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Tue 7th August 2012

Still heading North - St Cuthberts Way

Still heading North  - St Cuthberts Way

After a week of Sunshine and showers Sundance was rather worried.  Had the old soft shoe shuffle worked? 

The drive up to Wooler looked promising that is until about 2 miles south of Wooler when the roads became very wet, but it was not raining. Our hope’s rise that the soft shoe shuffle had worked? 

We all met at Wooler Common and piled on a mini-bus for the transfer to Kirk Yetholm.  Things started to look bad, very dark clouds ahead and the roads west of Kirknewton had rivers running down the sides, then it began to rain!  By the time we had reached the start of the walk at Halterburn (the end of the last Pennine Way walk) the rain had stopped but as the mini bus pulled away it started to RAIN again.

So the first job was for every one to don waterproofs.  We set off along the clearly marked footpath heading upwards to the border after a climb of  500ft we reached the border between Scotland and England strangely there was no Border Control Agency people waiting to check passports, could it be the weather?

From here there is a very gradual descent to Hethpool following the Elsdon Burn.  It was still raining! There was not any shelter from the rain as we walked through a plantation just bigger drops.  At Hethpool we stopped for lunch as well as becoming lunch for the midges whilst trying to gain some shelter from the rain by sheltering under some big deciduous trees.

As we started to leave our lunch spot it stopped raining.  It was at this point we realised that the rain had a positive effect it had stopped Mike from wittering.  Yes you guessed he now started. We crossed the College burn by a substantial bridge before starting to climb gently up the eastern side of the College valley.  By now the sun was shining and waterproofs were being discarded, after a short stop to watch a small herd of Wild Cheviot Goats we entered a picturesque little wooded valley.  The path gradually climbed up through a wide open hillside that was covered in harebells and a variety of other little flowers.

The path levelled out for a short distance past Toleehouse, before starting the long last climb up passing the side of Yeavering Bell and then Tom Tallon’s Crag. The path from here gently undulates for the next 3 or 4 Km.  Views of the North Sea and Bewick Moor gradually began to disappear in the murk of another mass of rain clouds and yes it began to RAIN once more but only for about 30 minutes or so.  The descent down Browns Law returned us back to our cars and wet boots and waterproofs were quickly discarded for dry clothes.  

Sun 5th August 2012

Bat Walk - Rothbury

Bat Walk - Rothbury

This was the first ever Bat Walk we have done so Shepherds Walk’s teamed up with Rob Caton from Wild Harmony.

After meeting everybody at Rothbury Tourist Information Centre we walked down to Tomlinsons Cafe in Rothbury. In Tomlinsons we had set up a short presentation of the habitats, breeds and conservation that bats live in. Rob went through this and his vast knowledge and enthusiasm was second to none.

There are 18 species of bats living in the UK (17 of which are known to breed here). Some of the bat species are very rare. The bats have remarkable navigation system called echolocation and this is what we were hoping to hear with the use of the bat detectors.

With bat detectors in hand, we set off along the banks of the River Coquet. The bat detectors convert their pitch to an audible frequency for humans and this sound changes as the bat feeds to a more buzzing noise, rather than the clicking sound that we hear when they are navigating. Using this method the bat can also determine where the object is, how big it is and in what direction it is moving. The bat can tell if an insect is to the right or left by comparing when the sound reaches its right ear to when the sound reaches its left ear: If the sound of the echo reaches the right ear before it reaches the left ear, the insect is obviously to the right. The bat's ears have a complex collection of folds that help it determine an insect's vertical position. Echoes coming from below will hit the folds of the outer ear at a different point than sounds coming from above, and so will sound different when they reach the bat's inner ear. It’s all very interesting stuff.

Initially we could just see birds feeding on the insects flying high with just one bat spotted; this was going to be a long night.

But as we hit the stepping stones area of the River Coquet everything changed. There’s a bat and another and yet another.

Initially they flew high but over a five minute period the bats where now flying and feeding just inches above the river, descending over our heads.

The bat detectors were buzzing and clicking away and the feeding bats and the whole group was totally drawn in by the excitement of the bats flying all around. As it was still dusk we could see the bats clearly and even identify some of the breeds, it was a real experiencing especially as the passed our heads from the higher ground around, heading for the river at our feet. There were plenty of insects about so rightly the bats where utilising these ideal conditions.

The group covered all generations and it was great to see the boys sat on the riverside, bat detectors in hand, totally enthralled by the whole experience. There was a real sharing of knowledge and has the evening got darker and after experiencing a real evening to remember we started out journey back.

We headed back to Tomlinsons for soup, roll and hot drinks. It had been a great night and we could not have asked for better conditions. It was warm and for the first time ever everybody was pleased to see midges, as this attracted the bats out to feed.

Hopefully this can be the first of many bat walks as we all get to grips with the different breeds that we are watching.

Wed 1st August 2012

Moss Troopers Trail 1: Walltown to Housesteads

Moss Troopers Trail 1: Walltown to Housesteads

It was sunny and warm when I left the coast to drive to Housesteads.  By the time I reached the westbound A69 it was cloudy, drizzling and the indicated temperature had dropped from 18° Centigrade to 13° Centigrade, an omen of things to come?  The car park at Housesteads proved to be a “bit draughty” adding (subtracting actually) to the wind chill temperature.  Some people who shall remain nameless optimistically arrived in summer gear so at least their legs would be self-draining later in the day!

We made a positive start with the transfer to Walltown by minibus and enjoyed a civilised cup of coffee from the cafe prior to beginning the walk.  A quick overview of the reclaimed Walltown Quarry site and we were on our way, past the distinctive profile of Collar Heugh Crag the glacial erratic near Hangingshields Rigg finally leaving the tarmac just beyond Low Tipalt Farm.

We were soon into the long wet grass near Bundle Hill and on to the saturated rough grazing land north of Chesters Pike.  The final hundred metres to the road en-route to Benks Hill was a morass which hops, skips and jumps between infrequent stones did nothing to improve – it may be marked as Burnhead Moss on the map but it is supposed to be summer.  We took the longer, but drier road route towards Edges Green stopping-off for lunch on the way.  We enjoyed the brief sunny interval but as soon as we set-off again it rained, then it rained hard, then really hard.  On balance we definitely preferred watching the showers sweeping in from the west to our south over the North Pennines or to our north over the Wark Forest but we were to get used to sunshine (think of them as short periods of drought) and heavy showers for the remainder of the day.

The Resting Gap bog snorkelling event went well followed by the ditch jumping experience.  This  entailed jumping from waterlogged mire to waterlogged mire over much deeper open water (i.e. the actual ditch, aka The Moat) to continue our route which was blocked by a fenced plantation not marked on the map.

Tracking east to the north of Swallow Crags via Gibbs Hill and the clear felled Greenlee Plantation we arrived at the Greenlee Lough boardwalk.  Luxury, we were actually walking above water level for a change, even if our feet were still enclosed in wetsuit style soggy boots.

It got busy on this section of the walk; we passed two people going the other way.  We visited the bird hide seeing no birds whatsoever but the sheep on the side of Greenlee Lough were building rafts.  A note in the hide diary mentioned the muddy few yards from the path down to the hide – they don’t know they are born, a mere nothing to our happy band.

On past East and West Stonefolds to intercept the Pennine Way going south to Rapishaw Gap on Hadrian’s Wall.  Just before the Wall we gave the two bulls, numerous cows and their offspring as much space as we could but inevitably they were tightly grouped around the only available stile.  The two bulls were bellowing at each other from either side of “our” stile!  Everyone went into “Best British Stiff Upper Lip” mode and, totally ignoring the livestock threat, (no not really) we continued carefully but swiftly on our way.  Actually everyone very kindly let me go first in my red jacket – but I knew that cattle are colour blind so it made no difference; I was equally ready to make a quick dash.  Housesteads car park and its facilities were in sight and time was getting-on. 

Walk Statistics:

1.    Moving Time: 4 hours 54 minutes (We can’t really call a lot of what we did walking, can we?).

2.    Stopped Time: 2 hours 19 minutes (includes minibus transfer and morning coffee, bog snorkelling, falling over, getting-up, being stranded, ditch jumping, etc).

3.    Total Distance Walked: 20.72 km (12.87 m).

4.    Moving Average: 4.1 kph (2.54mph).

5.    The Terrain: Mostly “Geet very soggy” to “Thick, muckle clarty” with short sections of “Just too shallow and claggy to swim in” on the North East Dampish Underfoot Scale. 

6.    Everyone present had a lot of “fun,” whatever that is, and professed to having enjoyed themselves whilst becoming expert on the natural history of the Border Mires.  Everyone can instantly recognise and describe sphagnum moss from both head height and ground level (at a range of 2 – 3 cm) when finding themselves temporarily prone on its surface.  Some of our number inadvertently tasted it too!

7.    There is no surcharge for the mudpack beauty treatment experienced by all as it wasn’t advertised on the Shepherds Walks website at the time of booking.

It was sunny and warm when I arrived back at home, had been all day apparently!     

RNH Monday, 30 July 2012