Religious Place In Hexham, Northumberland
A field, church and wooden cross marking the Battle Of Heavenfield. A skirmish between Northumbrians and the Welsh in 634AD.
Although it just appears to be an empty field, a wooden cross next to the road and a little church hidden behind some trees, you would be mistaken for the enormity of historical significance this area has hiding up its sleeves.
Before we take you on a magical tour of the site, let's delve into a bit of the history first to help understand what we are looking at here.
Back in the 7th century, our beautiful Northumbria was actually split in two. A chap called Eanfrith was king of Bernicia, while the other half of the area called Deira, was ruled by Osric. (Don't worry about remembering these names, there isn't a quiz at the end!)
King Penda who was king of the midlands area (called Mercia back in the day) and Cadwallon of Gwynedd (obviously from Wales) fancied more of the north and so set about invading it. Cadwallon was successful and killed the two rulers.
However, Eanfrith had a brother known as St Oswald, who had been exiled on the west coast of Scotland for 17 years. Hearing the news, he set about heading back to Northumbria to claim his rightful throne. But in order to oust Cadwallon he would need to raise an army and he did this with Scottish fighters in addition to calling in some favours with the Northumbrian nobles. This was in 634AD.
Getting wind of St Oswald's return, Cadwallon headed up from York along the old roman road called Dere Street. The night before the battle, Oswald had a vision of St. Columbia who gave him the heads up that he was going to be victorious, so Oswald and his men erected a wooden cross and prayed.
Now this mustn't have been Oswald's first battle as he had a few tricks up his sleeve to help defeat the much greater Welsh army. On the morning of the battle he positioned his army with their backs to the nearby Brady's Crag facing east, protecting themselves from being flanked using the crag and Hadrian's wall.
At the time the wall would have been largely intact standing 6m high and 3m wide. This created a narrow pass for the Welsh army to attack, therefore nullifying their greater numbers.
If you're into your history then this was a similar technique that King Leonidas of Sparta used when the brave 300 fought the Persian army at the Hot Gates at the Battle of Thermopylae over 1100 years prior. Maybe Oswald had seen the DVD, who knows.
The Welsh line eventually broke and made a hasty retreat back south where they were pursued by the ruthless Northumbrian army. Cadwallon was eventually caught and killed 16km south at a place now called Rowley Burn. Oswald then reunited Bernicia and Deira and declared himself king of Northumbria, restoring Christianity as the religion.
Oswald ruled for 8 years before being killed at the Battle Of Maserfield, but that is another story.
So what are we looking at here? A Saxon church was erected on the spot where Oswald raised his Battle Standard and the church was known as Heavenfield. It was replaced with a medieval church during the Norman period before being rebuilt in the 18th century with what you see today.
Until 1807 a stone cross stood here to mark the battlefield. The stone cross used a roman altar as its base stone and this is now in the church (see below).
The wooden cross you see now was placed here in 1927 by a group of local people.
So have a wander around the field, head into the church and try to imagine preparing yourself to battle for Northumbria against the marauding Welsh.
If you fancy experiencing a sleepover then you can kip at Heavenfield Cottage in the nearby farm which is in the grounds of Heavenfield.
Contributed by Simon Hawkins
Thanks for checking out this place on the Fabulous North! I do enjoy a wander out in to the countryside trying to find hidden gems that not many people know about. You can't beat a rogue Pele tower up a remote hill or a mysterious stone circle or a stunning waterfall secluded in a forest.More Places from Simon
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