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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 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!       

Monday, 07 January 2013

Mon 12th November 2012

Nordic Walk Druridge Bay

Nordic Walk  Druridge Bay

The last Nordic guided walk of the year proved to be another sell out! We had men, women and children, from all different walks of life, join together to take this gorgeous walk side by side. The weather was perfect – blue skies, cold but not freezing, dry and not a wind in the clouds. 

So popular was this walk that we started 1 hour early with a training course for quite a few new clients to Nordic Walking. Julie and Jane quickly put them through the steps of the technique and gave them time to practise before meeting the rest of the group. They were fast learners and ready for the off!

After the usual warm up, in front of the visitors centre, we began with a walk around Ladyburn lake. The gravel footpath travels around the whole lake and we walked 2 or 3 abreast, allowing for general banter along the way. 2 of our companions were on holiday from Ireland and found the technique easy to pick up. Half way around the lake, after passing through the nature reserve and over the footbridge, we stopped to re-group and check all was well. A humorous comment came flying “when does the walk start?” Hmm, think you are going too slow? Ok then.....

The second half of the lake was taken much faster than the first. This is something I discover the more walks I take. It takes time for everyone to get into the rhythm of Nordic walking and at that point the pace quickens naturally. The humorous comment did not come again!

After passing back in front of the visitors centre, we crossed the car park and out of the park via a footpath. This leads to the beach, but we turned back in land and into the nature reserve. This had been formed from an opencast mining area, allowing for wetland areas which attract wildlife. The path is quite broad and solid, excellent for Nordic walking and most importantly, talking. One of our gentlemen was pleasantly surprised as to how much he enjoyed Nordic walking, another that he really did feel like he was using muscles he hadn’t before and was amazed at how demanding it was. It’s lovely to see new friendships made and the children who Nordic skip most of the way!

After a brief stop where the path becomes an access road, we followed the road down to the beach. On this section a few people where surprised to feel their shoulders and arms beginning to ache. That shows they are doing the correct technique and exercising their full bodies, not just their legs, when walking.

One of the ladies who walked with caught me up, concerned that one of her poles was dragging along the ground inside of planting firmly with a ‘tap’. After watching her technique, which was perfect, she informed me that she had a new hip. A ha! I lowered one pole by 5 cm....perfect tap, tap, tap. She was amazed and said she hadn’t thought to mention her hip because it didn’t affect her walking! One happy lady continued.

On climbing over the dunes, with fingers crossed that the tide had gone out, we were greeted with a beautiful golden sandy stretch of beach. The youngest in our group (12) rolled down the dunes and I am sure some of those who were older would probably have liked to follow him but showed great restrain.

We had a quick chat about how fabulous the beach is for Nordic Walking, talked about the advanced technique for those who had been walking with me for a while, and off we went. The stress here was very much at going at your own pace. It isn’t a race and no one gets left behind or feels they have to walk slower than they would like. It really is exhilarating hitting the coast and I must confess to breaking into a Nordic run at one point!

After passing a gorgeous dog, with a ball in its mouth who thought it had died and gone to a doggy heaven where there are sticks everywhere (it ran around our poles very excitedly waiting for someone to throw one!), we reached the end of our beach stretch and reluctantly turned off and back into the country park.

Whilst doing some cooling down stretches all agreed to enjoying this brisk Nordic Walk. Everyone took next year’s Nordic Walking programme and my Irish ladies have vowed to find out about a group back home. No cups of tea as the cafe was closed but what an exhilarating day. Can’t wait for next year!

Mon 29th October 2012

Mysteries of the Magic Moor

Mysteries of the Magic Moor

We started in a dampening drizzle with an overcast sky but it was noticeably warmer than the previous day when hail and hill snow was on the menu.  Thankfully the previous day’s northerly wind had swung around to the west and as the day progressed it just got better i.e. the drizzle stopped and the sky got higher.  By lunchtime we even saw the outline of the sun through the altocumulus translucidus, the archetype Tupperware sky.   

Following a quick look around Doddington, its overall situation and particularly the unusual three storeys high, three sided (since its partial collapse in 1896), Bastle or Tower House built in 1584 as a result of the activities of the Border Reivers.  The massive stones and the size of the buttresses were impressive.  The unusual features of the village church whose site dates back to the 12th century were also visited before we started to climb Dod Law through waist high wet bracken.  As we climbed the view over the Millfield Plain westwards towards the Cheviots opened up.  It was easy to imagine the former post-glacial Lake Millfield occupying this lowland area.  Yeavering Bell, Newton tors, Humbleton Hill, Cheviot and Hedghope were prominent even though the last two had cloud caps for most of the day.

Reaching the seat just on the edge of the moor by one of the golf tees was a surprise for some, as was the observation platform with its own windsock for golfers to check the way ahead was clear.  The formerly abandoned but now renovated and reoccupied Shepherd’s House on the very cusp of the moor had impressive views to the south and west plus its own fast manic wind turbine.  Moving on we spread out locate the first rock art of the day on the very edge of the golf course.

This particular panel was impressive once everyone “got their eye-in” but equally easy to miss, camouflaged as it was by mosses and lichens.  This panel was ideal as a training resource as it contained a shield or heart-shaped motif and rectangular designs containing a variety of cup marks and connecting grooves.  Looking “beneath” the mosses and lichens and the wet, discoloured sandstone is a quickly enough acquired skill once you know what to look for and how to look.  It was here that we saw a lizard tucked-in beneath the rolled-back turf on the edge of the panel.  Later we were to see a high-speed mouse run across our path, and a hare making a break for it.  We might have seen two, possibly three, ravens.  They were a long way off, definitely appeared larger than rooks or crows but didn’t oblige by either coming any closer or calling. 

On top of Dod Law we saw the identifying features of the two hill forts, one either side of the trig point  at 200m above sea level and also a nearby settlement as well as the North Sea to the east.  Hungry now, we were looking for somewhere out of the wind for lunch which we quickly found.  The next stop was the stone circle which only one of the stones still standing.  The assemblage of lichens on the different sides of the standing stone was impressive and different again from some of the recumbent stones in the long grass.  The pink coloured species caught most of our attention initially but with our newly developed eye for detail the variations in colour and particularly form soon became apparent.  Unfortunately most lichens don’t have common names.

On the way to the Ringses hillfort we attempted to find some cup and ring marked rocks indicated on the map slightly off our route.  Using the archaeologists’ fieldwalking technique we found what we were looking for and on the way towards the Ringses we discovered a few small panels not specifically marked on the map, well done everyone.  The Ringses was covered in tall bracken which disguised the ramparts but the latter’s silhouette on the skyline revealed the hillfort from a distance so much more clearly than when standing close-in to the structure.  From here we could also see the sandstone quarry and its spoil heaps alongside the golf course where the “red sandstone” (more a dull pale pink) that the village is constructed of.

Reaching the track back down to the village we passed the entrance to both the quarry and the golf course passing along the way conifer plantations containing numerous pheasant feeders.  The fields were saturated, even on the slopes there was plenty of standing water.  Our own track was muddy except for the lowest point where sand had accumulated due to run-off from the sandstone quarry further uphill.  The position of a substantial new timber framed house that was in the process of having its stone cladding added gave rise to envious comments.  With that we were back to Doddington.  Everyone appeared to have had a good time with lots to see and do in a relatively short walk which included the usual banter and repartee.  Thank you all for attending and especially to Andrea and Margaret for providing back-up.  Everyone having departed I was about to pull away from our parking spot outside of Doddington Dairy (complete with heart warming honesty box but empty ice cream fridge) my phone informed me of a callout in the Cheviots so I drove directly to the RV at Powburn and put my wet boots and other kit again eventually getting home rather later than expected.  As always I enjoyed both your company and the walk; I hope you did too.      


Monday, 29 October 2012