Night Walk Mystery Tour Blog
Tue 14th October 2014
A very select group (John, Kathy, Sharon and Ray) plus Ian and I gathered outside Shepherds Walks Headquarters prior to the walk. The two individuals who cancelled missed a really pleasant “night out.” As we were getting ready some patches of high-level cirrus cloud produced a pair of mock-suns (aka “sun dogs” or “parhelia”) either side of the soon to set Sun. And we hadn’t even started the walk!
The plan was to walk up onto the moor north of Rothbury and watch the changes in the sky to both east and west as the sun sets whilst having our sandwiches. In the meantime we set off via the riverside stopping on the way to see the site of a long gone public house which was also functioned as the local court, the former site of Rothbury Castle and its recycled stones, the old school and also met and had a quick chat with Mike Evens (also a Shepherds Walks Guide) before heading uphill to join the Carriageway. The views over Rothbury were excellent and it was easy to pick out old and new e.g. the old toll road south out of the village and the new cottage hospital adjacent to the “new” golf course which occupies the site of the former racecourse which closed in 1965. Even the rapidly evaporating contrails of the overflying jets told a story. We watched the different colours in the sky to both east and west from our vantage point and with the eye of faith may even have seen the earth’s shadow rising in the east as the sky turned red, orange and yellow in the west following sunset.
High tea was taken just before we descended Physic Lane and we had the discussion as to whether that should really be Lonnen in Northumbrian but no one was that dogmatic. It was almost completely dark as we crossed the bridge into Thropton where we encountered a hedgehog walking round and round in circles before disappearing in the direction of the Black Burn. Ian and I secretly hoped that our navigation was a little better than the hedgehog’s. It was pitch black under the trees on the approach to the footbridge over the River Coquet on the southern edge of Thropton so torches were used for the sake of safety. The sounds and smells became much more noticeable in the dark and it was easy to appreciate where the Coquet was flowing fast and shallow over gravel beds compared to the deeper and more slowly flowing sections. The smell of the soil and vegetation was enhanced by the cool, moist air – things that we would probably have missed in daylight when sight is the dominant sense.
Stopping on the footbridge we could identify the common constellations in the northern sky, The Plough, Polaris the Pole Star, Cassiopeia as well as picking out the movement of several satellites as the moved sedately against the starfield background. We compared what we could see with a free smartphone astronomy app which not only confirmed our skill but also provide us with individual star names, the time of local sunset and the times of civil, nautical and astronomical twilight, isn’t technology wonderful? The technique of using individual stars as skymarks to aim for when navigating at night was discussed as we crossed the flood-plain south towards Simonside. The lights of the individual farms also provided good aiming points and we emerged on to the minor road linking Little Tosson and Whitton via someone’s back garden – we weren’t lost, the Right-of-Way passes directly through their property. Nevertheless is must be odd, not to say a little un-nerving to see a line of torches bobbing through your garden whilst watching the TV.
As we walked east along the road we were perfectly placed to anticipate and then watch the moon rise in the ENE over the moor north of Rothbury. We spotted the increasing brightness of the moons light pillar on the skyline prior to it making its appearance and were impressed by how quickly the half-degree diameter of moon’s disk rose into the sky and how it quickly produced strong shadows and contrasting black, white and grey shades on the ground. The brightness of the newly waning moon, it was full only four days previously, also had the effect of washing out much of the sky. The constellations we’d viewed so easily an hour before were now much dimmer and allowing for the thin veil of high ice crystal cloud we definitely couldn’t see so many stars but the moonshine meant we didn’t need to use our torches either.
The final approach back into Rothbury was via Lady’s Bridge and the riverside path below Beggar’s Rigg car park to the Cow Haugh car park where most people were parked. There were several potential routes we could have taken but the one we took turned out to be both interesting and rewarding. It is a long time since we have had such favourable weather on a night walk at this time of year, the company was excellent and I only hope that everyone enjoyed their night out as much as we did. Let’s do another night walk soon.
Richard & Ian
Sunday, 12 October 2014