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Sun 15th November 2015

Nordic Walk - Herrington Country Park and Penshaw Monument

Nordic Walk - Herrington Country Park and Penshaw Monument

Watching the weather forecast during the week I wasn't sure this walk would go ahead but this morning the forecast said it would be dry until 2 pm.

We met in the car park at Herrington Country Park, discussions took place around the amount of layers, whether we needed waterproof trousers and gaiters.  Once everyone was suitably dressed we did our warm up and headed off past the play park.

We had a few regulars and some people we hadn't seen for a while but as always you couldn't tell as everyone chatted to each other.

As is usual for a Julie Nordic Walk we ended up on the wrong path and nearly ended up back at the cars. Underfoot we had mud and puddles.  Made for interesting conversations.  Quick change of direction and we headed around the Country Park which was the old coalfield.  We visited two of the structures where we had a fantastic view of Penshaw Monument as well as the surrounding area.  John explained that we were in the Barrier Reef of the North East.  We walked past the new houses and up onto the footpath before reaching Penshaw Tea Rooms, just to tease everyone.

We headed up the bridleway at the side of the hill up to Penshaw Monument, queue lots of complaints due to the mud which would become the theme of the walk.

I explained the route we were going to take and we headed along the Weardale Way which runs alongside the River Wear.  The river was running very fast with a lot of debris including large pieces of trees.  The funniest thing to watch was the ducks who were floating down river before flying to go up river.  We spotted the heron which is always on this stretch of river and some red winged thrush which migrate from Scandanavia (information courtesty of John).

Debbie spotted the signpost which showed Penshaw was 1 mile away but was disappointed to hear that that wasn't our route.  We headed towards Offerton and onto the old railway line.  There were a few areas of water along the path which we could skirt around.  Unfortunately this didn't last as we came across a section which was totally flooded, there was no alternative so we just had to plodge through it.  We all had wet feet and it was up to our ankles unfortunately for the shorter members of our group, Debbie and Angela, were up to mid calf.  The flooded section was only 20-30 metres long but at least it cleaned our shoes.  We continued along the railway path to the spot where we retraced our steps back towards Penshaw Monument.

The group split in two with Laura taking one group straight down to the tea shop and I took the rest of the group up to Penshaw Monument which is a 70 foot high folly built in 1844.  Most people hadn't been to Penshaw Monument so they took some time to explore and look at the scenery before we headed down the stairs to the Penshaw Tea Room.

As there were lots of us we had booked a table as the Tea Room is usually packed.  They weren't bothered by how muddy and wet we were so we ordered quiche, pie, cheese scones, cherry and chocolate scones, Mars Bar pavlova, white chocolate torte were the order of the day with lots of tea. 
I hope you all agree it was a great and varied walk and that the Tea Shop at the end made the wet feet worth it.

Thank you as always to Laura for her invaluable support as back marker and more importantly listening to Debbie complain all the way around.

Our next Nordic Walk is on 13th December 2015 which is the Simonside walk were we will be visiting the Christmas tree at Dove Crag, I hope to see you there.

Don't forget to check the website in the next couple of weeks for our 2016 Nordic walking programme.

If I don't see you have a lovely Christmas and I hope to see you next year.

Julie x

Thu 12th November 2015

Tyne Bridges and Victoria Tunnel Blog

Tyne Bridges and Victoria Tunnel Blog

Remembrance Sunday 8th November 2015

It was good to see some “old friends” arrive for the walk starting from the Cycle Hub on the Quayside.  Alan even booked his place on the walk from his apartment, mansion or estate on Tenerife.  That has to be a first.  It was a really chilly morning down on the riverside and the blustery wind made it feel even cooler once we got up onto the bridges.  We couldn’t take our time on this section of the walk as we were booked to enter the Victoria Tunnel at 1.00 pm and we had to fit lunch into the time to, not to mention elevenses.

The solution was to “do” the four bridges, Tyne, High Level, Swing and Millennium with a brief stop adjacent to the castle in Castle Garth for morning coffee but not dallying too much along the way.  That way we stayed relatively warm and didn’t get too damp in the drizzle either.  We even found a quiet spot on the High Level for the two minutes silence at eleven o’clock.  The downside was that everyone (thankfully you may say) didn’t get the usual information along the way.  We’d agreed beforehand that I’d abandon the usual blog format and substitute a summary of the bridges information below.  The Victoria Tunnel material was presented by the guides underground so I hope everyone was listening.  It is amazing what you can glean in two hours, in the dark, in an essentially straight tunnel devoid of fixtures and fittings!   The bridge information appears below, excuse the abbreviations in my “pace notes” – get it?  Or as Frankie Howard used to say “Oh forget it.”

Tyne Bridges Walk

Pre-existing Historical Bridge

Roman Bridge: earliest known bridge between present day Newcastle & Gateshead, lowest bridging point of the R Tyne (Roman Tinea) at Pons Aelius.  Constructed AD 122, wooden decks with possibly stone piers occupied the same site as the present Swing Bridge, the Roman piers were discovered in 1872 when the stone piers and abutments of the new swing bridge were built by the Tyne Improvement Commissioners.

Medieval Bridge: it isn’t known how long the Roman bridge remained in-situ but the first stone Tyne bridge is thought to date from the 12C.  Typically medieval with towers, houses and commercial premises throughout its length.  Much consequent rebuilding (e.g. stone bridge washed away by flooding in 1339) and restoration but finally completely destroyed in the 1771 Great Tyne Flood which destroyed many Tyne crossings upstream too.

The 1339 flood event was probably even more significant than the much publicised 1771 Great Flood.  In 1339 the population of Newcastle was approx 4,000 (3970 in 1377) yet Newcastle was the 12th largest city in the kingdom and between 120 and 180 people drowned when 6 perches (approx 30m) section of the city wall collapsed, approx 1 in 25 of the whole population.  Took place at or near Wallknow a hillock on the E side of the Pandon Burn near Manors.  Probably due to scour of the soft alluvium beneath the town walls.

Georgian Bridge: Temporary bridge built 1771 to replace the medieval one destroyed by the Great Flood of 1771, demolished 1781 by which time a new stone built Tyne Bridge (Designer Robert Mylne) on the same alignment of the medieval bridge was open to traffic.  Consisted of 9 low arches which had an impact on the use of the river.  Low arches prevented large sailing vessels moving upstream hence the need to break the bulk into smaller vessels for transport up river as it became increasingly industrialised.  Coal had to be moved downriver by keel boats for loading onto larger vessels for export etc.  The stone bridge deck had to be widened in 1801 because of the increasing amount of cross-river traffic – capacity problems existed then too.  Bridge was demolished in 1868 when a temporary wooden bridge was built for use during the construction of the new Swing bridge completed in 1876 making this part of the river navigable to larger vessels once more.  Not as simple as that, Tyne Improvement Commissioners (1850), dredging, deepening, river improvements etc.   The Georgian bridge was replaced when the High Level Bridge was completed in 1849.

The Seven (7) Tyne Bridges in Newcastle-Gateshead from East to West 
Millennium  –  Opened 7th May 2002    
Tyne  –  Opened  Oct 1928        
Swing  –  Opened  1876    
High Level  –  Opened  Sept 1849              
QE II Metro  –  Opened   Nov 1981
KEB  -  Opened July 1906      
Redheugh - Opened  May 1983      

Tyne Bridge:

- Why Required? Combination of increasing cross-river traffic and high toll charges on the High Level Bridge led to proposals for a new crossing.  Discussion between N’cle & Gateshead local authorities for 40 years before the N’cle & G’head Corporations Act (1924) enabled the building to go ahead.

- Design & Construction: Based on the design of Sydney Harbour Bridge by Mott, Hay & Anderson.  Dorman Long (Middlesbrough) appointed as the contractor with Sir Ralph Freeman as the Consulting Engineer

- Construction began 1925 form both sides and joined in the middle in Feb/March 1928.  N.B. The much larger Sydney Harbour Bridge wasn’t completed until 1932 but it was not the model for the latter as often quoted.

- Size 398m long including the approaches, width 17m

- Opened: 10th Oct 1928 by King George V & Queen Mary when it officially became part of the A1

High Level Bridge

Prior to the opening of the rail deck in 1849 rail passengers leaving the train at G’head and wanting to go to N’cle had to detrain and go via the Georgian Tyne Bridge (demolished 1868) or via rowing boat across the Tyne.

- The oldest existing bridge

- Upper rail deck, opened 28th Sept 1849 by QV see below

- Lower road deck, opened 5th Feb 1850 (after official opening of rail deck by Queen Victoria)

- Designed by Robert Stephenson.  Thomas Harrison responsible for the technical drawings and supervised the construction work

- Dimensions 425.6m long and had a clearance of 36.5m above the river at low water

- Opened by Queen Victoria from a train on 28th Sept 1849

- Remedial work on piers in 1919.  Major restoration between 2001 – 2008
Queen Elizabeth ll Metro Bridge (painted blue)

- Dedicated Tyne crossing for the Metro rapid transit system, trains exit and enter tunnels at either end of the bridge.

- Built between 1976 – 80, opened Nov 1981 by Queen Elizabeth

- Designers W A Fairhurst & Partners who also supervised its construction

- Contractors Cementation Construction Ltd and Cleveland Bridge & Engineering Co Ltd

- Illuminated at night by LED lights changing colours artwork called Nocturne (Nayan Kulkani, 2007)

King Edward Vll Bridge (Known to generations of railmen as the KEB)

- Necessary due to the increasingly high volume of rail traffic

- Trains arriving via the High Level Bridge had to reverse into Newcastle Station before this bridge was built.  The construction of this bridge facilitated a direct through-line – time saving and much more efficient

- Built 1902 – 1906, opened 10th July 1906 by King Edward Vll

- Designer Charles Harrison Chief Civil Engineer of NE Railways

- Contractor Cleveland Bridge & Engineering Co Ltd

- Grade 2 Listed

Redheugh Bridge

- Third bridge on the current  site:

- First a toll bridge, opened 1871

- Second toll bridge opened 1901, Consulting engineer Sir William Arrol & Co who’s previous work included the forth Road Bridge and Tower Bridge, London.  Bridge purchased by N’cle & G’head Corporations 1937 and tolls abolished.

- Current bridge.  Designed by Mott, Hay & Anderson (who were responsible for the Tyne Bridge).  Architects Holfords Associates.  Main contractors were Edmund Nuttall Ltd & its Dutch parent company HBM.  Located 25m downstream form its predecessor.  Opened 18th May 1983 by Princess of Wales.  Exposed position makes it necessary to impose speed restrictions during high winds.

Swing Bridge

- Built as a replacement for and n the same line as the earlier Georgian and Roman bridges.  The formers low arches prevented navigation upstream.

- Stone piers and abutments built by the Tyne Improvement Commissioners

- W G Armstrong (Rothbury) designed the bridge, installed the iron superstructure and hydraulic machinery which were all manufactured at the firms Elswick works

- When it opened in 1876 it was the world’s largest swing bridge.

- Since opening over 300,000 ships have passed through.  Busiest year 1924 with an average of 20 swings per day.  Rarely used today.

- Steam powered pumps replaced 1959 by electric ones but the original Armstrong machinery produces the swing.

Gateshead Millennium Bridge

- Latest addition and the world’s first tilting bridge (blinking-eye bridge).

- Designers Wilkinson Eyre Architects and Gifford Structural Engineers

- Pedestrian and cycle crossing on the N’cle / G’head Quayside

- Iconic tourist attraction, has won several prestigious awards.

- 20th Nov 2000 the steel deck transported upriver from Wallsend where it was assembled by one of the world’s largest floating cranes and lowered onto its concrete foundations

- Official opening by Queen on 7th May 2002 but open to public beforehand since 17th Sept 2001.

- Tilts to allow larger vessels upstream.

- Floodlit rainbow effect at night.

Thanks to everyone for a really interesting, and different, day out and thank your lucky stars that I haven’t provided the full text version, a sure cure for insomnia.  If you have made it this far congratulations.  

I hope to see you again soon.

Richard and Paul

Tue 20th October 2015

Alwinton to Netherton

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