Summer House at Allen Banks
Allen Banks and Staward Gorge is National Trust property in the English county of Northumberland. It is a Victorian garden in a gorge of the River Allen cutting through woodland. The ruins of Staward Peel, a medieval pele tower, stand on a promontory above the gorge. The property has been designated a site of special scientific interest for its rich flora and fauna. There is a large suspension bridge which has been ruined by the flooding of January 2005.
Step back in time on a visit to Allen Banks and discover the history and stories of those who once lived here. The northern end of the Allen Banks estate was largely created by Victorian wonder woman Susan Davidson over 30 years as a ‘wilderness garden’. The southern, wilder end of the site at Staward Gorge is a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and is where you will find the ancient Staward Pele Tower.
The largest area of ancient semi-natural woodland in Northumberland.
The Summer house.
The River Allen.
Towering crags that help create an experience of wilderness and escape from urban living.
Where it all began...
The Ridley Family.
By 1567 the Ridley family of Willimoteswick Castle owned the original Hall, the manor house of the district. After a fire in the hall in the middle of the 18th-century it was rebuilt and passed into the possession of the Lowes family of Allensgreen nearby.
The Lowes family.
In 1812 three members of the Lowes family died, leaving Ridley Hall to daughter, Mary Ann Lowes. In 1818 she sold the estate to Thomas Bates of Halton Castle for £12,000. He greatly improved it and sold it for £16,300 to the Reverend N.J. Hollingsworth, who lived at the hall until 1830.
John and Susan Davidson.
Not long after, Mr John Davidson of Otterburn, bought the estate for his wife, Susan Hussey Elizabeth Jessup, granddaughter of the 9th Earl of Strathmore – starting an infamous Bowes-Lyon family connection. Susan was the first Lady of Ridley known to take an interest in the gardens.
Wonder woman Susan.
Susan laid out 65 flower beds in the formal gardens and organised the system of paths, rustic bridges and summerhouses, not to mention the work in the woods by the River Allen, managing and developing the estate for the next 35 years.
Susan Davidson died childless and left the property to her cousin John Bowes, the illegitimate son of the 10th Earl of Strathmore.
Francis Bowes Lyon.
In 1891 the house was rebuilt to its present form and in 1942 Francis Bowes Lyon gave the estate to the National Trust. Now, the team do their best to help maintain all the hard work Susan did to allow visitors to enjoy every little part of Allen Banks and Staward Gorge.
** – Allen Banks Morralee Tarn walk – **
Since reopening after the storm damage, this walk allows access into the woodlands to go on an exploration to Morralee Tarn. A great walk for spotting wildlife all year round. It's the largest area of ancient woodland in Northumberland and has been here since at least medieval times. This long history has helped make it a fantastic home for flora, fauna and fungi. Classified as Moderate, the walk is 2.5 miles long and should take less than an hour. It is descibed as dog friendly.
Start: Allen Banks car park.
1. Starting at the car park, exit the main gate (where you came in) and take a right following the road over the bridge.
Wildflowers. A carpet of bluebells and ramsons, commonly known as wild garlic, covers the woodland floor in spring and early summer. During warm weather, and when crushed, the latter has an unmistakably pungent aroma. Many of the plants here are characteristic of ancient woodland and soil types help dictate which species grow where. Woodruff, ramsons, dog’s mercury are found on the richer brown earths, whilst greater woodrush dominates in poorer and drier soils.
2. As you leave the bridge, take a tight left and go through the gate, merging onto a footpath that takes you through a couple of fields beside the river. The river Allen is rocky and fast flowing here, a prime spot for birds like dipper and grey wagtail. On heading into the woodland, there’s always the chance of spotting a Red Squirrel running around above your head.
Wildlife. This ancient woodland is host to an array of wildlife ranging from common birds to the elusive and rare, but extremely cute, Dormouse. April to July is a great time to see birds - more than 70 species have been recorded on the estate including species in decline, such as wood warbler and pied flycatcher. The River Allen provides a great feeding ground for Heron, Goosander, Dippers and rare visits by the Kingfisher and Otter. Other animals to keep you company are Red Squirrels, Roe Deer, Bats, Badgers and Foxes - plus a whole world of bugs and insects.
3. Venture into the woods where you’ll start following the purple waymakers up to the Tarn. Keep on the path straight ahead, past the site of the wobbly bridge and up the steps till you meet the main path through Morralee Woods. This is a great habitat for woodland birds, like woodpeckers, nuthatches and treecreepers.
Fungi. Allen Banks is one of the best places in the north-east for fungi, with 181 species recorded here. Autumn's the best time to see mushrooms and toadstools, as this is when most fungi develops a ‘fruit body’ to distribute its spores and reproduce. Deathcap, destroying angel and panthercap fungi are deadly poisonous with no known antidote; all can be found in the woodland here. The deathcap is reputed to have been the cause of the murder of Roman Emperor, Claudius Caesar - it was added to his favourite mushroom dish by his wife.
4. Follow this path left before taking the next right and right again and that the fork keep right, following the purple waymakers pointing you up the hill, there are some steep sections here and the terrain varies so please take care.
The work of Susan Davidson in the 1800's is visible everywhere, from the network of steps and paths criss- crossing the hillside to the sites of summerhouses where her guests could sit and reflect on life while enjoying their surroundings.
5. As you reach the top of the hill take the steps on the left and follow this path to Morralee Tarn. The tarn itself is an historic feature in the landscape, originally dug out as a boating lake by the Victorians, it is now a real oasis and a great place to spot some wildlife, with superb views of the Tyne Valley and Hadrian’s Wall in the distance.
From the 17th century there are bell pits which are old coal or mineral workings, these were shallow pits dug where the seam ran close to the surface. But what makes this place so special is what happened 10,000 years ago, when the ice age ended and the melting ice sheets carved the gorge for the river and created the crags and rock outcrops we can still enjoy today.
6. Once you’re ready to make your way back, continue to walk with the tarn on your right then take the path heading left away from the end of the tarn which will take you on a loop until you reach the path you originally started on.
7. As you come down the little slope by the big fallen tree stump re-join the main path through Morralee Woods, turn right and follow the waymarkers to a gate out of the woods and into the field. Go straight towards the river and then retrace your steps back to the car park.
End: Allen Banks car park, you made it!!
** – Canine Consideration – **
Allen Banks really is for the whole family, including little legs and four-legged friends too. Of course the National Trust workers are biased but Allen Banks really is doggy heaven. There are sticks and plenty of ground to cover! And because many of them are dog owners themselves they understand the importance of being able to take them out for the day. Here, they're always welcome, there's just a few little pointers that would really help the NT out....
Please help us keep the countryside a safe, healthy and enjoyable place for you and your dog, other visitors, wildlife and livestock:
Please when walking through farmers' fields, keep your dog on a lead.
Once in the woodland, always keep your dog in sight and under control.
Never let your dog chase wildlife or farm animals.
Observe local notices when you’re out and about.
Please, please, please, always pick up after your dog. They ask that if your dog fouls, particularly in car parks, on paths and by picnic spots, you pick up and remove the mess. There are dedicated dog mess bins where you can dispose of it. They would really appreciate all the help they can get.
** – Visiting – **
With its deep gorge, created by the River Allen, and the largest area of ancient semi-natural woodland in Northumberland, this 250-hectare (617-acre) site provides the perfect setting for an adventure. Largely created by Susan Davidson, Allen Banks has become a fantastic home for flora, fauna and fungi. It is also well known for its carpet of bluebells and ramsons, commonly known as wild garlic, which covers the woodland floor in spring and early summer.
Since the storm damage in 2016, parts are still inaccessible, however there are still woodland walks aplenty and with over 70 species of birds spotted at Allen Banks as well as a wide range of wildlife such as red squirrels, you are never alone. NB: All of the woodland area sits within the North Pennines AONB.
** – Facilities – **
• Pay and display parking is available at Allen Banks (free for National Trust members) from 10am - 6pm.
• Explore miles of tranquil and beautiful footpaths.
• Dogs welcome.
• Baby changing facilities.
• Enjoy a picnic in beautiful surroundings.
• Mobility car park has level tarmac with grass overflow parking.
• Mobility toilet in main toilet block.
• Some level ground but primarily uneven and steep in places.
Location : near Ridley Hall, Bardon Mill, Hexham, Northumberland, NE47 7BP
Transport: Bardon Mill (National Rail) then 1.5 miles. Bus routes: 685 Cross Pennine from Carlisle to Newcastle upon Tyne, stops within ½ mile.
Opening Times: Dawn till Dusk.
Tickets : Free.
Tel: 01434 321888