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Whittingham Vale

Whittingham Vale

Mon 23rd September 2013

It was Christine Hall’s fault.  Things were going well, everyone had arrived early and we were off to a good start when she asked if the walk would be “precipitous”?  Where did that come from, and why?  Just bear that remark in mind for later.  Fortunately Conrad intervened and expressed surprise at the use of such long words so early in the day, the ribbing had begun, and “normal service” had been resumed.  What newcomers Mary, Carolyn and Christine made of this is anyone’s business but I hope it reassured them that we are an easy-going friendly group just out for an enjoyable day.

We were only going to walk about 8 or 9 miles over the course of the day looking at what makes the physical and human landscape of the area fringing the Cheviots so distinctive using the Vale of Whittingham as a case study.  Fortunately it was possible to do this as a circular walk without getting far of the beaten track making the point that gems can be found locally without the need to go to exotic, high profile honeypot locations. We started overlooking the site of Thrunton Brickworks, still smouldering after almost three weeks and, although the wind was from the south, we could still smell it.  The glaciation that eroded softer rocks forming the valley and the later post-glacial lake that deposited the clays that would provide the brickworks with its essential raw material.  Looking down from the car park it was easy to pick-out the main components of the landscape and see how these traits blended together to give the sub-region its particular character.  Near Thrunton Farm the view to the north allowed us to trace the self-same landscape characteristics around to the west  and looking beyond the Vale of Whittingham we could see the obvious differences in landscape and land use between it and the upland Cheviot region providing the backdrop.

Elevenses were taken sitting on a farm bridge in the middle of a field with our feet overhanging the meandering River Aln adjacent to one of the numerous conifer plantations which was also a heronry. Into Whittingham next to see the main conservation area of the village, see the pele tower and mention of the Border Reivers.  We followed the path that used to be the main road to Eslington past the pele and over the river to the north side of the village past the village hall (book sale in progress) and the church with some really attractive cottages throughout.  The distinctively patterned brick gable ends of buildings near the church attracted particular comment.  The Vicarage is now a private house but you couldn’t miss the lime trees behind the high wall surrounding the property.  We re-crossed the infant River Aln as we walked north along the lonnen and also a small tributary, the Callaly Burn, that makes Whittingham a possible site of the Synod of Twyford in 684 (along with the better known Alnmouth) mentioned by Bede.  The lonnen provided us with our first real indication of the abundance of food for free, see below.

Lunch was looming so we crossed a couple of fields’ by-passing the disused Whittonlea Quarry into Thrunton Wood.  The last large field contained a lot of potentially frisky cattle so we bravely sent Christine out in front with her red rucksack (I know cattle are colour-blind but it makes a better storey) as a distraction.  It worked and once safely into the trees we had a leisurely lunch.  Marion foraged for her sweet course, the blackberries were prolific.  Earlier she had enjoyed a pre-lunch snack of blackberry and apple pie (without the pastry), both fruits were everywhere in profusion.

Immediately after lunch we embarked on the precipitous part of day, a direct assault on the scarp slope to get out onto Thrunton Crag.  Fixed ropes were not necessary; it didn’t take very long and saved an additional climb and descent over Castle Hill followed by another climb!  Once on the track above the crag we got an even better view of our route so far and all of the elements of the landscape came together to make more sense.  We also saw autumn fruits galore either side of the track.  In addition to the brambles Conrad had already collected a few field mushrooms to which we could easily have added ample amounts of rosehips and haws from the hedgerows and huge clusters of rowan berries.  On the sandstone ridge were lots of bilberries (aka Blaeberries in Northumberland) and we had never seen so many cranberries, it had been an exceptional year for fruits despite the late and cold spring.

We worked our way onto the dip slope to see a clear felled part of the wood that provided a view south down the dip-slope towards the second escarpment of Coe Crags and to the Simonside Hills beyond Rothbury.  The felling had “let the wind in” with lots of resultant wind-throw in adjacent stands.  The broad, shallow root plates showed just how shallow the soil is and how prone the trees are to wind damage.  It was here that we met an intrepid cyclist on his mountain bike three times on his various circuits around the forest; we got to be quite friendly in passing.  Soon we were back at the car park in time for Christine to meet her golfing partner for the drive up to Scotland for the weekend.  I hope everyone enjoyed the day; the weather was kind and the banter relaxed and light-hearted.  I hope that Mary, Carolyn and the other Christine decide to join us again and don’t think that the regulars have a screw loose.  We go out to enjoy ourselves in addition to the walk and yes, we did miss Ian.

Richard
22 September 2013

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