Old Middleton lies just to the west of a cluster of Middleton place names (Middleton Hall, North Middleton and South Middleton) on the east edge of the Cheviot Hills, just south of Wooler.
At its north end, the cap-stones end and the ditch appears splayed-out, and filled in adding to appearance of its disuse. Standing on its line, it distinctly appears to dip towards the south. If that was the case, where did the water come from 'at the top of the hill', and why was it carried into the valley below the deserted village? Surely a supply of water was not needed there, as the stream flowing past the old settlement would have always been an adequate source.
Where does this water come from?
We discussed two possibilities:
- a spring emerges at the top of the hill, and the water is now diverted from its original course into the aqueduct
- the water comes from the aqueduct itself and actually runs from the stream at Old Middleton in a direction from south to north, at odds with our earlier observation
The south and north ends of the aqueduct are shown on all map scales from the OS 1st Edition published in 1866. Even the modern large-scale OS mapping (and the Google mapping) shows the south end as an open channel extending north as far as the low crag-line at the base of the slope. On this map, the end of this channel at the south end is labelled 'sinks' and the north end as 'Issues', a clear indication of the direction of water flow from south to north.
The maps indicate that the aqueduct was built to take water from the stream at Old Middleton to supply a millpond situated just west of North Middleton Farm. Presumably it was then used to power a waterwheel at at the farm. The millpond is still there (and still receiving a water supply) but is now covered over.
A few weeks later I made another visit to explore the south end of the aqueduct and find its inlet from the stream near the deserted village.
Several things are apparent:
- there is now no open channel at the south end
- changes in its route at the south end have been made as the aqueduct is now buried, embanked for part of its course, and takes a new line to the left of the ruined building and tree
- old maps show changes in the course taken by the stream
The water is now conveyed through the aqueduct in a pipe which in places may be quite deep below ground level, as running water cannot be heard directly above. A friend proved the presence of the pipe within the stone-lined aqueduct by photography. It is undoubtedly a lot deeper where it cuts through the top of the ridge, as the water outlet on the far side is clearly lower than the top reached by the track.
The farmer told me that there are few problems apart from an occasional blockage of the grill directly where water leaves the burn in Old Middleton deserted village. The pipe might be a modern improvement as the Google Earth imagery dated 2007 shows that the bank that carries the pipe behind the tree looks to have been freshly dug.
Large scale OS maps, from 1895 until present, show the south end of the aqueduct as an open channel leading off the main stream to a point below the low crags where the aqueduct cap stones start today. The course of this channel has now been filled in but ran slightly further north to that followed by the buried pipe. There is a faint hint of the former open channel, north of the tree and between the remains of two ruined buildings of the old village, on Google Earth imagery dated 2006. The course of this channel is shown in yellow on the overlay map below.
The course of the main stream appeared to have been re-routed slightly south from a bend upstream (A), to provide a straight input into the aqueduct channel at a slightly higher level. This was probably part of its original design. An overflow from the new channel bent sharply north, to rejoin the former stream bed (C-D). Water flow could have been controlled at this point by a sluice gate which would have allowed water to be diverted from the aqueduct in times of flood. The former stream course is shown in light blue on the overlay map below. The present stream course is in dark blue.
Maps after 1923 show the stream course changed again when the bend to rejoin the former stream bed moved further east where it remains today (F-B). Perhaps the stream had cut its own new channel in a time of flood, possibly after the aqueduct had gone out of use. The modern pipe that now transports water through the aqueduct now joins the stream somewhere near the point labelled E.
The optical illusion of water flowing uphill is an example of what is sometimes called a gravity or magnetic hill. These are places where a slight downhill slope appears to be an uphill slope due to the layout of the surrounding land. Some of these places are famous for allowing a car left out of gear to apparently roll uphill as at the 'Electric Brae' http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_gravity_hills
Mill leats which may run for long distances with little change of gradient may be particularly prone to this effect. Examples from the UK that show this effect include the Reddaford Leat at Tavy Cleave in Devon and the Hempriggs Mill Lade near Wick, built by Thomas Telford.