Saturday 8th March 2014
This walk should really be entitled “Wind in the Breamish” some might even say “Windbag in the Breamish” but I couldn’t possibly comment. To say the least it was more than usually draughty which to a large extent dictated our route. The plan was to use the leeside of the hills wherever possible as shelter and to try and keep the wind on our backs when on the more exposed tops. Even finding somewhere with calmer air for elevenses was a challenge but it certainly made everyone appreciate the value of a good hedge, windbreak of trees or even the much derided conifer plantation. We opted for the latter but it was still rather breezy, apologies for the elevenses being a whole five minutes early by the way but the 09.00 hours start and the windchill meant we were all ready for it. Ian had already had breakfast at home, second sittings in the car park on arrival and a few surreptitious “grazing” episodes en-route and was beginning to feel distinctly peckish. My other carer for the day, John, was beginning to look at his watch often so it was vital to keep the staff happy – nothing to do with being client-centred you understand.
I forgot to mention to the twenty assembled pleasure seekers at the briefing about not asking questions and they certainly paid the price, sorry again. A completely naive and very pleasant first timer from deepest Yorkshire just happened to ask about ridge (or rigg) and furrow whilst we were sheltering for lunch. There were howls of “Don’t ask him any questions” and groans of frustration and disappointment from those I formally regarded as friends. I provided what I thought was a comprehensive yet succinct answer. Eyes glazed over and some even slept through the lunchtime break(down) despite the windspeed and hot air even in this windchill, if you understand what I mean? Some of those who were not paying attention but instead enjoying themselves, chatting, having lunch etc consequently missed the hare running towards us down the quad bike track. It must have spotted me because it veered-off and disappeared.
We had seen a lot of evidence of human occupation since the Bronze Age over the course of the morning in the form of hillforts and settlement sites plus the dreaded ridge and furrow and terrace-like lynchets. We had also seen the panorama towards the coast as we crested the col between East and West Hill taking-in Ros Castle, the TV Mast at Catton Sandyford, the 28 masts of the wind farms in the Belford Moor area south along the sandstone ridge towards the radome at Brizlee Wood until it began to swing westwards towards Rothbury and the Simonside Ridge. Unfortunately the visibility was poor and continued to deteriorate throughout the morning and early afternoon. This wasn’t ideal for a walk based on distant panoramic views but such is life. We (i.e. I) opted not to scale the heights of Old Fawdon Hill (315m) because some of our number were experiencing difficulty in staying vertical in the “undulating lowlands” or tiny insignificant hills as I prefer to call them.
By the time we ascended Cochrane Pike, our highest point at 335m the visibility towards Cheviot and Hedgehope was very poor indeed. The skyline to the west was equally impaired making Shill Moor, Cushat Law, Sting Head, Hogdon Law and Wether Cairn difficult to pick out. Oddly enough the wooded brow of Hairhaugh Hill which was twice as far away at about 16 kilometres distance was much more prominent. The tailwind of a constant 30 mph with gusts well in excess of that assisted our ascent but when I mentioned “gusts” Christine, who shall be nameless, said she would use the term as often as possible in conversation. Just because I’m paranoid doesn’t mean that they aren’t out to get me.
After lunch we visited Middle Dean hillfort, the tri-radial cairn and the exposed cists at Turf Knowe before going over the top to visit Brough Law hillfort and see some of the in-situ stonework. The earlier morning start meant that we now had time to visit the Muddy Boots Cafe located in the former National Park Tourist Information Centre opposite Ingram church. I was “led” off the hill by an enthusiastic band of walkers which really means that they stampeded downhill towards the cafe a mere two kilometres away. They had never moved so fast all day and they were walking into wind. A good cup of tea, or coffee and lots of cake was had by some, well most actually before heading for home. Despite the incessant wind and resultant windburn we didn’t get wet and the ground was nowhere near as muddy as last month’s walk. It must have been OK because one particular connoisseur of Northumbrian landscape emailed me later to say “That was a route I'd like to walk again in different weather conditions - it would be nice to be able to stand up with confidence!!” I do however notice that the person concerned didn’t say that my presence would be appreciated, on the other hand he, she or it (see, your identity is safe with me) didn’t say that it wouldn’t.
Oh well, on the basis of a bit of cognitive dissonance, denial even, everything must be OK mustn’t it? Ian, John and I look forward to seeing everyone again soon, just ignore me, everyone else does.
Monday, 10 March 2014
St. Oswalds Way, part 8 - Harwood to Little Bavington
As usual sundance had soft shoe shuffled all week and Friday was sunny, Saturday was sunny but Sunday was forecast for rain by lunchtime had the old magic worn off?
After a bright dawn by the time we met up a Little Bavington it had clouded over. A quick transfer and we were back at Harwood where we had finished last year’s walks. A short walk along the road and after crossing a style we experienced what the rest of the days walk was going to be like, soft, slippery clarts and a cold breeze into our faces.
As we slipped and slithered our way across the fields towards the farm Fairnley. From here it changed from soft to boggy. It was round about now that Mike gave every one a shock as he suggested we could stop for a coffee as it was nearly 11 o’clock . After coffee a firmish farm track lead us to and through Catcherside.
Once more we were in the clarts making a short uphill climb interesting. Over a style to be faced with a wide area of bog we had to pass through with a burn also trying also to find its way through. Climbing a small rise we came across a sheep on its back so our resident super hero went across and heaved it right way up, yep typical just ran off and did not even says Baa never mind thanks. A short walk along the old Wanney Line and we had reached Knowesgate. It was only a short walk to lunch stopping just to the north of Kirkwelpington.
After lunch a short very clarty walk we entered Kirkwelpington.and found a handy comfort stop. A pleasant walk along a tarmac road soon gave way to another plodge across open fields before another section of road to West Harle. From here a short descent lead us to the worst section of clarts on the whole walk. It was uphill, bad enough but it was also churned up by tractors and animals the combination made this really arduous. Once more we welcomed walking along a farm track that took us to Great Bavington.
After leaving Great Bavington we walked along another road heading off to walk through a paddock. We all crossed the electric fence safely but at the other side of the paddock Mike forgot it was an electric fence and got quite a shock when he touched the wires (much too everyone’s amusement). From here we had only a walk across a couple of fields to Little Bavington. We carefully walked along the main road back towards to the cars.
Lesbury figure of eight
It was chilly on the sports ground car park between Hipsburn and Alnmouth at 09.30 but there were bits of blue sky, it wasn’t raining and nobody in Alnmouth was building an ark, all promising signs. The downside, apart from me, was that two of our clients had both driven separately from Bellingham and one had misplaced her coat – I’m trying not to use the word anorak. Fortunately the latter was soon solved. Unusually we had three dogs with us who proceeded to have a thoroughly good time over the course of the day getting lots of exercise plus getting really wet and dirty ready for the drive home.
The Alnmouth loop took-in the ducks (mainly wigeon) and three herons on the River Aln, the Duchess Bridge, the former harbour and its associated infrastructure including the ferryman’s hut and views of south along the former spit past the location of the former parish church towards the now roofless guano store and out to sea beyond Coquet Island.
We even managed to squeeze-in a comfort stop quickly followed by a coffee stop at the Holiday Fellowship Dandelion Cafe – training for the elevenses stop later. Uphill past Mount Pleasant Farm before the descent down to the broad meanders of the River Aln for the tramp to Lesbury. This particular stretch of the route had a particularly high “squelch factor” which in places must have reached the “Geet very clarty” classification on the Northumbrian Footpath Condition Scale. None of professional walkers present disgraced themselves by falling over – but I know they were willing me to show them how it was done.
Elevenses were taken at 11.26 alongside the river on benches on the fringe of Lesbury in sunshine and out of the wind – we really do try to look after our clients. A brisk walk along the main street past the church and over the 15th century Grade 1 listed Lesbury Mill Bridge took us to the beginning of the second and larger loop east towards Alnwick. The route along the south bank of the Aln following the meander loops and beneath the impressive 13 arched railway viaduct (East Coast Main Line) built by Robert Stephenson in 1848-9.
This section of the walk was quiet and pleasant and relatively protected from the cold wind so that we were able to eat lunch in a sunny spot before climbing back up towards Alnwick to begin the return leg of the larger loop. The section between Alndyke Farm and reaching the dismantled railway on Northumberland Estates land was a bit of trial, narrow, steep and very cut-up by horses hooves, it might even have exceeded the geet very clarty classification mentioned above, even the dogs slowed down. The bridge over the deeply incised Cawledge Burn was both high and impressive and gave rise to much comment about the manpower involved in the construction of the railway embankments, cuttings and bridges. Similarly with the even older and less mechanised canals that two of our number had recently been walking. From a vantage point along the old railway track bed it was possible to look north across the Aln Valley immediately east of Alnwick to take-in the planned Capability Brown landscape commissioned by the Duke of Northumberland in the 18th century. We were seeing it in its mature state as it was intended to look when planned all that time ago.
We left the track bed and turned south along a BOAT (by-way open to all traffic) towards Bilton and on past Alnmouth Station and down through Hipsburn to re-cross the Lesbury Mill Bridge to walk across the fields back to the cars. It was lovely to see the regulars again and know that they were still speaking to Ian and I, well, Ian anyway. Equally it was interesting to talk to new clients and welcome them to our happy band. It was rewarding to see the sense of achievement on the face of the person who achieved her aim of walking ten miles.
Conrad’s 9.73 miles must have been wrong; he was probably hallucinating at the thought of Marian walking the dogs, polishing his slippers, chilling white and warming the red wine and getting a three-course evening meal ready for his return. Sorry you had to leave us early Marian and hope that you recover from your sports injury soon. Ian and I hope everyone enjoyed the day.
Monday, 10 February 2014