A pleasant walk of half a mile or so along the river bank from Warkworth brings you to the crossing point for the Warkworth Hermitage. Ring the bell, and the ferryman-cum-custodian will row across to pick you up and take you to the other side. From here it is a short walk to the Hermitage.
Check the English Heritage website for opening times etc.
And what an extraordinary place it is. Carved out of what was presumably a natural sandstone cave is a small Chapel, complete with Rib vaulting and an Altar, a Sacristy and a pair of small rooms that are believed to be the hermitʼs original living quaters.
To the right of the altar is a very worn carving that the official guidebook refers to as the Nativity Scene. I have to say that I couldnʼt see it. To me it looked much more like the grave slab of a lady. Admittedly a very small lady, and one who could not have been buried there as it is carved from the living rock.
In Ghosts and Legends of Northumbria there is a much better explanation which, much abridged, reads:
There are several versions of the legend, one of which tells of Sir Bertram of Bothal one of the Earl Percyʼs knights who was betrothed to the Lady Isabel, the daughter of Lord Widdrington.
Badly wounded in a fierce and bloody battle when the Earl Percy led his knights to attack the Earl Douglas, Sir Bertram sent a message to Isabel begging her to come to his side. However, he waited in vain for her to arrive and as soon as he was able to ride, he set out with his brother to Isabelʼs home. There he was dismayed to learn that she had left immediately she received the message, and must have been kidnapped.
Sir Bertram and his brother set off in different directions to find her. Wandering through the countryside, often in disguise, Sir Bertram eventually heard about a beautiful princess held captive in the tower of a remote castle. Arriving at the castle he was unable to gain admittance and, keeping watch in a nearby cave, he eventually saw Isabel framed in the window of the tower. Exhausted he fell into a deep sleep.
Awoken by strange noises, he saw Isabel being helped down a rope ladder, by a figure in Highland costume. Brandishing his sword, Sir Bertram ran to the attack and dealt his opponent a terrible blow. The terrified Isabel, recognising Sir Bertramʼs voice, rushed between the two men shrieking, "Stop, wait, itʼs your own brother". But it was too late. The next huge blow from Bertramʼs sword killed them both.
Returning to Warkworth, Bertram gave all his lands and wealth away to the poor, and built the tiny Hermitage, where he lived in solitude for the rest of his life. In the chapel he built an altar-tomb with the effigy of a beautiful lady, her hands raised in prayer. At her feet kneels the figure of a hermit, his left hand pressed to his heart, as if in sorrow. Over the doorway he carved an inscription, which translated reads: "My tears have been my meat night and day".
If nothing else it shows Iʼm not the only one who finds the Nativity Scene description unsatisfactory.
Warkworth Castle from near the Hermitage
In later years, subsequent hermits became far less abstemious. In fact in the 1530s the then hermit, one George Lancastre, not only received a salary of £13.33 (20 Marks) for acting as the Earlʼs agent, he also had pasture for twelve cattle, a bull and two horses, received twenty loads of firewood a year and a catch of fish each Sunday.
He had outgrown the original accommodation, and the substantial remains of the stone built 14th century Hall, Chamber and Kitchen can be seen outside the original cave.
As an alternative to walking back along the river, you can take the metalled track opposite the ferry landing, which goes up the hill, along the back of a row of houses and across the fields to Warkworth Castle.