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Mon 3rd March 2014

St. Oswalds Way, part 8 - Harwood to Little Bavington

St. Oswalds Way, part 8 - Harwood to Little Bavington

As usual sundance had soft shoe shuffled all week and Friday was sunny, Saturday was sunny but Sunday was forecast for rain by lunchtime had the old magic worn off?

After a bright dawn by the time we met up a Little Bavington it had clouded over. A quick transfer and we were back at Harwood where we had finished last year’s walks.  A short walk along the road and after crossing a style we experienced what the rest of the days walk was going to be like, soft, slippery clarts and a cold breeze into our faces.

As we slipped and slithered our way across the fields towards the farm Fairnley.  From here it changed from soft to boggy.  It was round about now that Mike gave every one a shock as he suggested we could stop for a coffee as it was nearly 11 o’clock .  After coffee a firmish farm track lead us to and through Catcherside.

Once more we were in the clarts making a short uphill climb interesting.  Over a style to be faced with a wide area of bog we had to pass through with a burn also trying also to find its way through.  Climbing a small rise we came across a sheep on its back so our resident super hero went across and heaved it right way up, yep typical just ran off and did not even says Baa never mind thanks.  A short walk along the old Wanney Line and we had reached Knowesgate.  It was only a short walk to lunch stopping just to the north of Kirkwelpington.

After lunch a short very clarty walk we entered Kirkwelpington.and found a handy comfort stop.  A pleasant walk along a tarmac road soon gave way to another plodge across open fields before another section of road to West Harle.  From here a short descent lead us to the worst section of clarts on the whole walk.  It was uphill, bad enough but it was also churned up by tractors and animals the combination made this really arduous. Once more we welcomed walking along a farm track that took us to Great Bavington.

After leaving Great Bavington we walked along another road heading off to walk through a paddock. We all crossed the electric fence safely but at the other side of the paddock Mike forgot it was an electric fence and got quite a shock when he touched the wires (much too everyone’s amusement).  From here we had only a walk across a couple of fields to Little Bavington.  We carefully walked along the main road back towards to the cars.

Sun 9th February 2014

Lesbury figure of eight

Lesbury figure of eight

It was chilly on the sports ground car park between Hipsburn and Alnmouth at 09.30 but there were bits of blue sky, it wasn’t raining and nobody in Alnmouth was building an ark, all promising signs.  The downside, apart from me, was that two of our clients had both driven separately from Bellingham and one had misplaced her coat – I’m trying not to use the word anorak.  Fortunately the latter was soon solved.  Unusually we had three dogs with us who proceeded to have a thoroughly good time over the course of the day getting lots of exercise plus getting really wet and dirty ready for the drive home.

The Alnmouth loop took-in the ducks (mainly wigeon) and three herons on the River Aln, the Duchess Bridge, the former harbour and its associated infrastructure including the ferryman’s hut and views of south along the former spit past the location of the former parish church towards the now roofless guano store and out to sea beyond Coquet Island.  

We even managed to squeeze-in a comfort stop quickly followed by a coffee stop at the Holiday Fellowship Dandelion Cafe – training for the elevenses stop later.  Uphill past Mount Pleasant Farm before the descent down to the broad meanders of the River Aln for the tramp to Lesbury.  This particular stretch of the route had a particularly high “squelch factor” which in places must have reached the “Geet very clarty” classification on the Northumbrian Footpath Condition Scale.  None of professional walkers present disgraced themselves by falling over – but I know they were willing me to show them how it was done.

Elevenses were taken at 11.26 alongside the river on benches on the fringe of Lesbury in sunshine and out of the wind – we really do try to look after our clients.  A brisk walk along the main street past the church and over the 15th century Grade 1 listed Lesbury Mill Bridge took us to the beginning of the second and larger loop east towards Alnwick.  The route along the south bank of the Aln following the meander loops and beneath the impressive 13 arched railway viaduct (East Coast Main Line) built by Robert Stephenson in 1848-9.
This section of the walk was quiet and pleasant and relatively protected from the cold wind so that we were able to eat lunch in a sunny spot before climbing back up towards Alnwick to begin the return leg of the larger loop.  The section between Alndyke Farm and reaching the dismantled railway on Northumberland Estates land was a bit of trial, narrow, steep and very cut-up by horses hooves, it might even have exceeded the geet very clarty classification mentioned above, even the dogs slowed down.  The bridge over the deeply incised Cawledge Burn was both high and impressive and gave rise to much comment about the manpower involved in the construction of the railway embankments, cuttings and bridges.  Similarly with the even older and less mechanised canals that two of our number had recently been walking.  From a vantage point along the old railway track bed it was possible to look north across the Aln Valley immediately east of Alnwick to take-in the planned Capability Brown landscape commissioned by the Duke of Northumberland in the 18th century.  We were seeing it in its mature state as it was intended to look when planned all that time ago.

We left the track bed and turned south along a BOAT (by-way open to all traffic) towards Bilton and on past Alnmouth Station and down through Hipsburn to re-cross the Lesbury Mill Bridge to walk across the fields back to the cars.  It was lovely to see the regulars again and know that they were still speaking to Ian and I, well, Ian anyway.  Equally it was interesting to talk to new clients and welcome them to our happy band.  It was rewarding to see the sense of achievement on the face of the person who achieved her aim of walking ten miles.
Conrad’s 9.73 miles must have been wrong; he was probably hallucinating at the thought of Marian walking the dogs, polishing his slippers, chilling white and warming the red wine and getting a three-course evening meal ready for his return.  Sorry you had to leave us early Marian and hope that you recover from your sports injury soon.  Ian and I hope everyone enjoyed the day.


Monday, 10 February 2014                   

Tue 14th January 2014

North Shields Fish Quay to St Marys Island

North Shields Fish Quay to St Marys Island

Walk Blog: Sunday 12th January 2014-01-13

North Shields Fish Quay to St Mary’s Island returning via Monkseaton Metro Station

Sorry Martyn but we did keep a look-out for your arrival but it wasn’t to be.  Jon rang me about 10.30 to confirm that you wouldn’t be attending and at the time we were still in sight of the car park near Knott’s Flats, better luck next time.

It was nice to see all of the regulars again for the first walk of the New Year and although the breeze blowing down the River Tyne was a bit chilly at least we were starting-off in dry, bright conditions.  Having watched the large vehicle carrier entering port escorted by three tugs we set-off along the promenade heading for Tynemouth.  Along the way we had a quick look at Knott’s Flats, an innovative development when it was built in the 1930’s.  The Black Middens reef just below the flats has claimed many a ship and was the inspiration for establishing the Tynemouth Voluntary Life Brigade.  The Black Middens was the site of one of two early lifeboat stations near the mouth of the Tyne (before the building of the Tyne piers) which opened in 1865 and closed in 1905.  The other one was in Priors Haven where the sailing and rowing clubs are located today, opened 1862 and also closed in 1905.  The views to the south were good, Souter lighthouse and the sea-stacks and arches showing-up well in the weak sunshine.

Up to Collingwood’s Monument and using the shelter of its north side revealed Castle Tynemouth and Priory from an unusual angle.  From here it was easy to appreciate the defensive site on the headland that has definitely been used since at least Anglo-Saxons times.  It didn’t always prove a secure site however, it was sacked by the Danes in 800 AD and repeatedly throughout the ninth century and finally destroyed by the Vikings in 875.  The former religious site was not refounded until 1085 by the Benedictines.  Three kings were initially buried here (one is thought to have been reinterred elsewhere at a later date) and accounts for the three crowns included in the North Tyneside coat-of-arms today.  Some of those present will be very amazed to know that I didn’t have time to tell you lots of things like the fact that there used to be a lighthouse on the Priory headland, constructed of Priory stone (parallels with Hadrian’s Wall) in 1775 which operated until 1895 when St Mary’s Lighthouse replaced it.  The former was demolished in 1898.   From our vantage point it was easy to see and appreciate the various defences of the Tyne entrance over time from Clifford’s Fort dating from 1625 up to and including the guns and searchlights protecting the entrance to the river, the shipyards and docks in the First and Second World Wars.  Even the land that Knott’s Flats were built on was originally a barracks and the cellars of the complex functioned as air raid shelters in the Second World War.  We could even see one of the guns in-situ within the Priory grounds not far from the now mothballed former Coastguard Station.  Even the car park overlooking Prior’s Haven had military associations, it is known as Spanish Battery allegedly after the Spanish mercenaries who manned the guns commanding the approaches to the Tyne in the 16th century.

From her we could also see the North Shields lifeboat out on exercise but really there as support and customer care for our clients!  Next stop was Longsands Bay via King Edward’s Bay where the main road is cantilevered out over the former cliff.  Here we saw the tension gashes in the paths leading down to the promenade, proof the slopes are still moving.  I found it really interesting but people kept patting me on the head and seemed more interested in the elevenses I’d promised them at Crusoe’s a little furtheron.  We walked purposefully north along Longsands taking-in the surfers, people in shorts and T-shirts (it was about 3°C with a cold wind), the Sunday beach soccer matches, dogs, children and much to Julie’s amusement, Nordic walkers who weren’t i.e. had completely the wrong technique!  Coffee and ice creams consumed there was fortunately a “comfort stop facility” at the Cullercoats end of Longsands – sorry, I’ve obviously taken too many American’s along the Wall in the last year.  We couldn’t get into Cullercoats Bay due to the tide but saw the Dove Marine Laboratory (Newcastle University) and the Inshore Lifeboat Station – we take our clients safety very seriously as you will see from the accompanying photographs.

On past the oldest house in Cullercoats (1774) and the former Brown’s Point Radio Station now converted to a private home.  Down into Brown’s Bay using the promenade where some of our number insisted on skidding on the ice despite the warnings and all we’d done to keep them safe – there was even a Royal Navy ship cruising offshore as back-up.

Table Rocks and the former sea bathing pool, site of the proposed 270 m Whitley Bay Pier at the end of Esplanade, first proposed in 1908 and finally abandoned in 1935, flashed by as we approached Spanish City which like several other places we passed en-route (e.g. Collingwood’s Monument, St George’s Church, Cullercoats) are Grade II listed buildings.  This area is still a reconstruction site and some of our number had contrasting opinions about whether or not it should have been conserved never mind the time and cost involved.  I thought I’d better not go on (what me?) about the 1980 Dire Straits hit “Tunnel of Love” which was set here.  Anyway I have no idea how some of our clients might react coming as  some of them do from south of the River Tyne and even Western Australia, people can be unpredictable!  Yet more trips to the adjacent “comfort stop facility” before exploring The Links, site of former bell pits for both coal and iron-ore also the original site of Whitley Bay Golf Course.  Lunchtime was looming and the pressure was on to find a suitable place to sit out of the wind.  This meant that we raced past the Rendezvous Cafe, except for Ian who went to try and purchase chips, no luck but there is a happy ending later.  I was going to read the Newcastle playwright and fiction writer’s Julia Darling’s (1956 – 2005) poem Rendezvous Cafe here but apparently hunger trumps culture (kulture?).  Below is a taste of what you missed:

 “I would like us to meet

where the Horlicks is sweet

I could tell you a story

With a nickerbocker glory”

After lunch we were on the final leg to St Mary’s Island along a rapidly diminishing beach, it was now high tide.  I thought the boulder clay cliffs were really interesting with evidence of several ice advances, the team were very patient.  Almost up to the steps for the final few hundred metres to St Mary’s Island and a big puddle, an inlet of the North Sea, cut us off from them.  I was volunteered as a sacrifice so that the clients could walk over me and remain dry!  I offered other alternatives and went into consultation mode.  In the meantime Christine made an independent executive decision and went off up some other steps without even so much as a dynamic environmental risk assessment, extraordinary, I felt usurped.  We tracked along the side of the dangerous putting green (danger of rolling golf balls) and went to inspect the site of the recent incident when someone went down the slope, over the grass, through the promenade railings and onto the beach in what had been a perfectly good car.  Further access to a handy “comfort stop facility” at Curry’s Point by the lighthouse the derivation of which I had explained earlier – if anyone was listening?Success, Ian got some chips at the “catering facility” whilst the others in what used to be my team purchased various hot beverages and watched sanderlings feeding up and down the beach between waves.  Here we met the Coastguard patrol previously arranged to ensure client safety.  Time for the last leg of the walk now cross-country to Monkseaton Metro Station and a unique end to our walk by train back to North Shields – if you can walk by train that is?  On the road section between St Mary’s Island and the golf course we were passed by an emergency ambulance, also laid-on “just in case” but thankfully not required.

Then came the muddy bit, it certainly had a high squelch factor and reminded us of the person we’d seen almost a year previously in the same place waiting for an ambulance due to slipping in the mud – somebody should do something about it.  The last bit to the Metro Station was easy and there are photos of the now reconstituted team actually smiling on the Metro.  Some of us, unfortunately not all but you can’t have everything, even remained standing on the Metro all the way to North Shields as this was supposed to be a walk.  Iain and do I try hard to set a good example.  Once off the Metro and out of the station it was all literally downhill (in more ways than one) and hard to keep up with the “team” as they sensed peace and quiet, the car heater, an absent guide etc.  I always enjoy being put in my place (I think?), and my wife would love it.  Lovely to see everyone again and hope to see you all soon once you come out of therapy.