Alwinton to Netherton
Tue 20th October 2015
Saturday 17th October 2015
A linear walk for a change, made possible by catching the Spirit Bus from the Fish Ladders lay-by on the edge of Netherton to Alwinton, this bus service is a real asset. From Alwinton it was a quick walk up the lower end of Clennel Street to cross the fields and the River Alwin footbridge into the Alwin Valley. Almost immediately we were hemmed-in by the narrow steep-sided valley but the views upstream showed the dramatic changes resulting from recent clear-felling within the Kidland Forest, we could actually see Kidlandlee directly for the first time for decades.
The steep climb out of the valley using a quadbike track up and over The Dodd revealed more and more of the Kidland Forest, or rather, less and less of the forest and more of the clear-felling. What an impact it made on the landscape, we will all have to buy new maps. Once up on the moorland plateau we could look across to the in-bye land Puncherton Farm a kilometre to the east. It gets its name from Robert de Pontchardon who owned it in 1086. The surname derives from a place in Normandy that means Thistle Bridge according to Godfrey Watson in his Place Names of Northumberland. I only mention that because I was asked about the derivation of the name and hadn’t checked it out beforehand, dereliction of duty, oh dear.
As we’d only got off (alighted, debussed, disembarked?) the bus at 11.15’ish we missed elevenses but once on the open moor we stopped for lunch just after 1.00pm by a corrugated metal hay store which shielded us from the chill north-east breeze. It had half-heartedly tried to drizzle on us a few minutes beforehand but as we settled-down to lunch the sun came out and the views opened-up all around. On the horizon to our south we could just make out the twin masts of Ottercops 20 kilometres away on the A696, a dramatic improvement in visibility on earlier in the day. Half-way through lunch a large group of “happy, keen and motivated” Duke of Edinburgh Award candidates walked past heading for a valley campsite near Harbottle. We were to see, but not meet, some of their peers later near to Puncherton Farm. By now the “talking freight” – you had to be there to appreciate the banter – were well known to one another and the regulars (Conrad and Kathleen mentioning no names) where up to their usual antics of putting the walk leader in his place which just encouraged anyone who hadn’t walked with us before (Carol, Brian, Jean and David). To be fair David and I definitely had common ground whilst Moira seemed both amused and bemused by the repartee.
After lunch we skirted Puncherton’s fields and turned south over the moor towards Old Rookland over the col between Rookland Hill and Gills Law. This section of the walk emphasised the isolation of Puncherton Farm and just how difficult the access is. It was a reminder of why it was necessary for the Northumberland National Park Mountain Rescue Team to carry-in some basic supplies and baby food in one of the recent bad winters. We passed Old Rookland, now an abandoned ruin, which is about the same height above sea level as Puncherton (both being approximately 320m asl) but separated by moor rising to 380 metres, both are south facing to take advantage of the aspect. We were soon on Loundon Hill overlooking Biddlestone and with the bright pink coloured rock of the Harden Laccolith with its active quarry on our left shoulder. No-one but me seemed to know or remember that the hard shoulders of some motorways and The Mall in London used this unique rock – I don’t believe them. We rapidly descended alongside the Biddlestone Burn to take “afternoon tea” beside Biddlestone Chapel. Despite this civilised activity some of us were made fun of for discussing the architecture of the chapel which is built on the plan of a former Pele tower. One tries but as it was males versus females we did the decent thing and retreated. We know our place.
Leaving the chapel we stopped to inspect the two Biddlestones which are clearly marked on the OS map. By now I didn’t have the nerve to mention the Selby’s whose land this was on and who had a long history in the area (look it up on the internet). The now demolished Biddlestone Hall, adjacent to the chapel, was the model for Osbaldistone Hall in Sir Walter Scott’s Rob Roy, also a fact I didn’t dare divulge. Ian bravely tried to point out the burial sites of two of the Selby family on the edge of Garden Wood but either the rosebay willow herb was too tall or some of our number were too short, I couldn’t possibly say which. This was a pity as Ian had spent several days with a working party reclaiming the site back from nature, everyone missed that nugget too.
The scenery along the final three kilometres back to the vehicles was in marked contrast to the volcanic Cheviot hills we’d spent so much time on so far. Here in the lowlands we moved onto the softer sedimentary rocks of the Coquet Vale overlooked by the Fell Sandstone escarpment that reached its highest point along the Simonside Ridge so prominent almost ten kilometres to the south. Here were large hedgerow enclosed fields with numerous deciduous trees compared to open upland moor and geometrical blocks of coniferous plantations. The agriculture was mixed with arable land as well as pastoral and the differences in the quality of these lowland soils was obvious. Settlement was denser too with traditional villages and smaller hamlets (e.g. Elilaw, Biddlestone, Clennell) in addition to dispersed farmsteads set in their own fields (e.g. Cote Walls). This had either been enabled or regenerated by the passing of the Reiving Times following the Act of Union with Scotland which eventually brought an end to both cross-border and inter-border hostilities. By contrast the Cheviot upland are almost devoid of settlement today which is in marked contrast to earlier times as demonstrated by the large number of highly visible Bronze and Iron Age hillforts found throughout the Cheviots. We saw several throughout the day e.g. Castle Hill and Camp Knowe near to Alwinton. The final stage ran parallel to the Netherton Burn to our south and we entered the village just after passing Netherton Mill.
This was one of the most enjoyable and different walks we have done for some time. The route and its contrasting landscapes definitely helped but it was the participants that made the difference. Everyone took everything in good part, the banter was light hearted and good fun and lasted the whole walk. The bacon sandwiches bought from the relatively recently opened Burnfoot Tearoom by some whilst waiting for the bus might have helped too! Oh yes, before I forget please do have a look on Google Earth to see where we have been and pick out some of the ancient settlement we passed e.g. the homestead near Loundon Hill, something else for which I take regular stick. I think it’s just good natured – isn’t it?
Thank you all and we hope to see you all again soon.
Richard, Ian and Moira
Monday, 19 October 2015