The Countryside in Winter.
Wed 19th January 2011
Guided Walk Date - Saturday 18th December 2010
Im glad that the change of venue for the walk allowed it to go ahead; wed have missed out on a really good day otherwise and we have another really good day in reserve for the walk we intended to do! It was chilly minus 8C on the Haugh car park so we got underway quickly over the footbridge and along the High Street and up Gravelly Bank for views of Simonside, the golf course (former racecourse) and the meandering River Coquets floodplain.
The flooded and frozen pools on the golf course emphasised the flat, low lying nature of the ground and explained the reason for the relocation of the rebuilt golf clubhouse. The view from the lay-by on Hillside Road West enabled us to appreciate the setting of valley and the main characteristics of its physical and human geography. The walk from the car park out of the village as far as the farmland at the end of Hillside Road West was treacherous underfoot but once we left the roads it got a lot easier. The remains of the hillfort at West Hills were quite well disguised by snow but the view north-westwards towards the snow covered Cheviots in particular were excellent. From here we could see the pink face of Biddlestone Quarry shinning in the sun 10 kilometres away from where we should have started the days walk. We continued up to the top of Physic Lane for a coffee break below the trig point before setting out across the moorland plateau. Despite the mercifully still air the wind generator at nearby Glitteringstone on the crest of the sandstone escarpment was whizzing round. Following Lord Armstrongs Carraigeway Drive north we spotted the old First World War practice trenches (have a look on the free version of Google Earth) that were picked out by the contrasts in the snow cover sometimes a blanket of snow can disclose things you wouldnt otherwise notice. From here we could also see Target Hill beyond the trenches, no explanation required. Onwards into Primrose Wood to view the 60 centimetre icicles below the crag near the old quarry stained orange-brown by the peaty water and a discussion about mosses and lichen growth on tress.
It was noticeably cooler in the trees where the low-angle suns rays were blocked, wed already noticed how much pleasanter the temperature was once we got out of the cold air drainage of the Coquet Valley. Further into the plantation we stopped for lunch sitting on the frozen remains of an old flat-bed trailer, lots of insulation required, it was 1.00 pm and minus 2C! Back out onto the open moorland across and very icy footbridge to regain the crest of the scarp the advantage of the big freeze was obvious as we crossed the usually boggy moor dry-shod, even some of the streams were running underneath a crust of ice. The patterns made by the combination of running water and trapped air bubbles were remarkable. The light was brilliant, we were walking south towards the sun in a clear blue sky with the light bouncing off pristine snow and there was a satisfying squeak and crunch from the continental style powder snow with each footstep. The walk into the Addycombe plantation to follow the former Carraigeway Drive to the east should have been the easiest part of the walk. The number of fallen trees, boughs and branches along this leg of the route made it more of an assault course. Lots of silver birches were bent over by the weight of snow and larger trees had snapped-off branches littering the path. Some substantial trees had also been brought down by a combination of wind and sheer weight of snow, witnessed by the orientation of the falls and the consolidated piles of snow that surrounded individual trees leaving the trunks in a pit surrounded by a deeper bank of snow.
The final mile down into Rothbury across the fields passed almost unnoticed with the constant banter of a happy group of people, we really did have an exceptionally enjoyable day. Names have intentionally not been mentioned; you had to be there to appreciate the humour e.g. the taxidermist sign on the corner of Bridge Street on the way back to the car park! Mission accomplished a really exceptional walk with lovely group of people and back at the cars exactly on time for a safe journey home. I hope everyone got their promised gin and tonic in the bath as planned - or were we just hallucinating in the cold?