Five Hillforts and a Waterfall
Sunday 27th July 2014
Executive Summary: Rain stopped play in the College Valley.
Nothing went as originally planned on this walk. On the drive to the College Valley the wind picked-up and at Wooler the flags outside the Tankerville Arms were taught. On arrival at Hethpool car park it was breezy and quite chilly – in the middle of a celebrated warm spell! When I did the recce two weeks beforehand the original route proved to be impractical; far too rough underfoot, exposed involving lots of climbing and descent, oh and the “easy level bit” proved to have monster bracken that towered above my head for about a mile and a half so that was no good either. Two people even had the foresight to withdraw from the walk the day beforehand but as things turned out they missed a good day.
The revised plans included an innovative two-centre walk with the longer of the two taking up the bulk of the time with a much shorter and easier mini-walk on the way home. The former now became Three Hillforts and a Waterfall (not counting the not inconsiderable deluges, also known as “showers” but felt like waterfalls encountered en-route). You really do have to have a sense of humour with our weather.
The revised route took us via the 4,000-5,000 year old Neolithic stone circle to the base of the hill on which Great Hetha, the first of the hillforts was located. Several pauses later, to admire the landscape, we reached the summit in time for elevenses. Unfortunately the gentle drizzle had also just started but as everyone present was truly British we ignored it. As an aside I noticed that some of those present did the same at the stops along the way when I was pontificating explaining about the Iron Age, the significance of hillforts and the change of climate at the beginning of the Iron Age in Britain. The views were certainly worth the effort. Apart from unusual and often unseen views of the northern Cheviots we could also see NNE out of the valley towards the North Sea which came into view as we reached the summit. The descent towards Little Hetha 130 m lower down provided a really plan good view of the smaller of the two hillforts. There was much discussion about the term hillfort, its origins, whether or not they really were defensive sites, social gathering places, indicators of social status etc never mind the practicalities of providing a water supply up here on the hill tops. All this and a consideration of the environmental history of the area meant that it was beginning to sound a bit like a University of the Third Age field class, heady stuff, time to get walking.
The next waypoint was Elsdonburn on the route of the St Cuthbert’s Way to begin the gentler climb up the farm track towards Ring Chesters hillfort. The original intention was to have lunch on the summit but following consultation the majority vote was in favour of lunch in a less windy and exposed place so one was found a few hundred metres further up the track. In terms of the steadily increasing frequency and intensity of the showers to come later this proved to be a good decision. After lunch we summited again and gained a good view into Scotland including towards Melrose and the three hilled summit known to the Romans as Trimontium. From here to we could see some of the difficult terrain that formed part of the original but discounted route, another good decision. Looking upwind we could see the heavy showers coming our way, at least we would have the consolation of having our backs to these as we made our way towards Hethpool Linn.
Several sharp showers later we were approaching Hethpool when it really started to rain; there wasn’t time to don overtrousers. As we were only 300 metres from the cars some of our number opted to retire gracefully at this point. Those of us remaining, the last of the few, set-off for the waterfall and gorge getting thoroughly soaked in the process; thank goodness we weren’t still on the tops. A quick look at the natural swimming pool upstream of the waterfall and the gorge from the safety of the footbridge and it was time to walk back to the car park miraculously without the accompaniment of precipitation. As time was getting-on it was unanimously decided not to drive to the second location to take-in the other two hillforts. When we arrived back at the car park the deep puddles made even getting into the cars a challenge.
A good day was had by all; it’s a great life if you don’t weaken. Lovely to see everyone again, I hope you all enjoyed it as much as I did and yes, there are many different facets to the term “enjoyed.”
Monday, 28 July 2014
St Cuthberts Challenge Training Walk
Saturday 19th July
Today’s walk had two main themes: how stunning the north Northumberland uplands are and, almost inevitably, what the weather held in store. There was however an intriguing subplot about how far we were walking.
The sub plot was created by the translation between metric and imperial measures. 17 was the pre walk number but crucially, was it miles or kilometres? So the walk began with a bit of chat about that. Having measured the distance on the map with a trusty, opened up, paperclip I was of the opinion that it was kilometres and that the ‘17’ roughly equated to 10.5 miles. What I also knew was that the route involves a good deal of ascending and descending – both of which add distance….
We left Wooler Common in Ron’s taxi and arrived in glorious sunshine at Kirk Newton and set about walking almost due East back to our starting point. The weather? It was warm and a bit muggy but very pleasant as we began to gently gain height as we left the village on the joint Pennine Way and St Cuthbert’s Way path. The height gain continued as we began to skirt Green Humbleton Hill, with its fort on top, and climbed steadily but relentlessly to the split in the ‘Ways’. The true beauty of the Cheviots reveal themselves as we climbed up to and over the water shed into Elsdonburn.
The muggy part of the weather started to become a main talking point because it made the uphill climbs uncomfortable. It was also suggestive of thunderstorms and we had all heard the weather forecast of the heat build up resulting in heavy downpours.
From Elsdonburn through the valley on a good surfaced track and then road we made our way to Hethpool and into the College Valley. Crossing the burn it began to rain. Just gentle cooling rain that fizzled out as we sheltered under a tree for lunch. Despite the shower the humidity remained high and the stillness of the air made the steep ascent out of the valley past Yeavering Bell and across the wild moors to Tom Tallon’s Crag a bit of a struggle. Frequent stops for drinks in this weather are important, as it is easy to become dehydrated.
Having gained height we made our way over the grouse moors to Gain Law and then on a good track over flat(ish) ground we made our way towards Wooler. This part of the walk is worth savouring because here you get a real sense of being on the edge of the Cheviots when you can see the plains below. The descent to Wooler finished with a final steep downhill through the woods.
So a great walk from Scotland to England, climbing over the border ridge down into the College Valley up and over the moors to Wooler. Stunningly beautiful. Warm and muggy but we avoided getting rained on too much. And the distance? 17 kilometres or 10.5 miles? As it turned out neither! We covered 12 miles at an average of 2 miles an hour. Herein lies a useful navigation tip when planning a route: measuring a distance on a flat (2D) map is often deceptive , especially when walking up and down hills. There is a formula for working this all out, it’s called Naismith’s Rule, and it involves counting contour lines to work out height gained and loss and…so on and so on.
We had a great walk but most of us were glad in the end that we hadn’t had to walk 17 miles not because of the hills but because of the weather.
I look forward to meeting my training partners on the full challenge walk in a couple of weeks time on 9th August when the weather will be perfect!
From Source to Sea - day 6
The River Coquet from Source to Sea
Day 6 Felton to Amble
Yet another glorious day dawned yes Sundance was back in the groove and the old soft shoe shuffle had done the trick. After a bit of too and froing in amble Mike found the car park with the mini bus in, and after the compulsory comfort break we set off back to Felton.
We were dropped off on the north bank of the old bridge and use it to cross to the south bank of the river. For the first part of the route the path follows the river.
Although you would not have known as the high bankside vegetation completely hid the river from view. As we left the river side we climbed up the only steep hill on the days walk, Mike had said that this was the only climb but by now the group had suss out the mike interpretation of what was flat was not always the rest of the groups view.
After a little while we started to walk on a well-defined track that we followed for the next two miles and other walking under the East Coast Main Line and it being rather muddy in places had not a not a lot to recommend it. Although track does take you very near Morwick Farm the home of delicious ice cream. Mike decided that this was too good an opportunity to miss and so dragged the group for an ice cream. Whilst there we also had lunch used the facilities and two shall remain nameless J & M had one large tub of ice cream each THEN went back for another!
After lunch we continued to follow the track and were able to look down towards Warkwoth, Amble and the North Sea Coast. The track brings you in to Warkworth and soon we were walking around under the castle before once more reaching the river (and able to see it).
At some picnic tables we stopped for a short break before once more following the river round to Warkworth Bridge. We continued to follow the river round Warkworth until new river defence works necessitated slight detour (Oh and a slight climb up a hill. Eventually we were back alongside the river and walk downstream to Amble Marina. We had to walk round one boat yard and round another corner and there were the cars. Mike allowed us to drop of our rucksack before we continued along the now key side until we were standing on the pier and therefore over the sea and the end of six days of good walking. A still the sun shone.