You may not have heard of the Northumberland market town of Morpeth but there are plenty of attractions to encourage visitors to stay awhile and a famous woman is buried here. Emily Wilding Davison was the suffragette whose tragic death, under the hooves of King George V horse, Anmer, on June 4th 1913 at the Epsom Derby, brought the women’s suffrage movement new momentum. Though born in London, her father was from Morpeth and she often stayed here. Her body was buried in the town when she died, four days after that fatal accident. The town has been remembering this centenary and I visited to join in the commemorative events and have a look round.
Morpeth is signposted off the busy A6 which carries vehicles hurtling along to better known Northumberland villages like Seahouses and Bamburgh or further up to the borderlands of Scotland. However, it is well worth stopping off to explore Morpeth. The little leaflet I picked up in the newly renovated Tourist Information Centre in the Chantry, informs us,
“Morpeth was an important crossing point of the River Wansbeck. In the 13th century a stone bridge was built to relace the ford. Its stone piers now support the Chantry footbridge, which is one of a number of bridges that link peaceful walks on either side of the rier as it flows through the heart of the town on its way to the sea.”
Walking over that bridge it’s easy to imagine farmers of old coming from all over the county to sell their animals, crops and other produce, much as they still do today, albeit at more trendy markets.
The graceful Telford Toll Bridge crosses the water nearby. Rivers flowing through villages, towns, cities always bring an air of adventure and travel on their way from their hidden source via an ever-changing landscape to eventually flow out into an ocean connected to the rest of the world. Little red boats were being rowed by strapping young men showing off their prowess to languid girlfriends lying back and thinking of – who knows what … and puffing dads trying to keep the kids happy on a sunny day.
The Chantry was built at around the same time as the footbridge. It was founded for priests to say Mass, pray for Christian souls and keep a grammar school. Restored in the 1980s it has enormous windows that let light flood in onto the multitude of tourist books, postcards, maps, Northumberland Tartan (very tasteful black and white) items, jewellery and other knick-knacks to remind you of your visit. However, it is the Bagpipe Museum upstairs that you really mustn’t miss.
In my quest for the quirky and unusual this definitely fits the bill, but it is also informative and the bagpipe paraphernalia is beautifully displayed. It tells the history of the Northumbrian Pipes as well as bagpipes from around the world. If you’re lucky, as I was, you mmay get to hear a group of local pipers playing these haunting instruments.
Little remains of 12th century Morpeth Castle, but the old Court House has enough crenellations to satisfy the desire for castle-like structures. Not far away is one of Morpeth’s real gems, Carlisle Park. It has the most glorious huge trees which create a harmonious backdrop for all the family activities available. These include an aviary with squawking birds, tennis courts for aspiring Andy Murrays, a skatepark (my son would love that), paddling pool for hot tots and more boating on the river.
There’s plenty more to see: Mafeking, Britain’s smallest park, the William Turner Garden, the home of Admiral Collingwood, hero of the Battle of Trafalgar (and you thought it was Nelson), the Vanburgh designed Town Hall dominating the busy high street with some excellent shops and a very satisfactory range of places to eat and drink. My favourite was The Shambles – eclectic menu, friendly service and a mountain goat lording it over the bar.
Finally, do make time for a little pilgrimage to Emily Wilding Davison’s grave in St Mary’s Churchyard. On the day I visited it was covered in flowers and purple, green and white decorations in memory of a feisty fighter who never gave up on the suffragette’s rallying cry, ‘Words Not Deeds’.
More on Emily Wilding Davison and Morpeth here.
You can read Zoë Dawes‘ entertaining articles on her travels around the UK and abroad in her award-winning blog The Quirky Traveller where she shares secret places off-the beaten track and travels in mind, body and spirit. Follow her on Twitter @quirkytraveller and ‘like’ her page on Face Book.