The picture postcard pretty village of Etal can be found just to the north-east of the main A697 as it runs between Wooler and Coldstream. In terms of distances, it stands just over eight miles north-west of Wooler, and five miles east of Coldstream. You can reach it either by turning off the A697, or via the B6354, which runs down from Berwick-upon-Tweed.
Together with the larger nearby village of Ford and the tiny hamlet of Heatherslaw, Etal is an estate village on the Ford and Etal Estates, the sort of managed landscape that is becoming increasingly rare in the modern era. What you find at Etal is a single street which stretches from its junction with the B6354 at one end to the imposing gatehouse of Etal Castle at the other. This is flanked by largely white-painted houses and cottages, plus a spectacularly attractive pub, a friendly tea room, and a village hall. Across the "B" road is the gate lodge to Etal Manor, in whose grounds you find The Chapel of St Mary the Virgin, built as a memorial to the then late owner of the estate, Lt. Gen. Lord Frederick Fitzclarence, by his widow in 1858.
At the heart of the village is the Black Bull, which has the distinction of being Northumberland's only thatched pub. There was a time when many of the buildings in Etal (and across Northumberland more widely) would have been thatched, but now only the pub and a row of cottages on the opposite side of the street share this feature. Most of the other buildings are roofed in large stone slates, and one of the things that sets Etal apart from most small villages is the way that buildings of obviously different ages blend harmoniously together along the length of the main street.
The Black Bull manages to convey a great deal of atmosphere, both externally and internally, and has a reputation for good food and drink. One thing you won't find inside, however, is a real fire: though it has fireplaces, using them is apparently seen as too much of a risk to the thatch. The other downside of a thatched roof is the need to replace it every 25 years. This was last done in 1999, so is next due to happen some time around 2024.
Nearly opposite the Black Bull is Etal Post Office, which combines the roles of village shop, tourist information centre and the Lavender Tearooms. On a nice day there can be few more congenial places to sip your coffee than sitting at one of the tables in the nice garden in front of the tearooms. Though it is not obvious as you stroll along the village street, the River Till forms a large loop around the western side of Etal. Also easy to miss is that Etal is a terminus for the 6.5km long Heatherslaw Light Railway, which operates services to and from Heatherslaw.
What is rather more obvious is the presence at the west end of the main street of Etal Castle. The story of Etal is closely related to the story of the castle, which is covered in detail on our feature about it. Its origins in the 1100s were as the focus of a manor, or estate, granted to the Manners family by the Norman Barony of Wooler in return for an obligation of military support when the need arose. Over a number of generations the Manners built first a wooden hall, then a stone replacement, and then, in 1341, a defensive tower house.
Most of the rest of the rectangular castle whose remains you can see today was built in the years around 1360. By the end of the 1400s the Manners family had relocated to less war torn estates they had married into in Rutland, and later generations went on to become Earls and Dukes of Rutland. Etal Castle was captured by a large Scottish army in 1513, and then rapidly abandoned by them after their catastrophic defeat at the nearby Battle of Flodden. Later owners of the castle appear to have used the tower house as a residence until Etal Manor was built at the other end of the village in 1748.
Over time the River Till became home to a number of water mills, and for centuries there was a ferry service across it. Etal in the 1800s seems to have been a relatively bustling place. Etal Colliery had opened in the 1700s, on a site a mile and a half to the north-east of today's village, and there were a number of other small mines in the area. None survived more than a few years into the 1900s.
Etal Estate and the neighbouring Ford Estate were purchased by the 1st Baron Joicey of Chester le Street in 1908 and 1907 respectively, bringing together estates which at times in the early 1400s had openly and violently feuded with one another. Baron Joicey did much to restore the parts of the castle then still standing and turn the village into the attractive place it is today. The Joicey family continue to own the Ford and Etal Estates.