St Cuthberts Cave Walk
Tue 19th May 2015
Sunday 17th May 2015
To say that this eleven mile walk was one of our easier ones would be a slight exaggeration. Although the ascents and descents were quite gentle, I’d use the term “undulating,” the sharp showers and blustery and strong wind did promise to take the edge off the day. On the up side everyone present knew each other so the patter and leg-pulling started before leaving the car park. Ian was introduced as a TV star following his recent appearance on last Friday evenings BBC Look North item (sorry, aka “piece” or “package” as they call it in the trade) concerning his work as a Voluntary Ranger with the Northumberland National Park. The real story behind his, not even, fifteen minutes of fame and let’s be honest, celebrity is even more interesting but too much of a shaggy dog story to relate here. Nevertheless we were all in awe of his celebrity and the fact that his new found status hadn’t changed him a bit – except he is a lot bigger in reality than on the TV.
We walked up to St Cuthbert’s Cave close the start of our walk and it began to rain. The cave provided convenient shelter for the donning of waterproofs and early elevenses, we even mentioned St Cuthbert. It is an impressive location and the avenue of recently in-leaf bright green trees framed the Cheviot landscape to the west. We got thoroughly wet as we walked around to the failed dam near to Dick’s Oldwalls but it fined-up as we approached Swinhoe Farm. Past the barns full of new calves and the Riding Centre we were now on both the Northumberland Coast Path and also the St Oswald’s Way. An early lunch was taken in pleasant sunshine on a grassy slope on The Hag which, despite its name, provided reasonable protection from the wind too.
After lunch we made our way towards Belford through the fields before looping around Westhall and heading north-west back towards Swinhoe Farm by a different route. Do have a look on Google Earth at this area to spot the position of the former moat and the sheep-dip on the stream we passed. Marian always pulls my leg when I mention using the above but it really is a good way of appreciating where we have been and what we have seen, anyway both she and Conrad keep me grounded, sometimes even helping to run me aground, thank you – I think! The bluebells in the wooded sections of the walk put on vibrant displays and yes, of course they were the native British variety not the Spanish intruders just don’t ask me to detail the differences please.
It was good to have David and Linda with us for the first time in a while, there local knowledge of people and land owners in particular helped put in context what we were seeing. Passing beneath the Whin Sill dolerite outcrop of Sunnyside Crag, with is scree slope and rabbit warren smothered in coconut smelling bright yellow gorse really brought out the difference between the sandstone hills we’d been moving between since St Cuthbert’s Cave. On past the pastoral farmland and into the plantation containing Lower Swinhoe Lake below the crags of the same name took us towards Fawcett Hill. The track junction there gave us a magnificent view of the Northumberland coast from the Farne Islands to the south and the full sweep of Lindisfarne and Goswick Sands to the north. Cath stepped-up onto a convenient stile at this point to gain additional height! The sky was blue over the sea and the view to the east was crystal clear but our view of the Cheviots behind us had disappeared. The five-hundred metre walk between this viewpoint and the relative shelter of the large plantation that includes Shiellow Wood and Little Lake was rather exposed to the elements and we were thankful to reach the cover of the trees. On the way we passed a recently excavated and quite extensive pond, with a chalet and landing stage, that doesn’t appear on the most recent maps. Just prior to reaching the plantation an examination of the old coal workings and the peat cutting business in the valley between our route and Greensheen Hill was largely ignored, it was far too wet and windy. We knew we were OK however as Mike was monitoring our progress on his electronic map which had proved useful as we had experienced a right-of-way change in Square wood near Swinhoe Farm. At various points where out route coincided with both the St Oswald’s and the Northumberland Coast Path the surface had been upgraded with what appeared to be road planings and there were new gates and fences in the wood and new signs proclaiming the land as part of Ford & Etal Estates. Sue, Jane (plus dog dog) and Mary led us downhill around Raven’s Crag and around Holburn Lake for the final leg in towards St Cuthbert’s Cave to complete the circular route and from there back downhill to the car park.
We saw quite a variety of landscape along the route – arable and pastoral farmland, deciduous and coniferous woodlands, several lakes and ponds, a riding school etc all immediately adjacent to our route. Further away the distant panoramas of the Cheviots and the Whin Sill Coast (Lindisfarne and the Farne Islands) were very rewarding and in both cases enhanced by the slightly unworldly blocks of bright yellow oilseed rape in full flower. You don’t often get two views of such high quality on a single walk. Smitten fans can probably still get Ian’s cameo role on BBC Look North on Friday 15th May 2015 on iPlayer, keep replaying it for full effect! Thanks to everyone who attended, we hope to see you all again soon, possibly at the Rothbury Walking Festival next month?
Richard and Ian