Roman Ring, part 3 - Haltwhistle to Haydon Bridge
Mon 26th March 2012
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.