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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.

Sun 7th October 2012

Nordic Walking training

Nordic Walking training

Saturday was our last Nordic Walk training course of the year and what stunning weather we had, not bad for October.

The group quickly grasped the technique of Nordic Walking and a good day was had by all.

Please do enjoy the YouTube film and images from the day and I very much hope you can join us on a Nordic Walk in the near future.

You can view our full Nordic Walk programme for the coming 12 months online by clicking here.

Mon 1st October 2012

Night Walk - Heart of The Cheviots

Night Walk - Heart of The Cheviots

We met next to the pond at South Middleton, a lovely location not far off the A 697, but a world away, just before moonrise at 18.06.  The sky was clear but for a scattering of high cirrus to our west.  By 18.30 the almost full moon had risen above the line of sandstone hills to our east as we walked south through the attractive “lumps and bumps” landscape of features associated with the most recent glacial period.  Farming hereabouts is a mixture of both arable and pastoral, the grain fields were now stubble with both pheasant and partridge foraging for remaindered seed.    The barns were full of large circular bales and beef cattle were grazing the hilly pastureland approaching the edge of the moorland the latter mainly occupied by hill-sheep but with lower grazing densities of cattle too. 

By the time we reached the moorland edge the light was changing, local sunset was 18.52, and the sun was already below our horizon due to the higher ground of the Cheviots to the west.  We were now into civil twilight when the sun is between 0° and 6° below the horizon.  Everything was still easily distinguishable and a very few of the brightest stars and planets began to appear in the darkening eastern sky.  To the west the higher lenticular clouds were now illuminated from below.  We were now out onto the moorland track having passed the intake land drystone walls built of Cheviot lavas.  The circular sheep stell we passed was a work of art and a tribute to the skill of the craftsmen who built it.

Tuning north-west past the conifer plantations and old settlement we headed gently uphill towards Brands Hill crossing a particularly wet section that well illustrated the need for careful route planning on night walks.   We were now well into nautical twilight (sun 6°-12° below the horizon) but our eyes were accommodating to the decreasing light levels and our night vision slowly improving.  By the time we turned west the moon was high enough to produce distinct shadows which changed position as we changed our heading from north-west to south-west.  The Harthope valley, fault aligned NE-SW, appeared as a deep trench to our right hand side with Cold Law prominent on the far side.   Following this skyline led to the bulky profile of Cheviot with Hedgehope to its south separated by the pronounced col at the top of the Harthope Burn.  The cloud cover was now steadily increasing from the west, lowering and blotting-out the starfield we were hoping to see.  I had intended to identify a few constellations and planets and show how they could be used for stellar navigation but it wasn’t to be.  To the east the moon was still mostly cloud-free so we were able to use shadow, wind direction, it was quite breezy, and first the sound and then the orientation of the various streams on the moor to navigate by.  The various tors also stood out well against the sky as did the navigation lights on the TV transmitter on Sandyford Moor that extends to 349 m above sea level.  The back-bearings obtained from these and other landmarks gave reasonable fixes on our location.  No-one had resorted to using their torches yet, our eyes were dark adapted and the party found no difficulty in locating the track junction with the one coming-in from Langlee Crags to our west.

We walked towards the welcome shelter of Middleton Crags where we could get out of the cool wind for a night-time picnic sitting looking east towards the coast.  This was the highest point of the walk at 404 metres.   As we arrived the moon finally disappeared behind cloud but we could pick-out the coastline by the moonlight on the sea and the linear beads of light at both Bamburgh and Seahouses.  Occasionally we saw the sweep of the beam from the Farne Islands lighthouse.  Further south the sodium lights of the RAF radar station at Brizlee Wood on the western side of Hulne Park a little over 17 kilometres away to our southeast showed up clearly.  Refuelling stop over we set-off downhill back to our cars via the recently upgraded and much improved track to be used to extract timber from Threestoneburn Wood on the eastern slopes of Hedgehope.  A brief half-hearted attempt to drizzle on us on the way downhill but it quickly subsided and we were back to our cars for 22.40 hours.  A pity we didn’t manage to see the night sky and all it had to offer, better luck next time.  The experience of night walking was new to some and hopefully everyone gained some insights about how to go about it if ever benightment intervenes.  Similarly everyone now knows what  disturbed grouse sound like or how easy it is to see a formation of geese silhouetted against the night sky, simple pleasures, good fun in good company, I hope everyone enjoyed it.

Monday 1st October 2012