Holy Island Walk
Saturday 29th November 2014
The grey and misty day with restricted visibility contrasted markedly with the day Ian and I did our recce a month ago when we sat in the sun for lunch and even observed mirage phenomena where the Farne Islands appeared detached and “floating” above the water. No such temperature gradients today, it was uniformly cool, with no sun and definitely no view of the Farne islands. The bonus was that we were restricted to looking closer-in at detail rather than the usual big sky and far-horizon landscapes. Following a quick introduction and walk onto the island proper our first real stop was adjacent to St Cuthbert’s Island (aka Hobthrush). This overlooked the mud and sandflats and the salt marshes of the pilgrim route from the mainland over Holy Island Sands, most of which was still under water as the tide receded. The seals on the emerging sandbanks provided interest to the east but the south-easterly breeze carried their “song” away from us. Whilst there we had a quick look at the structure and features within the boulder clay cliffs displaying evidence of the most recent glacial period.
The south coast contrasted between the high viewpoint from the old Coastguard Lookout on top of the Heugh (with excellent views into the Priory) to the old storm beach at sea level by The Ouse now occupied by the iconic sheds made from upturned boats which provided shelter from the north-east wind. The Heugh forms part of the Holy Island Dyke complex and is made of dolerite, a hard intrusive igneous rock. During the walk along the road towards the castle we encountered more people that we saw for the remainder of the day. Walking between the castle and the Gertrude Jekyll designed walled garden, we arrived at the shingle spit, on the south-east corner of the island, on which limekilns were built in the 1850’s for the trade with Dundee. This site provided a relatively sheltered, if somewhat draughty, location for lunch. At least we were protected from the gentle drizzle and the scale of the kiln complex itself was impressive.
Here we picked-up the former waggonway that led north along the east coast where we could easily pick out the raised beach that resulted from the glacial rebound, a result of the melting of the overlying ice towards the end of the Pleistocene glaciation. From here we could easily appreciate the changing landscape produced by hard and soft rocks, erosion and deposition etc as we approached the white panted navigation marker on Emmanuel Head at the north – east corner of the island.
Turning west provided yet another marked change of environment where massive sand dunes concealed two broad sandy bays. We crossed Sandham Bay at beach level, the point of Emmanuel Head providing some protection from the wind. The relative sense of wildness, tranquillity and remoteness contrasted starkly with the tourist honeypot activity on the south coast just an hour previously. We climbed over the slippery, folded rocks of the headland of Castlehead separating Sandham Bay from Coves Haven. A different landscape again, a former limestone quarry was revealed, now largely reclaimed by nature. The whole area comprises both a National Nature Reserve (NNR) and Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). The contrast between the hard and soft rocks, erosion and deposition and natural and human impacts was easy to see and appreciate.
The broad sweep of Goswick Sands north-west towards the Berwick coast would normally have been clear but the visibility hadn’t improved and all we could see was the grey breakers rolling-in.
We turned south near Snipe Point to cross The Links, the sand dune belt that forms a broad strip across the whole of the northern part of Lindisfarne. From here it was possible to see the westward extension of the dune belt that forms The Snook. We could just make out the grey silhouette of Snook Tower approximately three kilometres away from us at the eastern extremity Lindisfarne, the visibility was improving. This area had been the location of an old settlement called Green Shiel which may date from the ninth century. It is interesting to view the area on Google Earth. Walking across the dune slacks between the lines of dunes provided shelter from the cool breeze before emerging from the dunes to walk back to the cars by way of the lonnen passed St Coombs Farm. A brief shower at this stage gave us the only proper dampening of the day but we were now only half a mile from the vehicles. The sky displayed a few tiny patches of pale blue with a brief pink glow as sun was beginning to set; it was the first sky colour we’d seen all day.
Thank you to Andrea, Margaret and Ian for their assistance throughout and also for Ian’s role as photographer. We hope you enjoyed the day, we certainly did and we look forward to meeting you again soon. Our next walk, on Sunday 25th January, is a bit different. It is in central Newcastle and we shall be visiting the Tyne Bridges and the Quayside Sunday Market in the morning which will doubtless include a genuine coffee break. In the afternoon we are going underground for a guided tour of the Ouseburn Tunnel which involves a couple of hours out of reach of any inclement weather. We would be delighted to see you there.
RNH 30th November 2014
Nordic Walk - Warkworth to Alnmouth
I had been keeping an eye on the weather all week via the Met Office and was so pleased to see that it was forecast for a dry, sunny and warm (around 13°C) day. The tide was on its way out as well which was a good sign.
We all met nice and early. Introductions were made between members of the group who hadn’t met before, poles were distributed and we did the warm up, as usual. As I introduced myself to the group I was met with lots of comments of “we know who you are”. I explained it was in case they had forgotten my name! I was reassured that they would never forget my name!
A few members of the group were concerned that they would not manage the 10 miles (as our Nordic walks are usually around the 5 mile mark) and I reminded them that it was actually two 5 mile walks as there was a lunch break in the middle – some of them still weren’t convinced but I reassured them they would be okay.
We set off down the bank, from the car park, towards Warkworth beach, at which point some people took off their fleeces as it was warm – t-shirt weather in November!
I told everyone to go at their own pace and that I would be checking technique. I also explained that if anyone needed any help they should give me a shout.
It didn’t take long for the group to split into twos and threes to chat as they headed up the beach towards Alnmouth. Kirsten became a very popular member of the group as she offered around sweets to everyone.
We were walking along at a nice pace when we heard (what we thought was) a funny robotic sounding bird. It seemed to be saying “nawdic, nawdic, nawdic”. We realised a few minutes along that it was actually Kirsten who had discovered that this was a good way for her to keep her arms straight, whatever helps you Kirsten!
We came to a section of the walk where there were some rocks (Birling Carrs). Unfortunately the tide hadn’t gone out enough so a detour came into play (it wouldn’t be a Julie walk without one). Paul and John headed straight up the grassy bank, to the caravan park, and the group followed once they reached the top. The bank was quite steep but everyone managed no problem with the help of our poles.
Much to everyone’s delight we came back down to the beach quickly and were greeted by the sight of three flocks of geese flying in varying formations.
We headed on towards the River which split Warkworth beach and Alnmouth. I gave the group the option of swimming across or heading up to St Cuthbert’s Cross, which is said to be the location where St Cuthbert agreed to become Bishop of Lindisfarne when petitioned by the King. Needless to say we headed up to St Cuthbert’s Cross. As we were walking towards the cycle path which would take us to Alnmouth, there was a muddy and slippery area, around some mud flats, over which everyone managed to keep their feet – EXCEPT for me, as you will see by the photographs. The knee of one of my trousers took the brunt of the slide. No injury just concern from the group.
We walked along the cycle path that had just had a new layer added, which isn’t good for cyclists but is excellent for Nordic walking, as the poles (minus paws) kept a very good grip. The pace was steady, although people were starting to tire slightly and techniques weren’t as good as usual.
Once we came off the cycle path, and Alnmouth was nearly in touching distance, the pace picked up and we headed to the café.
At the café John checked his GPS and informed everyone we had walked 5.6 miles that morning, although Martin’s said 7 miles.
The Dandelion Café was our stop for a lunch of sandwiches and cakes. Chocolate, potato and orange cake for some and apple and stem ginger cake for others. Mary was very good and didn’t have cake, a fact she was very keen to point out.
After lunch we headed back to Warkworth, missing out St Cuthbert’s Cross and heading straight over the dunes back onto the sand.
Kirsten suggested a Nordic race and drew a line in the sand. Unfortunately I got a fit of giggles so the race was curtailed quickly. At this point some of the group decided they were going to “welly it” (aka go faster) and shot off into the distance.
We all got back to the cars where John and Martin checked their GPS’s and they read just over 10 miles and 12 miles respectively and everyone decided they would go by Martin’s as 12 miles sounded better.
We did our cool down with an extra lady (who had walked along the beach) joining us and I told everyone about up and coming walks/events and wished everyone a Merry Christmas.
Draconid Meteor Shower Event
Ingram - 7th October 2014
Our second attempt to observe a meteor shower in the Ingram or Breamish Valley was much more successful than the first when an 8/8ths cloud deck obscured the whole sky. Although the Draconid Meteor Shower is never as brilliant and distinct, nor the meteors so numerous as the Perseid’s in early August, some of our number did see a handful from their “observing positions” lying down in the bracken out of the wind on the upper slopes of Turf Knowe. The brisk wind certainly wasn’t conducive to standing around and the rising, almost full moon, did tend to wash-out the sky contrast so that we definitely missed some of the fainter streaks.
The big advantage of the Draconid event is that usually it is necessary to wait until the early hours of the morning to see the best displays but this time the radiant, the area from which the meteors originate, was high in the sky, almost overhead from early in the evening. Before we left the warmth of Ingram Village Hall, with a hot drink inside of us, we had a short introduction to the what, when, where, why and how of meteor watching using computer generated images. Then it was time to leave the warmth of the blacked-out and dimmed hall for the walk to the observation site. By now it was fully dark and everyone walked up towards the viewpoint in the increasing moonlight trying to ignore it and continue to allow our eyes to become even more dark adapted. The moon shadows were very marked due to both the low angle of the rising moon and the fact that it was almost full. We had a more or less clear sky with a very thin overcast of high cirrus in places that slowly increased over the observing period but the main circumpolar constellations were easy to see. The head of Draco the Dragon, the radiant from which the meteor shower appeared was less distinct but easy to find using The Plough, the Pole Star, Cassiopeia, Hercules and the bright star Vega. Whilst in the vicinity some of us took the opportunity to see the adjacent tri-radial cairn and the excavated burial cairn containing the two open cists with their capstones, it helped to keep us warm too.
Our return downhill and back along to the Village Hall and cars was assisted by the strong light of the moon, we appreciated just how much when walking through the avenue of trees just before the fork in the road towards Ingram Bridge car park, we could easily have been in a tunnel. No moonlight penetrated the trees but the sound of our boots on the road and the feel of the tarmac underfoot compensated for the loss of sight. We were fortunate in having a lovely group of like-minded individuals at the event, some old friends and “frequent fliers” and it was especially good to see Paul and his wife reappear after an absence of a mere four years – I hope it wasn’t something we’d said?
Thank you for attending and we hope that everyone both enjoyed the experience and learnt a little about aspects of the night sky. Please keep your eyes open on the Shepherds Walks website for our January 2015 walk for what will hopefully be a novel kind of walking in the dark, this time in daytime and on the level which is also easy to get to regardless of the weather – intriguing or what!
Richard & Ian