St Cuthbert's Way Challenge Walk 2014
I’m often asked before and during walks what the terrain ahead is like. I interpret this question as – ‘Are there many hillls?’. Now life as a guide when asked this question can be tricky. Do you simply tell the truth knowing that this may be demoralising? Or do you come up with an answer that is economical with the truth and get caught out in the lie?
This challenge walk was no different as I was asked the question about what lies ahead shortly after getting off the bus. So immmediately I’m faced with the usual dilema. Except in the case of this walk there really is no dilema. It’s easy to describe the route as 3 climbs with falt bits in between. What of course is not necessary to add is that the climbs are long and sustained. So I emphasise that the climbs are there and that they are an integral part of the challenge but the rewards of the effort is the endless beauty of the borderlands and the flat bits in between!
Starting at Morebattle walking eastwards from Scotland to England was a pleasure. The weather was good for walking. The air was clear, a breeze blew from behind and we made good progress over the first challenge within the challenge, climbing up and over Wideopen Hill (368m) and then down to Kirk Yetholm through the valley floor. Climb one and section one successfully negotiated!
From Kirk Yetholm the route climbs again over the ridge from one valley into the next. This climb took us over the border to a high point of about 340m. We descended gently following the Elsdon Burn to Hethpool crossing the College Valley. Climb two and section 2 successfully negotiated!
From Hethpool there is a final climb but it is some way off as the route follows the contours at the base of Wester and Easter Tors. It is when it turns up the valley between Easter Tor and Yeavering Bell that the time for honesty in description is the only option, simply because the route is obvious. It climbs up and up until the watershed at about 340m when it flattens out and the effort all becomes worth it because of the view. And what a view – the sun was shining on the purple heather which was in full bloom provding a startling splash of colour on the flanks of the stunning slopes of the Cheviot Hills. Climb three successfully negotiated! But the challenge is not yet over. The walk from this point is easier than it has been but triedness makes it seem longer than it is – so it is with some relief when Wooler comes into sight and I can say with complete honesty that the route is ALL downhill from this point.
Great day. Well done to all who completed this challenge and a special word of thanks to the folk who I was walking with – we had one of the best days.
For the record the route covered 20.4 miles and we were walking for 9 hours and 10 minutes (which included 1 hour and 20 minutes of breaks) and therefore walked at an average pace of 2.2mph. The highest point was 374m and the total ascent was 1054m. A great challenge walk, with great company and in stunning scenery. What more could you ask for?
Hauxley Nordic Walk
The morning didn’t start with great looking weather, in fact everyone had rain (some torrential) before they left home. I was checking the Met Office website first thing to see what we could expect. It did say it would be dry from lunchtime and with this in mind I decided on shorts and t-shirt with waterproofs in the bag.
The group met with plenty of time to spare and as most of them were regular Nordic walkers they all started catching up. I introduced everyone to the newest member of our group and explained that the walk was to go through the Nature Reserve and if they kept their eyes open they may see the red squirrels which had just returned there, we would then go onto the beach and come back on the coastal path, a discussion took place and it was agreed that the group would be happy to stay on the beach and make this a linear walk, so the plan changed slightly.
Just before we started the warm up we had a short rain shower so everyone quickly donned their waterproofs. After the warm up I reminded everyone that they should go at their own pace. The group had a wide range of abilities and length of time Nordic walking but I reminded everyone that my eyes would be focused on their technique so to remember to keep their elbows straight.
The group started off and soon settled into little groups. I dropped back to talk one of the group through technique as this was only her second Nordic walk she had been on after completing a training morning with us. It didn’t take long for her to get back into the swing of it.
We left the Nature Reserve and dropped onto the sand when most people took their waterproofs off because the rain shower had lasted less than 5 minutes.
We headed North on the beach and everyone again picked the pace they wanted to go at with John and Cathy leading the pack at a cracking pace.
The great part of walking on the beach is that we could really work on technique and people could feel the effort they were putting in and also check the sand to see either the holes or alternatively the little squiggles their poles left. Squiggles just mean that they aren’t pushing through their straps enough and I gave extra pointers to help.
As John had been on the Advanced Technique course I went to the front with him and we left the group behind as I pushed him through the full advanced steps and really made him and me work! After a few minutes we turned around and watched the group come towards us. We could see that everyone had got into pairs or sometimes fours and were enjoying the walk, scenery and weather. When the group came together I suggested that (if they wanted to) they had a try at going faster than they usually walked (just for a while) to try and get people to the next level of their Nordic walking.
We got to the top of the beach where the group at the front had stopped to chat and discuss the merits of having a tea shop at the end or in the middle of a walk and we were going to turn around when someone said “we’re close to Amble and Spurrelli’s (the ice cream café)” after a short discussion we went up onto the coastal path to Amble via the harbour and everyone had an ice cream. The funniest part was when Cathy had gone back into the café and John put his ice cream tub onto Cathy’s chair and Cathy sat down without looking needless to say John was in trouble (luckily they are married to each other).
We started back the way we had come with John and Geoff (aka Elbows) taking up the front we dropped onto the beach as soon as we could and walked back to Hauxley Nature Reserve.
At Hauxley we had a cool down and I told everyone about the Rothbury Railway Nordic Walk on 6th September and the Pilgrims Causeway Nordic walk on 27th September.
It was an excellent walk with a slight detour (which is now why John has given me the nickname of Julie “Detour” Barnett) for ice cream, fabulous weather and brilliant company.
Thank you everyone for a great afternoon I look forward to seeing you at the Rothbury Railway walk or the Pilgrims Causeway walk.
Julie “Detour” Barnett
Five Hillforts and a Waterfall
Sunday 27th July 2014
Executive Summary: Rain stopped play in the College Valley.
Nothing went as originally planned on this walk. On the drive to the College Valley the wind picked-up and at Wooler the flags outside the Tankerville Arms were taught. On arrival at Hethpool car park it was breezy and quite chilly – in the middle of a celebrated warm spell! When I did the recce two weeks beforehand the original route proved to be impractical; far too rough underfoot, exposed involving lots of climbing and descent, oh and the “easy level bit” proved to have monster bracken that towered above my head for about a mile and a half so that was no good either. Two people even had the foresight to withdraw from the walk the day beforehand but as things turned out they missed a good day.
The revised plans included an innovative two-centre walk with the longer of the two taking up the bulk of the time with a much shorter and easier mini-walk on the way home. The former now became Three Hillforts and a Waterfall (not counting the not inconsiderable deluges, also known as “showers” but felt like waterfalls encountered en-route). You really do have to have a sense of humour with our weather.
The revised route took us via the 4,000-5,000 year old Neolithic stone circle to the base of the hill on which Great Hetha, the first of the hillforts was located. Several pauses later, to admire the landscape, we reached the summit in time for elevenses. Unfortunately the gentle drizzle had also just started but as everyone present was truly British we ignored it. As an aside I noticed that some of those present did the same at the stops along the way when I was pontificating explaining about the Iron Age, the significance of hillforts and the change of climate at the beginning of the Iron Age in Britain. The views were certainly worth the effort. Apart from unusual and often unseen views of the northern Cheviots we could also see NNE out of the valley towards the North Sea which came into view as we reached the summit. The descent towards Little Hetha 130 m lower down provided a really plan good view of the smaller of the two hillforts. There was much discussion about the term hillfort, its origins, whether or not they really were defensive sites, social gathering places, indicators of social status etc never mind the practicalities of providing a water supply up here on the hill tops. All this and a consideration of the environmental history of the area meant that it was beginning to sound a bit like a University of the Third Age field class, heady stuff, time to get walking.
The next waypoint was Elsdonburn on the route of the St Cuthbert’s Way to begin the gentler climb up the farm track towards Ring Chesters hillfort. The original intention was to have lunch on the summit but following consultation the majority vote was in favour of lunch in a less windy and exposed place so one was found a few hundred metres further up the track. In terms of the steadily increasing frequency and intensity of the showers to come later this proved to be a good decision. After lunch we summited again and gained a good view into Scotland including towards Melrose and the three hilled summit known to the Romans as Trimontium. From here to we could see some of the difficult terrain that formed part of the original but discounted route, another good decision. Looking upwind we could see the heavy showers coming our way, at least we would have the consolation of having our backs to these as we made our way towards Hethpool Linn.
Several sharp showers later we were approaching Hethpool when it really started to rain; there wasn’t time to don overtrousers. As we were only 300 metres from the cars some of our number opted to retire gracefully at this point. Those of us remaining, the last of the few, set-off for the waterfall and gorge getting thoroughly soaked in the process; thank goodness we weren’t still on the tops. A quick look at the natural swimming pool upstream of the waterfall and the gorge from the safety of the footbridge and it was time to walk back to the car park miraculously without the accompaniment of precipitation. As time was getting-on it was unanimously decided not to drive to the second location to take-in the other two hillforts. When we arrived back at the car park the deep puddles made even getting into the cars a challenge.
A good day was had by all; it’s a great life if you don’t weaken. Lovely to see everyone again, I hope you all enjoyed it as much as I did and yes, there are many different facets to the term “enjoyed.”
Monday, 28 July 2014