A little magical corner of England

I took a little holiday over the weekend. Long-time readers will know of my fondness for Northumberland, where I take part in archaeological digs at Vindolanda. This time I wasn’t there to dig but to visit my friend Erin, who is up there for a month excavating the Roman fort. I’m incredibly jealous.

On Sunday we explored an area with more recent history than the Roman occupation of Britain. Further along Hadrian’s Wall on the border between Northumberland and Cumbria we came across Gilsland Spa, a relic of a time when international travel was inaccessible to most people, but doctors recommended their patients “take the waters” at various spa towns such as Cheltenham and Bath.

We thought we might be able to get a cream tea in the Gilsland Spa Hotel, but a quick walk through its vast and maze-like interior confirmed it has gone straight through “faded grandeur” and into “shabby and dated”.

Paths lead down from the hotel, inviting the curious visitor to explore.


It seems the area also has some tiny inhabitants.


If only I could shrink myself like Alice and fit through that door!

The path leads down to the river. Crossing the river will bring you to the Popping Stone, where we met a family out for a picnic. The stone is a traditional spot for marriage proposals, and it was there that Sir Walter Scott proposed to his wife. The couple we met had become engaged at the Stone, and their two children conceived following repeat visits. Maybe it holds a bit of romantic magic?


A paddle to cure aching feet on a hot day.

Further wandering and a keen sense of smell led us to the spa’s sulphur spring, where I “took the waters” and was instantly cured.


The path was lined with wild garlic, truly a feast for the senses!

We read that in Victorian times the river bank was lined with food and drink kiosks. The empty shell of a small building remained but it was difficult to imagine how this promenade would have looked a hundred-odd years ago.

Further along the path another curious shape caught my eye.


Can you see it?


A little closer…


A crumbling Victorian swimming pool, in the middle of the forest.

What a magical place indeed! It makes me wonder what other secrets this semi-ancient woodland might possess. Perhaps I’ll discover them on my next visit North…


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