There used to be a railway, which ran from Stanhope to Blanchland when the North Country coal and lead mining industries were at their peak. You can follow the abandoned line as it climbs along Horseshoe Hill, sometimes riding high on an embankment above the boggy bits of these moorland heights. It passes old quarries, disused mine- shafts and occasional coveys of grouse, which flutter up like tiny helicopters and then glide away down into another patch of heather. At Dead Friars, you join the unfenced road and start the long, slow descent to Blanchland, through sheep- strewn uplands and over brown-water bums, cutting their rocky ways through the hills. On a clear day, you can see for miles and miles to Hadrian’s Wall and the pudding- shaped Cheviots on the blue horizon. Nearer the village, walled pastureland begins, surrounding small limestone farms. Foxgloves, harebells, moon daisies and hogweed swamp the wide verges of the old drove road, together with great sheets of rosebay willow herb, which will be shocking pink by August. Blocks of ink-black fir forests stretch away to the west along the banks of the Upper Derwent, and Blanchland lies hidden deep below, sheltered by softer woods and the enfolding hills. All along the lane into the village high-walled there are wild raspberry bushes.
Blanchland has always been so well hidden in its sheltered and secluded position at the bottom of the valley that on one of their many raids in the 14th century a band of Scottish marauders passed within a hundred yards of the village and never even saw it. Some hours later, in thanks to God for their deliverance, the monks rang a peal of bells, but the sound carried on the wind and the Scots returned to sack the place. When John Wesley came to preach here in the middle of the 18th century he described Blanchland as ‘little more than a heap of ruins’. This was due partly to its constant sackings but also to the dissolution of the abbey, when its heart was destroyed. Seven lanes and tracks lead down from the surrounding moorland to this beautiful spot where the abbey stood. It was founded in 1165 by an extremely strict and self-denying order of Premonstratensian monks. They dressed entirely in white, which is thought to be why the village name of Blanchland came about. After the dissolution and the virtual abandonment of the place, it wasn’t until the middle of the 18th century that the village found a new benefactor in Lord Crewe, who had made a packet from the surrounding lead and coal mines. An early philanthropist, he wanted to see his workers living in decent housing and brought about the creation of what is, in effect, one of the greatest planned villages in England. The pale, grey-gold limestone cottages with stone-slab roofs seem to follow the old collegiate layout of the mediaeval abbey and its buildings. The plan consists of a series of L-shaped courtyards and you enter the large main square either through the old monastic gateway or from the southern end beside the river. The scale of it all feels utterly comfortable and the enclosure creates a kind of
In the northern corner is the The Lord Crewe Arms, which stands on the site of the abbey refectory and guesthouse. What remains of Blanchland Abbey towers beside. It serves as the parish church, and inside, one wonderful arch still soars up under the tower.