Hulne Priory
Hulne Priory
Hulne Priory was founded in 1240 by Carmelite monks, making it perhaps the first Carmelite priory in England. The priory was destroyed during the Dissolution of the Monasteries by Henry VIII, but considerable parts of the monastic buildings remain intact. Among the remains are scattered 18th century sculptures of monks praying.

History

One of the unusual features at Hulne is that the monastic buildings are contained within a retaining wall, a reminder that during much of the medieval period Northumberland was a battleground between Scots and english. In the late 15th century the monastery defences were improved by adding a sturdy pele tower, a form of fortified lookout, allowing the monks to retreat inside the tower if trouble threatened.

Much of the priory is in ruins, though the infirmary walls have been restored and now stand to their full height, though there is no roof. There is a well-preserved triple sedilia in the priory church, with very finely carved arcading.

After the priory was dissolved the property fell to the Percy family, Dukes of Northumberland, and the priory buildings now stand amidst Hulne Park, used by the Dukes as a hunting park. A very short walk away is Alnwick Abbey Gatehouse, the only surviving part of a 12th century Premonstratensian abbey.

17th century statue by priory gates
17th c. statue by priory gates

Getting there

Access is only on foot. Park on the left side of Rotten Row, off the B6346 road to Wooler. Access to the Park is limited, at this writing 11-sunset, but it is worth checking first. At the top of Ratten Row is a castellated gatehouse called Forest Lodge. Go through the Lodge gateway and follow one of three colour-coded, waymarked trails through the park.

The quickest way to the Priory site is to follow Walk 3, coloured in red on the information panel near the Lodge. The route takes you along Farm Drive before branching off to cross the River over a picturesque iron bridge. From the far side of the Alne the trail rises steeply up to the walled priory site on top of a hill overlooking the river.

There are no information panels inside the priory walls, which is a shame, but visitors are welcome to explore the ruins. To return you can simply retrace your steps, or continue following Walk 3 as it completes a circuit beside the river and through woodland before reaching Forest Lodge again. The complete circuit is 4.7 miles, and though the going is easy it will take at least 90 minutes to walk the whole route.

I loved visiting Hulne Priory. The site is remarkably complete, and the statues of monks give the ruins a slightly whimsical, romantic atmosphere. The pele tower has been well-restored, and part of the priory ruins have been made into modern accommodation, but the site still gives off a wonderful sense of antiquity.