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Cateran Hill

Cave / Rock Shelter

<b>Cateran Hill</b>Posted by LauraCImage © Laura Challis
Also known as:
  • Cateran Hole
  • Cateran's Hole

Nearest Town:Alnwick (13km SE)
OS Ref (GB):   NU109235 / Sheet: 75
Latitude:55° 30' 18.05" N
Longitude:   1° 49' 38.69" W

Added by Rhiannon

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<b>Cateran Hill</b>Posted by Hob <b>Cateran Hill</b>Posted by Hob <b>Cateran Hill</b>Posted by Hob <b>Cateran Hill</b>Posted by Hob <b>Cateran Hill</b>Posted by LauraC <b>Cateran Hill</b>Posted by LauraC


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The Cateran Hole is described as being very difficult to find. So how chuffed with myself was I to find it with no problem at all, straight there, in knee deep snow, without a gps? Very. The snow made descending a bit precarious, it's enough of a drop that you'd damage yourself if you fell in.

It's re-working in medieval times would presumably have destroyed any traces of prehistoric activity, but I was intrigued by the pile of largish (2-3ft across) boulders that are piled up about 10m to the SW of the entrance.

My plans to find the end of the cave went awry as the meltwater from the ridiculous amounts of snow meant that after about 20m, it would have required diving gear to keep going. So any hopes that there may be faint carvings to be found went unrealised.

I have to get back here in drier conditions and have a good mooch about.
Hob Posted by Hob
30th January 2010ce


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Another and seemingly older interpretation of the name:
Oaks of a great size, firm and sound, have been taken out of a large moss on Bewick-Moor, called King's Moss, by the road from Chillingham to Alnwick, near a noted aperture in a freestone-rock, called Catherine's cave.
From 'The Natural History and Antiquities of Northumberland', v1, by John Wallis (1769).

And for another version of the story about bold adventurers exploring the tunnel, it's rather fun to see George Tate himself do the retelling, in The Border Magazine, November 1863.
Rhiannon Posted by Rhiannon
4th May 2013ce
Edited 5th May 2013ce

[Originally in the Newcastle Weekly Chronicle newspaper?] A. Scorer writes, "There is a cavern on Bewick Moor called the 'Cateran's Hole,' which has not been fully explored, although tradition mentions an adventurer proceeding so far that he heard supernatural visitants dancing round the Hurlstone."

John Slobbs, London, says, "I suppose this will be a version of a story I heard in the far north many years ago. It was of a cavern, somewhere, and nobody knew where it went to, or where it ended. An adventurous wight made up his mind to solve the difficulty and win renown in his own rustic circle.

He therefore took seven years' meat and seven years' candles, or seven days' meat and seven days' candles - I cannot say which exactly, but either will do - and started on his journey. And as happens in all such cases, he travelled and travelled and travelled. And he travelled until he had only one-half of his meat and one half of his candles left. Then he began to consider that if he travelled much further, and did not reach the end of his journey, or an opening to get out of some way, he would neither have meat nor candles to serve him on his road back, and consequently must die there and never more be heard of.

And so it happened that whilst he was studying what to do, and quite at a loss to know whether to return or proceed, he heard a voice saying -
'Jee woah agyen
Turn back the stannin' styen.'
And he took it as a warning, and returned to his home and kindred." The writer's impression was that the cavern he had heard of was on Greenside Hill, near Glanton.

J. Swinhoe, writing on the same subject, relates: "It was always believed that there was a subterraneous passage clear all the way from Cateran's Hole, on Bewick Moor, to Hell's Hole (more frequently called Hen's Hole), a wild ravine at the foot of Cheviot Hill, and that in the olden, troublous times of Border warfare it was frequently used both for purposes of offence and defence, for concealment of person and property, and as the means of transporting rieving bands of hostile borderers from the one locality to the other.

An adventurer, our wight, made up his mind to test the truth of its existence, and took provisions and candles - whether for seven years or seven days, I cannot exactly tell either - but he travelled on and on until the consumption of half his stock suggested the necessity of returning; and just when he was wondering where he might be, and what he should do, he plainly heard overhead the voice of a ploughman, saying to his horses:
"Hup aboot and gee agyeen,
Roond aboot the Whirlstyen." "

He states that an acquaintance recently explored the cavern on Bewick Moor, and it ended in something less than forty yards; in no simple obstruction, but solid rock.

There was a different tradition about the termini of this supposed underground passage in Horsley's time. He says that "at Hebburn," which is near Chillingham, and by the crags under which lie Hebburn Wood, behind which stretch wastes of peaty moor, connected with the moorlands that stretch to Bewick, "is a hole called Heytherrie Hole, which people imagine to be an entrance into a subterraneous passage, continued as far as Dunsdale on the west (north rather) side of Cheviot Hill, where there is another hole of the same kind called Dunsdale Hole." *
*Materials for a History of Northumberland.

It is told of "Eelin's Hole," which lies far up among the rocks on the east side of the Henhole Ravine, that a piper having once entered it to explore it, his music continued to be heard for half-way across the interval betweixt it and Cateran's Hole, on Bewick Moor. Like other pipers in a similar predicament, his tune terminated in --
"I doubt, I doubt I'll ne'er win out."
Inspired by Hob's photos of this strange place, I found this in the Folklore Society's reprint of the Denham Tracts (vol. 2), 1895.
Rhiannon Posted by Rhiannon
30th January 2010ce
Edited 3rd February 2010ce

On the north side of the hill "there is a natural cave, called the Cateranes' Hole, formed by a narrow fissure in the freestone rock, and descending towards the west to a very great depth, at an angle of about 15 degrees. 'By this instructive name, we learn,' observes Mr. Hedley, 'that this cave has probably been, in former times, the hidden retreat of Cateranes, an old Scotch word, signifying 'bands of robbers*'

*or probably, heroic freedom fighters, depending on what side you're on.
From 'An historical, topographical, and descriptive view of the county of Northumberland' by Eneas MacKenzie (1825).

There's a picture by J C Ousby on Geograph:
Rhiannon Posted by Rhiannon
14th March 2008ce
Edited 24th August 2010ce


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The 'Magic' map has a cairn cemetery marked at this point on the NE side of the hill (unfortunately it gives no more details as yet). Rhiannon Posted by Rhiannon
14th March 2008ce


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University of Bristol Spelaeological Society

Geological / caving descriptions of caves in the area: the Cateran Hole, one at Routin Lynn (NT982368), and another on Dod Law (NU 004310).
Rhiannon Posted by Rhiannon
3rd November 2009ce
Edited 3rd November 2009ce