Yeavering Bell – Botany

This photograph of the hill shows the rounded topography of the Cheviots and the progression from agricultural fields through tree and bush cover through moorland vegetation to scree slopes and rocky outcrops.

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Yeavering Bell at 360m is one of the smaller hills in the Cheviot range. At its foot lies Ad Gefrin, the 7th Century, the palace of King Edwin of Northumbria and his successors.  Bede mentions it as the spot where Bishop Paulinus baptised Christian converts in the River Glen in 627 AD. No one knew its exact location until 1949, when an archaeology professor taking aerial photos spotted crop marks. Excavations in the 1950s and 1960s revealed a huge complex of great timber halls of more than 26 metres in length. There were kitchens, a timber grandstand, a weaving shed and a ‘Great Enclosure’. The site is now a grassy field and lies next to a Nature Reserve in a fenced off quarry.

By the path crossing a stream, Monkeyflower (Mimulus guttatus), a frequently seen plant by freshwater streams in the Cheviots. Gorse is also common on sandy lower slopes with accompanying Yellowhammers singing.

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By the Farmstead, Good King Henry (Blitum bonus-henricus). An Archaeophyte and the only perennial Goosefoot, the mealy leaves are longer-than-wide and vaguely triangular but the dense panicles of small flowers are usually without leaves within the flower-spike itself. Once used as a farmyard vegetable, I have also seen it growing in coastal locations.

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Typical sward from the lowest slopes sprinkled with Harebell (Campanula rotundifolia) known as the bluebell in Scotland. Delicate looking but tough enough to compete with the grasses.

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Lesser Hawkbit (Leontodon saxitilis) shown in closer view below.

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Tormentil (Potentilla erecta) also ubiquitous, growing  with Climbing Corydalis (Ceratocapnos claviculata) seedlings.

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Musk thistle (Carduus nutans) on the lower rough pasture, pleasantly scented, it prefers calcareous soils.

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Ling heather (Calluna vulgaris) occurred in extensive patches surrounded by Bracken. The regular areas appeared to be managed for game birds although they made a glorious purple displays.

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Bilberry (Vaccinium myrtillus) another carpeting shrub had finishing flowering and its dark blue berries were beginning to form.

 

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Apart from a wonderful vista the top is rough and grassy. This fort was the largest of its kind in Northumberland, and had dry stone walls constructed around both of the Bell’s peaks. On the hill, over a hundred Iron Age roundhouses were constructed, supporting a large local population. The tribal group in the area was, according to later written sources, a group known as the Votadini. The remains of the perimeter wall can be seen to the right in the picture below.

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The path down from the Hillfort on a north- west facing slope, had a different suite of plants growing and little Bracken. The hairy leaves below had no flower stalks on show but I think it must be Bog Cotton (Eriophorum angustifolium) a member of the Cyperaceae family.

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Not common here, I found only one example Bell Heather (Erica cinerea) growing amid Heath Bedstraw.  An excellent plant for pollinators, it prefers drier acid condition,

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whereas Wild thyme (Thymus polytrichus) although growing not far away thrives on limy soils.

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White Stonecrop (Sedum album) also a lime lover grows on or near rocks.

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Wood Sage (Teucrium scorodonia) surprised me. Some sources say it grows in acid soils others that it grown on Limestone pavements.

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A final view of the Cheviot summit showing extensive heather management and the dark green encroaching Bracken on the lower slopes.

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Yeavering Bell means ‘the hill of goats’ and we were lucky to see many feral goats (Capra aegagrus) thought to be descended from Neolithic or Iron age stock.

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Reference:

https://www.northumberlandnationalpark.org.uk/places-to-visit/the-cheviots/ad-gefrin/

http://www.wildflowerfinder.org.uk/

Collins Wild Flowers Guide (2nd edition)

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