhoe to the town and, if you can see through the window, (mine was pretty filthy) then you’ll probably see some waders as the stony bits of the river bottom force themselves into small islands.

The Old Gaol, Hexham

The Old Gaol, Hexham

One you arrive, across from the station there is a path leading you past the running track. Go into the car park of the leisure centre and you’ll find the tourist information office where you can collect a map. Back n the path and you’ll reach the old gaol at the top of the hill. For nearly 500 years this three story building served as a gaol. Now it is a museum. and open only from April to October. For a couple of months wrapped around those dates it is open on Tuesday’s and Saturdays but check first. Here the Archbishop of York would house his prisoners until the last use of it was in 1821. It is the oldest recorded prison in England having first been recorded in 1330.

From here you’re pretty much in the town centre. Through an arch you’ll see a small market place, the abbey in front of you and the shops to the left. If the shops take your fancy first then you can follow the road around and going right up a hill, you’ll come to the parks. This year, they will celebrate their centenary since they first became public areas. Now they have that quintessential Victorian feature – a bandstand even though they were only built in 1912.They are big for a town of this size, with plenty of seating and ideal for a leisurely lunch in the sunshine if you eschew the restaurants.

Hexham Abbey

Hexham Abbey

It’s easy to get confused as to where the abbey begins In a small car park you think you have found it and you have reached the magistrates courts. It is only when you reach the abbey shop that you realise you finally have the entrance. Inside (its free but a donation would be appreciated) you can see the stone of Bishop Acca, which is dated to 740. There aren’t many standing stones in England that are 1270 years old. Those that are often found in Northumbria and this abbey has a number of Anglo-Saxon features including a silver chalice, for want of a better word, that monks use to take with them as they visited their parishoners.

There are visits to the crypt at 11.30 and 3pm but if it is quiet, the guides are happy to unlock the entrance and take you down there. The steps are steep and high; the space narrow but you’ll get a different perspective on the abbey if you go down there. You can see how it was built. Stones taken from the Roman fort at Chesters re mixed with patterns of different sorts. II looks quite a hotchpotch and reminds you that recycling is not new.

The river that the train chased into the town is a walk away. After an unhurried wander around the town and a good meal a stroll along the banks will wrap up just the sort of day you want to have to unwind from a working one.

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