Yeavering Bell

Rising to 1182 feet, and thereby narrowly achieving the technical status of a mountain, the broad, sensuous, double-peaked bulk of Yeavering Bell dominates the north Cheviot foothills. It was formed in the Devonian period, some 350 million years ago in the violent volcanic eruptions which created the entire Cheviot range. The hills were sculpted into their present rounded shape by a succession of glaciers during the ice ages.

The Bell has always fired the human imagination and, indeed, local people still gauge the weather, time and the progress of the seasons with reference to the Bell. Four thousand years ago the people used the Bell to align stones and monuments. A neolithic burial cairn tops the eastern summit. It has always, it seems, been a place of significance. It still is.

Having a conspicuous shape wasn’t the only way Yeavering Bell captured the imagination. Luck has played an interesting role too, placing the hill, as would a Feng-Shui designer, in exactly the right place in the landscape. As you explore the Cheviots the hill often appears in view, in neat proportion and just where it needs to be to create a striking and memorable image. It peers over the horizon from the Cold Law path and greets travellers returning from Scotland.

In a field to the north of Yeavering Bell, to the south of the road, as you pass the hill, you will find what is known as the Yeavering Battle Stone. This Bronze Age megalith stands in an area where remains of burial pits and the debris of Mesolithic flint working have been found. In the late Middle Ages, it took on new meaning and significance when it became seen as marking the spot where Sir Robert Umfraville and the Earl of Westmoreland with 140 spearmen and 300 bowmen defeated 4000 Scots in 1415. However, the stone was already very ancient when King Edwin dined at Ad Gefrin several centuries before the battle the stone is thought to commemorate took place. 

The stone is associated with a henge which was investigated in 1976 by Anthony Harding. Harding’s investigations were part of a larger project studying the henges on the Milfield Plain, to the North of Yeavering. The Milfield Henge was itself aligned to Yeavering Bell and a reconstruction can be seen at the Maelmin Heritage Trail in Milfield. The Yeavering Henge was aligned with Ross Castle. These alignments may relate to places with, perhaps, spiritual significance predating the henges themselves.

The hill is crowned with the largest hill fort in Northumberland. The term ‘hillfort’ is misleading, as a casual visit will testify. Both peaks of the hill are surrounded by the tumbled remains of what must have been an immense and impressive wall surrounding a small village.

From the earliest days, Yeavering Bell has been a special place. A sacred place. A place today to fire the imagination. And really we know so little. We have glimpses of threads we would love to weave together to tell us more. To let us see the whole tapestry locked in the hills. Until the chance comes to investigate Yeavering and Ad Gefrin further we must be content to remain in the Dark Ages.

As anyone who has been to Yeavering Bell will tell you, climbing to that double summit is well worth the effort. Even simply for the splendid views to the North and out over the North Sea. The scenery to the south, over the Cheviot range, is staggering too. But the view into our past is where Yeavering can stop you in your tracks.

This quote from archaeologist Paul Frodsham sums it up…

Recently I lead a day-long guided walk around Yeavering for thirty individuals including schoolteachers, a retired GP, a Tyneside docker,  farmworkers and archaeology students. Some of these people live locally while others had travelled considerable distances to take part in the walk. The weather was perfect with a covering of crisp snow on the ground and bright sunshine all day.

Having taken many guided walks to wonderful archaeological sites throughout the Cheviots over the years I was quite taken aback by the reaction of these individuals to Yeavering. They were all spellbound by the place and one couple even described the day as one of the best of their lives.

A recent survey of visitors to the nearby town of Wooler established that 95% of them would like to visit Yeavering if it could be opened to the public, even though most knew very little about it. Put simply there is something special about Yeavering that, while hard to define, is felt by most visitors. People in the past must also have reacted as strongly to this sense of place and it is their reactions that resulted in, and are now reflected in, the changes in the landscape that we seek to explain today.

Paul Frodsham