Monday, May 13, 2013

The Queen's Cave....a walking and clamoring visit

The year was 1464.  Great Britain was in the final spasms of The War of Roses in which the noble blood of rival factions had been shed profusely.

The Lancastrian troops had just been routed by the Yorkists in the Battle of Hexham, more or less the last armed conflict in a seemingly endless war.

Fleeing the ruin of her army and of her hopes was the Queen of England, a certain Margaret of Anjou.  With her was her son the Prince of Wales and heir to the throne.

Open flight being impossible they fled up a wild ravine now known as West Dipton Burn.

The legend gets a little convoluted at this point, but basically the Queen and her small party were set upon by robbers.  No dainty flower this lady, she hautily informed the bandits that they had been given a great gift...a chance to set right their many misdeeds by aiding her and their future king.

And it worked.  They took her in and sheltered her in their redoubt, a small well hidden cave known to this day as Queen Margaret's Cave.

A fine story, even if scholars are pretty sure Margaret was in France at the time and the whole thing is romantic clap trap.

But that is by no means a reason to defer a mission of exploration, and on a break from excavating at Vindolanda my pal Pete and I set out to find the Queen's Cave.

We talked to a few locals.  Some had heard of it, others had not.  Of the group who had been down looking for it, I could only find one who had actually located the spot.  Armed with sketchy clues and a map that we had been told was inaccurate we set off.

First a bus into Hexham.  Then a tedious uphill trek down first East Gate then Dipton Mill roads.  A welcome site indeed met us when we reached the Dipton Mill Inn.  A classic one room pub with a smoky wood fire and superb ales.  It would be easy to become an armchair explorer at this point, but we were made of sterner stuff.

The West Dipton burn is right next to the pub and a public footpath begins on the north side of the ravine.  A charming stream runs down the middle of things and you will have to frequently ford it on well placed stones as the ravine alternates narrow stretches to the north and south.

It is a very pretty spot.

This may be an excellent time for a bit of practical advice.  You will not have a successful hunt for the cave under anything but favorable conditions.  The trail is faint and in some places entirely debateable.  Fording the stream if it has been raining recently is not possible...those huge 200 foot cliffs just funnel the water through it.  There were tangles of downed trees to negotiate.  And when we went in early May there was not a great deal of underbrush to obscure our views.  Nor were there the midges for which Northumberland is infamous later in the season.

So, pick your day wisely.

At last, after about a mile and a half of pretty but difficult going we looked up on the southern wall of the burn and saw it.

The cave is not large, even short robbers would have been unable to stand.  A regal personage presumably wearing a tall hat would also have a problem.  It seems likely that there is a crumbling of rock and sand off the roof that would have to be cleared from the floor to see the true dimensions.

Looking very closely mid photo there is a tiny bright green object.  A lost royal emerald?  It seems to be the bottom of a soft drink bottle, probably a geo cache.

Here Pete is doing a very creditable robber impression.

After your long trek in there is an easier option for getting out.  Cross back to the north side of the stream.  Go back about 50 yards and look carefully for a path running diagonally up the north slope.  It runs into a nice path along the field wall on the north ridge.  From there you have several options for getting your tired legs back to civilization.

I don't want to make it too easy to find the place - I could for instance give you the GPS coordinates - but the cave is on the south side of the ravine, up a cliff about 30 feet.  It is the second of two such cliffs as you get a little over a mile in.  It is just a bit to the west of the Hexham race track which is up above on the north side of the Burn.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

My son Haesten(age 8)faithfull newfoundland Pom(age 9 months)and I just found it (April 5 2016) only th OS to guide us. It is not overly difficult with keen eyes, though the cave itself is not directly visible.All of the above is likely true esp. if river in spate. It is a lovely walk in the spring sunshine but only for the pretty able bodied.