29th August 2015
Who would have thought that the last weekend in August was anything other than a sure bet that you’d get decent weather for a trip up Ben Nevis?
The jet stream, unfortunately, had other ideas. It’s position over the Atlantic was holding a continental high pressure system further east than usual. The balmy days of late summer were instead held in the grip of an Atlantic low pressure system sitting over western Scotland.
Ben Nevis, being the highest mountain in the UK, was shrouded in swirling mist, prolonged rain and strong winds. According to the weather forecast at the visitors’ centre in Glen Nevis the summit conditions were akin to – 13 Celsius!
Despite this a small group set off up the regular mountain path. Within minutes we were soaked but as the wind was behind us we got some assistance as we made our way up the rocky route. Eventually we reached the half way point and the mist. A quick conversation within the group led us to the conclusion that today was not the day for going for the summit. These decisions are always difficult because of the effort taken just to get to the start of a route but the mountain will be there in the future.
At this point the real adventure began when we decided not to return down the path we had come up but followed on into the northern corries of the Ben and descend along the Allt a Mhuilinn. The north face of Ben Nevis is a world famous mountaineering area and is home to one of a very few alpine style mountaineering huts and some of the most daring climbing in the world. The soaring rock faces and ridges were stunning in the swirling mist and even though we were not tackling them they held an air of intimidation. Our concern was crossing the stream to get to the descent path on the other side. This is an easy task as in the high summer it’s usually a trickle – today it was a torrent. However by following it higher up the valley we found a place where a crossing seemed possible. With three of the party anchored mid stream we set up a safe passage and the excitement and drama of the situation meant that wet feet were of little concern.
Once on the other side the path surface improved and we made an easy descent back to Fort William having walked over 13 miles and made 2000 feet of ascent to get there.
You could say that Ben Nevis was one that got away this weekend but there is always adventure waiting around a corner.
Thanks for the support from the Shepherds Walks staff and to the group who remained positive in the face of some severe weather.
Salters Road via Ewartly Shank
Sunday 30th August 2015
A Bank Holiday weekend and despite that we enjoyed a really good day’s weather; gentle breezes, long sunny periods, an ideal walking temperature and no precipitation whatsoever. What a contrast, as I write this early on Bank Holiday Monday morning it is breezy, completely overcast with no possibility of sun and yes, it’s raining and has been for some ages.
We started beside the eleventh century church of St Michael and All Angels, the earliest written records of which date from 1135 when the church was given to the monks of Alnwick Abbey. Today it has grade one listed building status. The remains of the former manor house was pointed out opposite to the church (marked on the OS map as site of Alnham Castle) the other side of what is to eventually become the River Aln. The church itself is thought to have been built on the site of an even earlier small Roman camp. Adjacent to the church stands what is now known as the Vicar’s Pele, built in the fourteenth century during the time of the Border Reivers with all that that implies and described in a document of 1541 as a “little tower.” It eventually became the vicarage but was a ruin by the seventeenth century eventually to be restored in 1844. Today this grade two listed building is a private dwelling. All of this within fifty meters of our parked vehicles - plus the Northumberland National Park Information Panel about the 1962 Shepherds Memorial Cairn.
The gradual ascent to the moor along the line of the Salters Road was a bit muddy in parts but we got a good view of the hollow ways associated with this former drove road. Beyond Northfieldhead we were high enough to be able to see the sandstone Simonside Ridge forming the horizon to the south and east. The broad vale between the ridge and us is formed of weaker sediments before rising again to where we were standing on the southern edge of the igneous rocks forming the Cheviots. This changing geology is clearly reflected in the farmers us of the land, easily seen in the sunshine. There was lots of evidence of how much more populated the Cheviots had been in the past, we saw so lots of evidence of former settlements including small quarries. Even the random patterns in the drystone walls and sheep stells reflected the hardness of the Cheviot lavas and helped to explain why the Cheviots form the highest uplands in Northumberland.
The Salters Road between White Gate and Ewartly Shank demonstrated well main characteristics of such old routes. The Salters Way designation is probably a relatively recent one for what is thought to be a much older route across the Cheviots. Its origin may be prehistoric, and it has been used as a trade route, drove road, smuggling way and Reivers path at different times. The current name is derived from its use carrying salt from the saltpans of North East England to Scotland when the Scottish tax regime for salt made it worthwhile. Similarly the trade went in the opposite direction when the situation was reversed. We had a morning coffee-break in the lee of the coniferous wind-break plantation overlooking Ewartly Shank.
Once beyond this farmstead came the steep descent down into, over and up the other side of the Shank Burn. From the top of the descent the view downstream along the line of the watercourse demonstrated clearly the steep slopes and in-filled flat bottomed shape of this post- glacial channel. The climb up to Little Dod was soon over with plenty to see along the way and views of granite masses Cheviot and Hedgehope becoming obvious on cresting the slope. These two highest hills in the massif were the site of the now completely eroded Cheviot volcano when it was active four hundred million years ago in the Devonian Period 350 – 400 million years ago.
The next destination was Alnham Moor for lunch walking north east over the gradually descending wide spur separating the Rowhope Burn to the north, starting beneath the slopes of Shill Moor, and keeping the Shank Burn in sight to our south. A leisurely lunch on the south facing slope in the sunshine near to the farm allowed us a clear view of our onward route down and over the River Breamish and back uphill towards Cobden. There were lots of pheasant feeding pens in this area, evidence of farming diversification and also lots of grouse both on the ground and in the air as we walked uphill.
The next objective was Nellie Heron’s memorial which is usually not easy to spot but on this occasion we walked almost straight up to it so no need to set up a challenge and search for same! If I’d have wanted to “hit it on the nail” I probably couldn’t have done so, typical. The aim now was to regain the bridleway across the moor to rejoin the Salters Way for the descent back to Alnham. This is when we lost the continuous sunshine as a cover of intermediate level cloud moved in between the lower fair weather cumulus we had experienced all day, and the upper level cirrus. As we were almost back to the start it really didn’t matter. Not bad for a Bank Holiday, we actually met one other person, a runner coming downhill as we were climbing out of Alnham, after that we had the hills to ourselves. You can’t do that in most of our National Parks. Oh yes I almost forgot, the colour of the heather on distant hillsides in the sun was magnificent. We hope you enjoyed the day, we certainly enjoyed showing this wonderful, and quiet, part of the Northumberland National Park to you.
Richard and Ian.
Nordic Walk - Pilgrims Causeway to Holy Island - 23rd August 2015
This was the second Nordic walk of the weekend along the Pilgrim’s causeway to Holy Island. Weather forecast checked, poles packed, Laura and I left the Lindisfarne Inn to meet everyone, including Paul a new volunteer, at the Barn at Beal. This was a very large group of 25!
As Laura and I were sitting at the Barn at Beal I saw 2 ladies walk past us and I said to Laura they are with us, she thought I was psychic until I mentioned I saw the email in her hand.
Paul arrived and I went through what was expected of him volunteering with us, which was basically, learn to Nordic walk, enjoy the walk and talk to the group. I explained that a lot of the group were regular Nordic walkers and were all very friendly.
Laura checked off participants and I took the new members of the group to be taught the technique before we started the walk proper.
The group got together and completed the warm up. I explained we had just under a mile to walk on the path to the causeway where we would then take our shoes off to walk across the sands following the poles which should be kept on our right.
On reaching the causeway we took our shoes off and started walking over the seaweed which was interesting as some people were slipping but nobody from our group fell over.
We headed up the sands and came across a large expanse of water which was quite deep, the shorter members of the group skirted the outside whilst the taller walked through the deeper part.
We were then walking on sand and seaweed and occasional patches of salt-water mud. The salt-water mud was very interesting and proved to be the point where a couple of members of yesterday’s group fell over. No one from the Sunday group fell over.
We continued towards Holy Island and another large expanse of water where we took the opportunity to wash our legs and feet. The salt-water mud comes off really easily.
The group had got very stretched but the beauty of this walk is that everyone can be seen so it isn’t a problem. We all stopped at the end of the causeway to dry our feet and put our shoes back on before going to the Pilgrims Coffee House for our break. We had been the day before so knew it was good and luckily we managed to get some tables and chairs. A few others took their sandwiches to another part of the island.
Refreshments consumed. A few of the group decided to head back to the causeway on their own. I left Paul and Laura to bring the rest of the group down to the causeway and I hurried to catch the rest up. When I reached them I asked “who’s responsible for the mutiny?” everyone pointed to each other.
The route back missed the salt-water mud but we walked through slimy seaweed and then came across the large expanse of water. I walked across (up to my knees) and warned the shorter members to skirt the water as they would be swimming.
We all got back to the causeway, dried our feet and put our shoes on again and headed up the path to the Barn at Beal. Unfortunately the Barn at Beal was closed so a few of us were going to the Lindisfarne Inn for refreshments.
Cool down and stretches done. I thanked everyone for coming along and hoped they had enjoyed it and hoped to see them again.
Thank you Laura and Paul for your help. It was invaluable.
We will be setting up a Facebook group for Nordic walking when we can think of a title for it.
We hope to see you all on 19th September for Humbleton Hill (near Wooler).
Julie, Laura & Paul xx