Shildon is in Northumberland, barely a mile up the hill from the once monastic village of Blanchland, and is a place of great charm, considerable beauty and just three houses.

It should not, therefore, be confused with the other Shildon - the dear old home town - on the grounds that Shildon in Co Durham has more than three houses.

Nor does the second Shildon, as for convenience we shall term the country cousin, boast by far the greatest football team the world has ever seen.

Like the former railway town, the second Shildon has seen many changes. Lead mining began there in the 12th century and continued until the 1890s, its rights once given by Edward IV to his brother the Duke of Gloucester, on condition that the king kept the Shildon silver.

Much of the lead came from the Old Shildon vein. Many more of us have been hewn, rough hewn, from the Old Shildon vein.

By the mid-19th century the village had 27 homes, 158 residents - including the chief lead agent of the Derwent Mine Company - and a Primitive Methodist chapel. Much else was primitive, too.

Writing in 1776, the historian William Hutchinson described the Blanchland and Shildon area as like the realm of mortification. "The buildings which are standing are now inhabited by the poor people who are perhaps employed in the lead works. The distress and ragged appearance of the village is most deplorable."

The second Shildon also had a castle, or so they termed the "little engine house" when it was converted into flats to house the miners, a place where beds were never cold.

Shildon, Co Durham, may never have had a castle but there are, of course, all manner of little palaces.

The castle is long gone, though the remains of the big brother engine house still stand, alongside warnings that there are still deep and dangerous mine workings and that pride comes before a fall.

We took a walk up there last Saturday, parked in Blanchland - described in a 1951 account as "almost of Mediterranean appearance, an Italian village transported to Northumberland" - across Shildon Burn and through the delightful Shildon Wood, the sort of place where you might almost expect to find a gingerbread house (if not a wicked witch) behind the next conifer.

A group of artists, brushes in one hand and champagne flutes in the other, was painting the serene scene, never alone with a hamlet.

Outside Shildon Cottage, bedecked with honeysuckle and with climbing roses, we were greeted by Shirley Lee, a retired Cambridge biologist whose family has been in Shildon since 1943 and whose husband had been collecting raspberries from the garden.

We explained the Shildon connection. "Yours was New Shildon," she insisted, though there is unlikely to have been any connection.

The Boss having remarked on how wonderful his raspberries looked, Prof Donald Lee returned with a bag full, consumed before we were 100 yards down the bank. They greed them off yer, as Bobby Thompson used to say of Wills' Woodbines. The Lees were delightful in every other respect, too, save that the second Shildon's postal address is also "Co Durham", that Shirley professed to "hating" it and had firmly to be advised of the error of her ways.

Barely knowing where they were, young lead miners up there might have earned sevenpence for a 12 hour day. An 1842 account told how Robert Archer, aged about 17 - "he doesn't know" - had spent seven summers dressing ore, often working until midnight.

"He has been off work with a bad head," the account unsurprisingly added. "He cannot read at all, cannot write at all, goes to no school at all now but sometimes goes to church."

In the 19th century, said Mrs Lee, the county council had reckoned Shildon the biggest slum in Northumberland. Now it is returned happily to nature.

It's a lovely place, almost a second home - Shildon as you may never have seen her before.

A MILE or so to the south of Blanchland, Northumberland, lies the village of Hunstanworth, Co Durham, in the municipal district of Wear Valley but probably owing greater fealty to Newcastle (or Hexham, or Helsinki) than to the distant pagoda in Crook.

The remarkably handsome church of St James is in the diocese of Newcastle, too; the "parochial school" - said to have been the smallest in England - closed in 1974 when four of the seven pupils upped and offed.

"A thorough search by Durham Education Authority for more pupils turned up just one boy and a baby," reported The Northern Echo, as if talking of a corporate kiddie catcher.

Church and village were built in the 1860s by Daniel Capper, a former vicar of Hunstanworth and a man of no mean means. The church, with its intriguingly patterned roof, also has a wall plaque erected after the First World War to thank God that all Hunstanworth's soldiers came safely home.

Similarly blessed settlements became known as Thankful Villages. Scruton, between Northallerton and the A1, has long been supposed also to be among them, the clock in St Radegund's church installed as a striking symbol of their salvation.

Only last week, however, a letter in the Darlington & Stockton Times sought details of Ernest Henry Corps, who was born in Scruton and died on Flanders field. Did he still live in Scruton at the outbreak of war, 90 years ago on Tuesday? Had the village a little less for which to be thankful?

Back in the wild north of Co Durham, we took a walk past the almost vanished lead mining settlement of Ramshaw - no relation to the village near Evenwood - read on a telegraph pole a county council notice about diverting the path from Old Man's Grave on Buckshot Fell, returned in the evening sunshine to the serenity of St James's.

A notice by the wall safe described the church as a "noble liability". Thus inspired, we doubled the donation.