Roman Ring, part 2 - Hallbankgate to Haltwhistle
Mon 27th February 2012
Sunday 26th February 2012
All participants on this walk should now have beautiful feet considering the prolonged and intensive mud treatment that they received. Having just spent an hour and a half cleaning fine caked mud from boots, gaiters and overtrousers, plus the non-optional sphagnum moss, it was a reminder of just how wet the route was. Mark Richard’s guidebook describes the route as an all weather route! It would provide a good venue for a bog snorkelling event. Doubtless everyone will remember the particularly glutinous section of the walk between the two plantations on Denton Fell (neither were marked on the OS map). This will never dry out unless we have a really extreme drought hidden as it is from direct sunlight for all but a few minutes each day shortly after sunrise and before sunset, and that only in the summer half of the year. I think that the above provides a “picture” of the conditions underfoot. Fortunately we stayed dry from overhead despite 8/8ths cloud above us that capped the North Pennine fells immediately to our south.
There were really two separate parts to this walk. The first half was east over the higher level moorland and rough grazing land, the second turning north-east to parallel the River South Tyne downstream towards Haltwhistle and our parked cars. The first half of the day appeared surprisingly rural and agricultural at first sight. However in the first kilometre or so the mainly 19th Century industrial archaeology apparent in the landscape proved otherwise. We started the day following the track bed of a former mineral railway and crossed the route of yet another only a kilometre from the start – remember the embankment with the dismantled arch just after Clowsgill Home Farm? By then we had already passed the former Clowsgill limestone quarry and an adit mine entrance. All of the older (pre-twentieth century) buildings were built of the local Carboniferous sandstone and a little further on we paused briefly beside the Roachburn Colliery Memorial which neatly encapsulated the three major constituent rock of the Carboniferous, sandstone, limestone and coal all of which played a significant role in the industrial history of the area – Haltwhistle itself owes its industrial origins to coalmining and the Newcastle to Carlisle Railway was one of the first commercial railways in Britain actually used the coal.
Leaving the Colliery Memorial at Coalfell, another clue, we struck out east across the moor having only walked two kilometres dry-shod after which things changed, see above. Stoop Rigg plantation provided shelter from the cool south-west wind for slightly belated elevenses. The plantation was the highest point on the moorland and so relatively dry, there were even pheasant feeders beneath the trees. The next hour and a half before lunch are best described, with typical British understatement, as “rather damp and boggy” everyone had wet feet by now and the “walkers foot spa beauty treatment” began in earnest - and continued for most of the rest of the walk at no extra cost to participants!!!!
Lunch was taken in a field just before the final descent into the South Tyne valley in the lee of the wind which had developed a sharp edge. Fortunately we had been walking downwind all day, all part of the planning and customer care of course. We had visions of easy progress beside the South Tyne and that was the case – for the first half kilometre – after which we reverted to “mud, mud glorious mud.” However this was different, it was on steep valley side slopes instead of undulating moorland and usually involved only a narrow “path” with adverse camber i.e. you very easily slipped downhill whilst trying to ascend! Vibram soles and mud are a potent mix for a combination of mud-skiing and slow unsteady progress. The pleasant views both of Featherstone Castle and bridge allowed a brief pause before negotiating the quagmire from there to beyond Wydon Eals Farm. The right of way around the latter provided some of the worst conditions underfoot of the whole river section which was a surprise. We need to develop a descriptive Mud Index along the lines of climbing grades, or avalanche classifications. It could be done in Geordie along the lines of:
1. Geet Fettle Surface
2. Dampish Surface
3. Clarty Tendencies
4. Canny Clarty
5. Reet Clarty
6. Claggy Clarty
7. Geet Clarty
8. Geet Very Clarty
9. Droonin in Clarts
10. Midden-like Clarty: note the subtle inclusion of mud aroma as yet another sensory variable.
Each of the classifications would have a detailed objective descriptor based on a number of variables e.g. water to solid ratio, viscosity of mud, depth of mud, coefficient of friction, nature of substrate, vegetation cover (type and percentage), indication of the area of mud (narrow, broad, extensive, etc.
After that there only remained the walk into Haltwhistle and the odd looks we received from drivers and pedestrians alike mud-caked as we were from the knees downwards. We also received a similar reaction clustered outside of the public conveniences in the centre of the town on our way back to the cars. What they didn’t appreciate was that free hot water was on offer in addition to the usual facilities. This represented excellent value for money – relief and luxury all round following a free Shepherds Walks foot mudpack and massage (actually just feet slipping about in wet muddy boots) plus a good walk. What more can anyone ask of a walk in winter? The stoicism and good humour of the British was well demonstrated in our happy band as muddy, wet kit was deposited in that essential piece of equipment beloved of walkers, the plastic bag, before the drive home with the heater on in the footwell. Whilst most of our number can’t be described as “kit freaks” I really do recommend the use of waterproof socks for warm dry feet, it makes a qualitative difference to the day’s experience. Do however use them in combination with gaiters because once the “water assisted regolith” (i.e. mud) overtops your socks you are back to square one; wet, cold feet with a high squelch factor!!!!!!!
Monday, 27 February 2012