Our Christian Heritage
Thockrington Church, Northumberland
Nothing matters more than location, and the church of St. Aidan at Thockrington occupies a remote fine position on Northumbrian moorland which could scarcely be bettered for drama and romance. An isolated building north of Hadrian’s Wall it sits within an impressive craggy landscape and has haunted me for more than 50
years. As a child I spent many idyllic days on the Bavington moors, with picnics on the secluded banks of Colt Crag Reservoir, playing in and around my favourite stream, fishing for tadpoles and watersnails, and walking the wide grassy hills around Thockrington.
You can find the church by turning east off the A68 about ten miles north of Corbridge, but my approach is usually from the opposite direction, via Great Bavington. Sheep stroll uncaring on the quiet, singletrack roads while the rough farmland is often alive with the songs of larks and curlews beneath blue skies filled with jet engine vapour trails.
The church sits on a section of the Whin Sill, a rocky igneous outcrop which stretches from Hadrian’s Wall to the coast and at first glance looks like Noah’s Ark, a dramatic edifice with distant views across the rolling moors. Nothing visible remains of the village that once flourished here, though, only a solitary farm and the church itself which dates from around 1100.
The building’s exterior was altered in the 13th century when the original apse was removed, presumably because its foundations were insecure on the sloping hillside. The east end, however, is supported by diagonal buttresses while the west wall is supported by a massive stone construction. Together with a distinctive stone- roofed, topheavy bell cote dating from the 17th century, they create the curiously lop- sided Noah’s Ark silhouette.
The simple Norman interior is plain yet cosy, a haven of security amidst the bleak surrounding moor.
The nave is cool and spacious with a fine stone arch leading to the tunnelvaulted chancel, echoed by a similar arch framing a single window above the altar. There is also a large font and a carved pulpit.
Outside, the visitor has wonderful views across vast swathes of barren countryside while among the few headstones in the small churchyard is that of Lord William Beveridge, founder of the Welfare State, whose daughter lived nearby in Carrycoats Hall.
Whatever the weather there is a distinct sense of peace here, especially under sunny skies with the background bleating of sheep and the chirruping of birds making it both tranquil and spectacular.
Northumberland has vast areas of unspoilt countryside as here near Bellingham, located a few miles north west of Thockrington.
Thockrington Church sits on the Whin Sill, a hard igneous rock intrusion made of dolerite. The builders of Hadrian’s Wall found it most convenient and this picture shows Milecastle 39 at Steel Rigg near the stretch of water called Crag Lough.
Left: The author at Thockrington. Below: The simple church interior ( left). Visitors to the area are likely to hear the call of the curlew and the bleating of the hardy black- faced Swaledale sheep.