Belford is a charming village which can be found just to the west of the main A1 road about mid way between Berwick-upon-Tweed and Alnwick. It is difficult to believe today, but until 1983, when the bypass opened, the A1 actually ran right through the centre of the village. The Belford you see today is much quieter and infinitely more pleasant than it would have been had it not been bypassed.
In many ways, Belford's location on the main road between Newcastle and Edinburgh helped shape its story and define what it is today. This is nowhere more obvious than in the centre where the approach north along High Street appears to be closed off by the strikingly attractive Blue Bell Hotel. This began life in the mid 1700s as a coaching inn serving the long distance horse drawn coaches passing through the village. In a settlement largely built of stone, the Blue Bell's brick finish is a surprise, though this is largely concealed by ivy.
The name of the Blue Bell is given added emphasis by the presence of a large blue bell hanging from the front wall, though over the years its lines appear to have been softened by repeated coats of paint. Nearby is the stone arch which we assume originally led through to stables, where changes of horses could be fed and accommodated.
Stagecoaches were effectively put out of business by the coming of the railways. Belford gained a railway station on the East Coast Main Line in September 1869, though the line had been operating since 1852. Belford Station stood a mile to the east of the village, just off the B1342 from the A1 to Bamburgh and Seahouses, and we say "stood" because it closed in 2005 "for safety reasons". At the time the station opened, it was possible to travel by rail between Edinburgh's Waverley Station and London's King's Cross Station in 10½ hours.
It becomes clear just why the railways put stagecoaches out of business when you realise that the 10½ hours of the railway journey can be directly compared with a best journey time of over 60 hours for a mail coach in the 1790s. One timetable (or, rather, "time-bill") we have seen has the mail coach leaving the Post Office in Edinburgh at 3.45 in the afternoon. It arrives in Berwick-upon-Tweed at 11.45 at night, where half an hour is allowed for supper. It then arrives in Belford, presumably at the Blue Bell Hotel, at 2.45 in the morning. Newcastle is reached at 9.05 in the morning, where 30 minutes is allowed for breakfast... and so on, with Doncaster being reached at 4.55 on the second morning, and the General Post Office in London at 4.25 on the third morning.
What this means in practice is that Belford has effectively been bypassed twice in its history. The coach traffic around which it grew disappeared when the railway opened, and the through traffic along the Great North Road disappeared when the A1 bypass was built to the east of the village. Presumably the early adjustment to the reduction in passing trade must have been difficult on each occasion, but as we've already said, today's Belford is a far better place for its bypass. This does mean, however, that you need to make a slight effort to visit: it's an effort well worth making.
If you are approaching from the south, you find yourself driving along High Street as it curves round to present you with the attractive vista shown in the header photo. There are a number of small and interesting shops in Belford, not least the fascinating Wooden Toy Shop close to the Blue Bell Hotel. The village also has a number of hostelries on offer, including The Salmon, lower down the High Street, and the Black Swan, on the east side of the main street near the Blue Bell.
Above and behind the Blue Bell and the other buildings occupying the corner of what becomes Church Street is the Parish Church of St Mary Belford. This was largely rebuilt in 1828-9, but at its core survive elements, especially the chancel arch, of a Norman church originally built in about 1200.
West Street, which heads off, predictably, to the west leads eventually to Wooller. Within Belford it is home to some of the more recent elements of the village, including a Co Op supermarket and the John Dory Fish and Chip Shop. Close by is the entrance to one of the caravan parks serving the village.
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