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Tue 10th April 2012

Pennine Way - Byrness to Brownhart Law

Pennine Way - Byrness to Brownhart Law

Sundance had been frantically doing the Old Soft Shoe Shuffle all Saturday but the magic did not seem to be working.  Sunday morning was dull and damp.  By the time we left for the start of the walk it had even rained a bit.

It became drier as we progressed inland and the sun was trying to come out, things were looking up. But by the time we reached Buckham’s Bridge car park there was a hint of dampness in the air.  Gradually we all arrived and piled on to the mini bus and set for Byrness.

The road took us up the Coquet valley to Chew Green and then into the army range.  Unfortunately Mike took the opportunity to give a running tour guides commentary if you look to your left you can see so and so if you now look over there you can see etc. etc! Everybody was glad to get to Byrness and out of the Tour Bus.

Leaving the mini bus behind a short walk brought us to the Pennine Way, where we had stopped last year. 

Having safely crossed the A68 after a very short pleasant walk (flatish) we started the first and really the only big climb of the day (633ft) to the summit of Byrness Hill. 

The ground underfoot was not as slippery or as wet as I would have expected.  Part way up we exited from the conifers to an area of recently felled wood which gave the first of many superb views of the day.  After a little scramble (and for those with short legs an extra helping hand) we reached the top of Byrness Hill. 

Through the various showers around us we could see as far as Cross Fell and to the north tantalising views of Scotland.  The Pennine Way now follows the ridge line between the Spittlehope Valley and the Cottonhope Valley.  After a gradual climb we reached Houx Hill and shortly after stopped for a late lunch in relative shelter from the wind at of all places Windy Crags!

After lunch we continued to gradually gain height until we reached Raven Crag, as we were admiring the view we experienced our first and last rain of the day, but by the time we had put on waterproofs the shower had passed over.

The route now was defined by a long stretch of board walk.  Having reached Ogre Hill we began the decent into the Coquet Valley.  A wooden bridge has been built for the Pennine Way to cross the Coquet, although it is more an area of boggy ground with a couple of channels of running water six to seven inches wide. 

We now crossed into Scotland to reach Coquet Head.  Passing through a second fence took us back into England and Chew Green.  We left the Pennine Way to walk diagonally through the remains of the various Roman Camps before once more picking up the Pennine Way which now followed the line of the Roman Road ‘Dere Street’.  After a short climb the Pennine Way once more meets ‘The Border Fence’ near Brownhart Law and other than a couple of short stretches the Pennine Way follows this fence line virtually to Kirk Yetholm.

It was at this point we left the Pennine Way to head back to our cars.  We followed a easy grassy path over Deel’s Hill and began the long decent (over 2km) into the Coquet Valley eventually crossing Buckham’s Burn just before it joins the River Coquet and very nearly doubles the River Coquet’s size. 

Well had Sundance’s Soft Shoe Shuffle worked, a guarded ‘yes’, we did get about 5 minutes rain but when you looked at the number of rain showers that were around us all day, it definitely was not a wet walk.

Mon 2nd April 2012

Windy Gyle

Windy Gyle

What weather for the end of March!

The weather had been great all week, it was surely going to break on Thursday, the day of the walk, but thankfully this was not the case.

I met my walking companions for the day at the ‘Wedder Leap’ car park, nestled in the Coquet Valley. The group I was taking out where from Brasher Boots on one of their ‘countryside’ days where they get out and experience what their customers do and yes the whole group wore their Brasher boots with many sporting the most recent addition to the range, the Fellmaster GTX.

We followed the road up the valley a little way, passing Barrowburn Tea Room before we left the valley floor gaining height quickly as we climbed up Hindhill and we started to follow the old drovers’ road, The Street.
‘The Street’ is the name given to the clear track leading from Barrow Burn over Black Braes and the main ridge of the Cheviot, which is crossed near Monzie Law, and down to Hownam in the valley of Kale water. It is an old drovers’ road used by both packhorse trains and also for moving livestock to the English markets. Although traffic eased on these drovers’ roads during the period of medieval border warfare, it became firmly re-established in the 17th and 18th centuries, particularly by drovers keen to avoid the tolls of the new turnpike roads.

We stopped for lunch, sheltering on the side of Swineside Law, just out of the wind, it was a lovely little sun trap with a great view.

Then we continued on to the border fence and started our climb to the summit of the day, one of my favourites, Windy Gyle.
Windy Gyle is 2010 feet (619 m) above sea level. Therefore it exceeds the magical 2000 feet barrier, this is usually the point that hills finish and mountains begin.

The massive cairn on the summit is called ‘Russell’s Cairn’. This is a Bronze Age mound but it was named after Lord Francis Russell who was killed in the border battles in the area, probably at Hexpethgate where Clennell Street crosses the border ridge; on 27th July 1585. This was the day of the truce. It was the day that the English and Scottish met together at selected points along the border to air their grievances and right their wrongs.
We continued to follow The Pennine Way. The Pennine Way was the first U.K. Long Distance Path (now National Trail) and was officially opened in 1965. Its original theme was the provision of the opportunity to make long distance journeys through predominantly wild country.

In 1989 the Pennine Way was 502km (314 miles) in total, including loops. By 1994 rationalisation of some of the misalignments had reduced this to 463km (288 miles). It runs between Edale in Derbyshire and Kirk Yetholm in the Scottish borders taking in Northern England's finest moorland scenery.

We then left the Pennine Way and started to follow Clennell Street. This old road runs from Alwinton to Cocklawfoot in the valley of the Bowmont Water, on the Scottish side of the border. This ancient route has been traced back to prehistoric times but was used more recently by smugglers.

After a short distance we left Clennell Street and skirted over Middle Hill before dropping back down to Barrowburn and the car park.

After driving back down the valley we all went to The Coquet Vale for a meal to celebrate a great days walking one of the best day walks the area has to offer.

Great weather, spectacular walk, good company and a nice meal at the end of the day. A perfect day out!

Mon 26th March 2012

Roman Ring, part 3 - Haltwhistle to Haydon Bridge

Roman Ring, part 3 - Haltwhistle to Haydon Bridge

What an amazing contrast to the Roman Ring 2 walk of last month.  Dry, sunny (once the morning fog had dispersed) and positively hot in the afternoon, what had happened to the wet, overcast and cold conditions we previously enjoyed?  We certainly weren’t complaining, well not very much anyway.  “Everybody talks about the weather but nobody does anything about it.” Charles Dudley Warner.

The terrain was quite different from last month’s second leg including a greater variety of landscape types and longer views.  The initial walk up the Haltwhistle Burn provided lots of opportunity to appreciate the scope of the industrial archaeology concentrated in to a short, narrow valley and all intimately related to the underlying geology.  Walking up the burn a hundred years ago would have been a major assault on the senses, very different from the green corridor it has now become.  Then we encountered “The Steps” the steep climb out of the gorge and out onto the grazing land above.  Elevenses (i.e. morning coffee) were taken in the warm sun in a field above the gorge.  There was lots of evidence of former mining and quarrying here to with old spoil heaps, disturbed ground and fenced-off quarry faces.  The working hill farms that we passed really were just that with muddy tracks and farm equipment strewn around the site in marked contrast to the tidy farms we could see below and to the north of us in the Tyne Valley and towards Hadrian’s Wall - two very different farming landscapes in close juxtaposition.

The skyline walk eastwards provided clear views north towards the Wall and the scarp and dip of the old quarry section at Cawfields was easy to spot together with the east – west trending line of the vallum.  The cluster of old bell pits above the Milecastle Inn and the old working near Hallpeat Moss reinforced the industrial past of the area as seen in the Haltwhistle Burn earlier.  A few minutes of road walking linked us to the first of the lonnens (lanes) we would be using today.  This particular one took us past Cranberry Brow farm its name indicative of the natural vegetation of this moorland area before it was farmed.  The cranberries natural habitat is bogs or mires.  From where we stopped for lunch we could easily see Sycamore Gap (Robin Hood’s Tree for younger participants) and other prominent locations such as Windshields’ Crag, the highest point on the Wall, and some of the Nine Nick’s of Thirlwall to our west.  The walk down the “real” (i.e. impressively  long) drive past Layside with its hard tennis court tucked-in behind the barn led to an enclosed track overlooking Vindolanda and views not seen by the car borne public.  From here we could also see the Roman quarries on the west end of Barcombe and conserved Crindledykes lime kiln.  Passing Vindolanda on the line of the Roman Stangate we set course uphill for the trig point on Barcombe (279m), also the site of a Roman Signal Station.  By now it was definitely hot and there was a welcome hint of a breeze to cool the collective fevered brows which was appreciated by all.  The earlier fog had now been replaced by a blue-tinted heat haze – “The weather is like the government, always in the wrong.” Jerome K Jerome.

After a short period of R & R the walk from the trig point over and off Thorngrafton Common took us to the start of Haresby Lonnen that was to take us the three miles (4.8 km) east before turning south towards Haydon Bridge – but I didn’t mention the distance involved!  This lengthy section of the walk appeared all the longer because of the heat and the fact that we were viewing it along the corridor feature of the two parallel walls –  the convergence of  which, the vanishing point, accentuated the distance.  This lonnen possessed some of the characteristics of a post-enclosure drove road e.g. a wide lane or “green road” between walls with wide grass verges keeping to higher ground in the area.  Unfortunately there was no evidence of any past, or present, drovers’ inn along the route which would have been appreciated by all.

Several of our number were heard to comment that there wasn’t enough water underfoot and that mud was definitely in short supply compared to our last outing, you can’t please all of the people all of the time!  Even along this very rural section of the route we found evidence of former industrial activity in the form of Pit Covert and the concrete piers on the site of the former Leadbitter Mine near Hall Bank.  Here we turned south for the final climb by Cubstocks before the steep descent back to the vehicles in the grounds of Haydon Bridge High School. After ten minutes with the car doors and windows open the car thermometer was still registering 22°C when we drove away, not bad for March.  A quick straw poll of the distance covered from two pedometers and three GPS units varied between 11.68 ml (18.79km) to 12.4 ml (19.95km) a variation easily accounted for by the differences in “purposeful wandering” as individuals selected their own routes across the moor and slopes – not that anyone ever moaned about the uphill bits of course.  A good day was had by all.