Salters Road via Ewartly Shank
Mon 31st August 2015
Sunday 30th August 2015
A Bank Holiday weekend and despite that we enjoyed a really good day’s weather; gentle breezes, long sunny periods, an ideal walking temperature and no precipitation whatsoever. What a contrast, as I write this early on Bank Holiday Monday morning it is breezy, completely overcast with no possibility of sun and yes, it’s raining and has been for some ages.
We started beside the eleventh century church of St Michael and All Angels, the earliest written records of which date from 1135 when the church was given to the monks of Alnwick Abbey. Today it has grade one listed building status. The remains of the former manor house was pointed out opposite to the church (marked on the OS map as site of Alnham Castle) the other side of what is to eventually become the River Aln. The church itself is thought to have been built on the site of an even earlier small Roman camp. Adjacent to the church stands what is now known as the Vicar’s Pele, built in the fourteenth century during the time of the Border Reivers with all that that implies and described in a document of 1541 as a “little tower.” It eventually became the vicarage but was a ruin by the seventeenth century eventually to be restored in 1844. Today this grade two listed building is a private dwelling. All of this within fifty meters of our parked vehicles - plus the Northumberland National Park Information Panel about the 1962 Shepherds Memorial Cairn.
The gradual ascent to the moor along the line of the Salters Road was a bit muddy in parts but we got a good view of the hollow ways associated with this former drove road. Beyond Northfieldhead we were high enough to be able to see the sandstone Simonside Ridge forming the horizon to the south and east. The broad vale between the ridge and us is formed of weaker sediments before rising again to where we were standing on the southern edge of the igneous rocks forming the Cheviots. This changing geology is clearly reflected in the farmers us of the land, easily seen in the sunshine. There was lots of evidence of how much more populated the Cheviots had been in the past, we saw so lots of evidence of former settlements including small quarries. Even the random patterns in the drystone walls and sheep stells reflected the hardness of the Cheviot lavas and helped to explain why the Cheviots form the highest uplands in Northumberland.
The Salters Road between White Gate and Ewartly Shank demonstrated well main characteristics of such old routes. The Salters Way designation is probably a relatively recent one for what is thought to be a much older route across the Cheviots. Its origin may be prehistoric, and it has been used as a trade route, drove road, smuggling way and Reivers path at different times. The current name is derived from its use carrying salt from the saltpans of North East England to Scotland when the Scottish tax regime for salt made it worthwhile. Similarly the trade went in the opposite direction when the situation was reversed. We had a morning coffee-break in the lee of the coniferous wind-break plantation overlooking Ewartly Shank.
Once beyond this farmstead came the steep descent down into, over and up the other side of the Shank Burn. From the top of the descent the view downstream along the line of the watercourse demonstrated clearly the steep slopes and in-filled flat bottomed shape of this post- glacial channel. The climb up to Little Dod was soon over with plenty to see along the way and views of granite masses Cheviot and Hedgehope becoming obvious on cresting the slope. These two highest hills in the massif were the site of the now completely eroded Cheviot volcano when it was active four hundred million years ago in the Devonian Period 350 – 400 million years ago.
The next destination was Alnham Moor for lunch walking north east over the gradually descending wide spur separating the Rowhope Burn to the north, starting beneath the slopes of Shill Moor, and keeping the Shank Burn in sight to our south. A leisurely lunch on the south facing slope in the sunshine near to the farm allowed us a clear view of our onward route down and over the River Breamish and back uphill towards Cobden. There were lots of pheasant feeding pens in this area, evidence of farming diversification and also lots of grouse both on the ground and in the air as we walked uphill.
The next objective was Nellie Heron’s memorial which is usually not easy to spot but on this occasion we walked almost straight up to it so no need to set up a challenge and search for same! If I’d have wanted to “hit it on the nail” I probably couldn’t have done so, typical. The aim now was to regain the bridleway across the moor to rejoin the Salters Way for the descent back to Alnham. This is when we lost the continuous sunshine as a cover of intermediate level cloud moved in between the lower fair weather cumulus we had experienced all day, and the upper level cirrus. As we were almost back to the start it really didn’t matter. Not bad for a Bank Holiday, we actually met one other person, a runner coming downhill as we were climbing out of Alnham, after that we had the hills to ourselves. You can’t do that in most of our National Parks. Oh yes I almost forgot, the colour of the heather on distant hillsides in the sun was magnificent. We hope you enjoyed the day, we certainly enjoyed showing this wonderful, and quiet, part of the Northumberland National Park to you.
Richard and Ian.