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Sun 5th August 2012

Bat Walk - Rothbury

Bat Walk - Rothbury

This was the first ever Bat Walk we have done so Shepherds Walk’s teamed up with Rob Caton from Wild Harmony.

After meeting everybody at Rothbury Tourist Information Centre we walked down to Tomlinsons Cafe in Rothbury. In Tomlinsons we had set up a short presentation of the habitats, breeds and conservation that bats live in. Rob went through this and his vast knowledge and enthusiasm was second to none.

There are 18 species of bats living in the UK (17 of which are known to breed here). Some of the bat species are very rare. The bats have remarkable navigation system called echolocation and this is what we were hoping to hear with the use of the bat detectors.

With bat detectors in hand, we set off along the banks of the River Coquet. The bat detectors convert their pitch to an audible frequency for humans and this sound changes as the bat feeds to a more buzzing noise, rather than the clicking sound that we hear when they are navigating. Using this method the bat can also determine where the object is, how big it is and in what direction it is moving. The bat can tell if an insect is to the right or left by comparing when the sound reaches its right ear to when the sound reaches its left ear: If the sound of the echo reaches the right ear before it reaches the left ear, the insect is obviously to the right. The bat's ears have a complex collection of folds that help it determine an insect's vertical position. Echoes coming from below will hit the folds of the outer ear at a different point than sounds coming from above, and so will sound different when they reach the bat's inner ear. It’s all very interesting stuff.

Initially we could just see birds feeding on the insects flying high with just one bat spotted; this was going to be a long night.

But as we hit the stepping stones area of the River Coquet everything changed. There’s a bat and another and yet another.

Initially they flew high but over a five minute period the bats where now flying and feeding just inches above the river, descending over our heads.

The bat detectors were buzzing and clicking away and the feeding bats and the whole group was totally drawn in by the excitement of the bats flying all around. As it was still dusk we could see the bats clearly and even identify some of the breeds, it was a real experiencing especially as the passed our heads from the higher ground around, heading for the river at our feet. There were plenty of insects about so rightly the bats where utilising these ideal conditions.

The group covered all generations and it was great to see the boys sat on the riverside, bat detectors in hand, totally enthralled by the whole experience. There was a real sharing of knowledge and has the evening got darker and after experiencing a real evening to remember we started out journey back.

We headed back to Tomlinsons for soup, roll and hot drinks. It had been a great night and we could not have asked for better conditions. It was warm and for the first time ever everybody was pleased to see midges, as this attracted the bats out to feed.

Hopefully this can be the first of many bat walks as we all get to grips with the different breeds that we are watching.

Wed 1st August 2012

Moss Troopers Trail 1: Walltown to Housesteads

Moss Troopers Trail 1: Walltown to Housesteads

It was sunny and warm when I left the coast to drive to Housesteads.  By the time I reached the westbound A69 it was cloudy, drizzling and the indicated temperature had dropped from 18° Centigrade to 13° Centigrade, an omen of things to come?  The car park at Housesteads proved to be a “bit draughty” adding (subtracting actually) to the wind chill temperature.  Some people who shall remain nameless optimistically arrived in summer gear so at least their legs would be self-draining later in the day!

We made a positive start with the transfer to Walltown by minibus and enjoyed a civilised cup of coffee from the cafe prior to beginning the walk.  A quick overview of the reclaimed Walltown Quarry site and we were on our way, past the distinctive profile of Collar Heugh Crag the glacial erratic near Hangingshields Rigg finally leaving the tarmac just beyond Low Tipalt Farm.

We were soon into the long wet grass near Bundle Hill and on to the saturated rough grazing land north of Chesters Pike.  The final hundred metres to the road en-route to Benks Hill was a morass which hops, skips and jumps between infrequent stones did nothing to improve – it may be marked as Burnhead Moss on the map but it is supposed to be summer.  We took the longer, but drier road route towards Edges Green stopping-off for lunch on the way.  We enjoyed the brief sunny interval but as soon as we set-off again it rained, then it rained hard, then really hard.  On balance we definitely preferred watching the showers sweeping in from the west to our south over the North Pennines or to our north over the Wark Forest but we were to get used to sunshine (think of them as short periods of drought) and heavy showers for the remainder of the day.

The Resting Gap bog snorkelling event went well followed by the ditch jumping experience.  This  entailed jumping from waterlogged mire to waterlogged mire over much deeper open water (i.e. the actual ditch, aka The Moat) to continue our route which was blocked by a fenced plantation not marked on the map.

Tracking east to the north of Swallow Crags via Gibbs Hill and the clear felled Greenlee Plantation we arrived at the Greenlee Lough boardwalk.  Luxury, we were actually walking above water level for a change, even if our feet were still enclosed in wetsuit style soggy boots.

It got busy on this section of the walk; we passed two people going the other way.  We visited the bird hide seeing no birds whatsoever but the sheep on the side of Greenlee Lough were building rafts.  A note in the hide diary mentioned the muddy few yards from the path down to the hide – they don’t know they are born, a mere nothing to our happy band.

On past East and West Stonefolds to intercept the Pennine Way going south to Rapishaw Gap on Hadrian’s Wall.  Just before the Wall we gave the two bulls, numerous cows and their offspring as much space as we could but inevitably they were tightly grouped around the only available stile.  The two bulls were bellowing at each other from either side of “our” stile!  Everyone went into “Best British Stiff Upper Lip” mode and, totally ignoring the livestock threat, (no not really) we continued carefully but swiftly on our way.  Actually everyone very kindly let me go first in my red jacket – but I knew that cattle are colour blind so it made no difference; I was equally ready to make a quick dash.  Housesteads car park and its facilities were in sight and time was getting-on. 

Walk Statistics:

1.    Moving Time: 4 hours 54 minutes (We can’t really call a lot of what we did walking, can we?).

2.    Stopped Time: 2 hours 19 minutes (includes minibus transfer and morning coffee, bog snorkelling, falling over, getting-up, being stranded, ditch jumping, etc).

3.    Total Distance Walked: 20.72 km (12.87 m).

4.    Moving Average: 4.1 kph (2.54mph).

5.    The Terrain: Mostly “Geet very soggy” to “Thick, muckle clarty” with short sections of “Just too shallow and claggy to swim in” on the North East Dampish Underfoot Scale. 

6.    Everyone present had a lot of “fun,” whatever that is, and professed to having enjoyed themselves whilst becoming expert on the natural history of the Border Mires.  Everyone can instantly recognise and describe sphagnum moss from both head height and ground level (at a range of 2 – 3 cm) when finding themselves temporarily prone on its surface.  Some of our number inadvertently tasted it too!

7.    There is no surcharge for the mudpack beauty treatment experienced by all as it wasn’t advertised on the Shepherds Walks website at the time of booking.

It was sunny and warm when I arrived back at home, had been all day apparently!     

RNH Monday, 30 July 2012

Mon 23rd July 2012

Nordic Walk - Rothbury Forest

Nordic Walk - Rothbury Forest

Another fabulous day for Nordic Walking, just what we ordered. The sun was out, a lovely breeze and for once....no rain!

After worrying about the initial route I had set out to do I decided at 4.30am to change it to a route that was not so steep. I think the correct decision was made.

The Nordic Walker’s met in Simonside car park, we gave out poles and Julie ran through a quick refresher for those clients who were new to Nordic Walking. A quick warm up and off we went, up Simonside.

The first section of the walk was uphill, but on good track, allowing us to use those poles to help with the gradual increase in gradient. A few people lifted their poles en route to assure themselves that walking with the poles DOES make it much easier. No lead weights around the ankles as we climbed, just lots of work for our shoulders. We took plenty of breaks up this steep section, giving everyone a chance to catch their breath and take in the scenery – plus take a much needed drink on such a hot day!

Once at the summit of our walk the path levelled out and with the forest below us, we took full advantage of the light breeze that cooled us. The views from here are spectacular, we could clearly see the Cheviot Hills, Rothbury, Simonside Crags above us and out to the East we could see the sea. Just beautiful views with very little effort, due to our Nordic Walking poles.

We stopped briefly as a grass snake caught the eye of those at the front of the group, rudely awakened by the clanking of 15 pairs of poles. A little further along the top flat track, just below the summit of Simonside, before beginning our descent. Jon warned us a boggy section ahead and so we set off fearing the worst.

As we descended, back into the forest, the way became a bit steeper, making it necessary to unclip our poles from our gloves and use them as a trekking pole. And by the time we hit the boggy section it had dried to a muddy section and really wasn’t an issue. Clean shoes for once!

Once through this section we re-joined the path and were able to re-attach the poles and Nordic Walk downhill and back to the car park.

Many of those who joined us on this walk had only just learnt to Nordic Walk. But by the end of the 4 ½ mile route, and with prompting from 2 instructors,   their techniques had developed noticeably, the youngest of our group striding ahead on the return journey.

As usual this was a lovely group of Nordic Walkers who become friends as they walk along. You have the chance to meet up with new people as well as old friends and all abilities of walker came and completed the route. As the saying goes....no one gets left behind on a Mrs Shepherds Nordic Walk!