Northumberland is full of beautiful little villages nestled in the sheep covered hills. One of my favorites is the tiny village of Elsdon. My namesake. According to the local tea shop owner at least one branch of the Elsdon family name began with a foundling left on the steps of the church in the 1700s who was named Cuthbert Elsdon. Cuthbert after the church (which was of course named after St. Cuthbert) and Elsdon after the town.
I have been to Elsdon three times so far during our sabbatical. The first time was a few weeks ago when I met two friends to do a spectacular bike ride that started in Elsdon and took us up into the Cheviot hills. As my brother-in-law put it, the ride was “from Elsdon, to Elsdon, by Elsdon.” One of the best parts of the ride was riding off the map. There is a beautiful road that follows the River Coquet and then simply ends. At least on the map. But in reality the road continues up into British Ministry of Defense military practice ranges. As long as the red warning flags aren’t up cyclists are welcome to ride into this stark and ruggedly beautiful territory. But even when the flags aren’t up they still warn you that…
This sign is a little unnerving, but I found that the most dangerous element of the ride was not unexploded weapons but a small, new-born lamb. In much of the countryside sheep and lambs are contained behind stone walls or fences. But up in the more remote and rugged regions there are no such barriers separating human from woolly beast. As we were making our way down a very welcome descent, we came to an area that was teeming with sheep and baby lambs. Most of the time they paid no attention to us until we were right upon them at which point they would bolt off up the hills on either side of the road. But one lamb made a mistake and ran the wrong way. Right into my bike. After I got over the shock of hitting a lamb and not being thrown off my bike, I stopped to see if the lamb was okay. He must have been well enough, because instead of running away he circled back around, dropped his little head, and ran at the wheel of my bike! I must have released some kind of butting instinct because he was mad and was going to make me pay. Thankfully he hadn’t yet grown the big horns of the mother sheep that was eyeing me with great consternation. I didn’t want to find out what kind of damage she could do with those horns so we quickly rode on. I later asked my cycling friend how old the lambs are when they are eaten. He responded, “I guess whenever you run them over with your bike.”
A couple of weeks ago I went to Elsdon again – that time I rode there on my bike. It was a lovely 60 mile round-trip ride. I ate at the tea room and chatted with some of the many cyclists who make Elsdon their destination or starting point.
And then today I went back for a third visit. This time it was with my family. My sister, brother-in-law, and niece are visiting from California. My parents are also here in the area staying with my grandmothers. So we all piled into cars on this rainy and very cold day and took a trip up to Elsdon.
There really isn’t much to see or do in Elsdon. The population was over 2000 people hundreds of years ago but is now home to just 177 people. It is made up of a central village green surrounded by a circle of homes just one house deep. There is a pub that I’ve never seen open, St. Cuthbert’s church, and a tea room. So we did the natural English thing to do on a cold rainy day – we had a cup of tea and a scone. We chatted with the tea room owner, the same man who told us the history of Cuthbert Elsdon last year. He pulled out a list of Elsdon’s who had visited the tea room over the years. As my dad looked over the list he exclaimed, “There was someone here from Roswell, Georgia in 1989! We lived in Roswell for a number of years.” We all exclaimed that was such a coincidence until he continued by saying, “And they lived on the same street as us” at which point it slowly dawned on us that the mysterious visitors from Georgia in 1989 were not some long-lost relatives but were in fact, us. We had come to Elsdon back when I was in junior high.
There isn’t much to do in Elsdon. The main purpose of going was to get a photo of all three generations of us in our namesake village. But it is a special place that connects us with our past. With past visits that we have made (and forgotten!) and with possible ancestors that we’ve never traced on a family tree. As a kid I always thought it was cool to know that I shared my surname with a pretty village in northern England. As our girls return home from this English experience I hope that they too will find some grounding in the memory of the ancient village that may have given them their name.