Drifting in moonlight,

the dunes sing their songs.

Wings of old battles

fly all night long.

Cry of the seagulls,

curse of the ghosts;

aches of dead warriors

scar this old coast.

Hover the kestrel,

sing out the lark,

we will be free in our time.

This air is our breath,

this sea is our thirst

and our dreams are sailing home.

Wandering through castles,

their walls are our lungs.

Seaching for freedom

in country homes.

Forbears and old cares

blown in the wind;

pull of loved harbours

draws our boats in.

Surge of the salmon

and urge of the sea

leaps in our local blood.

Peel of the bluebells

and ring of bold tunes

reel in all those grey years.

Slopes of the Cheviots,

caress of the waves.

Shipwrecks and driftwood

float in our heads.

Pele stones and carved bones

hide in these hills,

roots of new stories

in ancient tales.

Dew on our lips

and beer on the breath,

drinking the countryside in.

Bread of the landscape

and wine of this earth,

flows on these river beds.

Drifting in moonlight,

the dunes sing their songs.

Wings of old battles

fly all night long.

Cry of the seagulls,

curse of the ghosts;

aches of dead warriors

scar this old coast.

Hover the kestrel,

sing out the lark,

we will be free in our time.

This air is our breath,

this sea is our thirst

and our dreams are sailing home.



Twin the Tweed with the Volga,
let salmon jump in Red Square.
Join in a Berwick Revolution,
let a glasnost breeze blow here.

There’s this comrade in Barrels Ale House,
looks like Nikita Khrushchev.
There’s a Moscow moon on top of his head,
his face is all ruddy and red.
Back in Russia,
there’s a border reiver,
a wild vodka look in his eye,
he’s riding a horse like a cossack
from Vladivostok to Tweedmouth and back.

Reach across water me darling,
it’s worth it.
Spread out your nets and your arms.
You might get a hot Russian lover
and Igor a sweet Berwickshire lass.

So twin the Tweed with the Volga,
let salmon jump in Red Square.
Join in a Berwick Revolution,
let a glasnost breeze blow here.

There’s this strapping lad in the Kremlin,
he’s from a Spittal back lane.
He’s wearing old Lenin’s disused fur hat,
there’s a Marxist tattoo on his chest.
Back in Berwick,
there’s a soviet cosmonaut,
with a fishing rod in his hand,
he’s trying for a catch in the gathering dusk
as the river slides from yellow to black. 

Share a strong jar with me sweetheart,
it’s warm now.
Hold the smile on your face.
You can sail light on the Baltic
and fly to the Urals with me.  

So twin the Tweed with the Volga,
let salmon jump in Red Square.
Join in a Berwick Revolution,
let a glasnost breeze blow here.


(Commissioned by Berwick-upon-Tweed Council, 2006)

Because it changed hands between Scotland and England so many times, when the Crimean War was declared, Berwick received a separate namecheck, along with England, Scotland and Queen Victoria's overseas dominions. But, alas, it was left out of the Treaty of Paris which concluded the war. Thus Berwick remained at war with Russia until 1966, when a visiting diplomat signed an armistice with the town.
"At last," declared the Mayor, "the people of the Soviet Union can sleep safely in their beds."



Tammy Spence he had no sense,
he bought a fiddle for eighteen pence
and all the tunes that he could play
was ‘O’er the Hills and Far Away’.

From Cow Road to Hud’s Head,
Toppye Knowe Stone and Spittal Point,
we have dredged the coal
and snapped up fish
with ‘Lovely Polly’ and all.
We have ground the corn and bone,
found the iron and cured and smoked.
We have worshipped Bart and lifeboats
and prayed to Paul and John.
We have staggered on in rain and nonconformity.
We have lurched along old shores,
drowned the thirst of sailors
with the rattling old Town Bell and the tunes of jolly Jack,
whistled and fiddled away
in the bright Red Lion light.
Jesus Light of the World,
we are the history in the barrel,
in the soaring wind
and in the foaming waves:
it is our blood,
it is our bread,
it is our Spittal,
our mirrored past. 




These rough stones,
carried for miles to build
such a Castle,
mounted on fields
of bitter sweet slopes.

Stoned lions,
countrified gargoyles
hunch, unpouncing;
their stiff glares fixed
on us fee paying visitors,
taking a stroll through
the dusty chapters,
the library dungeons.

And I would suppose
this afternoon to be,
for us, some piece of history,
both strolling through
crisis after crisis,
hearts beating heart beats
and blood warm, flowing
through us as we walk between
such cold walls,
older than a Duke,
but never as wise as this love of mine
nor as fragile as
that historic moment inside the Castle
when once you smiled at me
so wonderfully.


Alnwick Castle, Northumberland

(published in From Both Sides of Hadrian’s Wall.
Contemporary poetry from south Scotland and north England)



(in honour of Adrian Mitchell)

Say this land is ours, 
these pipe tunes do not cry. 
The birds all sing in dialect,
old miners breathe like dukes.

Tell me lies about Northumberland.

Tell me it isn’t feudal,
that castles were built for us.
We never touch the forelock,
bend to scrape up dust.

Tell me lies about Northumberland.

Your pretty girls don’t stink of slaughter,
your eyes don’t blur with myth.
You’re as equal as a duchess,
saints never smell of piss.

Tell me lies about Northumberland.

Your roots are in this valley,
you were never from doon south.
You never hide your birthplace,
you’re a real poet of the north.

Tell me lies about Northumberland.

The churches are not crumbling,
the congregations glow with hope.
We are different from the foreigner,
our poetry rhymes with wine. 

Tell me lies about Northumberland. 

There is no landed gentry,
no homes locals can’t afford.
There’s no army on the moors,
the Romans freed us all.

Tell me lies about Northumberland.

That the hurt is in the past,
the future holds no war.
Home rule is at our fingertips,
the Coquet swims with love.

Tell me lies about Northumberland.  

‘The Garden’ is our children’s,
Hotspur spurs us on.
The seagulls are not soaked in oil,
the cows are not diseased.

Tell me lies about Northumberland.

This Kingdom is United,
‘Culture’ is our God. 
Everyone’s a Basil Bunting freak,
there’s music everywhere.

Tell me lies about Northumberland.

We will have our independence,
we’ll get the Gospels back.
We live off museums and tourists,
we don’t need boats or trades.

Tell me lies about Northumberland.

We’re in charge of our own futures,
we have north east citizens here.
In this autonomous republic,
we’re free as dicky birds.

So shut your eyes.

And tell me lies 

about Northumberland.


Mo Shevis  I think Adrian Mitchell would have been well and truly honoured by that one Keith!



'I thought the Cuthbert poems were very powerful...Do go on writing and performing like that.' (John Mapplebeck, Bewick Films).


I wouldn’t trust Saints,
goody goody two shoe Christians,
they wouldn’t pull me out of the mire
with their do-gooding ways.
I do my praying in the trough,
sweaty trotters grubbing together,
not in anyone’s heaven
but rooting in the soil
for bread.
Don’t get me wrong,
I like a drop of wine
with me nosh,
and I can put the fear of God
in me neighbours
to keep them off me land;
shoot them stone-dead if I have to.
They can go to Hell
for all I care,
whole lot of them:
Poets and Peasants,
Pipers and Plovers.
I just get on with growing me crops,
no time for preaching Love and Hate.
This Northumbrian sun is all I know,
and the gannets swooping over me.
What I can’t touch or feel or smell or taste
is no good to me:
you can’t eat hymns
but I can catch rabbits.


The bones of Prophets
rot in this sacred land.
Cuthbert’s spirit soars with the gulls
over the ancient ground.
North Country hearts
beat with the songs and ballads
of missing centuries;
lyrics in the rough wind,
notes in the margins.
The Saints and the Scholars
scribble down the years -
but who can make sense of it all?
Bind up the volumes
of human endeavour
in this vast universe,
let the dust of our thoughts
feed the insects.
Northumberland is in truth
a bleak land
held together by dreams,
fantasies of us all being Saints:
an open slate,
still wet with the drizzle
of the scribe’s pen.


This burning beam
that did for Aidan,
Bamburgh’s finest
fallen King of Northumbria
in ashes.
Palaces of Pretence,
Gefrin on a summer’s afternoon,
basking by the Glen
where Paulinus
baptised us with pelting sleet,
and where the late Josephine Butler
spread her kind smile
for the welfare of wor women folk,
for the goodness of touch.

Oh Edwin oh Oswald,
oh Ida oh Hussa,
carry my head in your hands.
My mighty warriors of Christ,
is that you in the curlew’s cry?
Is that you in the breeze on my face?

Cuthbert’s a hermit crab,
a ‘Wonder-worker of England’,
and I am an empty shell of a man,
talking to birds
because they make more sense of my life.

Listen to me Bede, I’m the Universal Soldier,
I have rubbed ointment
on Cuthbert’s sore knee,
ridden with him across the sheep-snow hills,
and bathed his suppurating ulcer
in red wine.
Light a torch for me
for I am no Saint.
Yet I speak
the Gospel Truth:

Grant to me, Lord Christ, for this pilgrim journey through life,
Your ready hand to guide me, your light to go before me,
Your protection to guard me from evil,
Your peace to rest within me, your love to sustain me,
That through all the joys and sorrows that meet me
I may know the promise of your abiding strength,
Until I reach my final homecoming with you forever.

commissioned by berwick museum 2007


‘Hides lifted from a lime-pit were soaked for days, scraped and ‘bated’ in solutions of dog excrement and ground bark before hanging up to dry.’

You ancient company
of skinners and glovers,
you gossiping crafts.

You hatters and tanners,
leather-dressers and cutters,
we can hear you and sniff you in Hexham’s dank lanes.

You clockmakers and bookbinders,
pipemakers and joiners,
we touch your worksore hands.

You shoemakers and collarmakers,
weavers and saddlers,
we bear your burdens and your smiles.

You dressmakers,
Tinsmiths and
butchers and

You 1000 sewing women in your homes,
you bakers and tapestry-makers,
you’ve led us here -

we worship you,
we drink your sweat.




The following poems are by Tyneside writer Dr Keith Armstrong. They were first written in the year 2000 for his poetry residency at Hexham Racecourse and an exhibition of the poems with artwork by local artist Kathleen Sisterson was launched at an event at the Racecourse in September of that year, introduced by Hexham based sports writer Harry Pearson, with readings from Keith and folk music from Mike and Peter Tickell and Ray Sloan on Northumbrian Pipes.
Since 2000 Keith has been a regular visitor to Hexham Races and continues to find inspiration for his poetry in every visit.

Other commissioned work by Keith includes ‘Fire & Brimstone’ the story of Tynedale artist John Martin and ‘The Hexham Celebration’, both for the Hexham Abbey Festival.
He also has also compiled and edited a local history book ‘The Town of Old Hexham’ and organised a festival celebrating the life and work of Hexham born poet Wilfrid Gibson. 


(for Miss Lamb on Rubislaw)

I am a lady jockey;
dark stallions
course my veins,
and my heart
with a herd of wild hoofbeats,
blood pulsing
hot breath
of bold horses.

I jump the frantic fences
of my daydreams,
eyes lit
with a glow of life:
I toss and turn
and thrash
in the sunlight;
my mighty steed
across the warm grass,
my taut body.

I am joyous
to be alive,
skylarks fill
my thirsting throat.
I will ride forever
breathing ecstatically;
an animal love
in my lungs;
and the smell
of a bold Northumberland
my bracing hair.


(forJack Randall)

In return
for your soiled cash,
he gives you scraps
of paper that fly
across these hard earned fields of Yarridge,
through history.




His cap bobs
above the fray
of punters
who have not got a prayer.
They say that every day
is Billy’s Day
and every bet
more breath
in his kids’ bodies.




The poems below were written by Keith Armstrong for a touring show ‘O’er the Hills’ by Northumberland Theatre Company in 1988, recounting the life of Northumbrian Piper, Jamie Allan (1734-1810), and based on an original idea by Armstrong.
The show featured Armstrong in performance with associate writer Graeme Rigby together with  musicians Kathryn Tickell, on Northumbrian Pipes, Rick Taylor, on trombone, Paul Flush on keyboards, Keith Morris on vocals and saxophone and Joan McKay on vocals, with original music by Taylor, Flush and Tickell.


A mischievous man you might say
but with beauty did he play,
with his wee fingers
over songs.

When he piped,
the rivers and girls came
The world danced
when Jamie drooled
on his lance.
Yes, when Jamie smoked,
the salmon
leapt in his pipes.

A bit of a lad and bad
but oh what a way he had;
with the fish
and his hands leaping,
he set the salmon and some women

Jumping Jamie!
Home your heart
in your hymns,
your wild Northumbrian hymns -

Jumping Jamie!
Home your heart.


I see him.
Everytime I see
the Coquet,
I see him.
I walk
the Cheviots,
I sense his voice.
I hear him
in the Curlew;
I hear Jamie
in the wind.
His tunes
haunt me still;
his wandering fingers
ripple through
the grass.
His tunes splash
across the river,

in me.


In the young days,
I swam,
dipped in the River Coquet.
Along the banks I ran,
shouting for the sun.

In all wild flowers,
I’d lie,
picking out such scent,
jinking jaunty amongst sheep,
dancing for my keep.

Now by the Ganges I walk,
the evening streaming blood;
such wanders through a different land,
such songs of our dead brothers.

In the scale of things I am
but a small fish abroad;
all rivers flow together,
all wonders outlive man.

Jamie Allen I,
piper by the sea;
notes flow inside me,
streams flow by.


I never really knew my station,
my destination.
I was restless,
Could never settle
for second best.
Yet I was
Ending my days
dingily alone,
stripped of illusions
and riddled
with humility.
My ego starved,
my regal palate fed
on bread
and Coquet water.

*performed by Mike Tickell on the Kathryn Tickell album ‘Common Ground’ (1988)

Jamie Allan, the most renowned inhabitant of the House of Correction, Elvet Bridge, was born of gypsy parentage near Rothbury in the 1730s and his accomplishment on the Northumbrian pipes earned him recognition from the Duchess of Northumberland.
He became resident at Alnwick but misbehaved and lost her favour. Subsequently he led a remarkable and irresponsible itinerant life throughout Europe, Asia and Africa but on his return was convicted in 1803 at Durham Assizes of horse stealing, and condemned to death. This sentence was later commuted to transportation but, probably due to his advanced age and poor health, this last journey was not enforced and he spent the remaining seven years of his life in the House of Correction. This is the building where Hollathan's is now housed.
He died in 1810 on the day before the Prince Regent granted him a free pardon. It is said that his ghost wanders the dank, dark cells and that the plaintive sound of his pipes can sometimes be heard.
No Wonder! What greater punishment to a wandering gypsy than this? Even his request to be buried in his native Rothbury went unheeded and he was interred in St. Nicholas' Churchyard, now part of Durham's busy Market Place. 


There’s an old station
I keep dreaming of
where I wandered
as a child;
flower baskets
seep with longing
and engines
pant with steam.
It might have been
at Chollerton,
in a summer’s field,
when I realised
how good
life could be,
in the sunshine
of my songs;
or it might have been
at Falstone
where the roses
smelt of smoke
and I felt
the breath of railwaymen
wafting in my hair.
This little boy,
with his North Tyne lilt
and the dialect
of ancients,
ran up the platform
of his life
and chased
the racing clouds.
It was a first taste
of Kielder Forest
and the light
that skimmed the hills
and the engine
rattled through the day
to drive me
to my roots:
to Deadwater
and Saughtree,
the hours flew
for miles
and the railway
ran into my veins
and sparked
history in my soul.
In this album
of a fragile world,
I’d like to leave
these lines
for you to find
in Bellingham
or Wark,
a tune to play
in Reedsmouth
in Woodburn
or in Wall.
Along this route,
I hope you'll find
a glimpse of me in youth;
the smiling child,
inside the man,
who took the train
by chance
and found his way
with words
and leaves
to Thorneyburn
and Riccarton,
along the tracks
of dreams.


(written for an exhibition at Bellingham Heritage Centre, June 2013)


Beautiful and evocative (Conrad Atkinson)

Thanks for your wonderful poem 'Old Stations'. It's a truly moving piece of work, tapping childhood nostalgia but in away that seems naturally to a young imagination being born of the lore and physicality of the trains and railway stations. ( Noel Duffy)

Really liked that one, so descriptive , I could see it all in my mind’s eye! (Marie Little)

Wonderfully evocative, Keith. (Sid Smith)

Like it! (Pete Thompson)

It's great Keith! (Peter Common)

As ever, a lovely poem & one I can easily relate to. (Geoff Holland)

Bob Beagrie Lovely poem Keith

Dory Dickson Memories flooding back, very evocative poem.

Alan Clark Smashing poem Keith. I walked the route when we were teenagers, camping along the way. I got fascinated reading big orange LNER timetables when we were at school in 1965 and it was long gone. Here's a shot I took a few years back, just over the border from Kielder, between Deadwater and Saughtree...

I love that.  (Kathryn Tickell) 



‘The Market Place was a tragic sight. Bodies of the dead and wounded lay scattered. The ground was stained with blood and the cries of the wounded were pitiful. The following day it rained, washing away the traces.’

Wash away the day,
wash the pain away,
sweep the remains of yesterday
into the racing river.
Beat the Dead March,
bang the old drum,
heal Hexham’s bust bones
and cry me a river,
cry the Water of Tyne.
Wash away the day
and wash this pain away.



With blood gushing out of his boot tops,
a well-dressed man
leaves town
along Priestpopple.
Thirteen men lie inside the Abbey,
not owned.
Numbers are found dead upon the roads.
Big with child, Sarah Carter shot,
the musket ball found in the child’s belly.
Thrice into a man’s body
lying at James Charlton’s shop door
it’s said they ran theIr bayonets;
and a pitman dead,
a weaver:
all those broken days of history,
all the slain hours in our diaries.
Sound the Abbey’s bells!
Let them toll the severed minutes.
Let them celebrate
the end of torture.
Let them gush
with rejoicing
for more peaceful times.



These streets,
in this Heart of All England,
are swept clean of blood.
But the stains still soak our books.
Death upon death,
we turn the pages;
in between the lines,
we read about the screams,
time’s bullets
tearing flesh away.
There is terror lurking in this Market Place,
just scrape away the skin
and, deep down,
there’s a Riot:
a commotion boiling
a terrible turbulence,
a throbbing pain.
It is a Riot of gore,
a torrential downpour
of weeping:
a seeping sore
that is Hexham’s History.


(Poems featured in Hexham Local History Society Newsletter Autumn 2011) 


Birds hurl themselves at the leaping Tyne;
I catch them through the evening window.
It is cold for the time.
My throat is stuffy with poems left unsaid.
Weary troubadour I am,
swimming with visions of ancient European tours.
Now I have landed, with my seagull wings, in Haydon Bridge
to honour a famous son.
I am lodged in the Anchor Hotel,
another lonely night of a whirlwind life:
lorries howl around me
and I can hear a village trembling
in the blinding dark.
Restlessly at anchor,
I cannot sleep for the ghost of John Martin
lighting up my room
with dynamic visions
and the thunderous clatter of his wild dreams.
Stuck in the rut of my own poetry,
I force myself to sleep,
bobbing by the river,
under the fantastic sky.
The community lights shine on my imagination,
and the screams of swifts
make a life worthwhile.

Keith Armstrong,
Haydon Bridge,

John Martin (1789-1854). Historical Painter. Born Haydon Bridge, Northumberland 1789. Died Isle of Man 1854.

Mo Shevis Your words paint a beautiful picture of a beautiful county and fill me with nostalgia for my birthplace Keith.

the jingling geordie

My photo
whitley bay, tyne and wear, United Kingdom
poet and raconteur