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Warkworth Castle


HE castle of Warkworth stands on a fine hill commanding charming views seaward and landward, over the winding banks and hanging woods of the beautiful Coquet river, a delightful, lively stream, that runs almost all round the castle and falls into the sea a mile further on.

Below the castle lies the town; a little distance out at sea is Coquet Isle, with its ruined tower and cell. Northward stretch the shores washed by the North Sea, with the Ferne Isles and the Castles of Bamborough and Dunstanville.

Nothing can be more picturesque and magnificent than this castle with its stately feudal grace and aspect of command. The keep is on the north side, and is raised on an artificial mound; consequently it is the highest part of the castle.

It is square, with the angles cut away, and near the middle of it on each side projects at right angles a turret. These projections are of the same height as the keep, from the centre of which a lofty tower rises - a watch tower undoubtedly commanding a great range of country. In the front of every tower is a shield supported by a knight or an angel.

The castle and moat are said to contain nearly six acres of ground. In the front of the keep is an area of more than an acre, surrounded with walls and towers. Many of these walls are entire, and are thirty-five feet high. The gateway was once a fine building with a portcullis and many apartments, but only a few remain, in which the person who is caretaker resides.

There are towers about the middle of the east and west walls that are in ruins. To the west of the entrance there yet stands a ruinous tower with the rude figure of a lion, the Percies' crest, on it. In the middle of the area where this ruin stands is a draw-well and two subterranean apartments.

The keep has many large apartments in it. The lead was stripped off the roof in 1672, by a man named Clark, to whom the then Countess of Northumberland gave it. The ruins are well preserved, and are so well built that they may yet endure for centuries.

From the green slopes of the castle hill we can see the hollow containing the Hermitage. The Coquet sweeps through the vale, which is finely wooded, and it is along the banks of the stream that one walks through the woods to the hermitage, which is on the north bank of the river and can be reached only by a boat. Beautiful woods screen the hermitage, and through their foliage the grey stone of the cliff is visible. The steps cut in the rock leading to the garden above it can be seen.

The tradition attached to the hermitage and preserved in Bishop Percy's poem is this: the lord of Widdrington Castle, the near neighbour of Warkworth, had a beautiful daughter, named Isabel; Sir Bertram, the lord of Bothal Castle, was one of her numerous lovers.

One day, when Sir Bertram was at Alnwick Castle, feasting with the other adherents of the Percy, a bower maiden of the Lady Isabel appeared, and in the presence of the noble gathering of knights and nobles, presented him with a splendid helmet from the lady, with the message that if he would win her he must try the temper of her gift in some deed of daring.

It was received by him with joy, and amidst the acclamations of his brothers-in-arms. Lord Percy, who had a great friendship for Sir Bertram, instantly appointed a day to march against the Scots, in which the knight might test his helmet. Sir Bertram did honour to his lady in a desperate conflict, in which he was seriously wounded, and was carried to the Border castle of Wark, probably, it was thought, to die. Isabel heard the news, and in an agony of remorse at having forced him to risk his life, set out on horseback, with two men to defend her, to visit and nurse him; but on her way she was met and carried off by a Scottish chief who had vainly sought her love. As soon as Bertram recovered, he set off to Scotland in search of his lost love. His brother, to whom he was fondly attached, had already departed, without telling him, on the same quest.

Both discovered the spot where Isabel was imprisoned, but when Bertram reached the avenue to the fortress he saw a Scot going off with Isabel. In mad anxiety to rescue her, Sir Bertram rushed on his unrecognised brother; Isabel threw herself between them, and received a mortal wound. The unhappy brother was slain. After this terrible occurrence, Bertram, in an agony of grief and remorse, renounced the world and became brother Benedict; he gave his wealth to building churches, chantries, and hospitals, and scooped out for himself Warkworth Hermitage, and built a chapel, which contains the tomb and effigy of his slain love, and his own image kneeling at her feet in an attitude of penitence and grief.

To bear out this tradition, we find that from the inner apartment - the cell of penance, marked by an armorial shield over the door; on it are carved the cross, crown, and spear - there is a window so placed that the penitent kneeling at this inner altar can see Isabel's grave in the chapel. Over the inner doorway of the vestibule, leading to the chapel, are the remains of a Latin inscription of this verse of the Psalms:

"My tears have been my food day and night."

This first hermit, tradition says, was so beloved by the Percies that after his death they maintained a chantry priest to reside in the hermitage and celebrate masses for Sir Bertram's soul; his allowance was very large, and was continued till the dissolution, of the monasteries.

Dr. Percy has written a very fine ballad on the story of the Hermitage, from which we will extract a few verses.

Dr. Percy supposes that Hotspur's son, when his father and grandfather were dead, after their rebellion, was taken to Scotland and there brought up. On attaining manhood he visited England to view his alienated patrimony. Whilst there he fell in love with the daughter of Ralph Neville, of Raby, the first Earl of Westmoreland. As he knew the Nevilles would never give her to him, he persuaded her to fly with him; they are overtaken by a storm at night, and take refuge in the hermit's cell. Here Bertram recognises the son of his friend and relates his story to him. He manages to effect a reconciliation with the Nevilles, the marriage of the young pair, and the restoration of Percy to his honours and estates, through the intercession of the bride's mother, who was the king's half-sister.

This is the hermit's story when he had slain his brother:

Ah! when I heard my brother's name,
And saw my lady bleed,
I raved, I wept, I cursed my arm,
That wrought the fatal deed.

In vain I clasped her to my breast,
And closed the ghastly wound:
In vain I pressed his bleedinn corpse,
And raised it from the ground.

My brother, alas, spake never more;
His precious life was flown;
She kindly strove to soothe my pain,
Regardless of her own.

"Bertram," she said, "be comforted,
And live to think on me;
May we in heaven that union prove,
Which here was not to be.

"Bertram," she said, "I still was true,
Thou only hadst my heart;
May we hereafter meet in bliss,
We now, alas! must part.

"For thee I left my father's hall,
And flew to thy relief;
When, lo! near Cheviot's fatal hills,
I met a Scottish chief,-

"Lord Malcolm's son, whose proffered love
I had refused with scorn;
He slew my guards and seized on me,
Upon that fatal morn.

"And in these dreary, hated walls,
He kept me close confined;
And fondly sued and warmly pressed
To win me to his mind.

"Each rising morn increased my pain,
Each night increased my fear;
When wandering in this northern garb,
Thy brother found me here.

"He quickly formed his brave design,
To set me, captive, free;
And on the moor his horses wait,
Tied to a neighbouring tree.

"Then haste, my love, escape away,
And for thyself provide,
And sometimes fondly think of her
Who should have been thy bride."

Thus pouring comfort on my soul,
E'en with her latest breath,
She gave one parting, fond embrace,
And closed her eyes in death.

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Picturesque England
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Picturesque England - Matthew Spong 2004