It was a quick getaway from Rothbury as soon as we had eaten – three or four carfuls of us made for the car park high above the town on the edge of Simonside.espite the generous portions served at the Newcastle Hotel, we somehow managed to struggle up the hill for a mile and a half, reaching the turning to the Little Church Rock just as the setting sun shone directly through the pine trees. I heard one of our number give an audible “Wow” as they turned the corner and the Rock came into view – towering above the clearing.
We scrambled up the slope and assembled alongside the top of the rock – a wonderfully atmospheric spot, though unfortunately one that the midges had found before us. But Dave struggled bravely on leading our act of worship: as we sang appropriately, “but the steep and rugged pathway may we tread rejoicingly”. The service in the presence of midges was demanding - but, as in every case today, moving too.And so far as the site was concerned, it was only as we made our way cautiously back down the slope that some of us discovered the real romantic element of it all – the natural pulpit set in the side of the rock which one of our group tried out with a splendid rendition of a Shakespeare sonnet, literally reverberating across the valley. However, whether there is any true link here with secret worship and illegal post 1662 conventicles is doubtful – though there is the possibility that a covenanter on the run from Scottish forces of law and order later found refuge somewhere in these hills.
But then, as our resident historian told us, probably the more common and profitable illegal activity taking place over the centuries existed in the many stills that managed to remain well hidden from the customs men.For all the excitements that Rothbury may offer its weekend visitors, we were happy to get back to the Bunkhouse just before dark, and spend a quiet evening catching up with Olympics news and enjoying coffee and cake to make up for the puddings we missed earlier on.