On the trail of Lewis Carroll and Alice

Morpeth Rotary explore the North East.
Morpeth Rotary explore the North East.

Morpeth Rotary Club

Club members have been exploring the history and heritage of the North East at Penshaw, a little known haunt of The Rev Charles Dodgson, also known as Lewis Carroll.

New Rotary President Paul Crook and his wife led a six-mile walk around the National Trust Penshaw Monument.

It went south into Herrington Country Park, past lakes of Canada Geese, and up to the highest point at Site Lines. Durham Cathedral can be seen ten miles away.

It was then to Fishing Lake for a picnic, and north to cross Chester Road near the Prospect Inn. One of the group, who had worked in Durham in the 1970s, thought the name must have been a joke as it looked out on a pit heap, the largest colliery spoil heap in the region. The pub had originally been a school. It now had fine country park views over an area reclaimed from Herrington Colliery, which closed in 1985.

The path wound through Old Penshaw village, past the Ship Inn and Penshaw Church, and into a barley field towards the River Wear. It crossed the disused railway line from Bishop Auckland to Sunderland, which closed in 1964.

Turning east brought in sight the River Wear Victoria Viaduct. The last stone was laid in 1838 on Queen Victoria’s coronation. It was then the third largest bridge in Europe, based on a Roman bridge in Spain. The viaduct was built to take the main line from Newcastle to London, but a new route through Durham was used from 1872. The line was not closed until 1991 and may be used in future for Metro expansion.

Further east is the village of Cox Green with a footbridge over the Wear. This is the stretch of river walked by Dodgson when gathering ideas that were later used for Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. A spring, which was the only source of drinking water there until after World War II, looks like the entrance to a large rabbit hole and is called the ‘Alice Well’.

Dodgson’s father was Rector of Croft, near Darlington. He had relations at Whitburn and Southwick. Alice Liddell was the inspiration for the book. Her father Henry was from Boldon, County Durham, and her grandfather was Rector of Easington. The Liddells were from the same family as the Barons Ravensworth at Eslington Park, near Whittingham.

The walk went south again to Penshaw Monument, with wonderful views in all directions. The 70ft monument was built in 1844 to mark the death, at 48, of John Lambton, the First Earl of Durham and Governor of Canada. It is modelled on a Greek temple in Athens.

The Lambton Worm song has the monster wrapping its tail ten times around Penshaw Hill, but there is a dispute about which hill it was.

Coffee and scones at Penshaw Nurseries Tea Room was a welcome end to the walk.