The Location

Callaly Castle hill, between Whittingham and Callaly villages.

What's there

A walk in the woods and up a steep hill to an old hill fort, then up another hill to a small cave.
In 2011, Storm Arwen blew down lots of trees on this route, and several paths are still blocked as of June 2013. It is impossible to get into Thrunton forest at the start of the walk, but an alternate is just to climb straight up the very steep hill. This route is shown in red in the map. The detour then heads down and along until it meets the gateway into Thrunton. The old path then climbed up Callaly Castle hill, but several trees are down near the crown of the hill and we were unable to find a way up it. However it may be possible on the western side. On a positive note, fallen trees have been cut away on the lower slopes to open up the paths, so hopefully the upper paths will be cleared sometime.

How to get there

Postcode for Satnav - NE66 4TA. This is the post code for Callaly South Lodge, which is about 400 yards past the car parking place.

Coming from the South, turn off the A1 just north of Morpeth and follow the A697 road for Wooler and Coldstream. About 15 miles up, you will see a left hand turn signposted Whittingham and Callaly.
Coming from Alnwick and the A1, take the B6341 west over the Alnwick moor, then after about 2 miles take the second right, signposted Callaly, Glanton, Whiitingham. Follow this road to the A697, then cross over the staggered junction for Whittingham.

In Whittingham village, take the first left by the statue and follow this road out of the village for about 1.5 miles. The road takes a double bend towards the forest, then just as you reach the wooded area, you will see some parking spaces on the left. If these spaces are full, there is another parking area about 100 yards further on. These are not 'proper' car parks, just hard standing areas in the woods.

The Walk

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From the car park area, walk uphill through the trees, keeping close to the wall on your left. A short way up you will see a break in the wall
(The hole in the wall is still there but the path is completely blocked by a fallen pine tree on the other side. Follow the path on the Callaly side of the wall instead).
Climb over this and take the pathway that runs east on the edge of the forest. You should be able to enjoy some fine views of the Cheviots to the north. After a while, this path joins a forestry roadway. Turn right and follow the roadway up the hill until you come to an area where the road splits 4 ways. If you look to your right, you will see a 5th way, a path though a gate. Take this path.
(You now reach this gate from the other side, so you can get into Thrunton Forest here if you want).

Now the walk becomes a bit more difficult, as the pathway is narrow and winds through the trees, with side paths branching off. In general, follow the main path and if in doubt, head up hill. The path gets steeper and steeper until eventually you will find yourself on top of Callaly Castle.
(These paths were blocked in June 2023, walk along the side of the hill instead)
This is not a 'stone and towers' Castle but an earthwork hillfort with old beech trees inside it, and maybe the remains of a medieval tower in one corner.. At the top of the castle you will see a pathway that goes down between two rock outcrops. Follow this path over the summit, then through a gap in the trees and down the other side. At the bottom of the hill you will find a fence with a stile. Cross over and follow the path way up the next steep hill, ignoring the pathway off to the right. A short way up, you will see a tall rock outcrop in the heath. Follow the path round the rock and you will find Macartney's Cave.

Now you need to follow the same path back down the hill and up the other side, right back up the the Castle, over the summit, and back to the pathway that you climbed up. Go back down the steep path, but now as you descend, keep to the left and the path eventually broadens out, skirting around the steep hill that lies between you and your car. This path eventually takes you back to the roadway, at the second car park, just a 100 yards or so from your car.

McCartney's cave


The Avenue, the road by the car parks is an old Roman Road, which ran South West from the Roman fort at Learchild (just east of Whittingham) to another Roman Fort at Rochester, so joining the two main South - North roads, Dere Street and the Devil's Causeway.

There is a real Callaly Castle in Callaly village, now converted to residential flats. The 'castle' on the hill is an Iron Age hill fort. However you can see the foundations of two square buildings in the north-west corner, which are probably what's left of the original medieval tower build in the 12th century. There is an old Northumbrian rhyme about this castle:

   Callaly Castle built on a height,
   Up in a day, down in a night.
   Build it down in the Shepherd's Shaw,
   It will stand for ever and never fall.

There's a few variations of the stories that go with this rhyme, but most of them agree that the Lord of Callaly wanted to build his castle up on top of the hill, where it could be defended better from marauding Scots, while the Lady of Callaly wanted it down in the valley, where it would be easier to get to and less windy. The lord thought defense was more important, so he went ahead and started building on top of the hill.
His Lady was not happy with this, so she sent one of her retainers up the hill dressed in a boar skin. The builders ran off at the sight of the wild boar, and the servant pulled the half built walls down and told the men to build down in the valley.

Another variant of the story was that castle hill was a faery hill, and the faeries were not happy with the building work, so every night they pulled the walls down and scattered the stones. This went on for several days, until the Lord decided to hide on the hill one night and see what was happening. He saw the faeries pull the building down and heard their song, and so decided to build his tower down in the valley instead.
Maybe either of these stories could be true, but the facts as proven by an archaeological dig are that there was an old 12th century building up there, but the Castle was built down in the valley in the 14th century.

Macartney's Cave is said to have been dug out in the soft sandstone by the chaplain of Callaly Castle, as a quiet place for study and meditation. It's a very small cave. I struggle to turn round in it, but it is certainly in a very peaceful, and quite hard to find location.

Facilities on this Walk

None, just a good walk

Walks Near Here

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