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Tue 25th June 2013

The Cheviot, well nearly.

The Cheviot, well nearly.

My first walk of the Rothbury Walking Festival and I failed.  The ten people who arrived for the walk didnít get up Cheviot but we hope to do so another time.

When I arrived at the Hawsen Burn an hour before the starting time it was foggy and raining hard, not an auspicious start.  A chat with a shepherd suggested that it wasnít going to get any better until the afternoon which is what the Met Office said before I left home!

When everyone arrived it hadnít improved much except that the cloud base had lifted a little.  I offered an alternative route up and down Cheviot but the thought of four or five hours in cloud didnít appeal so we opted for a walk around the Harthope valley skyline instead.

There were supposed to be fourteen of us but after a waiting twenty-five minutes beyond the starting time we set off up the Hawsen Burn passing the sheep stells and joining the track that goes  towards Broadstruther  and on towards Commonburn House.

When we reached the crest of the ridge we could just see both illuminated in the shafts sunlight.  The mosaic pattern created by heather management for grouse shooting made an impact on everyone as did the proliferation of shooting butts and access tracks. 

Elevenses was taken near Cold Law cairn where everyone had a good view of the Harthope valley and could appreciate just how straight it was, a result of a fault-guided and glaciated valley.  We continued on past Carling Crags and we began dropping down towards the very large but dilapidated cross-shaped wind shelter with its drystone walls and Scots pines.  The wind was rising but we had our backs to it for the time being.  The views towards the coast gradually improved and we could just pick-out Bamburgh Castle, Holy Island and the Farne Islands.  Behind us Cheviot remained firmly in cloud, we couldnít even see Scald Hill.  We descended Snear Hill, past Coronation Wood and crossed the footbridge over onto the other side of the valley.

It was lunchtime and we were now in pleasant sunshine and sheltered by the trees of the Happy Valley so we sat on the grass and enjoyed it watching and listening to swallows, curlews, oyster catchers and briefly seeing a single swift fly by.  A trudge uphill onto Brands Hill resulted in a rapid appreciation of the force of the west-north-westerly wind.  We still couldnít see Cheviot beneath is cloud-cap, so everyone appeared happy with the decision not to go up it.

We climbed out onto the open moor via a good quad bike track and were rapidly exposed to a strong wind (25 – 30 mph, Force 6) which was thankfully quite mild.  Fortunately we were walking in a cross wind for most of the time but when we turned into wind wigs and hats were sorely tested!

Out on the plateau it was easy to appreciate the volcanic nature of the Cheviot massif and the granite masses that made up both Cheviot and is slightly lower neighbour, Hedgehope, surrounded as they were by the eroded lava landscape that makes the Cheviots so distinctive compared to the surrounding sedimentary rocks of the lower land.

The tors of the baked rocks forming the metamorphic aureole stood out clearly (Middleton Crags, Langlee Crags, and Long Crags) and some of us used to the one at Housey Crags to shelter from the wind and identify landmarks along the coast before descending back to the car park.  Cheviot was now clear of cloud but we didnít see anyone on the ďtourist routeĒ up to the summit.  We definitely had the best views; you donít see much from the Cheviot trig point because of the plateau surface and the convex contours.

Iím sorry that we didnít top-out on Cheviotís summit for those who hoped to do so BUT Iím equally sure that we had a better day in the hills than we would have had we just had our ďhead in the cloudsĒ with nothing to see for most of the day - and being wet and clammy too.  Thank you to Kevin, Colin, Lisa, Rachel, Ann, Marjorie, David, Sandra and Ellie for your understanding and your company.  I hope that you know a bit more about the Cheviots origin, land use and biodiversity than you did and hope to see you again in the future.


Monday, 24 June 2013

Mon 24th June 2013

In search of The Simonside Dwarfs

In search of The Simonside Dwarfs

On the approach to Rothbury this morning, it seemed that there was no need for sunglasses! The blades of the turbines at Wingates were turning rather well and despite the last few weekends spent basking in sunshine, the Northumbrian weather decided to show its true colours, grey style! Perhaps those pesky wee dwarves were against us from the start …

We were a select group today, but nonetheless the day was filled with many stories and much laughter! From Lordenshaw we picked our way through the Iron Age hill fort and tried to decipher where the various individual settlements could be! From here the group headed towards Whitton Dean and were subsequently subjected to my input on the prevalent winds  in the Coquet Valley and how this affects the trees (sorry folks, but now you know about this you will never look at a tree in the same way again!)

Heading towards Simonside Forest the skies darkened further and it wasnít too long until we found ourselves in a downpour! During a quick break we were graced with a ďride-by and waveĒ of three young mountain bikers (one of which I now know to be Junior Monks) which on reflection, I would deem to be very good customer service.

Heading up out of Simonside Forest we skirted the bottom of Simonside itself, and as the rain moved in once more we hot-footed it up the rather steep ascent  onto Simonside summit, looking for the dwellings of the Duergar on the way! With lunch in sight, and a rain-shower not too far behind, we made a bee-line for Dove Crag and enjoyed a short break in the sun!

Forty-five minutes or so later we arrived back at Lordenshaw, and thankfully we were able to clamber into our cars before the prevalent hail-storm hit. Yes … hail .... in June ….. I blame those malevolent Simonside dwarves ;-)

Thank you to all who came along on the walk, and we look forward to seeing you on the other events you have booked onto during the Rothbury Walking Festival!

Wed 19th June 2013

Map and Compass training - June

Map and Compass training - June

For the second Map and Compass course for 2013 something unusual happened – the sun was shining again. The first half of the day we settled into the Parish Hall to learn about maps, compasses and basic navigation techniques before venturing outside in to the lovely weather. Shepherds Walks supplied us with new compasses and very handy map extracts of the area.

Most people this time had a basic idea of the topic and were taking part to give themselves more confidence when walking without leaders or when on their own. There are always a few surprises in store for people like realising there is more than one ĎNorthí and some of them donít stay still!

The bulk of the afternoon was about taking a journey through Rothbury and around the Carrigeways to practice the classroom skills. Just to see if everyone was paying attention pairs led short sections of the route for the group. Along the way we saw features we might normally walk past like signs of how maps were originally made, ancient earthworks and features that exist on the grounds but donít appear on the map and vice versa.

Up on the carriageways we practiced walking on compass bearings, identifying features in the landscape and testing our pacing to see what happens when you try it for real. We also learnt a new language – all about how to find our way using collecting features, handrails and attackpoints.

We finished our journey in the late afternoon sun above Rothbury appropriately next to a Bronze Age standing stone. Paul said he was coming here on a regular basis to secretly pay homage to the rain and mist deity for the more advanced map and compass course in October.