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Thu 23rd April 2015

St Cuthbert's Way - Berwick Walking Festival

St Cuthbert's Way - Berwick Walking Festival

It was a pleasure to lead (most) of St Cuthbert’s Way for Shepherds Walks during the Berwick Walking Festival in April 2015.

The 100 km or 62 mile route took 6 days from Saturday 11th April to Thursday 16th April. The route begins in Melrose and ends on Holy Island and winds its way through the best scenery of the Borders of Scotland and Northumberland. The great attraction of the route if the variety of terrain and scenery from rolling countryside to dramatic mountains and beautiful coastal views.

Day 1.  Melrose to St Boswells

The feature of today was the Eildon Hills which are an obvious feature as they dominate the skyline above Melrose. A sharp climb from the Abbey in Melrose took us to the saddle between the the North and Middle Hills, followed by a gentle walk through the forest to Bowden then through Newtown St Boswells to the banks of the beautiful River Tweed at Dryburgh where there is a glimpse of the Abbey though the trees. The end of the day came quickly as we walked into St Boswells for the bus back to Berwick. 7 miles completed today.

Day 2. St Boswells to Jedfoot Bridge.

Today was a rest day for me. Jon led this day which unfortunately was rainy for most of the morning although the sun came out for the afternoon. The main feature of todays route is the walk along Dere Street, the old Roman road. Today 12 miles were covered.

Day 3. Jedfoot Bridge to Kirk Yetholm.

This was the longest day of the journey which starts along Dere Street but soon turns off the zigzag across fields and by forests to Morebattle. Leaving the village having already covered 8 – 9 miles the challenge of Grubbit Law (326m) and Wideopen Hill (369m), the highest point of St Cuthbert’s Way, present them selves. This steep and more rugged terrain is a test of resolve especially as the weather was threatening again. After coming off the hills the 3 mile trek to Kirk Yetholm saw some weary folk gratefully climb on to the bus. 16 miles and 8 hours of walking today.

Day 4. Kirk Yetholm to Wooler.

Today is not the longest but it is the most arduous because it contains two long climbs into the remote hills of the Cheviots. We had a strong wind all day but it was behind us and helped to push us up the hills. The first stage of today took us from Kirk Yetholm up Green Humbleton to the border ridge and then the long descent to Hethpool at the base of College Valley. Stage 2 took us up the side of Yeavering Bell with its Iron Age Hill Forts atop past Tom Tallon’s Crag to Gains Law and then the long but gentle descent to Wooler Common. We made good time so completed the day by walking through Wooler to pick up the bus on the edge of the town. 13.5 miles and 7.5 hours of walking today.

Day 5. Wooler to Fenwick.

A spectacular day.

The route starts by climbing over Weetwood Moor east of Wooler before a steep descent to Weetwood Bridge and a bit of road walking through the Horton villages. From this point on the terrain is gentler and bright sunshine helped to bring the fields alive with colour as we made our way towards St Cuthbert’s Cave. This impressive rock feature is the highlight of St Cuthbert’s Way for many walkers. The walk into Fenwick through the woodland provides glimpses of the coast and the end of the route on Holy Island. 12.4 miles and 6.5 hours of walking today.

Day 6. Fenwick to Holy Island.

The main concern of this final section is the tide times. Today the crossing to Holy Island was safe between 4.30 and 11.25am. So we had an early start leaving Berwick at 6am. The walking was easy across the fields and onto the causeway to Holy Island. The air temperature was close of freezing but there was no wind or clouds so the sun shone and provided a wonderful spectacle as Holy Island drew closer. A great end to a great walk. 6 .4 miles walked today.

The entire route measured 67.3 miles.

Chris Constable

Tue 21st April 2015

Hadrians Wall Hinterlands Walk Blog

Hadrians Wall Hinterlands Walk Blog

Sunday 19th April 2015

This walk evolved following the success of this January’s urban walk incorporating the Tyne Bridges and the Ouseburn Tunnel.  The idea of including a paid attraction within the body of the walk proved attractive to both the regulars and new clients alike and the visit to Vindolanda was a real success.

Starting from Once Brewed we warmed-up on the ascent to Windshields Crags, the highest point on Hadrian’s Wall at 345 metres.  We could equally have gone east along the Pennine Way from Steel Rigg but the wind would have been in our face and it was really chilly and overcast all morning.  The two and a half kilometre walk along the crest of the Whin Sill as far as Caw Gap with morning coffee taken adjacent to the Bogle Hole quarry gave plenty of opportunity to appreciate the value of walking downwind and to view the results of the last (Pleistocene) glaciation.

The walk down the dip slope past Shield on the Wall and over the Military Road towards Hill Top had a completely different “feel” to walking along the Wall itself.  We crossed Hill Top’s immaculately mowed lawn, even if it was on the right-of-way, to exit by what must be one of the longest genuine drive up to a house that isn’t part of a stately home.  Moving east along the lonnen past Cranberry Brow we were at least partly protected from the headwind by the drystone walls and occasional trees and hedges lining the two kilometres long straight.  We consciously avoided the footpath via Layside and the steep and boggy section just after it where it crosses both the Bean and Kingcairn Burns to access Vindolanda from the south.  

The ticket office at Vindolanda was positively warm as we booked-in but the two girls working behind the counter wearing thick fleeces didn’t think so.  We had lunch under cover and out of the wind in the quad with access to “facilities,” luxury, but still distinctly chilly.  A quick walk around the site to get our bearings was followed by a guided tour for an hour or so which proved very informative.  The sky was beginning to clear and the sun was coming out.  Some of the viewpoints and stopping points around the site were exposed and didn’t lend themselves to lengthy explanations despite the knowledge and enthusiasm of the guide.  The tour ended at the museum where the displays, and in particular the interpretation, was outstanding, particularly the material relating to the Vindolanda Tablets.  Most of the party took the opportunity to have a hot drink in the cafe before the walk back to the cars just over two kilometres away.  An advantage of ending the official walk at Vindolanda meant that participants could spend as little or as long as they wished at this valuable and unique location.

Incidentally Ian and I were at Walltown the following day (Monday 20th April) where we had lunch sitting up on the crags at Turret 44B in out shirt sleeves in really balmy weather, what a difference a day makes.  Or next walk is on Sunday 17th May centred around St Cuthbert’s Cave so we are hoping for more consistent and seasonal weather and hope to see you there.

Richard & Ian

Tuesday, 21 April 2015      

Tue 21st April 2015

Nordic Walk Challenge weekend

Nordic Walk Challenge weekend

Friday 17th April – Take Your Skills to the Next Level

We all met at the Shepherds Walks shop in Rothbury and walked down to the Riverside.  
I refreshed everyone on the beginner’s steps (1-6) before moving onto the advanced steps (7-11).

 The training involved explaining the next step with some partner work which included exercises to help with the technique and show everyone how their body should move.  We did lots of practice of each step before walking along the riverside for a short walk putting the techniques into practice


Saturday 18th April – 14 mile Nordic walk challenge walk

Everyone met promptly at the Shepherds Walks shop in Rothbury, were checked in and provided with poles.

Jane introduced me and Martin to our group and explained was going to happen today.  We had a quick group photograph outside and headed to the Spirit bus stop, where we realised we had left the map in the car and Martin rushed back to get it before setting off on the Spirit bus to Alwinton.  
Jane and Jon’s group got off the bus at Thropton where they waved us off for the rest of our journey up to Alwinton.  One of our group was laughing as she lives in Alwinton and had driven to Rothbury to make the journey back to Alwinton.

We had a quick toilet stop in Alwinton and warmed up before starting our 14 mile walk back to Rothbury.  The group was soon stretched as people settled into their stride.  We walked past Clennel Hall and saw our first field of sheep and lambs (this was soon to be a very common sight).  A couple of the group at the back pointed out a dipper on the river.  We turned and walked through a field with a couple of horses in it.  

The first hill of our walk came very soon, through a small wood, I gave everyone a quick reminder on the technique for walking up the hill and everyone made it to the top without stopping and were extolling the virtues of Nordic walking poles. At the top of the hill Kirsten was handing out Soor Plums or Sugar Barley to the group.

Kirsten and Paul stopped regularly to take photographs, especially when we spotted the moles which had been hung on the wire fences.  The conversation then moved onto why people did this.  Martin, John and I all said it was because “mole-catchers did this as proof of the amount of kills, as they were rewarded on quantity”.  Kirsten was very intrigued by this, even stopping to stroke one!

The walk continued along some great paths which had totally dried up since Martin and I had recce’d this.  Everyone’s technique was still very good at this stage.

We were heading towards Cote Walls Farm, where there was a small ford which had a few stones in it which we could step on, most people got across without getting their feet very wet until Debbie crossed, the stones had got slippery and she ended up fully in the water with wet feet.  I decided not to bother with the stones and just walked across much to Sharon’s dismay as she had her camera out.  Just after this point there was a field of cows with their newborn calves and as we moved towards the gate at the next field which was full of sheep, one of the cows started kicking up stones as if to say “don’t come through here”.  The farmer rode through the field with his border collie and two Labradors.  One of the Labradors was following us and barking all the way up the field and even managed to squeeze through the fence before going back to the farmer.

We were nearly at our lunch stop at Burradon.  We had a quick stop to pick up some water at Burradon (which Martin and Jon had left the night before) before walking the half a mile to the field.

 Everyone found somewhere to sit in the sunny corner of the field and were soon tucking in.

 Kirsten’s eyes soon spotted a bird’s beak which was lying on the grass and she grossed everyone out by picking it up.   After about half an hour, everyone was getting ready to start off again.  I moved around the group offering chocolate or jelly sweets.

 Martin explained which route we were going to take from our lunch spot which included a downhill part followed by a lovely uphill part (another chance to put Nordic walk to the test).  I reminded everyone of the Nordic walking technique for walking downhill and we all set off.  While we were doing this part of the walk Debbie pointed out a hare which we were amazed to watch run around the field and not straight across.

 The group at the back were laughing when we got to a road sign that pointed and said that Rothbury was 3 miles.  Debbie said “its only 3 miles that way, can’t we go that way?”

We got to a stile and Martin after looking at the map/GPS was heading one way but I spotted the public bridleway yellow arrow which was through a gate and went around an oil seed rape field which had bird scarers located around it.  As we hadn’t seen them before there were some worried members of the group who thought they may get shot at.  John reassured everyone that they just made a loud bang.

As we passed Thropton, Mary was asked if she wanted to go home instead of finishing the walk (she lives in Thropton) but she carried on.

We came to one of my favourite parts of this walk which is Physic Lane (this is part of the Cragside Challenge) and is perfect for Nordic walking on as it is flat, green, long and on a slight incline.

 Again the chocolate and jelly sweets came out to give everyone a little sugar boost for the final leg of the walk.

 John and I went at full out Nordic walking pace using advanced techniques and left the rest of the group to walk at their own pace.

Kirsten had asked why Physic Lane was so called. The lady who lived in Alwinton said it was probably because someone gathered medicinal herbs there in the distant past. (I have since found out that “Legend has it that the Knights Hospitallers of St John of Jerusalem had a hospital at the bottom of Physic Lane during the 13th and 14th centuries. They probably gathered wild flowers, herbs and rose hips which are a very good source of vitamin C, calcium, phosphorous and iron. The Knights may have gathered the rose hips here to make a tonic to fend off coughs, and treat sore throats and bleeding gums. The leaves of elder, which also grows here were used in an ointment to ease swellings and bruises.”)

 At the top of Physic Lane a conversation ensued between the group, as some people didn’t feel as if they wanted to walk up ANOTHER hill and wanted to go the low track to Rothbury.  The beauty of a Shepherds Walk is that we have the opportunity to split a group as we have staff to cover, so we split the group into two with Martin taking a small group up to the Carriageway on the correct route and I took the rest of the group on the low track.

 Martin’s group were asking about some of the features in the landscape and he explained that it was a hill fort and that it was one of four in the valley around Rothbury and they could see another two from their vantage point on the carriageway drive.

 During this walk we saw a massive variety of birds including a tree creeper, two buzzards, Guinea fowl and Muscovy ducks.  We also saw some alevins (baby salmon) in the Coquet when we crossed one of the bridges.

 Everyone finished the 14.6 mile Nordic Challenge Walk and a few of us decamped to the Newcastle Hotel to enjoy a well deserved drink and tell Jon (who joined us) what a fantastic walk we had had.
I would like to thank Martin for being the front marker and map reader, everyone for coming along and making it such a fantastic day and I hope to see you all very soon on one of our other Nordic walks.

Julie