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Mon 4th February 2013

Countryside Skills Day

Countryside Skills Day

The view from the "office" was certainly crisp and clear this morning as participants gathered for the first Shepherd's Walks Boundary Skills Course. The day started with a very informative introduction from Gary our guide for the day, and it wasn't long before we were out in the courtyard practising the skills that looked as easy as the diagram on a flip-chart!

After a while we did wonder as a group whether we would actually be able to build a wall above the height of about 5cm - It was like participating in a giant game of Jenga! We learned very quickly that dry-stonewalling is very much an art, and not as easy as it looks. Shaping, levelling and building are very different skills and to combine them all is very challenging! Photographic evidence proves that we succeeded in our venture, though it may be some time before we have a feature slot on "Country-file".

After a break for lunch we spent the afternoon discussing hedgerows and some techniques that can be employed for hedgerow regeneration. The group were able to employ some of these techniques in the field (literally!) and it seems that many participants may also apply these techniques at home too!

Please also enjoy the YouTube film.

Mon 28th January 2013

Both Sides of the Tyne Walk

Both Sides of the Tyne Walk

Guided Walk date - Sunday 27th January 2013

We met at the Low Lights car park adjacent to the site of the former Clifford’s Fort which was completed n 1672 to defend the entrance to the River Tyne during the Anglo-Dutch Wars.  It was a bright, windy and cool day but a joy to be out and about following the grey overcast, snow and ice of the previous week.  The thaw that had continued overnight and conditions underfoot were excellent.  It was almost low tide as we walked along North Shields Fish Quay with the aim of catching the first ferry of the day to South Shields.  The mastheads of fishing boats tied up alongside the refurbished quay between The Gut and the Ice House were level with our feet.  The short walk to the Ferry Landing demonstrated the tremendous amount of redevelopment, regeneration, modernisation, conservation and even gentrification that has taken place all along the waterfront on all categories of buildings in recent years.  The steep slopes now devoid of sub-standard housing and the remnant sets of steps, or chares, contrasted with the new riverside apartments and the converted residential accommodation above the quayside shops.  The conversion of some of the old fishing related buildings to the catering and hospitality trade was particularly noticeable.  We reached the Ferry Landing just before the first ferry from South Shields arrived.  A few minutes later and we were “abroad” in South Shields and greeted by Ian who acted as Passport Control – he lives “South of the Tyne” and had a lie-in, and probably a second breakfast too.

The keen wind whipped along the Tyne as we turned north to follow the riverside past the newish residential developments towards Wapping Street.  The way that old slipways and docks had been retained in the landscape design, integrated with the modern housing was impressive.  Some were really unexpected such as the armada of seven stainless steel galleons in one of the former docks at Captain’s Wharf.  Both new and old were integrated together in ways that created a new residential area and all very convenient for the town centre.  The riverbank walkways provided impressive views of the Tyne and towards North Shields.  The river traffic was interesting with one of Nissan’s car ferry’s being tugged towards their European export terminal which is only seven miles from their factory.  Passing the merchant navy fire training school and South Tyneside College’s specialist offshore training facilities we climbed the steps towards Lawe Top to get even better views along the Tyne.   North Shields Fish Quay was opposite and towards the mouth of the Tyne it was easy to appreciate the advantages of the original site of Tynemouth Castle and Priory and the former Coastguard Station in the grounds which closed in 2001.  We passed the site of the Roman Fort of Arbeia and its impressive reconstruction of the main gate and wall en-route to the coast via North Marine Park, the hilltop providing clear views of the Tyne Piers and southwards along the coast towards our lunch destination at Marsden Grotto.  On towards the South Pier and time for elevenses adjacent to South Marine Park – most of us had tea or coffee from a flask but someone who shall be nameless, called Ian purchased chips.  This comfort stop also included a trip to the toilets in the park, the “boys” excuse to see the narrow gauge railway in operation. 

Our next stop was to be lunch at Marsden Grotto via The Leas path passing through disused quarries and following the cliff-top path from Trows Point via Frenchman’s Bay to Marsden Bay.  Lots of interesting geology and botany, ornithology etc but after “only” a brief twenty minute orientation lecture, seats provided, with the assembled audience presenting their backs to the wind and sun (note the excellent customer care) at Trows Point I was really disappointed that follow-up questions were not forthcoming.  Even more surprisingly no-one offered to submit a paper on “The Significance of the Magnesian Limestone in the Economy of South Shields Extractive Industries” – perhaps everyone was getting hungry having seen Ian eat his chips at the previous stop?  We arrived at Marsden Grotto for 1.00 pm with the choice of a pub lunch or a picnic on the beach; I don’t think Ian had both?  I wandered along the beach taking photographs of sea stacks, natural arches, wave-cut platforms, cliff-face exposures of the dip and strike of the Permian strata etc while everyone else kept their distance, can’t think why?   It was time to start the return journey and climb the numerous steps back up to the top of Marsden Bay cliff for the return journey.  Reassembling outside the entrance to the Grotto the beer and coffee on offer was judged to be OK and two of our number, one an employee of the company, announced that they were staying for more beer and not accompanying us back thus demonstrating a certain lack of team spirit.  The fact that they lived relatively locally seems hardly the point.

The return journey was relaxed and light-hearted.  We included things we didn’t see on the outward route but mostly had a good laugh along the way.  Considerately everyone left me to my own devices; they must have thought I was tired from watching Ian eating or something.  Back in Wapping Street the door to Fred Crowell’s boat-building workshop was open; he was in the process of restoring an old RNLI lifeboat and keen to explain the process.  We couldn’t stay long, we were aiming for the next ferry but it was a joy to listen to a real craftsman - enthusiast for a few minutes before the final dash to the ferry.  You will have to ask Fred about his collection of rubber ducks, all collected from the Tyne, another time.  The fish quay on the North Shields side was really busy with families at the various eateries and pubs’; parking was at a premium, a bustling scene for late on a Sunday afternoon.  Thanks to everyone for attending what was a different style of walk to our usual rural ones.  My special thanks go to Ian (coupled of course with profuse apologies) and Andrea for their help and good humour.  It was lovely to see some of the old team reassembling – Marion, Conrad, Christine, Julie and Martin.  We now also have budding regulars with Gwen and Chris and it was nice to meet John and Stephen for the first time, I hope everyone enjoyed the day.  Oh, and don’t worry, I have a cunning plan to improve our collective “ologies” over the next series of walks!  Not really, just kidding, I hope to see you again soon.  Best wishes. 

Richard
Sunday, 27 January 2013                    

Mon 7th January 2013

Beach Combing - Boulmer

Beach Combing - Boulmer

Beachcombing from Boulmer Sunday 6th January 2013
This walk was originally scheduled for Sunday 25th November but had to be postponed because of the atrocious weather; strong winds and heavy rain.  We were much more successful this time; the weather being unseasonably mild and calm.

The underlying theme of the day was looking at and registering aspects of the landscape that would normally go unnoticed.  The sky comprising fifty percent of our field of view was our starting point.  With the low angle sun over the sea the cloudscape was both colourful and complex, the gaps revealing contrails of the transatlantic jets.  The multiple cloud decks even allowed patchy sunshine creating vivid sunbursts stretching across the flat calm sea towards us.  Most of the time we were treated to the Tupperware sky typical of mid-level altostratus cloud with occasional bursts of sunshine one of which illuminated Dunstanburgh Castle on the prominent east dipping Whin Sill to our north.  This tied-in nicely with our progress along Howdiemont and Sugar Sands bays where we were looking at massive boulders of Whin Sill dolerite stranded on the wave-cut platform and also where they had been used to reinforce and protect the base of the weak boulder-clay cliffs.  Needless to say, nature was slowly but surely winning the battle. 

On the bridge over the Howick Burn looking out towards Iron Scars we referred the legacy of the Grey family and the attractions of the adjacent Howick Hall Gardens.  Walking north uphill we could just see the location of the, as yet unexcavated, Iron Age camp, signed hillfort from our path, above the north slope of the burn.  Our increasingly muddy path soon led to an enclosure protecting the excavation of Northumberland’s oldest known settlement which has been carbon-dated to 7,800 BC.  This site is very accessible but frequently missed and it is well worth visiting the website at ncl.ac.uk/howick to find out much more than the two interpretation panels at the site have to say.  A little further-on is Rumbling Churn and just beyond that the Bathing House built by the Grey family but now a restored, and unique, holiday rental.   It was getting towards lunchtime so we backtracked along the cliff-top parallel to our outward beach journey towards Boulmer with a hazy sun in our faces.  Throughout the morning we had been constantly accompanied by the Search and Rescue Seaking from RAF Boulmer doing its air test and various exercises so with this, and the abundance of seabirds, ducks and waders plus the changing skyscape we had achieved our aim of noticing different features of the environment even if we ignore those aspects of both the farming and coastal landscapes we looked at along the way.

Relatively few walks afford the opportunity for a pub lunch but this one is different and several of our number enjoyed fish and chips and “a swift half” at the Fishing Boat Inn.  The hard part was getting people to abandon the attractions of an open fire and get going again.  The afternoon’s walking was a contrast with the hard rock coastline of the morning.  Walking south towards Alnmouth even the sand on the beach became progressively finer as we walked towards the Aln estuary.   The closer we got to the village the busier the beach became.  The light had changed and although we could clearly make out Coquet Island we couldn’t see its lighthouse which had been so obvious in the morning light.  It was good to stretch our legs after an uncharacteristically lazy lunch. 

A quick loop around Alnmouth allowed us to see how the old granary buildings had been converted into residential accommodation following the collapse of Alnmouth’s port function.  This was a direct result of the silting-up of the harbour following the Christmas Eve storm of 1806 that completely remodelled the Aln estuary.  The golf fanatics discussed the nine-hole links course whilst everyone else visited the public conveniences next door.  The golf course dates form 1869 and is the second oldest links course in England.  Earlier, on our way south to Alnmouth we past the separate “Foxton” course, their website claim it to be the fourth oldest club in England.

The return journey was easy on firm sand, low tide would coincide with our arrival back at Boulmer car park and the gentle breeze was now from behind us too.  A quarter of an hour into the return journey we largely had the increasingly broad beach to ourselves and we were far enough out from the boulder-clay cliffs to get good views of the clusters of caravans and beach huts towards Seaton Point.  It was surprising how much new “stuff” we saw on the return journey compared to the outbound one.  Collapsed coastal sea defences, Second World War pillboxes and distinctive outcrops of rocks were among sizeable features not seen or mentioned on the outward journey.  It was easy to appreciate the role of changing light and shadow characteristics on what is noticed.   The day passed quickly and the contrast in the scenery between the morning headlands and bays stroll and more energetic afternoon walk towards the Aln estuary highlighted this.  All of that and a chance for everyone to mix and have a good chat too – a good day, more than the sum of its parts, I enjoyed it and I hope you did too?

Now the bad news, despite the good weather and favourable conditions the walk took place 24 hours too soon for you to completely enjoy it.  Why?  Today I have completely lost my voice and you can’t benefit from it, better luck next time!       

Richard  
Monday, 07 January 2013