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No one goes to Northumbria anymore

“Where are you off to next?” my friend asked.

“Northumbria!” I replied.

It turns out that Northumbria ceased to exist in 927. Down with the kids clearly I am not. In fact, any prior cognition of this particular county could be reduced to some vague notion that it existed on a map, albeit that one would be drawn on parchment concisely illustrated by a monk’s hand. On the modern day map, however, Northumberland is a fairly sizable blob situated in England’s north east corner, just south of Scotland. It also boasts approximately no cities. None. Nada. It seems even Royalty has blithely ignored its existence now that the Romans, Picts, Barbarians and Vikings have stopped breaching the peace.

Perhaps the oversight goes some way to explaining why its welcome sign confoundingly claims it is “England’s border country”, because otherwise the reason for this assertion remains an enigma to me and to Google. I had presumed it to be a county, a mere subsection of England proper, and as far as I know, this is the case. Granted, however, my knowledge is not to be treated as a reliable barometer of truth.

There are other indications that offer adequate explanations for this possibly typo.

Nonetheless, one might reasonably conclude Northumberland’s sole purpose is to be a veritable buffer between Scotland and England proper, but given the last incursion took place in 1513 by James IV at Flodden, I might suggest this takes an overly-defensive stance.

Just in case one is oblivious to this monumental moment in Scottish-English history, an event which is largely ignored even by reenactors, the battle at Flodden was an unmitigated disaster for the Scots. The Stewart King, James IV, and his sixty-thousand strong-army descended upon twenty-six thousand Englishmen under the command of the Earl of Surrey, as a demonstration of how displeased he was by England’s invasion of France.

Out-flanked, out-weaponised and out of good fighting terrain, nearly 10,000 Scotsmen and 4,000 Englishmen’s lives were sacrificed along with that of King James IV in the boggy mounds of Northumberland. The leaderless men hightailed it back to their lowlands and highlands. From thence, the Scots sensibly kept themselves confined within their own borders, possibly not daring to lift so much as an eyebrow until the invention of tourism in the 19th century.

That learnt, it came as quite the surprise to discover that Hadrian’s Wall doesn’t actually follow the Scottish/English border whatsoever. This is very much contrary to what my Geography teacher told me back in the day of hard wooden chairs and welsh desks with inkwells. It would also be fair to allege that I just hadn’t been paying adequate attention.

Hadrian’s Wall is thus located squatting quite far south of the imaginary line that bisects these two countries cohabiting, usually amiably, within the shared sovereign state of the United Kingdom. The Wall used to be, in its heyday, a complex system of fortifications, roads, ditches, mini castles and turrets spread across seventy-three miles, from coast to coast, rather than a boundary fence made of bricks as my mind’s eye had constructed it.

Its explicit purpose was to repel any lawless land grabs common in the second century by The Picts coming from the north, albeit the Romans had them denounced as illiterate, uncivilised, barely-dressed, horny heathens. Scottish historians, on the other hand, would prefer one noted they were distinguished gentlemen, with intimate knowledge of the bible and classical literature. Nonetheless, well-read they may have been, they still foisted many an insurgency upon the occupying Romans loitering around the region.

Hence, the wall was built some eight-hundred years before England and Scotland came into existence. Although quite why Hadrian needed a wall is anyone’s guess. The area has enough places to daunt any invading army.

Mind you, the wall did not deter the Vikings either. They made their initial assault on the glorious hills from the monastic island of Lindisfarne in 793, slaughtering many of its monks who were, presumably, peacefully worshipping their Christian values to one another. Reports of fiery dragons tormenting the islands, also wrought with them a terrible famine. Following this weakening, an the incursion of a morass of scavengers wrecked lamentable havoc of rape and slaughter.

The resident monks decried it a sign of God’s wrath on their collective guilt, beseeching followers to be more chaste, less garish, and more devotedly vestal. The Vikings simply rolled their eyes heaven-ward before romping on to other holy sites to ultimately dominate England’s eastside, later to be archived as Danelaw.

Northumbria’s history records that between the years 737 and 806 the region cruised through ten kings whose reigns ceased upon them either interned or interred. The latter usually massacred with levels of gruesomeness not typically shown before the watershed, whereas those Northumbrian rulers who survived denounced their previous bloodthirstiness by suddenly and overwhelmingly becoming enchanted by one of the region’s many spared monasteries and checked themselves in permanently.

Northumberland’s history is thus one long legacy of invasion. Most legends recite much slaying and pillaging by Picts from the north, Vikings from the East and from pretty much everyone else from the south. This is probably why, despite its lack of citizens, it has the highest number of castles per hilly mile than any other country. If one is feeling depleted of ruin, then Northumberland is the place to come to recharge.

Not that castles are the only clue to its gory past as one traverses the highways and byways of England’s most remote of national parks.

Even its cows, the purebred Chillingham Wild Cattle, a bovine some claim roamed these islands before the dawn of history, defy nature’s law. Just thirteen beasts remained in existence following a harsh winter of 1946/1947, and consequently they are considered a scientific marvel: having successfully inbred themselves into genetic uniformity and somehow managed to avoid extinction. There are currently in excess of one hundred Chillington cows and bulls, although one may be comforted to know they are imprisoned within the three-hundred and thirty-acre Chillingham estate.

Once domesticated, the herd is now completely wild, and presumed to be especially aggressive, quite unlike your local farm’s pet Frieshian. They are strictly not for eating or milking, thus largely left unattended. Should one encounter the unassailable beast of burden, say in the enactment of England’s blood-thirsty past, and live to tell the tale, one should banish them back to their confinements and go seek something else to slaughter. The cows suggest recommend one to…

There are also rumours that Northumberland is home to wild boars at Chopwell Woods on The Hunting Life Forum. Alas, once it, or they, destroyed the golf course, it was dispatched to join its cousins from the bygone times so humanity could be restored to its ruined-walk best.

Perhaps, however, it is not its gruesome history, nor its terrifying towns and villages, that has Northumberland stand out from its county cousins, but the fact that its place names are blue lettering with white background. This flies in the face of the national system which gives us green signs on primary routes, and black & white ones everywhere else. Brown, of course, denotes a site of historical interest or a tourist attraction and blue is stipulated for motorways and HGV drivers.

Once upon a time, a mid-to-dark blue boundary on a sign indicated local information, but any remaining examples are typically the battered remnants of yonder year awaiting a student pillaging.

Normally conventions on shape and colour will conform to those prescribed by the Worboys Committee’s publication: Traffic Signs: Report of the committee on traffic signs for all-purpose roads. I can attest that it is a profound cure for menopausal insomnia, albeit I was mildly amused that signage has its own font called, somewhat unimaginatively: Transport. I personally would have preferred the precursor to emoticons: Windings or, at a push, Comic Sans just to bring some light-hearted entertainment to the region.

Still, as with all matters legal, I was interested (that’s quite at the stretch) to discover that Part I, Regulation 11, paragraph 1 of the UK’s Statutory Instruments issue No. 362 (2016) states that, “The colours prescribed for signs must conform to British Standards BS EN 12899-1:200”. But then it goes on to say that Paragraph 1 does not apply “to the extent it is provided that part of a sign may be of any, or any contrasting, colour”. Which is legalese for what a load of ...

Still it’s reassuring to know there’s legal requirements on signage except when there isn’t. And the only place there wasn’t adequate signage, to my dismay, was Nunnykirk: best translated as The Church of the Northern Vagina.

Northumberland is, for the most part, terribly well sign-posted. Of particular note was that of Shilbottle whose roadsigns are frequently tended to by marker pen enthusiasts waging war against peoples wielding industrial-grade Tippex.

Despite all that, Google informs me that Northumberland is the recommended destination of choice for those with mild anthropophobia or people otherwise contently introverted. Those kinds of individuals who were once derided as Billy No-Mates. With just 170 citizens per square mile, Northumberland compares wonderfully with the national 1,070 people per hilly mile elsewhere.

Safe to say then, as a protecting country, might I suggest it is woefully short on fighting men in the event of any future invasions. Moreover, its misplaced protective wall has largely sunk, or worse, its stone requisitions by other properties, notably, the very straight Military Road, leaving next to no hurdle for incomers to surmount.

That said, Northumberland remains a place of outstanding national interest if one has an interest in naked men, for whatever reason, called Lee.

One may be reassured to discover there’s barely anyone of that ilk in these parts, at least I spotted not a single one. I do currently know two Lees and they seem to be okay from a distance but this pertinently because they are of the clothes-wearing type and live quite some considerable distance from these garrulous lands.

It is not atypical for women to have the fear of men inculcated into them from quite the young age, and school lessons play their part. History, as at least as I was taught it at school, is ordinarily a long recital of men’s violence towards other men, and as a brief aside, we are also told they do unspeakable matters to women. Indeed, one might regard history as a sort of subliminal advertisement indoctrinating its youth that the world out there is indeed big, bad and especially dangerous with the brief caution for women to continuously ‘watch out’.

That said, if you’re inclined to be people-averse: Northumberland is probably the safest place to visit.

But remember! Go safe! Be careful! Look after yourself! Take Care. Especially if you’re a man.

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