The market town of Hexham is one of the main centres in Tynedale, the next valley north from Weardale. The town centre is a lovely maze of winding streets focusing on the Market Square and the town’s jewel, Hexham Abbey.
The drive over the tops via Allendale gives some wonderful views in itself so makes for a great day out, via Allenheads and Allendale Town on the B6305.
The Abbey itself dates originally from a monastery founded by Saint Wilfrid in AD674, of which the crypt is all that visibly survives, built largely of stones from local Roman ruins. The current building is largely 11th century, with significant rebuilding in the 19th century.
It is well worth spending time exploring the Abbey and grounds. There are mediaeval painted screens, the monks’ night stairs still in place (now leading to the choir vestries) and a fine modern organ on the screen as well as other fascinating exhibits.
Hexham suffered much in the border wars with Scotland; William Wallace burnt the town in 1297 and in 1312, King Robert the Bruce demanded and received the huge sum of £2000 from the town and monastery to avoid more of the same. That was temporary as in 1346 King David II sacked the monastery again!
The quiet town centre nowadays gives few clues to its place in that turbulent period of history. A visit Hexham’s Old Gaol gives more clues. This is an imposing stone cube, built in 1333 as England’s first purpose-built prison and is where many of the Border Reivers ended up after rustling sheep off the moors. The exhibition covers four floors and contains the local history library and details of the leading local families of Charltons and Fenwicks and we’d recommend a visit.
Useful links for places to visit in Hexham:
- Hexham Abbey –
- Old Gaol House –
- Queen’s Hall and Arts Centre – with a regular programme of entertainment
- Hexham Moot Hall and Gallery
- Hexham Tourist Information
The Market is not what it was in earlier times but worth taking in on Tuesdays and Saturdays, as the town gets that bit busier. You’ll also find stalls in the Shambles most days of the week amongst the other shops, galleries and cafés.
There’s a farmers market, starting on Jan 11th in 2014, and then usually on the 2nd and 4th Saturdays each month – check out their feed on Twitter for more details.
The streets south from the Market square are the main shopping areas and you’ll find many of the usual high street chains as well as many specialist local retailers.
Car parking spaces are very much at a premium in the town centre, so we would recommend using the shopping car parks on the way into the town from the A69 and then walking up the hill.