The Harrying of the North

I had heard of the Harrying of the North but hadn’t really understood what it involved.

Apparently, according to Melvyn Bragg in a radio programme I was listening to as we headed to the aforementioned north, it was outright slaughter with the dead lying unburied in great numbers because there were not enough live people to put them in the ground.

William the Conqueror found the North had the last Wessex claimant to the throne ( the nicely named Edgar Atheling,) and some Danes – he paid the Danes to go home – but the remaining rebels said no ( or maybe non!) to a battle so he decided to starve them out by laying waste to the north – especially York.

I had always imagined harrying to be a bit like repeated nagging. ‘For goodness sake, we’ve won. You lot, and I know I have said this time and again but it is worth repeating, you have to come to heel and bow at the knee and all the other stuff.

‘How many times do I have to say it? If you think I will just let it go, you are wrong. So, think on as my grandmother would say.’

( And, whilst I am at it – how much did he pay the Danes to go home? Did they really want to go home, were they homesick, and was this just a bonus? )

Anyway, we were in Northumberland for a few days and it does indeed feel a long way from London and it does feel delightfully northern.

We took the dog and my sister’s camper van and set forth on what turned out to be a bit of an estate agent’s tour.

Everywhere we stopped we discussed whether we could live there – and in quite a few places the answer was yes.

Except for the weather. Now, I am sure you are thinking that yes, the bad weather in the north would put you off.

But in fact it was the lack of proper bad weather that put me off a few places.

One night we camped in a site near Hadrian’s wall – it was very well kept with good showers ( and rather enjoyably, though oddly, it had Radio 2 piped into the shower block.)

The hardstanding was industrial grey chippings which created a rather austere look to the place and the trees, like a lot of others around there, were battered into a forty five degree angle by the wind.

But imagine the lovely snow up here, I thought.

Then I talked to the woman checking us in.

‘Oh no, ‘ she said, ‘ I came here a couple of years ago expecting some snow and they tell me it hasn’t snowed here for goodness knows how long.’

That wouldn’t do – poor summers I could cope with, but poor winters are not on.

Then we went to the very good Roman Army museum near (ish) to the Roman site of Vindolanda.

It was an excellent museum and it had a great 3d film bringing to life the town that was Vindolanda at its height – and, according to the film, it snowed a lot then.

It was a hardship posting and I’m sure life was not a bowl of sun-warmed cherries – and I am also sure that snow was not then considered a bonus.

But I went to Vindolanda with an image of glowering clouds, snow and the chance to walk around in the footsteps of many a Roman soldier looking for the delights of a warm bath-house, an inn with wine and companionship, women, shops, all sorts of delights.

When we went, it was blazing sunshine and even with a vivid imagination, it was hard to conjure up the right images.

In fact, the weather for all our trip was lovely except for a spell on Lindisfarne when it bucketed down.

We adjourned to a pub and had crab sandwiches and shared the bar with the Royal Navy Bomb Disposal Team – no, I don’t know why they were there but when they went back to their vehicle it was a little unnerving that they failed to stop their car alarm going off.


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