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Mon 22nd October 2012

Linhope Spout Walk

Linhope Spout Walk

What a lovely day, the best single day’s walking that we’ve had in the whole of 2012 so far.  I was in Kielder Forest all day on Saturday and it was positively chilly and only came out sunny and warm later in the day.  Sunday was exceptional, clear, bright and sunny from the start and relatively warm mainly due to the lack of wind and the visibility was excellent.  Even the Seaking search and rescue helicopter flying from RAF Boulmer over us at the start was seen as a good omen, they were out enjoying the weather too.  How about that for a positive interpretation?

The rendezvous at Bulby’s Wood was completely empty when I arrived but rapidly filled-up when a Ramblers group also arrived to begin a walk, they even tried to “poach” some of our clients!  We made use of the facilities and moved up the valley to the informal car park beyond Jenny Bell’s bridge below Brough Law where the River Breamish makes a right-angled turn overlooked by Ingram Glidders (screes).  There was plenty of evidence of recent flooding altering both the course of the Breamish across its floodplain and selectively excavating its bed to form a new rapid section.  As we climbed Hartside Hill the views opened up and it was easy to appreciate the deepening and steepening of the valleys caused by a combination of glacial action and post-glacial meltwater.

Although we were less than half a kilometre from the valley road up to Linhope we couldn’t see it due to the convex slopes but we did see a lot of evidence of human antiquities as the Ordnance Survey refers to them in their conventional signs.  Hartside Hill is Access Land (no need to stick to rights of way) so we were able to “purposefully wander” to see the visible remains of settlement and field systems dating back to the Roman period (AD 43 – 410).  Once the remains of historically later ridge and furrow plough patterns had been pointed out we saw them everywhere in the landscape.  Even when the ground was covered by swathes of invasive bracken the old parallel plough patterns were obvious once everyone “got there eye in."

Off Hartside Hill and down to the road to Linhope beyond Hartside Farm we started to see lots of pheasants due to the feeders in both the conifer plantation and fields on either side of the road.  We had a good view of the overdeepened valley of the Shank Burn to our south west where it flowed down to join the River Breamish.  Crossing the bridge over the Linhope Burn as we entered the hamlet we saw the pink colour of some of the Cheviot lavas that make-up the solid geology of the area.  We weren’t far from the edge of the metamorphic aureole a result of the injection and cooling of the Cheviot granites.  Walking uphill above the steep-sided valley of the Linhope Burn passing the plantation that clothes its sides we reached Linhope Spout for lunch in the sunshine.  There was plenty of evidence in the recent floods in the valley bottom with bankside vegetation being flattened in a downstream direction plus undercutting and limp overhanging vegetation along the eroded banks.  The flashy response of channels in the Cheviots is largely due to a combination of thin saturated soils, impermeable bedrock and the intensity of rainfall.

Following a pleasant lunch in the sunshine we walked back through Linhope and up to the site of Grieve’s Ash dating from the Iron Age (800 BC – AD 45) which is also considered to have been occupied into the following Roman period to see the well exposed remains of the hut circles and adjacent walls and field systems.  Walking east out onto the rough grazing land beneath Dunmoor Hill, Cat Crags and Cunyan Crags formed prominent features.  Cunyan Crags is composed of altered and hardened rock the result of the injection and baking of the country rock by granite magma 400 million years ago when the Cheviot volcano would have been erupting thousands of feet above our heads.  In our present position we would have been well below ground level than, magma chambers occur well below the surface.  We crossed the moor back down to Greensidehill passing some huge field clearance cairns along the way.  To the east was the site of a medieval village which testifies to a warmer climate in those days which allowed arable as well as pastoral farming evidenced by even more of the ubiquitous parallel lines left by ridge and furrow cultivation.  It is odd to think that today we are concerned about global warming when we are geologically in an interglacial period.  Similarly we  consider that the Iron Age settlements are really old (beginning approximately 800 years BC in Britain i.e. 2,800 years Before Present) until  we consider the span of geological time dating back to the Cheviot volcano at about 400 million years ago which is “only”  a factor of about 14, 286 times longer ago.  Everything is relative.

We did have a really good day, lots of friendly light-hearted banter and laughs.  Ian had lots of snacks in addition to elevenses and lunch and the girls only just managed to eat their exotic chilli flavoured chocolate before he arrived to photograph them eating it.  The incident of the articulated heel unit on one of the participant’s boots was quickly dealt with and even the dog had a good time.  Special thanks to Ian and Chris for their help with the person with the detached boot heel unit in more ways than one, you both really contributed to the success of the day as usual.  Thank you.  Sitting in my study dashing this off for Jon to put on the website it is grey, overcast, drizzling and cold; what a difference a day makes.  Everything is relative.  Thanks for your company I enjoyed your company and hope to see you again soon.

Monday, 22 October 2012          

Wed 10th October 2012

Fenwick to Berwick (North Sea Trail)

Fenwick to Berwick (North Sea Trail)

YES Well! What a day to finish the new Northumberland long distance footpath Alston to Berwick.  Sundance had finally got his act together his soft shoe shuffle did the trick, wall to wall sunshine.  The fact that he had another brand new pair of boots that needed to be tested out to see if they were waterproof may have had some influence over the weather.

To leave home to get to Berwick the car windscreen had to be de-iced for the first time this autumn.  After a very pleasant and quiet drive up we arrived at Berwick to find half the group had all ready arrived and well before the departure time we were all on the mini bus heading back south to Fenwick.

After getting off the mini bus we had only walked 20m before Mike had the (new, a bright orange colour for when he leaves it behind) camera out and wanted the obligatory ‘group photo’. Then we followed a road for a short while before climbing up a lane where we had fantastic views over Buddle Bay to Holy Island and Bamburgh Castle (this was the highest point on the walk 131ft ). After crossing a minor road and a gentle descent through a field we arrived at the main North East railway line Before you cross the line you have to use the phone to call the signal man up to get permission to cross and when you have crossed you then have to use the phone on the other side to tell him that you have crossed! Having crossed another field the path winds its way through some tank blocks before arriving at the Holy Island road crossing.  From here we followed the high water mark around Beal Point (fortunately it was low tide) and continued towards a sluice across South Low but just before arriving at the sluice a bird hide has just recently been built and this provided us with an ideal excuse for our lunch stop.

After lunch we crossed the sluice walk eastwards leaving the landward path until we reached the beach.  A whole four miles of yellow sands and totally flat not a hill or rise to be climbed a rather novel experience.  On the down side we could see Berwick about 7miles away in the distance as the seagull flies.  Between Goswick and Cheswick the sand dunes fall away and you have a fantastic view of The Cheviot and the surrounding northern hills above Wooler.

Just after a coffee break at Cheswick Black Rocks we climbed the sand dunes above Far Skerr and joined the path cycleway that would take us to Spittal but more importantly an ice cream van.  Unfortunately there were lots of rocks and this gave Mike the opportunity to bore us by him telling us all about how they were formed. It was on this section we climbed our second ‘peak’ of the day 95ft.

On arrival at Spital we walk along the sea front and started to follow the Lowery trail which led us to Tweedmouth and eventually the old road bridge across the Tweed and into Berwick.

Congratulations to Chris, Peter, Peter and Judy who have completed all the sections over the last two years. Route length 115 miles, height ascended 16,768ft. (This does not include all the walks in and out to get on to the route that has been done).  National trails used Pennine Way, Hadrian’s Wall Path, St. Cuthbert’s Way, Northumberland North Sea Trail and lastly Lowery’s Picture Trail.

What’s next? back to our starting point,  Alston this time using the North Sea Trail, St. Oswald’s Way, Hadrian’s Wall Path and Isaac’s Tea Trail.

Mon 8th October 2012

Hidden in the Hills

Hidden in the Hills

Hidden in the hills - advanced map and compass training

Six miles of walking, five great hours, four hill tops, three hill forts, two boundary stones and a marker post on a hill top. It's not christmas yet though but it's definitely Autumn. It was a little chilly as we all met in the tree shaded car park at Ingram. Keen for a bit of warmth from the Autumn sun, our guide Russell led us to the sunny Visitor Centre car park a short distance away.
After giving us some pointers on safety in the hills and checking we all had compasses and maps, off we trekked. The first stop was at the foot of Brough Law. Two of the group were despatched to navigate to the summit. Shortly after the rest of us followed. It was a short but sharp ascent alongside some woodland, setting us up nicely for a days walking in the hills. The warm cloths put on earlier were quickly shed as the sun warmed us as we climbed, with calls to turn on the air-conditioning heard. Ian, one of the volunteers, promised that he'd arranged that at the top. At the summit we found the other two resting in the centre of the hill fort, enjoying the cool breeze and spectacular views of Hartside Hill and the Breamish Valley.

After a few minutes of enjoying the scenery Russell set us our next challenge. We set off walking towards a small valley. On reaching the valley side he asked us to walk towards a rock and once there provide an 8 figure grid reference for our position. Given a few minutes to think about it one of the group announced a figure. Astonished, Russell had to look at his list. Only 20m out. He'd obviously taught us well on the Map & Compass course.

The next objective was a grid reference which was identified by the group as Ewe Hill on the map. We discussed how we would reach it and off we went. As a relatively flat hill top it would be harder to see the closer we got. A good exercise in navigating terrain with few features.

Once at Ewe Hill we immediately got the grid reference of another location. We formed into groups of two and started planning our strategy to get there. Faced with an option of following marked paths or walking on a bearing, the majority of the group chose to take the opportunity to practice walking on a bearing, making various paths through the long grass, bracken and thistles. There was a little confusion nearer to the objective but eventually everyone reached the spot and it was deemed a good place to stop for lunch.

When we'd had our fill, we set off for a hill fort a short distance away at Middle Dean. This one is unusual in the area as it is not on a hill top. From here, Wether Hill, the third hill of the day, was our next target. The group were again allowed to make their own way to the hill fort at the top. Everyone managed to successfully navigate the way there and once reaching it enjoyed the views of the hills towards the east of the Breamish Valley and the North Sea beyond. A helicopter could even be seen landing at distant Boulmer RAF station.

A short stop for an afternoon snack and we were on the move again. Our next objective being a feature on the map labelled BS. Hmmmm, what could it be. Various routes were taken as everyone was becoming more confident in their navigational skills. Even when the objective was reached we were still puzzled as to what it's purpose was. When Russell arrived he explained it was a boundary stone, one of several in the area that are listed monuments and were once used to mark parish boundaries.

With glee Russell sent us back up the steep grassy slope to find the next Boundary Stone. However, as an incentive to get us up the hill he pronounced that there would be a prize for the first one there. Off went the only lady of the group in pursuit of the prize. Once we all reached the stone Russell announced that her prize was free entry to all national parks for life. Russell's prizes are always this generous!
Our next exercise was to walk on a bearing towards a path marker on Cochrane pike, the fouth hill. Sounds easy but the marker was out off site from our location. Showing our navigation skills we all arrived within 20m of the marker, boosting our confidence in our navigational skills even more.

After a little rest and more information on navigational techniques we set off for the final objective, back to the Visitor Centre.On arrival everyone agreed that this had been a great day in the beautiful hills of the Breamish valley. It had iron age archaeology, history in the later parish boundaries, interesting natural features, flora and fauna, spectacular scenery and all of the navigational challenges needed to practice this skill.

Anyone who needs to practice navigation, whether to increase their confidence in their skills or simply brush up on navigational techniques, should do this walk. The guides and volunteers are able to pass on their extensive knowledge and experience in an interesting and informative way, making it an enjoyable day for anyone who wants to get to the parts of Northumberland that are rarely reached.