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Mon 12th March 2012

Nordic Walk - Cragside Carriageway

Nordic Walk - Cragside Carriageway

We couldn’t have picked a better day for a Nordic Walk, spring has definitely sprung!

Our large group of 19 Nordic Walkers, all of different abilities, set off, up the first climb of the walk, leaving the High Street of Rothbury for the ascent to the Cragside carriageway.

Some of the group were nervous that they may not make the climb but after being reassured the top was in sight and that once there it would be flat; our gallant group went onwards and upwards. After a brief stop at the top of Pondicherry and some points of useless information from Jon we carried on, upwards.

Eventually we reached green hills and we were rewarded with stunning views of the Cheviot and Cheviot hills. Down in the valley we could see the village of Thropton, with the River Coquet winding its way through it. Otterburn firing range saluted our ascent with the boom of their big gun and a plummet of smoke, a little unsettling. Onwards and upwards, nearly there, steepest part behind us!

We joined part of the Cragside Challenge route and followed the wall line towards the carriageway. At this point the layers came off and many of us walked in T shirts. Onwards and upwards, nearly there, steepest part behind us!

We climbed through the heather to reach the carriageway itself and at last I could say, with real conviction “we ARE at the top and the steepest part IS definitely behind us”. The views from the carriageway were stunning, the hard surface under our feet a welcome change to the heather land and as we progressed Rothbury came back into view. At this point the group made the unanimous decision to extend the walk by a further 1 ½ miles, to continue to the end of the carriageway. This was after getting an accurate hill count before we set off. So un-trusting!

At the end of the walk we dropped down through fields, said hello to a friendly horse and back into the village. After some cool down stretches those that could went for a well earned cuppa and reviewed the day.

I think I can safely say that everyone enjoyed this walk, even though it was quite demanding in places. One member had started the walk thinking she would not be able to complete it all. But after the initial climb she stopped and told me that she had never managed to walk up that hill, in one go, before. Even those people who had only learnt to Nordic Walk a few hours earlier managed the whole route and their techniques were much improved by the end of the walk. Those people who had come on their own had made friends and arrangements to meet on the next Nordic Walk..... and I like to think I have made some friends too.

A true testament to the power of Nordic Walking!


Mon 27th February 2012

Roman Ring, part 2 - Hallbankgate to Haltwhistle

Roman Ring, part 2 - Hallbankgate to Haltwhistle

Sunday 26th February 2012

All participants on this walk should now have beautiful feet considering the prolonged and intensive mud treatment that they received.  Having just spent an hour and a half cleaning fine caked mud from boots, gaiters and overtrousers, plus the non-optional sphagnum moss, it was a reminder of just how wet the route was.  Mark Richard’s guidebook describes the route as an all weather route!  It would provide a good venue for a bog snorkelling event.  Doubtless everyone will remember the particularly glutinous section of the walk between the two plantations on Denton Fell (neither were marked on the OS map).  This will never dry out unless we have a really extreme drought hidden as it is from direct sunlight for all but a few minutes each day shortly after sunrise and before sunset, and that only in the summer half of the year.  I think that the above provides a “picture” of the conditions underfoot.  Fortunately we stayed dry from overhead despite 8/8ths cloud above us that capped the North Pennine fells immediately to our south.   

There were really two separate parts to this walk.  The first half was east over the higher level moorland and rough grazing land, the second turning north-east to parallel the River South Tyne downstream towards Haltwhistle and our parked cars.  The first half of the day appeared surprisingly rural and agricultural at first sight.  However in the first kilometre or so the mainly 19th Century industrial archaeology apparent in the landscape proved otherwise.  We started the day following the track bed of a former mineral railway and crossed the route of yet another only a kilometre from the start – remember the embankment with the dismantled arch just after Clowsgill Home Farm?  By then we had already passed the former Clowsgill limestone quarry and an adit mine entrance.  All of the older (pre-twentieth century) buildings were built of the local Carboniferous sandstone and a little further on we paused briefly beside the Roachburn Colliery Memorial which neatly encapsulated the three major constituent rock of the Carboniferous, sandstone, limestone and coal all of which played a significant role in the industrial history of the area – Haltwhistle itself owes its industrial origins to coalmining and the Newcastle to Carlisle Railway was one of the first commercial railways in Britain actually used the coal. 

Leaving the Colliery Memorial at Coalfell, another clue, we struck out east across the moor having only walked two kilometres dry-shod after which things changed, see above.  Stoop Rigg plantation provided shelter from the cool south-west wind for slightly belated elevenses.  The plantation was the highest point on the moorland and so relatively dry, there were even pheasant feeders beneath the trees.  The next hour and a half before lunch are best described, with typical British understatement, as “rather damp and boggy” everyone had wet feet by now and the “walkers foot spa beauty treatment” began in earnest - and continued for most of the rest of the walk at no extra cost to participants!!!!

Lunch was taken in a field just before the final descent into the South Tyne valley in the lee of the wind which had developed a sharp edge.  Fortunately we had been walking downwind all day, all part of the planning and customer care of course.  We had visions of easy progress beside the South Tyne and that was the case – for the first half kilometre – after which we reverted to “mud, mud glorious mud.”  However this was different, it was on steep valley side slopes instead of undulating moorland and usually involved only a narrow “path” with adverse camber i.e. you very easily slipped downhill whilst trying to ascend!  Vibram soles and mud are a potent mix for a combination of mud-skiing and slow unsteady progress.  The pleasant views both of Featherstone Castle and bridge allowed a brief pause before negotiating the quagmire from there to beyond Wydon Eals Farm. The right of way around the latter provided some of the worst conditions underfoot of the whole river section which was a surprise.  We need to develop a descriptive Mud Index along the lines of climbing grades, or avalanche classifications.  It could be done in Geordie along the lines of:

1.    Geet Fettle Surface
2.    Dampish Surface
3.    Clarty Tendencies
4.    Canny Clarty
5.    Reet Clarty
6.    Claggy Clarty
7.    Geet Clarty
8.    Geet Very Clarty
9.    Droonin in Clarts
10.    Midden-like Clarty: note the subtle inclusion of mud aroma as yet another sensory variable.

Each of the classifications would have a detailed objective descriptor based on a number of variables e.g. water to solid ratio, viscosity of mud, depth of mud, coefficient of friction, nature of substrate, vegetation cover (type and percentage), indication of the area of mud (narrow, broad, extensive, etc. 

After that there only remained the walk into Haltwhistle and the odd looks we received from drivers and pedestrians alike mud-caked as we were from the knees downwards.  We also received a similar reaction clustered outside of the public conveniences in the centre of the town on our way back to the cars.  What they didn’t appreciate was that free hot water was on offer in addition to the usual facilities.  This represented excellent value for money – relief and luxury all round following a free Shepherds Walks foot mudpack and massage (actually just feet slipping about in wet muddy boots) plus a good walk.  What more can anyone ask of a walk in winter?  The stoicism and good humour of the British was well demonstrated in our happy band as muddy, wet kit was deposited in that essential piece of equipment beloved of walkers, the plastic bag, before the drive home with the heater on in the footwell.  Whilst most of our number can’t be described as “kit freaks” I really do recommend the use of waterproof socks for warm dry feet, it makes a qualitative difference to the day’s experience.  Do however use them in combination with gaiters because once the “water assisted regolith” (i.e. mud) overtops your socks you are back to square one; wet, cold feet with a high squelch factor!!!!!!! 

Monday, 27 February 2012                   

Mon 13th February 2012

Shaftoe Crags - Feb 2012

Shaftoe Crags - Feb 2012

Well Sundance has yet another new pair of boots!  Will these do the old magic and keep the rain away?  After hours of practicing a new shuffle Sunday started with a beautiful red sunrise, was this a taste of things to come? NO!  it quickly disappeared into the clouds but at least I had seen the sun.

Having reached the start point a very temperamental ticket machine started to make things rather heated but after a couple of good thumps and some different coins we eventually got the ticket out.  Half the group had arrived and were ready to leave by 10.30.  but what could have happened to the other half?  Someone made a sensible suggestion that Mike went and checked the main car park (why did he not think of that before?).  He did and sure enough there were the rest of the party, so leaving them there Mike raced back to the rest of the group at the correct car park.  After a quick walk along the south shore of the lake we met up with the other half and now continued on the walk.

Having safely negotiated a road junction and a kissing gate we set off across the first of several muddy or as Mike kept saying ‘clarty’ fields. We then crossed How Burn by a small bridge and entered the shelter belt of trees around Shortflat Tower.  It was possible to see the original Pele? Tower even though it was now incorporated into a much bigger building.  For a short distance we walked on a hard track before once more crossing the How Burn by a more substantial bridge and once more we were walking across fields to be overtaken by a horse and rider heading to Sandy Fords Farm.

On reaching the farm, Sandy Fords, we starting walking on a tarmac track and once more crossed the How Burn by a very good bridge. As Mike pointed out the ridge and furrow marks on the side of Toft we had to step aside for two trail motor bikes. We continued a little bit further on this track before once more heading across another ‘clarty’ field.  As we once more approached How Burn the ‘clarts’ got the better of one of the party who skidded down the hill and landed sitting in the ‘clarts’.  Fortunately they were wearing over trousers.

This time the bridge was not good, ignoring the fact that it was cantered over at an angle, there was a two foot gap between the end of the bridge and the far bank.  Of course Mike managed to leap across the gap but then decided that everyone else should use some stepping stones to cross the steam except for the most part they were under water.  As Mike is a hero?  He stood in the stream and gave a helping hand to everyone so they did not slip into the Burn. Once across the burn we continued up towards East Shaftoe Hall and on the way crossed the line of the Devil’s Causeway which is the course of a Roman road.

At East Shaftoe we followed a track to the west for a couple of hundred meters and then stopped for a late lunch.  After lunch we continued to follow the track for a short while before Mike took us uphill to the trig point (213m) above Shaftoe Grange.  From here we could see the Simonside hills the new wind turbines at Alcan and at Cramlington.

Descending back onto the footpath we reached Shaftoe Crags, where Mike then became very enthusiastic about some rocks!  After a short walk across another very wet field we followed a farm track to Bolam West Houses.  Mike gave a safety talk about walking on public roads before we then walked back to Bolam Lake. 

On reaching the west end car park the group split  into two with one group getting into their cars whilst the other half had to walk around the lake back to their cars.

Yes!  Another dry day - well maybe not dry underfoot but it did not RAIN.