St Cuthberts Cave Walk
Sunday 17th May 2015
To say that this eleven mile walk was one of our easier ones would be a slight exaggeration. Although the ascents and descents were quite gentle, I’d use the term “undulating,” the sharp showers and blustery and strong wind did promise to take the edge off the day. On the up side everyone present knew each other so the patter and leg-pulling started before leaving the car park. Ian was introduced as a TV star following his recent appearance on last Friday evenings BBC Look North item (sorry, aka “piece” or “package” as they call it in the trade) concerning his work as a Voluntary Ranger with the Northumberland National Park. The real story behind his, not even, fifteen minutes of fame and let’s be honest, celebrity is even more interesting but too much of a shaggy dog story to relate here. Nevertheless we were all in awe of his celebrity and the fact that his new found status hadn’t changed him a bit – except he is a lot bigger in reality than on the TV.
We walked up to St Cuthbert’s Cave close the start of our walk and it began to rain. The cave provided convenient shelter for the donning of waterproofs and early elevenses, we even mentioned St Cuthbert. It is an impressive location and the avenue of recently in-leaf bright green trees framed the Cheviot landscape to the west. We got thoroughly wet as we walked around to the failed dam near to Dick’s Oldwalls but it fined-up as we approached Swinhoe Farm. Past the barns full of new calves and the Riding Centre we were now on both the Northumberland Coast Path and also the St Oswald’s Way. An early lunch was taken in pleasant sunshine on a grassy slope on The Hag which, despite its name, provided reasonable protection from the wind too.
After lunch we made our way towards Belford through the fields before looping around Westhall and heading north-west back towards Swinhoe Farm by a different route. Do have a look on Google Earth at this area to spot the position of the former moat and the sheep-dip on the stream we passed. Marian always pulls my leg when I mention using the above but it really is a good way of appreciating where we have been and what we have seen, anyway both she and Conrad keep me grounded, sometimes even helping to run me aground, thank you – I think! The bluebells in the wooded sections of the walk put on vibrant displays and yes, of course they were the native British variety not the Spanish intruders just don’t ask me to detail the differences please.
It was good to have David and Linda with us for the first time in a while, there local knowledge of people and land owners in particular helped put in context what we were seeing. Passing beneath the Whin Sill dolerite outcrop of Sunnyside Crag, with is scree slope and rabbit warren smothered in coconut smelling bright yellow gorse really brought out the difference between the sandstone hills we’d been moving between since St Cuthbert’s Cave. On past the pastoral farmland and into the plantation containing Lower Swinhoe Lake below the crags of the same name took us towards Fawcett Hill. The track junction there gave us a magnificent view of the Northumberland coast from the Farne Islands to the south and the full sweep of Lindisfarne and Goswick Sands to the north. Cath stepped-up onto a convenient stile at this point to gain additional height! The sky was blue over the sea and the view to the east was crystal clear but our view of the Cheviots behind us had disappeared. The five-hundred metre walk between this viewpoint and the relative shelter of the large plantation that includes Shiellow Wood and Little Lake was rather exposed to the elements and we were thankful to reach the cover of the trees. On the way we passed a recently excavated and quite extensive pond, with a chalet and landing stage, that doesn’t appear on the most recent maps. Just prior to reaching the plantation an examination of the old coal workings and the peat cutting business in the valley between our route and Greensheen Hill was largely ignored, it was far too wet and windy. We knew we were OK however as Mike was monitoring our progress on his electronic map which had proved useful as we had experienced a right-of-way change in Square wood near Swinhoe Farm. At various points where out route coincided with both the St Oswald’s and the Northumberland Coast Path the surface had been upgraded with what appeared to be road planings and there were new gates and fences in the wood and new signs proclaiming the land as part of Ford & Etal Estates. Sue, Jane (plus dog dog) and Mary led us downhill around Raven’s Crag and around Holburn Lake for the final leg in towards St Cuthbert’s Cave to complete the circular route and from there back downhill to the car park.
We saw quite a variety of landscape along the route – arable and pastoral farmland, deciduous and coniferous woodlands, several lakes and ponds, a riding school etc all immediately adjacent to our route. Further away the distant panoramas of the Cheviots and the Whin Sill Coast (Lindisfarne and the Farne Islands) were very rewarding and in both cases enhanced by the slightly unworldly blocks of bright yellow oilseed rape in full flower. You don’t often get two views of such high quality on a single walk. Smitten fans can probably still get Ian’s cameo role on BBC Look North on Friday 15th May 2015 on iPlayer, keep replaying it for full effect! Thanks to everyone who attended, we hope to see you all again soon, possibly at the Rothbury Walking Festival next month?
Richard and Ian
9th May 2015
What a day!
This was a walk that didn’t seem as if it was going to happen as I was driving from Northumberland to Keswick. The rain was lashing down over the Pennines towards the west. I even stopped in Brampton to discuss with Jon whether or not it was going to be safe to take a party onto the high fells.
The weather forecast didn’t help much as it said that things would get worse before they got better. So fearing the worst I arrived in Keswick to meet up with John and Julie, my excellent supporters, to make the decision that we were going to call it off. The rain had begun to ease as we walked up to the meeting point above Latrigg and by this stage the odds had improved to 50/50 that we might, at least, be able to start the ascent of Skiddaw which, like all the fells was shrouded in mist.
A discussion with the group of determined, well equipped and experienced walkers led to the decision that we would start up the first slope of Jenkins Hill and take it from there. The mist was down to about 300m and once we were in it the visibility was poor but the expected rain was holding off so we just plodded on and on and on up the steep and steepening slope until somewhere in the swirl the gradient eased.
With the walking easier and despite the falling temperature we just kept going, everyone was in good form and making good progress. Ironically we probably stopped less that if it were a glorious day and it was a bit of a surprise when, all of a sudden, the summit trig point appeared through the mirk. It had taken us 2 hours to complete the climb which was some going. I allowed the group 5 minutes for a quick bite as we sought some protecting from the wind on the summit in rudimentary shelters. The temperature on the summit was close to freezing and all were keen to get moving again.
The descent meant that the wind was behind us and each step downwards took us out of the mist which was beginning to break up. This is one of the glories of the Lake District fells that you can spend hours toiling away in misty mirk and see nothing but your feet and then suddenly you get a glimpse of the most breathtaking views. In this case we got Derwent Water with the pretty white buildings of Keswick glinting way below us.
Descending further we came out of the mist completely and had the most spectacular view of Catbells, the Newlands Valley, the long flattened ridge leading from Threlkeld across High Fells and Raise on towards Helvellyn, and down into the jaws of Borrowdale. This view has to be the cure for many ills – it certainly was a reward for the determined and adventuresome who come out in challenging conditions.
What a day!
Thank you to John and Julie for their excellent support and to each member of the group who made the day enjoyable. It was a pleasure to meet you all and I look forward to our next challenge – Helvellyn….
Northumberland Coastal Challenge Walk 2015
On Monday just under 300 participants took part in the 26.2 mile Northumberland Coastal Challenge Walk.
After checking in at Alnmouth all the walkers got bussed up to Budle Bay, North of Bamburgh. From here everybody started off with a stuning walk along the Northumberland Coastal Path.
Well done to everybody who took part.
Please enjoy the pictures and YouTube film from this great day.