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Mon 21st October 2013

Craster Night Walk

Craster Night Walk

We met at Craster Quarry car park just after sunset and things looked promising, there were patches of open sky overhead and out to the east over the sea but it was too early to see any stars yet.  Fifteen minutes later we were on the dip-slope of whin sill rock looking east out to sea listening to the waves crashing onto the rock of the wave-cut platform, it was almost high tide.  We couldn’t see very much in the misty twilight with a hazy glow around any points of artificial light but it is amazing how the other senses compensate for reduced vision, especially the senses of hearing and smell.

In the failing light this was just about the last time I actually “saw” Andrea, my carer for the day, who was bringing up the rear - 20 people need careful monitoring on a dark night. The aim was for everyone to avoid using artificial light to begin with until their eyes became dark adapted and to experience just how much could actually be seen at night.  We’d use the lights and headtorches later for the damp bit as light showers were forecast between 20.00 and 22.00 hours.  We even inspected a newly built section of drystone wall built of whin sill dolerite in the semi-darkness.  An hour earlier that would have seemed very odd indeed, it probably still did to some of our number.  We continued via a break in the west facing scarp face of the sill, an old quarry, to the north-south trending valley beneath The Heughs (Northumbrian for a sharp ended low hill) towards Dunstan Square.  Shielded by the cliff face we could no longer hear the sea but some of us could hear the trains on the East Coast Mainline nearly four kilometres away to the west, others were just chatting and enjoying themselves or trying not to fall over in the dark.  The silhouettes of the farm buildings gave us something to aim for as we ascended the slope through the fields.  The most awkward thing so far was finding the gate fastenings in the dark.  Just here we got our first view of the rising moon through broken cloud but it was too weak to give shadows.  The midlevel cloud did treat us however to a show of iridescence, the pastel coloured mother-of-pearl bands of colours caused in this case by moonlight being diffracted as it passes through cloud.  I’m sure some of our number were suitably unimpressed, it was a subtle effect but interesting nonetheless – well for me anyway.

The next bit towards Dunstan Steads was easy, a concrete bridleway and part of a long distance cycleway, linked the two farms.  Along this section we past a 1940’s pillbox adjacent to our route which provided continuity with indistinct views of Dunstanburgh Castle we got between the gaps in the hedge as we made our way north.  We were getting good at spotting the wet and soggy bits by now and at avoiding ground with a high squelch factor.  Passing the barns, sheds and holiday cottages at Dunstan Steads we turned east down towards the sea.  As we passed through the gate to cross the links of Dunstanburgh Castle Gold Course the forecast “light shower” started and continued quite intensely for nearly half an hour.  After donning wet weather gear (quickly) the route was altered to take advantage of a hedgerow in the vain hope that it would provide an element of protection for the section towards Dunstanburgh Castle, it didn’t!  At one point the rain, definitely not a shower; I could see the size of the droplets in my headtorch, blanked out our view of the castle which we had been able to see in silhouette for most of the walk.  The plan to stop for a picnic below the north end of the castle near Gull Crag was rapidly abandoned in favour of a strong British tradition, a car picnic back at Craster, oh well.  It was here that I fell over, thank you for not pointing and laughing or applauding or for those who didn’t see it for not asking me to do it again.

The rain eased as we went around the landward side of the castle up towards the main entrance.  The castle was closed the clue being a big chain and lock on the flimsy entrance gate.  Being truly British we formed a queue in the darkness and waited for something to happen.  What we saw were the navigation lights of a Seaking helicopter from RAF Boulmer doing some night flying and the beam of the lighthouse on Coquet Island off Amble 18 kilometres to the south.  Walking south down the gentle slope towards Craster we crossed the numerous ridge and furrow remains of arable cultivation that were actually easier to see in torchlight than in full daylight.  As we went the position of the former castle harbour, now long gone, was pointed out but the biggest sensory impact was the smell of the sea.  Some exceptional and particularly sensitive individuals could also smell the beer in the pub in Craster too.  As everyone was by now “quite damp” not to mention hungry and ready for a drink I decided not to divert off the tourist route to visit the site of the former Second World War radar station.  The two remaining reinforced concrete buildings, the transmitter and receiver operations block and the standby set house (i.e. generator) are easily seen on the dip-slope of the whin sill.  This Chain Home Low radar station operated from 1941 to 1944 as part of the coastal defences of the UK after which it was converted into a Prisoner of War Camp initially for German prisoners and later for Italians some of whom worked at Dunstan Steads the first farm we had walked past earlier in the evening.

We had a quick look at Craster harbour and village which is unusual in being built predominantly of the hard and difficult to shape whin sill dolerite before some lucky people deserted us for the pub whilst the rest of us made tracks for the car park, a belated picnic and the drive home.  It was a pleasure to see old friends and some new faces on the walk.  I hope that young Scott (aged 9) wasn’t put-off by the atmospheric conditions, it’s a pity we didn’t see more of the night sky.  Did anyone else notice how the sky began to clear when we got back to Craster?  Do have a look at the route we followed on Google Earth so that you can work out where we went.  Thank you to all for attending and especially to Andrea for her help and support throughout.  One of these days we will get lucky and get a clear sky and strong moon shadows.  Only two evenings previously the conditions were excellent and the Milky Way looked superb, we must try again soon.

Monday, 21 October 2013                                      

Thu 10th October 2013

St. Oswalds Way, part 7 - Lordenshaw To Harwood

St. Oswalds Way, part 7 - Lordenshaw To Harwood

Sundance had eased off during the week so that a concentrated shoft shoe shuffle the day or so before the walk would do the trick.

Sunday fantastic clear sky as the sun rose over the horizon it looked promising.  By the time we were meeting up in Harwood the sky had clouded over it was not looking good.  We climbed on to the mini bus for the short drive to Lordenshaw carpark the end point of last month’s walk.  We quickly sorted ourselves out and started up the hill heading towards Spylaw Cottage.

Just before the crest of the hill Mike stopped for a witter about the view and an ancient wall that was a boundary for a medieval deer park.  After a few more meters of climbing the path levelled out and other than a couple of small climbs out of the stream valley the route was relatively flat.  Just before we reached Spylaw a call went out for a coffee stop, as usual Mike tried to ignore the demand.  However after telling us that Spylaw was where he took his wife on their honey moon!! we had our coffee bright sunshine although the strong breeze took the edge off the break.  After a very short break we continued on towards Coquet Cairn.

On the way Mike met a couple of people who he had not seen for about 35yrs and who like Mike used to be members of the Scout Mountaineering Club who used to rent Spylaw from the Duke.  Mike eventually caught the group up to ensure we stopped at Coquet Cairn for lunch.  The views from Coquet Cairn plus the bright sunshine and the fact that the trees were acting as a wind break made it an ideal place to stop and relax.

After lunch we entered Harwood Forest here we followed a well-defined track south before a short section on a forestry road.  Leaving the road we walked through a recently re-planted area of wood land with lots of stones sitting on tree stumps to mark the way.  Eventually we reached the farm Falllowlees.  From here you could see the hillside north of Greenleighton where Jon used to be a shepherd.  Once more we left a forestry road to walk alongside the Fallowless Burn before entering another section of forest; here the trail is marked by big green paint spots on the trees.  Leaving the trees we walked past Redpath Farm after admiring a couple of small ponies.  By now the skies had darkened and a light drizzle had started to fall.  As we followed the forestry road back to Harwood village waterproof tops were donned in slow succession as people gave in to the fact it was wet.  Once through the village we only had a couple of hundred meters to walk back to the cars.  All except Mike who had parked about half a mile away and had bit more to walk in the drizzle (so much for the old soft shoe shuffle).  

This marked the end of this year’s walks with most of us having started in March from Berwick down the cost to Warkworth then up the Coquet and then south west to Harwood.

To celebrate the end of good years walking we headed back to Rothbury for Coffee and Cake at Tomlinson’s.

Mon 7th October 2013

Map and Compass course

Map and Compass course

Mungrisdale - what a venue for Shepherds Walks map & compass courses. The weather was even kind although I think our guide secretly wanted a bit of 'proper' Lake District conditions.

Fifteen participants had travelled from all corners including a happy band all the way from Sussex. Most people wanted either a bit of a refresher or more skill in using the compass - which is often the thing that puts people off navigating on their own or away from a guidebook.

Like the Rothbury course we started off in the classroom with a basic introduction to the map and compass (that plastic twirly thing with a red needle as it was called). After lunch we went outside to 'navigate' ourselves on two short journeys round very different landscapes.

The first loop was around a typical rural area that walkers find themselves in and often are more difficult to navigate around that being up on the fells with lots of field boundaries, twists and turns. Some were surprised to discover that the map isn't to be relied upon 100% as sometimes things exist on the ground but not on the map and vice versa. We also had a bit of practice at walking on a compass bearing. Perhaps the most useful thing we learnt was that is if you look up from the map occasionally we can appreciate the view and there are plenty of things in the landscape that can help to fix your position without resorting to a GPS!

The second loop took us over a bit rougher ground and used features like streams and fences to help us navigate. On the way were also learnt a little bit of the local history.

Here's some of the thoughts on the day, thanks for your feedback.

- Thanks for a great day. I look forward to putting what I have learnt into practice.

- Good course, well instructed.

- Very enjoyable.

- A very informative and enjoyable day.

- A fantastic team.

- Found the day very useful and feel confident that with practice when out walking will gain even more confidence.

- Excellent day.

- Thanks very much. You were really useful and patient. A really enjoyable day.

- Paul was very helpful and knowledgeable. Excellent course.

- Professionally run course at the right pace.