Coun­try di­ary

Hulne Pri­ory, Northum­ber­land

The Guardian - Journal - - Letters -

Curv­ing along­side the River Aln, Lady’s Well Drive is one of sev­eral ways through the walled es­tate of Hulne Park. At our feet, the jagged leaves and spiky cases of sweet chest­nuts. Bracken flares gold and a resinous scent of pines is brought on the warm breeze. Light bounces and flashes on the river as fish leap, smack­ing back down into the wa­ter. Mal­lards panic up­stream as we round the bend to see the walls of Hulne Pri­ory crest­ing its steep mount.

We look up at the pro­tec­tive cur­tain wall, sil­ver-grey stone against a clear sky. A grassy path leads up be­tween two aged sycamores, their bases bul­bous and mossy, their branches throw­ing shad­ows across the pri­ory wall.

Ivy spills over the top, roots like fat veins an­chored be­tween the stones, the sickly scent of its flow­ers at­tract­ing a late red ad­mi­ral and sev­eral hov­er­flies. There’s va­le­rian and wild wall­flower, colonis­ing plants that add an air of ro­mance. A flock of field­fares de­scend on a hawthorn to tug at its berries as we look for a way in.

Through a door the colour of but­ter­milk, the pri­ory re­veals it­self, a scat­ter­ing of ru­ined church and claus­tral build­ings, roof­less gable ends and empty win­dows. We sur­prise a cou­ple of hens dust-bathing be­neath a yew tree. A head­less statue emerges from an arched re­cess. Trails of ivyleaved toad­flax dec­o­rate the gritty lime mor­tar. There’s a sculp­ture of a pray­ing friar, an 18th-cen­tury em­bel­lish­ment.

Founded in 1240, this was one of the first Carmelite houses to be es­tab­lished in Eng­land. It in­cluded bake­house, brew­house and malt kiln. The cur­tain wall and a de­fen­sive tower were added in the 15th cen­tury, and later a sum­mer­house in the Goth­ick style, by Robert

Adam and “Ca­pa­bil­ity” Brown. Its crenel­la­tions and qua­tre­foils were an en­hance­ment of the pic­turesque, an at­mos­phere that is still there, thanks to the clam­ber­ing ivy and the wild­flow­ers on the walls.

We sit on some steps in the sun as a kestrel lifts off and hangs in the air above, warm rus­set against blue sky. Cold weather is com­ing, but it’s hard to be­lieve th­ese au­tumn days will end.

Susie White

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