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Mon 27th February 2012

Roman Ring, part 2 - Hallbankgate to Haltwhistle

Roman Ring, part 2 - Hallbankgate to Haltwhistle

Sunday 26th February 2012

All participants on this walk should now have beautiful feet considering the prolonged and intensive mud treatment that they received.  Having just spent an hour and a half cleaning fine caked mud from boots, gaiters and overtrousers, plus the non-optional sphagnum moss, it was a reminder of just how wet the route was.  Mark Richard’s guidebook describes the route as an all weather route!  It would provide a good venue for a bog snorkelling event.  Doubtless everyone will remember the particularly glutinous section of the walk between the two plantations on Denton Fell (neither were marked on the OS map).  This will never dry out unless we have a really extreme drought hidden as it is from direct sunlight for all but a few minutes each day shortly after sunrise and before sunset, and that only in the summer half of the year.  I think that the above provides a “picture” of the conditions underfoot.  Fortunately we stayed dry from overhead despite 8/8ths cloud above us that capped the North Pennine fells immediately to our south.   

There were really two separate parts to this walk.  The first half was east over the higher level moorland and rough grazing land, the second turning north-east to parallel the River South Tyne downstream towards Haltwhistle and our parked cars.  The first half of the day appeared surprisingly rural and agricultural at first sight.  However in the first kilometre or so the mainly 19th Century industrial archaeology apparent in the landscape proved otherwise.  We started the day following the track bed of a former mineral railway and crossed the route of yet another only a kilometre from the start – remember the embankment with the dismantled arch just after Clowsgill Home Farm?  By then we had already passed the former Clowsgill limestone quarry and an adit mine entrance.  All of the older (pre-twentieth century) buildings were built of the local Carboniferous sandstone and a little further on we paused briefly beside the Roachburn Colliery Memorial which neatly encapsulated the three major constituent rock of the Carboniferous, sandstone, limestone and coal all of which played a significant role in the industrial history of the area – Haltwhistle itself owes its industrial origins to coalmining and the Newcastle to Carlisle Railway was one of the first commercial railways in Britain actually used the coal. 

Leaving the Colliery Memorial at Coalfell, another clue, we struck out east across the moor having only walked two kilometres dry-shod after which things changed, see above.  Stoop Rigg plantation provided shelter from the cool south-west wind for slightly belated elevenses.  The plantation was the highest point on the moorland and so relatively dry, there were even pheasant feeders beneath the trees.  The next hour and a half before lunch are best described, with typical British understatement, as “rather damp and boggy” everyone had wet feet by now and the “walkers foot spa beauty and fildena treatment” began in earnest - and continued for most of the rest of the walk at no extra cost to participants!!!!

Lunch was taken in a field just before the final descent into the South Tyne valley in the lee of the wind which had developed a sharp edge.  Fortunately we had been walking downwind all day, all part of the planning and customer care of course.  We had visions of easy progress beside the South Tyne and that was the case – for the first half kilometre – after which we reverted to “mud, mud glorious mud.”  However this was different, it was on steep valley side slopes instead of undulating moorland and usually involved only a narrow “path” with adverse camber i.e. you very easily slipped downhill whilst trying to ascend!  Vibram soles and mud are a potent mix for a combination of mud-skiing and slow unsteady progress.  The pleasant views both of Featherstone Castle and bridge allowed a brief pause before negotiating the quagmire from there to beyond Wydon Eals Farm. The right of way around the latter provided some of the worst conditions underfoot of the whole river section which was a surprise.  We need to develop a descriptive Mud Index along the lines of climbing grades, or avalanche classifications.  It could be done in Geordie along the lines of:

1.    Geet Fettle Surface
2.    Dampish Surface
3.    Clarty Tendencies
4.    Canny Clarty
5.    Reet Clarty
6.    Claggy Clarty
7.    Geet Clarty
8.    Geet Very Clarty
9.    Droonin in Clarts
10.    Midden-like Clarty: note the subtle inclusion of mud aroma as yet another sensory variable.

Each of the classifications would have a detailed objective descriptor based on a number of variables e.g. water to solid ratio, viscosity of mud, depth of mud, coefficient of friction, nature of substrate, vegetation cover (type and percentage), indication of the area of mud (narrow, broad, extensive, etc. 

After that there only remained the walk into Haltwhistle and the odd looks we received from drivers and pedestrians alike mud-caked as we were from the knees downwards.  We also received a similar reaction clustered outside of the public conveniences in the centre of the town on our way back to the cars.  What they didn’t appreciate was that free hot water was on offer in addition to the usual facilities.  This represented excellent value for money – relief and luxury all round following a free Shepherds Walks foot mudpack and massage (actually just feet slipping about in wet muddy boots) plus a good walk.  What more can anyone ask of a walk in winter?  The stoicism and good humour of the British was well demonstrated in our happy band as muddy, wet kit was deposited in that essential piece of equipment beloved of walkers, the plastic bag, before the drive home with the heater on in the footwell.  Whilst most of our number can’t be described as “kit freaks” I really do recommend the use of waterproof socks for warm dry feet, it makes a qualitative difference to the day’s experience.  Do however use them in combination with gaiters because once the “water assisted regolith” (i.e. mud) overtops your socks you are back to square one; wet, cold feet with a high squelch factor!!!!!!! 

Monday, 27 February 2012                   

Mon 13th February 2012

Shaftoe Crags - Feb 2012

Shaftoe Crags - Feb 2012

Well Sundance has yet another new pair of boots!  Will these do the old magic and keep the rain away?  After hours of practicing a new shuffle Sunday started with a beautiful red sunrise, was this a taste of things to come? NO!  it quickly disappeared into the clouds but at least I had seen the sun.

Having reached the start point a very temperamental ticket machine started to make things rather heated but after a couple of good thumps and some different coins we eventually got the ticket out.  Half the group had arrived and were ready to leave by 10.30.  but what could have happened to the other half?  Someone made a sensible suggestion that Mike went and checked the main car park (why did he not think of that before?).  He did and sure enough there were the rest of the party, so leaving them there Mike raced back to the rest of the group at the correct car park.  After a quick walk along the south shore of the lake we met up with the other half and now continued on the walk.

Having safely negotiated a road junction and a kissing gate we set off across the first of several muddy or as Mike kept saying ‘clarty’ fields. We then crossed How Burn by a small bridge and entered the shelter belt of trees around Shortflat Tower.  It was possible to see the original Pele? Tower even though it was now incorporated into a much bigger building.  For a short distance we walked on a hard track before once more crossing the How Burn by a more substantial bridge and once more we were walking across fields to be overtaken by a horse and rider heading to Sandy Fords Farm.

On reaching the farm, Sandy Fords, we starting walking on a tarmac track and once more crossed the How Burn by a very good bridge. As Mike pointed out the ridge and furrow marks on the side of Toft we had to step aside for two trail motor bikes. We continued a little bit further on this track before once more heading across another ‘clarty’ field.  As we once more approached How Burn the ‘clarts’ got the better of one of the party who skidded down the hill and landed sitting in the ‘clarts’.  Fortunately they were wearing over trousers.

This time the bridge was not good, ignoring the fact that it was cantered over at an angle, there was a two foot gap between the end of the bridge and the far bank.  Of course Mike managed to leap across the gap but then decided that everyone else should use some stepping stones to cross the steam except for the most part they were under water.  As Mike is a hero?  He stood in the stream and gave a helping hand to everyone so they did not slip into the Burn. Once across the burn we continued up towards East Shaftoe Hall and on the way crossed the line of the Devil’s Causeway which is the course of a Roman road.

At East Shaftoe we followed a track to the west for a couple of hundred meters and then stopped for a late lunch.  After lunch we continued to follow the track for a short while before Mike took us uphill to the trig point (213m) above Shaftoe Grange.  From here we could see the Simonside hills the new wind turbines at Alcan and at Cramlington.

Descending back onto the footpath we reached Shaftoe Crags, where Mike then became very enthusiastic about some rocks!  After a short walk across another very wet field we followed a farm track to Bolam West Houses.  Mike gave a safety talk about walking on public roads before we then walked back to Bolam Lake. 

On reaching the west end car park the group split  into two with one group getting into their cars whilst the other half had to walk around the lake back to their cars.

Yes!  Another dry day - well maybe not dry underfoot but it did not RAIN.

Mon 30th January 2012

Roman Ring 1, part 1

Roman Ring 1, part 1

Brampton to Hallbankgate 29th January 2012

Nice to see such a healthy turnout for this new route which included the old friends and new associates from deepest Cumbria, some individuals even forsook their usual “Lakes” walk to explore a new area – our intention to.

Locating the start was a bit different (i.e. off the beaten track) and the ice covered final rise to the RSPB car park allowed those with traction control to see how effective it was!  It was sub-zero but calm so people were soon ready and sitting in the warmth of the minibus to read their newly distributed copies of The Roman Ring walking guide by Mark Richards. 

We drove down to Brampton and were dropped-off adjacent to the start of the walk on Station Road.  The walk along the dismantled railway embankment down to Brampton Station soon had us warmed-up and we hardly noticed the A69 as we went through the illuminated underpass.  Crossing the Victorian footbridge over the railway provided a “photo opportunity” for tiers of grinning walkers before walking-on towards Talkin Tarn.

Once by the side of the lake it was time for elevenses, even if by now it was 11.30!  The picnic benches and cafe were appreciated by all.  Watching Canadian canoeists using their lightweight craft as icebreakers to get the final 30 meters in to the landing was a unique experience, as were the “odd” Mallards landing on the ice and sliding across the surface to finally plop into the water a little further out. 

The walk around the Tarn gave a good idea of the Earl of Carlisle’s early plans for his personal pleasure ground before he presented it to the people of Brampton over a century ago.  The now derelict Tan End House Hotel at its southern end was initially the “big house” looking north across the lake towards the large and impressive boathouse, a scene reminiscent of Ullswater 36 km to the south-west.   Overlooking the setting of the Tarn from road to Talkin village it was easy to appreciate the effects of lowland glaciation with the lake surrounded by undulating mounds of boulder clay with ill-drained areas between the tree crowned mounds resulting from a mixture of solid ice and later meltwater activity at the close of the last ice age “only” 10,000 years ago!

The Blacksmith’s Arms in Talkin village was open but we managed to get everyone past safely by drawing attention to the distinctive vernacular architecture of the area that is so different from the Tyne Valley only a few miles distant.  It was nice to see that even new development in the village adopted the local style, planning at its best.  Travelling south towards the entrance to Geltsdale the former farmsteads strung out along the minor road had all been renovated and extended.  Barn conversions into holiday accommodation and a dressage ring behind a former farmhouse spoke of easy access for commuters to Carlisle or even further away due to easy access to the M6 and for tourism in the area.  By now the effects of elevenses were wearing-off so lunch was taken on the track just below the nine cairns on top of Talkin Fell.  The panorama west to the snow covered Northern Lakeland Fells through north-west towards the Dumfries and Galloway Hills and northwards into Scotland was quite distinct.  We could easily make out Carlisle and the hangars of Carlisle Airport near Crosby.  Just as we set-off again we saw two roe deer moving quickly south further into Geltsdale below Tarnmonath Fell, their white rumps easily identifying them from a distance of about one and a half kilometres.  

The afternoon’s route took us below Simmerson Hill via The Greens and Gairs before turning north onto the former old colliery railway track bed toward Howgill and eventually back to the car park.  The Greens was occupied and improved but access to Gairs was more difficult.  By now the very wet and muddy uphill track had melted but the water couldn’t run away.  Rather wet, sticky progress was made by all.  Gairs caused comment because the two former shepherds cottages were empty but had been recently reroofed, the windows sealed but fitted with ventilators, heavy metal doors with huge lock covers were also evident.  The whole site was surrounded with a new wire fence with a stile and the outbuildings had been unroofed but both houses and outbuildings were in excellent condition, even the pointing was immaculate.  However there was no obvious access by vehicle to the site.  Even the two horsewomen we met between The Green and Gairs needed to take care.  Nor was there any space for a helipad!  There was lots of evidence of former primary industry in the valley, we past old limestone and sandstone quarries and flat-topped colliery waste tips closer to Howgill, very different to the rather remote rural feel it has today.  Between Gairs and Howgill the track crosses the watershed between Geltsdale to the south and the valley of the Irthing to the north.  From the col Tindale Tarn, north-east of Howgill, provided a new focus in the landscape. 

The final leg from Howgill to the car park paralleled the former colliery railway reputedly used by Stephenson’s Rocket in its final days as a working engine.  All that was left now was the gentle slide down the still ice covered north facing road beyond the car park (cars with traction control excepted) for the drive home.  During our North Pennines excursion everyone had experienced a very different landscape from the more familiar Roman Wall or Lakeland ones we are so used to.