Night Walk - Heart of The Cheviots
Mon 1st October 2012
We met next to the pond at South Middleton, a lovely location not far off the A 697, but a world away, just before moonrise at 18.06. The sky was clear but for a scattering of high cirrus to our west. By 18.30 the almost full moon had risen above the line of sandstone hills to our east as we walked south through the attractive “lumps and bumps” landscape of features associated with the most recent glacial period. Farming hereabouts is a mixture of both arable and pastoral, the grain fields were now stubble with both pheasant and partridge foraging for remaindered seed. The barns were full of large circular bales and beef cattle were grazing the hilly pastureland approaching the edge of the moorland the latter mainly occupied by hill-sheep but with lower grazing densities of cattle too.
By the time we reached the moorland edge the light was changing, local sunset was 18.52, and the sun was already below our horizon due to the higher ground of the Cheviots to the west. We were now into civil twilight when the sun is between 0° and 6° below the horizon. Everything was still easily distinguishable and a very few of the brightest stars and planets began to appear in the darkening eastern sky. To the west the higher lenticular clouds were now illuminated from below. We were now out onto the moorland track having passed the intake land drystone walls built of Cheviot lavas. The circular sheep stell we passed was a work of art and a tribute to the skill of the craftsmen who built it.
Tuning north-west past the conifer plantations and old settlement we headed gently uphill towards Brands Hill crossing a particularly wet section that well illustrated the need for careful route planning on night walks. We were now well into nautical twilight (sun 6°-12° below the horizon) but our eyes were accommodating to the decreasing light levels and our night vision slowly improving. By the time we turned west the moon was high enough to produce distinct shadows which changed position as we changed our heading from north-west to south-west. The Harthope valley, fault aligned NE-SW, appeared as a deep trench to our right hand side with Cold Law prominent on the far side. Following this skyline led to the bulky profile of Cheviot with Hedgehope to its south separated by the pronounced col at the top of the Harthope Burn. The cloud cover was now steadily increasing from the west, lowering and blotting-out the starfield we were hoping to see. I had intended to identify a few constellations and planets and show how they could be used for stellar navigation but it wasn’t to be. To the east the moon was still mostly cloud-free so we were able to use shadow, wind direction, it was quite breezy, and first the sound and then the orientation of the various streams on the moor to navigate by. The various tors also stood out well against the sky as did the navigation lights on the TV transmitter on Sandyford Moor that extends to 349 m above sea level. The back-bearings obtained from these and other landmarks gave reasonable fixes on our location. No-one had resorted to using their torches yet, our eyes were dark adapted and the party found no difficulty in locating the track junction with the one coming-in from Langlee Crags to our west.
We walked towards the welcome shelter of Middleton Crags where we could get out of the cool wind for a night-time picnic sitting looking east towards the coast. This was the highest point of the walk at 404 metres. As we arrived the moon finally disappeared behind cloud but we could pick-out the coastline by the moonlight on the sea and the linear beads of light at both Bamburgh and Seahouses. Occasionally we saw the sweep of the beam from the Farne Islands lighthouse. Further south the sodium lights of the RAF radar station at Brizlee Wood on the western side of Hulne Park a little over 17 kilometres away to our southeast showed up clearly. Refuelling stop over we set-off downhill back to our cars via the recently upgraded and much improved track to be used to extract timber from Threestoneburn Wood on the eastern slopes of Hedgehope. A brief half-hearted attempt to drizzle on us on the way downhill but it quickly subsided and we were back to our cars for 22.40 hours. A pity we didn’t manage to see the night sky and all it had to offer, better luck next time. The experience of night walking was new to some and hopefully everyone gained some insights about how to go about it if ever benightment intervenes. Similarly everyone now knows what disturbed grouse sound like or how easy it is to see a formation of geese silhouetted against the night sky, simple pleasures, good fun in good company, I hope everyone enjoyed it.
Monday 1st October 2012