Alwinton to Netherton
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
Craster/Dunstanburgh Castle Nordic Walk Sunday 18th October 2015
Another perfect weather day 12° and light clouds in the sky.
Everyone met nice and early. I left them in my lovely volunteer, Laura’s capable hands whilst I ran through the technique with Andrea, who had never Nordic walked before. She said “I didn’t realise there was so much to know about walking!”
On finishing we did our warm up in the car park before heading towards Craster Harbour. I had mentioned that part of this walk today would take in areas of the Shepherds Walks Coastal Challenge, including where checkpoint 2 would be located. I also said that if the tide was out we would go onto the beach but that this would increase the length of the walk. Of course the sand won.
We were walking along the path and anyone who Nordic walks knows that the clicking noise can be very loud on tarmac. Poor Andrea was very conscious of the noise. The rest of us weren’t bothered. Luckily the tarmac doesn’t last long and we headed onto the grass towards Dunstanburgh Castle (a motte and bailey castle).
The grass to Dunstanburgh Castle is a great path to Nordic walk on, you can really plant your poles. Once we reached the Castle we turned left around the bottom of the motte I explained the technique as we were going downhill. The group were getting very excited because we could see the beach and there was plenty of sand for us to drop down onto. We love Nordic walking on the beach!
There were a lot of golfers on the course but luckily they were putting so there was no danger of us getting a golf ball off our heads.
Dropping onto Embleton Bay beach (first detour) we firstly had to walk across some big stones, Laura’s favourite bit (not). We were rewarded with a fantastic stretch of beach to really sink our poles into. Debbie asked if we could try Nordic skipping and I demonstrated, Ruth had a quick try but the others just laughed at us. We tried to Nordic run but soon stopped.
We reached a point on the beach where we could easily get up to the path we stopped to see if we wanted to stay on the beach or go up onto the path. One of the group asked if we could go up to the path. Off we all headed and we took a small detour (number 2) and were walking through bracken when I looked behind I could only see the top of Debbie and Ruth’s head but Glynis had disappeared, apparently she was standing in a dip. We walked on to the path through Dunstanburgh golf course where layers were removed.
I explained that we were nearly at a lunch stop and pointed out the route. We went past the self catering cottages which are very cute, past the ruins of limekilns built c1790 (which I don’t think anyone saw as they were too busy thinking of lunch) and stopped at the Second World War pill box which is made from sandbags which unusually was filled with concrete and faces inland.
Everyone was wondering how far we had walked so we looked at the ever trusty Ruth who rummaged in her bra for her pedometer and told us it was just over 4½ miles. Suitably refreshed we headed off.
The last part of the walk was along a farm road and across a field of young cows which Andrea and Glynis were very apprehensive of but Laura said in her Northumbrian accent “just stay with me and you’ll be alreet” and then we went onto the road.
We got back to the cars, did our cool down stretches and discussed which tea shop we were going to. Glynis asked if we were going back to the harbour so she could take some photographs.
The weather was beautiful when we got to the Shoreline cafe so we took the opportunity to sit outside, it feels a bit crazy to be able to sit outside in the middle of October. This time our table was full of gluten free dime bar cake, cheese scones, white chocolate and raspberry cake and Rocky Road. We were also very impressed that they had soya milk.
I explained the up and coming walks for 2015 and also the ideas which we have had for 2016. Nordic walking in 2016 looks to be very interesting.
Thank you once again to the lovely Laura for her fantastic support as always and I hope you all enjoyed your day and I hope to see you again soon.
Nordic Walk Rothbury Carriageway Drive Saturday 17th October 2015
We met the group in the shop and with a couple of late cancellations this was a very small group.
Poles at the ready we headed outside and warmed up. I told everyone the start of the route which involved walking up Gravelly Bank, as always there were lots of groans as it was going uphill. Lesley asked if we could have a stop somewhere with a nice view so she could have her lunch. I said I knew the exact spot.
We started off with the instruction that the group could stop if they needed to but with the poles they would probably not have to stop as often, if at all. I also said I would correct techniques if needed.
We got to the top of the bank and a swift admiration of the view (not catching our breath). Onwards and upwards (literally) to the path which took us past the farm, Gimmer Knowe, I decided to try and remember what Gimmer Knowe meant and failed miserably, so a swift text to Jon, the shepherd of Shepherds Walks, gave us the meaning. A gimmer is a ewe before she has had her first lamb and a knowe is a hill.
I joked with the group that I didn’t know if we turned right at Gimmer Knowe or if it was further along. We went further along and turned right at the next gate to take us up (yup another small hill) to the carriageway itself.
We started along the carriageway, which was the route that Lord Armstrong’s visitors used when they visited Cragside. Lesley tripped over her own feet and fell onto the grass right into a pile of sheep poo, luckily she was unhurt but her knees were mucky (as you can see from the photograph). She brushed herself off and we carried on.
The carriageway is a lovely path to Nordic walk along as it is flat. We headed up to the viewpoint which overlooks Rothbury whilst Lesley and Norma ate their lunch, Anne admired the amazing view and a few photographs were taken.
We headed back to the carriageway and through the forest where we came across a wide array of mushrooms, indeed this walk could have been called The Mushroom Walk unfortunately we weren’t knowledgeable enough to name them.
We had a choice of two paths and we turned right and came across a tree across the path which we had to duck underneath (not easy when you have a rucksack) although Norma made it look so easy as she gracefully went underneath but this wasn’t the worst part of this path, oh no we came across a gully with a tree across it, we knew we weren’t going to go across this and after watching a couple scramble across we all laughed and as is usual with a Julie Nordic walk turned around went back and this time went straight ahead.
Down this path we all stopped to eat blackberries and blaeberries (bilberries) which were delicious and Lesley said she would have to remember the route to come back to pick them.
Off we walked down to Rothbury and back to the shop. Our main concern on this walk was whether we would get back in time for tea and cakes but not to worry we did.
Cool down and stretches completed. We ended our day in Tomlinsons for tea, coffee, banana and choc chip bread, Malteser cake, Bakewell tart and coffee cake. I explained the up and coming walks for 2015 and also the ideas which we have for 2016 and it looks to be a very interesting year for Nordic walking.
I hope you all enjoyed your day and I hope to see you again soon.