The small village of Greenhead can be found just to the north of the main A69, some eight miles east of Brampton and three miles west of Haltwhistle. The B6318, the road that closely follows the route of Hadrian's Wall, runs through the village, but Greenhead has been a very much quieter place since it was bypassed to the south by the A69 Newcastle to Carlisle road in 1986.
Before the bypass was built, Greenhead was the only point west of Heddon-on-the-Wall at which the A69 met the A6138, and it remains the main road's closest point of approach to Hadrian's Wall west of there. To reach the village you turn off the A69. Greenhead itself lies in the valley of the Tipalt Burn. Though you could visit without realising it, the main line railway from Newcastle to Carlisle passes through the centre of the village in an almost north-south direction, following the bottom of the valley, but while the railway remains busy, Greenhead's station closed in 1967.
For such a small village, Greenhead is home to some surprisingly significant buildings, all constructed from the same honey coloured stone. It's always tempting to wonder where the stone on older buildings so close to the line of Hadrian's Wall actually came from, and it seems a fair bet that with the line of the wall being only a few hundred yards to the north, some of what you see today in Greenhead was originally quarried the better part of 2,000 years ago.
At the heart of the village is Greenhead Parish Church, dedicated to St Cuthbert and built here in 1828 by the Newcastle architect John Dobson. The church is actually screened from Glenwhelt Bank, the main road passing through Greenhead, by other buildings, but its spire is readily visible and helps reveal its location. Also on the north side of the main road is the Greenhead Hotel, a fine stone building.
On the south side of Glenwhelt Bank is Greenhead Village Hall. On the other side of the minor road heading north is Ye Olde Forge Tea Rooms, adjacent to what seems to be a working farmstead. A short way along the minor road, in what was originally a Methodist Church built in 1866, is the Greenhead Hostel, run in conjunction with the hotel. The availability of a range of accommodation is significant. The Pennine Way long distance footpath passes less than half a mile to the west of the village, before meeting the Hadrian's Wall Path and following it past the north side of Greenhead. These routes, and the Pennine Way in particular, ensure a steady stream of footweary visitors passing by the village, whose facilities can be enjoyed with only the most minor of diversions.
The history of settlement in the area around Greenhead can be traced back to the Bronze Age, but really took off with the arrival of the Romans. They first built a road, the Stanegate, across northern England, in about AD80. This was protected by a line of forts, one of which, at Carvoran, was intended to guard the crossing over the Tipalt Burn whose successor still stands in Greenhead today. The site of the fort is about half a mile to the north east of Greenhead, close to the location of the highly successful Roman Army Museum. Some 40 years after they had build the Stanegate fortifications, the Romans built Hadrian's Wall, and, as already noted, this ran along a line a few hundred yards north of Greenhead. North east of Greenhead, the wall follows a spectacular route along the top of Walltown Crags, while to the west its line heads towards Gilsland, and to Willowford Bridge and Birdoswald Roman Fort beyond.
The Romans were not the last residents of the area to feel the need to build fortifications. About a mile south of Greenhead is Blenkinsopp Castle, built by the Blenkinsopp family in the 1200s and crenellated in the 1340s. This later fell into disuse and ruin, but was rebuilt as a grand mansion in 1877 by William Blenkinsopp Coulson. It was later converted to serve as a hotel, but was badly damaged by fire in 1954, and large parts of it were subsequently demolished.
The border between England and Scotland was a very troubled place for many centuries, first because of war between the two nations from the end of the 1200s, and later because of bandits known as border reivers. Another indication of this can be found half a mile north of Greenhead, in the shape of the ruin of Thirlwall Castle. This appears to have been built in the 1200s as a hall house, intended to provide comfortable accommodation at a time when defensibility was not a major concern. It was rebuilt in the 1300s, using stone taken from Hadrian's Wall, to become a formidable, if fairly small, fortress. Today it is a ruin which can be visited by walking from a layby beside the B6318.
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