Saturday, 29 November 2014

The Mournful Bell of Coquet Dale

The Mournful Bell of Coquet Dale

One such story concerns Brinkburn Priory, lying secluded in a deep ravine inside a loop of the River Coquet in Northumberland. Apparently an army of Scottish raiders was plundering its way down Coquet Dale, setting fire to villages and farms as it went. The monks knew that their holy vocation would not save them from the attentions of the Scots, for gold and silver from crosses and reliquaries was as valuable as that from any other source. And the Scots had no fear of divine retribution nor respect for the God’s property. The monks hid fearfully in their hidden valley, hoping that the passing raiders would leave them alone.

One by one new columns of smoke rose into the air, marking the villages that the Scots passed through. The monks could track the path of the plunderers by watching the sky. Then the villages further away began to go up in flames, while the smoke from those closer to hand faded away as the flames died down. The Scots had passed on.

The prior fell to his knees in grateful prayer and ordered his brethren to prepare to celebrate a mass of thanksgiving to God for their escape. As monks filed into the church one younger brother who was less worldly than the others ran to ring the great bell that customarily marked the beginning of a service at Brinkburn. He pulled on the rope and the bell sounded out.

A mile away a straggling group of Scots scouts, heard the bell tolling. They realised that it could mean only that some village or settlement had escaped the attentions of their fellow raiders. Determined not to miss out on this chance, the invaders spurred their horses toward the sound of the bell.

Back at Brinkburn, the prior dragged the monk from the bell rope and silenced the ringing, but it was too late. The Scots were galloping down the lane that led to the priory. In desperation the monks fled, swimming the waters of the Coquet to escape. Behind them the Scots plundered the priory, torched the buildings and went on their way with their loot.

What happened to the fateful bell is something of a mystery. Some say that the fire set by the Scots burned through the timbers holding the bell in the tower and sent it crashing to the ground to roll into the Coquet. Another version states that when the monks returned, they themselves threw the bell into the river to punish it for having betrayed them to the enemy. Yet another tale says that the monks put the bell in to the river to save it from any future marauders. In all versions, the fateful bell ended up in the Coquet and there, it is said, it remains to this day. The legend says that it will toll mournfully from the depths when disaster is at hand.

from "Mysterious Northumberland" by Rupert Matthews.
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