Seasonal Archaeology: The Water Castle at Late Summer Sunset, Northumbria

The Water Castle, converted water tower, at sunset, Newton, Northumberland, September 2022.

Late summer is a transitional time in the landscape and in northern England harvests of all kinds have borne fruit, from hedgerows to fields, whilst many trees have already started to turn in colour. Whilst the piles of dried leaves drifting along the winding roads are in part a reflection of the dry hot summer, they are also a sign that the seasons are about to change. When precisely autumn starts is never clear. Whether it’s the 1st September or the autumnal equinox (on the 22nd Sept in 2022), it moves stealthily across the landscape like a gently rising tide. By the end of August, the shift towards autumn is already event in the coldness of the early morning air and wisps of mist gathering in the valley.

Holidaying in the Northumberland countryside makes this very evident, in contrast to the balmy climate of southern Manchester, where my figs have produced an abundant crop this year. In this image, with the setting sun reflects off the clouds, framing the converted remains of a mid-19th century water tank, known whimsically as the Water Castle. The colours of the sky hint at the autumn to come, whilst the lush green of the grass in the foreground belies the drought of the summer, felt even in this traditionally damp part of northern England.

This former water tower was built in the early 1860s, the gravity water supply feeding Mowden Hall to the north. The building was designed by architect John Dobson (1787-1865), who was working on additions to the hall at the time. It contained two rectangular cast-iron tanks, made from metal panels bolted together. As befitted an estate building of the mid-Victorian period, the stone walls of the water tower were castellated, perhaps a reference to the ruins of the Roman wall, running just a few kilometers to the north. Adjacent and to the west of the water tower is an underground tank, which sits on the top of the hill. The building was converted into a cottage in 2005, when the current window arrangement was added, and the surrounding patio built. These features provide a fascinating and at times wonderous vista of the Tyne valley around Corbridge to the east, especially at sunrise and sunset as the days grow shorter and late summer becomes chillier at either end of the day.

The Water Castle during conversion in 2005, showing one of the two iron tanks.

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