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Tue 25th March 2014

Nordic Walk - Pilgrim's Route to Holy Island

Nordic Walk - Pilgrim's Route to Holy Island

Nordic Walk – Pilgrims Causeway to Holy Island

The first Nordic Walk of the year and what a way to start! 22 men and women met to follow the footsteps of the pilgrims who came before us. This promised to be a truly special walk and there was a buzz in the air as we all gathered. Clear blue skies, windy but not too cold – perfect.

We met on Holy Island itself, and were concerned as it was blowing a hooley! (“It's blowing a hooley” comes from the steamship captains who were unable to sail up the Hooley River (in India), because it was really windy, too windy to sail up river). After handing out poles to those who needed them and brief introductions we had a short transfer by bus, to the other end of the causeway.

We had quite a few people who had never Nordic walked before and some who needed a refresher in the technique. So after a quick warm up and adjustment of poles we set off. Those new to the technique stayed at the back with me, others were able to stride ahead with Julie and Jon. As always with Nordic Walking, the emphasis is on walking at your own pace and doing a linear walk across the sands enables this perfectly.

The first section of the Pilgrims Way follows the tarmac road. If we hadn’t done this I think we may have turned into Nordic swimmers as there were a couple of deep water channels, even though the tide was going out. Once passed these channels we veered off and onto the sand.

The Pilgrim’s Way to Holy Island follows a series of poles across the sand. Pilgrims have walked this 3½ mile route for more than 1300 years, though not so many with Nordic Walking poles! The expanse of mud flats are quite breath-taking, though they can be treacherous and there is also the danger of the tide, which cuts the Island off from the mainland twice a day.  Proof of the tide can be seen by the many barnacles clinging to the Pilgrim’s route marking poles!

The group were able to spread out as we followed the poles across the sands, each person going at their own speed, allowing those new to the technique plenty of time and space to get into a rhythm.

We stopped briefly at one of the refuge huts on stilts, there for the safety of those who do not heed the warning of a rising tide. There was a real buzz within the group, as people chatted, made new friends and caught up with old. The new Nordic Walkers in the group were amazed at how easy their walk was. I asked them to lift their poles at one point but to continue walking. They all slowed down and groaned as the walk suddenly became hard work for their legs again. Keen to practise the technique again, we set off.

The middle section over the sands was quite slippy and boggy in places, so Jon advised us of exactly where to walk.  Once across   this short section we were back onto the sands and the pace quickened.  

Another brief stop at the next refuge hut on stilts to re-group, before veering off to the left due to a deep water channel. Those of us in wellies plodded our way through, whilst Jon and Julie offered different rates for piggy backs to those in shoes. No takers meant a few people with wet feet, but no grumbles as the end was in sight.

Walking at the back of the group you can see when people begin to tire and their technique changes. But once the end is in sight the pace quickens and so we returned to our cars.
A few cool down stretches, a chat about our next Nordic Walk and an invite to all to go for a well earned cuppa, and we had completed our pilgrimage.

I have to say that this was a very special walk indeed. I have had many e mails this week with some lovely comments. Here are just a small selection:

“Many thanks for last weekend’s Nordic walk – a great stroll in brilliant weather”

“It was great to get the poles out today, many thanks”

I think this is one to be repeated later in the year and perhaps bare footed this time. Watch this space!

Sun 23rd March 2014

Training Walk - Budle Bay to Beadnell

Training Walk - Budle Bay to Beadnell

22nd March 2014

Training walk 1 for the Shepherd’s Walk Coastal challenge.

There is only really one word to summarise this walk – magnificent.

I had been reviewing the weather reports the evening before the walk and was delighted to learn that the winds of the last few days were dropping, that no rain was mentioned and that the sun might be shining. And shine it did.
Another feature of the weather report that I saw was that it said visibility would be very good. As it turned out this weather report was accurate and as a consequence we all had a great day.

There can be no finer sights than the Northumbria coast and we were rewarded with its full glory.

As we walked away from Budle Bay the land rises and we had a full view of the flats with birds flocked on the mud and the sun twinkling off the water - stunning.
As we turned south across the links the magnificence of Bambrough Castle comes into view- that’s a sight no one can ever tire of.
As we walked from Seahouses around the headland we were rewarded with the clearest view of the Farne Islands that I have ever seen. The weather forecasters got it right when they said the visibility would be good.

We saw plenty of bird life including skylarks twittering as they rose into the blue sky, curlews in the newly ploughed fields, eider ducks in the harbours. They too seemed to be enjoying the sunshine.

So it didn’t matter that this walk was a training walk it was simply a beautiful walk. We completed the route of 11.5 miles at a good pace and made it back to Beadnell in a total of 4 hours and 45 minutes. Of this we stopped for 50 minutes to eat and enjoy the view. This means that we were walking at 2.9 miles an hour but including the stops we were covering 2.4 miles each hour.

Knowing this helps to prepare for the full challenge walk in two ways. Firstly you can decide whether or not this is a comfortable pace because it is important that during the challenge walk you walk at the pace that suits you. Secondly you can work out how long it will take to cover the 26 miles and knowing this aids preparation and helps with pacing. A tip – walk at your own pace but reduce the overall time by reducing the stopping time.

After such a great day on training walk 1 I’m thoroughly looking forward to training walk 2.

Thank you to all the walkers and to Martin who helped by being the last man for the day.
A great walk in the best weather with great views and company – magnificent.


Mon 10th March 2014

Cheviot Panorama

Cheviot Panorama

Saturday 8th March 2014

This walk should really be entitled “Wind in the Breamish” some might even say “Windbag in the Breamish” but I couldn’t possibly comment.  To say the least it was more than usually draughty which to a large extent dictated our route.  The plan was to use the leeside of the hills wherever possible as shelter and to try and keep the wind on our backs when on the more exposed tops.  Even finding somewhere with calmer air for elevenses was a challenge but it certainly made everyone appreciate the value of a good hedge, windbreak of trees or even the much derided conifer plantation.  We opted for the latter but it was still rather breezy, apologies for the elevenses being a whole five minutes early by the way but the 09.00 hours start and the windchill meant we were all ready for it.  Ian had already had breakfast at home, second sittings in the car park on arrival and a few surreptitious “grazing” episodes en-route and was beginning to feel distinctly peckish.  My other carer for the day, John, was beginning to look at his watch often so it was vital to keep the staff happy – nothing to do with being client-centred you understand.

I forgot to mention to the twenty assembled pleasure seekers at the briefing about not asking questions and they certainly paid the price, sorry again.  A completely naive and very pleasant first timer from deepest Yorkshire just happened to ask about ridge (or rigg) and furrow whilst we were sheltering for lunch.  There were howls of “Don’t ask him any questions” and groans of frustration and disappointment from those I formally regarded as friends.  I provided what I thought was a comprehensive yet succinct answer.  Eyes glazed over and some even slept through the lunchtime break(down) despite the windspeed and hot air even in this windchill, if you understand what I mean?  Some of those who were not paying attention but instead enjoying themselves, chatting, having lunch etc consequently missed the hare running towards us down the quad bike track.  It must have spotted me because it veered-off and disappeared.

We had seen a lot of evidence of human occupation since the Bronze Age over the course of the morning in the form of hillforts and settlement sites plus the dreaded ridge and furrow and terrace-like lynchets.  We had also seen the panorama towards the coast as we crested the col between East and West Hill taking-in Ros Castle, the TV Mast at Catton Sandyford, the 28 masts of the wind farms in the Belford Moor area south along the sandstone ridge towards the radome at Brizlee Wood until it began to swing westwards towards Rothbury and the Simonside Ridge.  Unfortunately the visibility was poor and continued to deteriorate throughout the morning and early afternoon.  This wasn’t ideal for a walk based on distant panoramic views but such is life.  We (i.e. I) opted not to scale the heights of Old Fawdon Hill (315m) because some of our number were experiencing difficulty in staying vertical in the “undulating lowlands” or tiny insignificant hills as I prefer to call them.  

By the time we ascended Cochrane Pike, our highest point at 335m the visibility towards Cheviot and Hedgehope was very poor indeed.  The skyline to the west was equally impaired making Shill Moor, Cushat Law, Sting Head, Hogdon Law and Wether Cairn difficult to pick out.  Oddly enough the wooded brow of Hairhaugh Hill which was twice as far away at about 16 kilometres distance was much more prominent.  The tailwind of a constant 30 mph with gusts well in excess of that assisted our ascent but when I mentioned “gusts” Christine, who shall be nameless, said she would use the term as often as possible in conversation. Just because I’m paranoid doesn’t mean that they aren’t out to get me.

After lunch we visited Middle Dean hillfort, the tri-radial cairn and the exposed cists at Turf Knowe before going over the top to visit Brough Law hillfort and see some of the in-situ stonework.  The earlier morning start meant that we now had time to visit the Muddy Boots Cafe located in the former National Park Tourist Information Centre opposite Ingram church.  I was “led” off the hill by an enthusiastic band of walkers which really means that they stampeded downhill towards the cafe a mere two kilometres away. They had never moved so fast all day and they were walking into wind.  A good cup of tea, or coffee and lots of cake was had by some, well most actually before heading for home.  Despite the incessant wind and resultant windburn we didn’t get wet and the ground was nowhere near as muddy as last month’s walk.  It must have been OK because one particular connoisseur of Northumbrian landscape emailed me later to say “That was a route I'd like to walk again in different weather conditions - it would be nice to be able to stand up with confidence!!”   I do however notice that the person concerned didn’t say that my presence would be appreciated, on the other hand he, she or it (see, your identity is safe with me) didn’t say that it wouldn’t.  

Oh well, on the basis of a bit of cognitive dissonance, denial even, everything must be OK mustn’t it?  Ian, John and I look forward to seeing everyone again soon, just ignore me, everyone else does.

Monday, 10 March 2014