Look at your modern-day road map in the area to the east of Thrunton Woods and you will pick up the prominent red trunk road that is the A697. It curves elegantly around the contours of the moorland thereabouts, avoiding all settlements of any size for several miles north from the
traveller reaches Powburn, some village
of Longframlington 11
miles distant. This mundane stretch of road has been
redirected and relain over at least three different courses during the
centuries and the evidence is easy enough to make out.
First of all – or at least as far back as we are able to go – there is the Roman road, the Devil’s Causeway. Your trusty OS map will show you that this early thoroughfare danced either side of the present-day road in a characteristically straight line on its way from Tynedale in the south to Berwick in the north. For occasional stretches it actually lies under the A697 – most notably for a two-mile run north of Powburn.
In time, of course, the road faded from view and out of use for the most part. In areas where it disappeared completely, new highways and byways were cut, linking the developing towns and villages. Actually, these ‘new’ roads were more often than not ancient tracks and drove roads which were revived and developed after the Romans left. In our example, the ‘new’ route through the area took folk over the moors to skirt the eastern fringe of what is now Thrunton Woods, and onwards through Whittingham and Glanton, before dropping down onto the Roman road again near Powburn. This road still exists (for most of its route, anyway) as a minor backroad, being familiar to those of us who regularly visit Thrunton Woods for its woodland trails.
As roads became evermore important for trade and commerce, so their generally poor condition became more and more of a concern. The muddy mess that was the Whittingham-Glanton route formed part of a major link between
Newcastle and Edinburgh,
especially after the opening of the bridge at Coldstream in 1767. Traffic
increased (including the introduction of passenger and mail stagecoaches) and
the roads deteriorated rapidly. In time, Parliament stepped in to force
improvement with the passing of the Turnpike Acts.
decision was taken to build a new trunk road along the course with which we are
familiar today. The A697, as it is now called, skirts away from Thrunton,
Whittingham and Glanton, gliding unhindered through gentle moorland to the
east. It then drops down through Crawley Dene to Powburn, where it meets up
with its predecessors.
The A697 has been tinkered with plenty since, but mostly just a little widening and considerable resurfacing. Its ‘history’, though, is still plain for all to see on the modern-day map.
Note: this short piece was inspired by Mike Smith’s article at www.powburn.com/a-history-of-the-a697/
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