Sunday 15th February 2015
The first test was to find the Northumberland Wildlife Trust’s car park at Low Hauxley, well done everyone! The second was to survive my commentary throughout the day while pretending to be interested. Thank you for allowing me to continue under that delusion. Did Ian and I mention that when we were doing our recce the previous Tuesday the weather was gorgeous, a really bright and warm spring day with a big wide beach and virtually nobody else around? The day of our walk was a bit different, grey and overcast, with a cool breeze off the sea and limited visibility – but at least we didn’t get rained on.
Apart from the intrinsic interest of the Hauxley Nature Reserve itself the North Hide provided a convenient place to brief everyone about the day’s walk, it wasn’t very warm but at least we were out of the chilly breeze. We certainly felt its effects when we left the relative protection of the Reserve and emerged onto the beach to revel in the joys of peat beds, climate change and the site of the 2013 rescue dig – well I thought it was interesting anyway. Do have a look under “Rescued from the Sea” on the internet and you will see video of the animal and human footprints, including those of children which are thought to be circa 7,000 old. I know the regulars smile because I usually say this but do also have a look on Google Earth at the area of our walk, it will mean so much more having walked it.
The plan was to walk the length of the beach before high tide at noon stopping-off en-route at Druridge Bay Country Park for access to the facilities and hopefully the cafe would also be open too. Fortunately both facilities and cafe were open so that helped a lot and it was surprisingly warm there out of the wind. The spring migration of caravans was in full swing with the main car park being taken over by enthusiasts having spent the previous night there. Back onto the beach and heading south into the wind, surprisingly we didn’t see any naturists at all fog-bathing near Chibburn Mouth which is a designated naturist beach. Here we went inland behind the dune line to follow the Northumberland Coast Path as far as Druridge Pools Nature Reserve. On this section it was easy to appreciate the characteristics of the now restored former opencast coalmining landscape, low-lying, gently undulating farmland with mining flashes used as nature reserves, there are six spread along the seven miles of Druridge Bay. Lunch was taken in a large bird hide overlooking the landscaped lake at Druridge Pools. Nothing exotic was seen just overflying curlews and some shelduck on the water. Compared to the large skeins of calling geese we saw on Tuesday last ...... no forget it.
The first stop after lunch was the remains of the Knights Hospitallers Low Chiburn Preceptory dating from 1313. It has had a chequered history following the Dissolution and being passed-on to the local Widderington family who added a dower house in about 1550 before it was attacked and burnt by the French in 1691 along with Widderington village. At least with the European Union we are not constantly at war with the French anymore – I think I’ve got that correct. As recently as the Second World War part of the original chapel structure was converted into a rudimentary “pillbox” as part of the defences of northern England. Following that opencasting in the area dug up everything in the area except the building site itself, even destroying the surrounding moat. The only remaining clue to this is the curve of the fence surrounding part of the site.
On the return route we had the advantage of the wind behind us and the impetus of a brisk walk back to the comfort of Druridge Bay Country Park for the facilities prior to tanking – up on more coffee. As it was now afternoon there were a lot more people on the beach and the tide was falling allowing us to walk the south end of the beach which was denied to us on the outgoing leg. Kite surfing was in full swing as was kite-boarding but hey obviously don’t rise early for these activities. On reaching the cafe the spring migration of caravans had taken place, the car park was now empty of big white boxes on wheels. The final leg back to Low Hauxley was uneventful save for the overflight of RAF Boulmer’s Seaking heading north back to base at less than a hundred feet. We could hear it before we could see it in the coastal mist even with its navigation and winching lights on, it very soon disappeared back into the murk. In April this year they are to be taken out of service as the RAF and RN Search and Rescue flights hand responsibility for the service over to HM Coastguard. Back at Low Hauxley the visitor centre was open with a copy of the recently published book on the aforementioned archaeology rescue dig on display.
Thanks to everyone who attended, we hope you enjoyed the day and hope to see you all again soon. Our next walk, on 22nd March, is in the Cheviots starting from Alnham and visiting the Shepherd’s Cairns on the moor near Ewertly Shank Farm and topping-out on Hogdon Law one of the best, easiest and underrated value-for-effort viewpoints in Northumberland. Come and find out about the mysteriously named Grey Yade of Coppath which sounds like it should be in a Harry Potter book.
Richard and Ian
Nordic Walk - Bamburgh
What a fantastic sunny morning to Nordic walk along one of the best beaches in Northumberland from Bamburgh to Seahouses.
Everyone met in the car park in plenty of time, some a few minutes later than others (a detour to the other car park). Poles at the ready, I introduced (just in case people had forgotten who we were) myself and Jon who had joined us on the walk and it was said that I had to be on my best behaviour by the group not Jon!
We warmed up in the car park and headed down onto the beach.
Jon, Elbows (aka Geoff) and Angela took off at a fast pace but as always with Nordic walking everyone goes at their own pace so we were stretched across the vast sandy beach but everyone was walking alongside someone else. We soon realised we had lost one member of the group as John had decided to remove a layer straight away and when we were gathering for our “group shot” in front of the iconic Bamburgh Castle, John ran to catch us up. As usual some of the group tried to hide behind the taller members but were soon shuffled to the front.
The beach was relatively empty bearing in mind it was such a lovely day and there was lots of chatter going on within the group as some people hadn’t seen each other for a while. The beauty of Nordic walking is that you can walk and talk at the same time.
We had to stay on our toes as Jon was taking quite a few photographs (as you will see below) as we were walking. There were a couple of small plodging parts where there were little rivers luckily these weren’t as deep as the week before when I had recce’d the walk.
We got to Seahouses and there were various routes off the sand, Jon and John went over two routes and the rest of the group followed me over the not so steep parts. We walked along the grassy top to Seahouses where the conversation turned to where we were going to have lunch. We decided to sit looking out of the harbour as the temperature was warm and some people had brought sandwiches, the rest of us headed to the fish and chip shop for our not so healthy lunch.
Refreshments finished we noticed the temperature was dropping a little, as the tide was coming in slightly, so we decided not to take any layers off and John put his chin strap on so he didn’t lose his hat.
We headed back towards Bamburgh taking the same route. We had more of our group walking at a quicker pace, Ruth and Sharon had joined Jon, Elbows and Angela at the front. All the techniques were still looking good at this point. Although John asked me to check his technique, which Pam was happy about. I gave him a few pointers and we walked quicker so that he could really use his shoulders and feel the difference I also showed him how to walk slower but get more out of his workout. After waiting for everyone to catch up, one of the group mentioned walking over the sand at Holy Island and it was decided that we would hold a Nordic walk starting in August and I said I would check the tide tables and let Jon know so that he could put it on the website.
Once we got back to the cars, we did our stretches. I thanked everyone for joining me on the walk and the conversation very quickly at that point moved to tea and cake at a coffee shop. John checked his GPS and it had measured 7½ miles, ½ mile less than advertised. We left the cars and decided if we walked to the coffee shop that would take us over the 8 miles.
We all headed to the Copper Kettle in Bamburgh where we all relaxed and I told every one of the forthcoming walks especially the Nordic Walking Inaugural Challenge Walks on 18th April. Elbows and Sharon confirmed they would be joining me on the 15 mile walk whereas the rest said they would stick with Jane on the 7.5 miles.
A fantastic walk, brilliant day with good friends and I hope to see everyone very soon. Our next Nordic walk is Whitton Hillhead for an afternoon start on 7th March.
Tyne Bridges & Victoria Tunnel
Tyne Bridges & Victoria Tunnel Blog for Sunday 25th Jan 2015-01-26
The walk was certainly different to our usual diet and hopefully enjoyable for the 28 people who met at The Cycle Hub, Ouseburn. A morning walking four of the seven bridges crossing the Tyne Gorge between Newcastle and Gateshead and part of the afternoon underground in what would at first sight seem to be an unprepossessing area of industrial Tyneside.
It didn’t take me long to decide to ignore the twenty-one pages of A4 notes that I’d prepared and treat it as an pleasant walk in an unusual location (for Shepherds Walks) instead. Generally speaking we don’t “do” urban areas but on the basis of this walk they have much to offer. The logic of offering this particular walk was to provide a day out in a location that we knew participants could reach easily even if the weather was unhelpful. As it happened the weather was benign for late January and improved as the day progressed. Remember the sunshine on the bridges and at coffee time in the Newcastle Garth by the Black Gate next to the remnants of the old city wall?
Even the starting point proved convenient with the advantage of free parking and access to hot drinks and toilets at the beginning, I even saw a few of our number stocking-up on food supplies there before we started – and none of them were Ian. The overview from near Glasshouse Bridge and the walk along Newcastle Quayside towards the bridges provided a brief introduction to the contrasts between the previously heavily industrialised Lower Ouseburn valley and the historic site of Newcastle. The changes brought about by the redevelopment of the quayside could easily be appreciated by comparing upstream and downstream on both sides of the river. Despite passing it along our route we ignored the newest addition to the Newcastle-Gateshead bridges as we’d be returning over the Millennium Bridge at lunchtime.
Our first bridge of the day was the iconic Tyne Bridge constructed between 1925 and 1928 and definitely not the model for the much larger Sydney Harbour Bridge which was constructed between 1923 and 1932. This urban myth is often quoted but untrue. From the bridge deck the roofscape of Newcastle and the proliferation of building ages and styles was quite striking, the more so as the sun came out along with the cameras. Lots of us are used to driving, or more usually queuing, across the bridge but few actually walk across it and some of the views are amazing e.g. towards the other Tyne bridges, the Sage, the Baltic, down towards Bessie Surtees House etc. Having rounded the corner at the Gateshead end we passed the refurbished Central pub, popularly known as “The Coffin” because of its shape, before walking back across the river via the road deck of the double-decker High Level Bridge. At 166 years old this is the oldest of the seven bridges. The rail deck was opened first by Queen Victoria on 28thSeptember 1879 followed later by the opening of the lower road deck on 5th February 1850. More photographs were quickly followed by morning coffee adjacent to the Newcastle Keep in the sunshine and out of the wind.
Next it was down Dog Leap Stairs past the remains of the old city walls to pass the Guildhall and Bettie Surtees House at ground level having seen them from high above on the Tyne Bridge previously. Onto the Swing Bridge which opened in 1876 and along with the efforts of the Tyne Improvement Commissioners, transformed the fortunes of the Tyne by opening-up the river to shipping by providing access upriver to Armstrong’s Elswick works where the Swing Bridge and its operating gear were manufactured. Several of our number had memories if the Tuxedo Princess which used to be moored on the Gateshead side of the Tyne close by.
We were getting hungry now so a quick walk along to The Baltic meant everyone could get a hot drink etc before crossing the Millennium Bridge (officially opened 7th May 2002), the world’s first tilting bridge. The bridge actually opened to the public 17th September 2001 following its installation on its 19,000 tonne concrete base by one of the world’s largest floating cranes (Asian Hercules II) which brought the 800 tonne steel deck upriver from Wallsend where it had been assembled. We didn’t want to get trapped on the wrong side of the river in case the bridge tilted at lunchtime, we needn’t have bothered as it didn’t happen. Lunch was taken on the Newcastle side of the river before we walked along to the Victoria Tunnel entrance on Ouse Street for 1.30 pm.
Tunnel tours are limited to 15 individuals so the lucky ones went underground and the remainder had to stay with me for a walk around the Lower Ouseburn Valley to see how this relatively small valley had been a key area in the industrial history of Tyneside since even before the industrial revolution. The whole area is in transition and it is amazing how new stands in juxtaposition with the old and derelict, how buildings have been converted to completely different uses, old factory sites cleared and redeveloped. This work has been in progress has since the 1980’s but is gathering momentum despite the recent recession. There were lots of unexpected surprises such as the Seven Stories Centre for Children’s Books, the Cluny, a John Dobson designed flax spinning mill which later became a flour mill, then a bonded warehouse for McPherson’s Cluny Whisky (hence the name) and is now a pub, restaurant and music venue as well as the home of a large artist’s studio group. The former Maynards Toffee Factory site has been converted into a hub for creative businesses. The former Mayling Pottery site is being redeveloped for residential accommodation etc. Another former warehouse has been converted into an upmarket hotel. Even the three bridges that dominate the upper part of the valley are significant in the transport history of the area such as the newest, and pre-cast, Metro Bridge which was the first bridge in the UK to be bonded together by epoxy resin. Alongside it is a mainline railway bridge, still in daily use, which has cast-iron metalwork which replaced the woodwork original i.e. it pre-dates modern steelwork! Even the Ouseburn Farm Environmental Centre occupies the site of a former lead works.
Having done a quick figure-of-eight around the lower valley we arrived back at the tunnel entrance to say goodbye to the emerging first group and Ian escorted them back to their cars. Our turn to be troglodytes for an hour and it proved to be a really interesting experience, next time we must do the two hour tour and learn a lot more. On our return to the cars several of us repaired to The Hub cafe for a hot drink and something to eat before going home. It was a very different day to normal; I hope that you enjoyed it. If anyone feels cheated that you didn’t get the full twenty-one pages of information (or alternatively, you are a chronic insomniac) an email to Jon will stimulate him to send me your email address so that I can send it to you – I won’t hold my breath but we do hope to see you all again soon.
Richard and Ian