A tour of the Paxton-Norham loop that is steeped in fascinating history

Travelling out of town along Castle Terrace, Paxton Road is nought but a shadow of its former self, sheared in two by the by-pass.

Friday, 25th June 2021, 11:59 am
The former control tower at Winfield aerodrome.
The former control tower at Winfield aerodrome.

If, however, you persevere, you can pick up the same road, thereafter un-mutilated, and make your way over the River Whiteadder to the village from which the lane takes its name.

Paxton was fashioned over some five centuries by the Home family, a name to be conjured with in these parts.

The name comes from the hillock on which Hume castle stands – ‘Hom’ was an old English word meaning ‘hilly outcrop’.

The church at Ladykirk, also known as Kirk o' Steill.

The Homes of Wedderburn divided into two in the 15th century. One family settled in Coldstream and the other at Paxton; Homes have lived at Paxton since those times.

Indeed, it was on account of the generosity John Home Robertson, a scion of that same family, that Paxton House was passed over to the Historic Houses Preservation Trust in 1988.

The first we see of the house and grounds are the Palladian-style lodges on the roadside opposite the village.

The house itself stands in a dramatic position above the Tweed.

The present Palladian villa was designed by John Adam for Patrick Home in 1758.

Built in warm pink sandstone from a local quarry, it has a striking north front of seven bays –screen passages link the main building to two pavilions.

They are further connected by screen walls to out-buildings.

On the south front, a picture gallery and library adjoins the main building.

The grounds, or to use the Scottish term, the ‘policies’ were laid out by Robert Robinson at the same time as the building of the house.

There is much to see here, not only the building itself but the pictures in the gallery which form an outpost of the National Gallery of Art for Scotland.

In summer months, there is a series of classical music concerts.

It’s a marvellous place for a family outing and there’s a good cafe here too.

Just three miles along the road, travelling west, brings you to the site of the former Winfield aerodrome.

Now almost entirely given over to farming, nonetheless remnants of the old airfield remain.

The control tower is clearly visible from the road.

This interesting former airfield (then named Horndean) was first established for the Royal Flying Corps after the nearby hamlet.

Linked to the aerodrome at Turnhouse, now Edinburgh Airport, No 77 Squadron was based here, part of a home defence unit.

The base closed between the wars and reopened in 1942 as a satellite to RAF Charterhall, the aerodrome where the intrepid pilot and writer Richard Hillary had returned to service after his Spitfire was shot down in September 1940.

The focus here was on training night-fighters, including Beaufighters, Blenheims and Beauforts, although some Spitfires were here temporarily.

From 1944 on, the famous De Havilland Mosquitoes took over.

It closed in 1945 and the Borders Reivers’ Flying Club used it for a while, after which motor racing thrived for a time with 50,000+ people attending one event in 1951!

Travelling south from Winfield takes you through Horndean to Ladykirk.

Ladykirk, a later name, was adopted to describe the twin hamlets of Horndean and Upsettlington.

Upsettlington, with its mansion and impressive gateways was the home of the Marjoribanks family.

At the crossroads in Ladykirk, is a drinking fountain built to resemble a mediaeval conduit, but finished with classical detail.

It was built for Lady Marjoribanks at the very end of the 19th century.

Ladykirk church is a most interesting building. Also sometimes known as the Kirk of Steill, it was built under the patronage of the ill-fated James IV, who was slain at the Battle of Flodden.

Cruciform with an attractive apsidal end, it was built at the turn of the 16th century. The pattern of apse plus transepts is unique in Scotland.

There is stone barrel vaulting throughout and the roofs are also of stone flagging.

The tower was completed by the then local landowners in 1743.

Moving on southwards from Ladykirk takes you over the fine bridge built by Thomas Codrington and Cuthbert Brereton in 1887. It replaced the former timber bridge of only 40 years earlier.

Entering Norham on its western periphery, you pass the site of a 12th century religious house which lasted for only a short time and was probably a leper or lazar hospital.

The church is a fine Romanesque building built on the site of a ninth century Anglo-Saxon building, which had associations with Cuthbert through the path taken by his coffin when being rescued from Danish pillagers.

The village retains a bakery and one or two shops but there is clear evidence of this large village being a more significant centre in earlier centuries.

Most commanding of all is the ruin of the castle towering over the bluff which falls down to the Tweed.

The castle was sacked by the Scots on their way to Flodden in 1513 but remained the property of the Prince-bishops of Durham.

William Turner painted both a watercolour and an oil of the castle which he believed first set him on the path to fame!