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Mon 26th March 2012

Roman Ring, part 3 - Haltwhistle to Haydon Bridge

Roman Ring, part 3 - Haltwhistle to Haydon Bridge

What an amazing contrast to the Roman Ring 2 walk of last month.  Dry, sunny (once the morning fog had dispersed) and positively hot in the afternoon, what had happened to the wet, overcast and cold conditions we previously enjoyed?  We certainly weren’t complaining, well not very much anyway.  “Everybody talks about the weather but nobody does anything about it.” Charles Dudley Warner.

The terrain was quite different from last month’s second leg including a greater variety of landscape types and longer views.  The initial walk up the Haltwhistle Burn provided lots of opportunity to appreciate the scope of the industrial archaeology concentrated in to a short, narrow valley and all intimately related to the underlying geology.  Walking up the burn a hundred years ago would have been a major assault on the senses, very different from the green corridor it has now become.  Then we encountered “The Steps” the steep climb out of the gorge and out onto the grazing land above.  Elevenses (i.e. morning coffee) were taken in the warm sun in a field above the gorge.  There was lots of evidence of former mining and quarrying here to with old spoil heaps, disturbed ground and fenced-off quarry faces.  The working hill farms that we passed really were just that with muddy tracks and farm equipment strewn around the site in marked contrast to the tidy farms we could see below and to the north of us in the Tyne Valley and towards Hadrian’s Wall - two very different farming landscapes in close juxtaposition.

The skyline walk eastwards provided clear views north towards the Wall and the scarp and dip of the old quarry section at Cawfields was easy to spot together with the east – west trending line of the vallum.  The cluster of old bell pits above the Milecastle Inn and the old working near Hallpeat Moss reinforced the industrial past of the area as seen in the Haltwhistle Burn earlier.  A few minutes of road walking linked us to the first of the lonnens (lanes) we would be using today.  This particular one took us past Cranberry Brow farm its name indicative of the natural vegetation of this moorland area before it was farmed.  The cranberries natural habitat is bogs or mires.  From where we stopped for lunch we could easily see Sycamore Gap (Robin Hood’s Tree for younger participants) and other prominent locations such as Windshields’ Crag, the highest point on the Wall, and some of the Nine Nick’s of Thirlwall to our west.  The walk down the “real” (i.e. impressively  long) drive past Layside with its hard tennis court tucked-in behind the barn led to an enclosed track overlooking Vindolanda and views not seen by the car borne public.  From here we could also see the Roman quarries on the west end of Barcombe and conserved Crindledykes lime kiln.  Passing Vindolanda on the line of the Roman Stangate we set course uphill for the trig point on Barcombe (279m), also the site of a Roman Signal Station.  By now it was definitely hot and there was a welcome hint of a breeze to cool the collective fevered brows which was appreciated by all.  The earlier fog had now been replaced by a blue-tinted heat haze – “The weather is like the government, always in the wrong.” Jerome K Jerome.

After a short period of R & R the walk from the trig point over and off Thorngrafton Common took us to the start of Haresby Lonnen that was to take us the three miles (4.8 km) east before turning south towards Haydon Bridge – but I didn’t mention the distance involved!  This lengthy section of the walk appeared all the longer because of the heat and the fact that we were viewing it along the corridor feature of the two parallel walls –  the convergence of  which, the vanishing point, accentuated the distance.  This lonnen possessed some of the characteristics of a post-enclosure drove road e.g. a wide lane or “green road” between walls with wide grass verges keeping to higher ground in the area.  Unfortunately there was no evidence of any past, or present, drovers’ inn along the route which would have been appreciated by all.

Several of our number were heard to comment that there wasn’t enough water underfoot and that mud was definitely in short supply compared to our last outing, you can’t please all of the people all of the time!  Even along this very rural section of the route we found evidence of former industrial activity in the form of Pit Covert and the concrete piers on the site of the former Leadbitter Mine near Hall Bank.  Here we turned south for the final climb by Cubstocks before the steep descent back to the vehicles in the grounds of Haydon Bridge High School. After ten minutes with the car doors and windows open the car thermometer was still registering 22°C when we drove away, not bad for March.  A quick straw poll of the distance covered from two pedometers and three GPS units varied between 11.68 ml (18.79km) to 12.4 ml (19.95km) a variation easily accounted for by the differences in “purposeful wandering” as individuals selected their own routes across the moor and slopes – not that anyone ever moaned about the uphill bits of course.  A good day was had by all.  


Tue 13th March 2012

Debdon Lake Circular, Cragside and Thrum

Debdon Lake Circular, Cragside and Thrum

Well Sundance’s new boots look to be doing the trick, after completing the old soft shoe shuffle the night before we woke up to a bright sunny morning.

Arriving at the Rothbury TIC a cold wind was blowing down through the village so it’s on with the fleece and then the windproof.

Mike gave the usual prep talk about crossing roads i.e. do not get squished.

We set off through an alley way past the Co op and started to walk up hill. We then walked along Back Riggs before walking up through a modern housing estate before we reached the first carriage way (except it’s now a tarmac road) we quickly left this to walk up Pennystane Lane and on to one of the carriage ways proper.

This climbed up slowly and gradually to Brae Head, a short walk took us to where Physics Lane, a track from Thropton, meets one of the carriage ways.  From here we had spectacular views to the south of all the Simonsides. To the west, the hills of the Otterburn Army Range,  with Windy Gyle in the far distance, then the eastern hills of Kidland Forest, swinging round to the North West we have the huge mass of The Cheviot and of course then Hedgehog (Hedgehope).

With the majority of the days climbing over except for a couple of small climbs the walk now has become a pleasant stroll through the sunshine.  The Carriage way now started to head in a more easterly direction putting the wind behind us, making it feel more like a Summers Day!!! Rather than a (still officially) winters day.

At lunch time we were able to bask in the sunshine as well as eat our packed lunches.

After lunch we continued to follow the carriage way into the Debbdon Valley.  Passing a four walkers one of them greeted one of our party members and THEN another one of the four recognised one of our backmarkers!  At Primrose Cottage we crossed the Debbdon Burn for the first of many crossings.

Shortly after this we entered the National Trust Cragside Estate.  Mike was going to follow a path along the shore of Tumbeton Lake but at the chance of a comfort break the group overrode his choice of route and we ended up going to the Stable Block although Mike would not allow any one to go to the café or shop.

From the stable block we rejoined the Debbdon Burn as it flowed through the Cragside Estate.  Having walked under the Iron Bridge we found the footpath blocked so we had to go back round, up and over the bridge before once more descending in to the valley.  Here we passed a fantastic wood carving of Mike although most of us thought it was too good looking.

Eventually we reached the confluence of the Debbdon Burn and the River Coquet which is just outside of the Cragside Estate.  We now followed the River upstream past the Thrum Mill and the site of the Coal Gas Works (Built by or for Lord Armstrong).  A little later we reached the Bailey bridge and made our way back to the Rothbury TIC and the end of our walk.

Mon 12th March 2012

Nordic Walk - Cragside Carriageway

Nordic Walk - Cragside Carriageway

We couldn’t have picked a better day for a Nordic Walk, spring has definitely sprung!

Our large group of 19 Nordic Walkers, all of different abilities, set off, up the first climb of the walk, leaving the High Street of Rothbury for the ascent to the Cragside carriageway.

Some of the group were nervous that they may not make the climb but after being reassured the top was in sight and that once there it would be flat; our gallant group went onwards and upwards. After a brief stop at the top of Pondicherry and some points of useless information from Jon we carried on, upwards.

Eventually we reached green hills and we were rewarded with stunning views of the Cheviot and Cheviot hills. Down in the valley we could see the village of Thropton, with the River Coquet winding its way through it. Otterburn firing range saluted our ascent with the boom of their big gun and a plummet of smoke, a little unsettling. Onwards and upwards, nearly there, steepest part behind us!

We joined part of the Cragside Challenge route and followed the wall line towards the carriageway. At this point the layers came off and many of us walked in T shirts. Onwards and upwards, nearly there, steepest part behind us!

We climbed through the heather to reach the carriageway itself and at last I could say, with real conviction “we ARE at the top and the steepest part IS definitely behind us”. The views from the carriageway were stunning, the hard surface under our feet a welcome change to the heather land and as we progressed Rothbury came back into view. At this point the group made the unanimous decision to extend the walk by a further 1 ½ miles, to continue to the end of the carriageway. This was after getting an accurate hill count before we set off. So un-trusting!

At the end of the walk we dropped down through fields, said hello to a friendly horse and back into the village. After some cool down stretches those that could went for a well earned cuppa and reviewed the day.

I think I can safely say that everyone enjoyed this walk, even though it was quite demanding in places. One member had started the walk thinking she would not be able to complete it all. But after the initial climb she stopped and told me that she had never managed to walk up that hill, in one go, before. Even those people who had only learnt to Nordic Walk a few hours earlier managed the whole route and their techniques were much improved by the end of the walk. Those people who had come on their own had made friends and arrangements to meet on the next Nordic Walk..... and I like to think I have made some friends too.

A true testament to the power of Nordic Walking!