Holywell Pond, Village and Dene
The Delaval family was granted land in south east Northumberland at the end of the 11th century. The family name changed in 1814 when the estate passed through the female line to Sir Jacob Astley. His son and heir became Lord Hastings. The estate was largely agricultural land but coal was mined here by 1291 up to 1960. This walk takes in reminders of both agricultural and coal industries, as well as wooded parkland.
Main Gates at Seaton Delaval Hall
Leave Seaton Delaval Hall by the main gates, turn left along the pavement and follow the estate wall round to enter the grounds of the Norman Church of Our Lady using the gap in the wall if the gates are closed. Now a parish church, it was built as the chapel for the family at Seaton Delaval Hall and the churchyard was once part of the Hall’s gardens. At the bend in the church drive notice the stone wall to your right. This is all that remains above ground of the original village of Seaton Delaval, which, in the Middle Ages, was one of the largest villages in Northumberland. People began to move away in the 16th century when the Delaval family preferred to run sheep on their farmland, which took fewer people to cultivate than crops, but the last nine cottages were lived in until 1959. Retrace your steps to the main road, noticing Hall Farm, which used to be called Village Farm, to the left. Stay on this side of the road and walk up The Avenue towards the modern Seaton Delaval village. Once known as the West Avenue, this road was the private approach to the Hall and was laid out by Admiral George Delaval in 1719. It was lined by four rows of lime trees, two to each side of the carriageway.
In the trees to your right, immediately before the road to New Hartley, is the plinth of an obelisk raised to mark the place where Admiral Delaval, who had commissioned Sir John Vanbrugh to design the new Seaton Delaval Hall, fell from his horse in June 1723 and died as a result. In 1932 the obelisk itself was removed as a safety precaution by Hartley Main Collieries Ltd, whose mine workings ran underneath. Stay on The Avenue for a few more yards to a track on the left signposted ‘Public Bridleway Holywell 1½ ‘. Until the 1960s there was a level crossing and signal box here. Turn onto the bridleway, which uses the line of the Avenue Branch of the Blyth and Tyne Railway. This began life in 1861 and there was an Avenue station. There was another called Dairy House, but this may have been short-lived. The line closed in 1964 but the level crossing was still in place in 1966. The track is now used by walkers, cyclists and horse riders and goes all the way to Monkseaton Metro Station in North Tyneside. As you walk, notice that some of the fields have pools and ponds because of subsidence due to mine workings below.
After just over ¾ of a mile you arrive at two kissing gates facing each other up a few steps on each side of the track, with a yellow double-headed footpath arrow on a post to your left. Go through the right hand gate and straight ahead along the footpath beside the field. In the next field, to the right, you will catch your first sight of Holywell Pond Nature Reserve. It is a large mining subsidence pond and is managed by Northumberland Wildlife Trust. The path winds left and right, then there is a public hide just to the right of the path. Continue past the hide, the path turns left and ends between houses. When you are onto the road turn right on the pavement and right again. Go straight up this road to a T-junction.
On your left is Strother Farm with its 17th century house, thought to be all that is left of Sir Ralph Bates’ manor house. In 1753 Bates acted as surveyor for Northumberland on behalf of Queen Elizabeth, and he also owned Bates Island, now known as St Mary’s Island. See the 17th century gate piers on the west garden wall and the fine Boer War Memorial Drinking Fountain. In the field (private land) behind the manor house is a spring that was used by monks as they made their way between Tynemouth and Newsteads Abbey, near Morpeth - this is how Holywell was named.
Carefully cross the main road and go left down the pavement to enter the steep lane on the right, signposted ‘Public Bridleway’ with a Heritage Way arrow, leading to the picturesque 17th century Holywell Bridge, an important crossing of the Seaton Burn in a leafy setting on the historic route between Tynemouth and Morpeth. At this point you can cut the walk short by retracing your steps to Strother Farm and Point 8. For the full walk, cross over the bridge, turn right to walk up Holywell Dene beside the Burn, and if you look back over your shoulder you get a good view of the bridge. Stay on the bridleway as it veers gradually left away from the burn to fields where you see the roofs of Holywell Grange Farm ahead in the distance. Stay on the track as it bends right towards trees.
At the trees go right, way-marked with a yellow footpath arrow and red Reivers Cycle Route arrow. The path runs downhill into Holywell Dene towards the burn then veers steeply down to the right to reach a modern footbridge. Cross the bridge and turn right to walk downstream until the path turns left and climbs a flight of winding stairs up the side of the dene to a short cul-de-sac.
Turn right and walk up to the main road, cross it with great care and walk right. On your left you’ll pass a group of red brick bungalows built by the Aged Mine-Workers’ Homes Association ‘In Memory of Holywell Men who fell in the Great War 1914-1918’. Further on, on the opposite side of the road, is the former 18th-century Smithy and Ye Old Fat Ox, known earlier as the Red Cow. In 1808 Thomas Bates, a renowned agriculturalist, bred a short-horn bull said to weigh 122 stone (774kg), perhaps the source of the pub’s name. On this side of the road is the Milbourne Arms, built in 1905. Milbourne Hall, near Ponteland, was home to a Bates descendant. The pub replaced the 18th-century Half Moon whose stables survive at the rear.
Retrace your steps along Holywell Dene Road taking a moment to examine the Art Stop, a repurposed shelter of 1957, and the adjacent noticeboard with information about the village.
At the end of the road go straight ahead, way-marked ‘Reivers Off Road’ and signposted ‘Public Bridleway’. Soon the Seaton Delaval Hall obelisk will be seen in the distance. Just before you reach a stone bridge go left down steps. These lead down to the Avenue Branch bridleway.
Go left, and when you arrive back at the kissing gates that face each other across the track, go to the right, marked with a yellow footpath arrow. Go straight ahead along the path to the other side of the field, where stands another way-marker post.
The path ahead is on the track of a wagon-way to carry coal across Holywell Dene to Seaton Sluice. It was in use by 1778. But you should turn left along the bridleway through the metal gate, marked by a blue arrow on the post. The first field is the site of Nightingale pit, one of the Delaval family’s coal mines, which was in the gorse patch to the right of the path. Just past that is the site of Dairy House Farm, after which the field, and the short-lived Dairy House railway station, were named. From this track you get a good view of the obelisk, which is on private farmland and so not accessible. Keep an eye open for the view of Seaton Delaval Hall’s south front. For much of the 18th century there was a South Avenue, similar to the West Avenue but leading the eye from the house towards the obelisk, itself placed there purely to catch the eye.
Continue along the track and by two more metal gates to take you in front of a terrace of houses, Harbord Terrace, built 1879-80 and named after Elizabeth Evelyn Harbord the wife of the 20th Lord Hastings. The cottages were built to re-house estate workers from the old village of Seaton Delaval when all but the last nine cottages there were demolished. The single-storey cottage was the smithy. At the end of the bridleway you are back on The Avenue and should turn right to return to Seaton Delaval Hall.
Main Gates at Seaton Delaval Hall
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