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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  

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.