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Sun 6th February 2011

Goats on the Roof, Fontburn

Goats on the Roof, Fontburn

Guided Walk Date - 5th February 2011

After several days of high winds and occasional periods of rain the soft shoe shuffle went into overdrive had Sundance done enough for Saturday to be a dry day?  YES. 

Although overcast and grey it was not raining and the strong winds had died down to a steady breeze.  We arrived at the café at Goats on the Roof and availed ourselves to the facilities before setting off to walk back to the entrance gate to Fontburn Reservoir on the way crossing the Scots Gap to Rothbury railway line and the farm Roughlees which is set up as a rare breeds farm. 

At the gate the footpath left the track and headed west along side a wood.  After a short distance we once more crossed the line of the railway.  The footpath then turned south through the wood before we once more continued to head west over rough pasture land.  A steady gentle climb lead us past a number of sink holes (allowing Mike to witter on about how sink holes were formed) this eventually brought us to the top of Greenleighton Hill. 

Here we looked down into Greenleighton Quarry (and once more Mike went in to raptures because he was able to talk about ‘rocks’ in this case that this quarry had given its name to a species of brachiopod Pleuropugnoides greenleightonensis and this was junction between the Lower and Upper Carboniferous period, the Visean – Namurian junction, lies in the vicinity of the Great Limestone. 

From here it was a short walk to Greenleighton farm (Jon’s old stomping ground) leaving the farm we entered another woodland this sheltered us from the wind so Mike condescended to stop for lunch having been threatened with a rebellion if he didn’t.  After lunch we left the woodland to walk North West through some rough pasture until we reached the Fallowlees burn.  As this was the furthest west we were going we turned east heading back to the top end of the Fontburn reservoir roughly following the route of the burn.

Our route now followed the southern boundary fence of the reservoir this is a permissive path.  The path eventually enters into the land adjacent to the reservoir and follows a well maintained path back to the overflow dam which is just in front of Goats on the Roof.  Mike as usual made a long detour along to the Dam proper so we could see the over flow pipe (it looked like a big plug hole), then to look at the water treatment plant and in the background the old railway viaduct. 

At long last we headed for the restaurant for a well deserved Assurans pill, cup of coffee and some chocolate cake.

Sun 6th February 2011

Tynemouth to Segedunum.

Tynemouth to Segedunum.

Guided walk date - Sunday 23rd January 2011

The Romans never had this problem.

Our planned Metro ride from Wallsend to Tynemouth didn’t take place because the Metro was closed for maintenance so a quick vehicle transfer had to be organised to position vehicles at both ends of the route so that everyone could get home at the end of the walk.  Next we were told that the gates of Segedunum would be closed and locked at 3.00 pm not 4.00 pm as advertised!  Now we had an hour less for the route and jogging became a possibility!

Once we got parked in Tynemouth Front Street (on the site of the medieval market) we were off.  Tynemouth Castle and Priory, plus the former Coastguard Station in the grounds, along with the Volunteer Life Brigade (VLB) building, Collingwood’s Monument, the Black Middens passed in a flash along with the house that was the location of the “Supergran” children’s TV programme (years ago) overlooking the river.  On past Knotts Flats with good views south to the sea stacks at Lizard Point and Souter Lighthouse.  The low tide revealed the need for the Tyne Improvement Commissioners, VLB, the RNLI as the rock of the Black Middens were well exposed.  Even part of the promenade near the 16th century Clifford’s Fort (the Dutch wars), well within the protection of the Tyne Piers, was breached and awaiting repair.

Morning coffee was taken on the newly refurbished North Shields Fish Quay just below the High Light where we picked out the sites of the old slums on the south facing slopes demolished n the inter-war period.  The changes of use of buildings were noticeable, fewer fishing related commercial premises and more catering and retail uses plus flats “over the shop.”  Some of our number purchased fresh coffee; the rest of us had to make do with our flasks.  On past the ice house that used to service the fishing boats towards the new riverside apartments near the Haddock Shop, a former dry dock that specialised in the maintenance and repair of these particular fishing boats.  Beyond that was more industrial dereliction before coming to the refurbished building near the ferry terminal that was known locally in the 1970’s as “The Jungle” had been converted into smart apartments as had the old sailors’ home adjacent to it.  The short stretch between the Fish Quay and the corner of Borough Road, an former toll road, up towards North Shields provides a social and economic history of residential and commercial buildings since the 18th century - and that is without mentioning the former Tynemouth Literary and Philosophical Society building later to become the offices of the Stag Line who’s emblem still adorns the south gable of the building.  We didn’t have time to view the statue of Stan Laurel in Dockwray Square on the bank above but we know where to find it.  

The next section of the walk deviated from the map due to the large scale reclamation of the former shipyard areas between the Ferry Landing and Royal Quays, brown land ripe for redevelopment that afforded good views across the Tyne to South Shields and upriver towards Tyne Dock also on the south side of the river.  A sudden transition to modern soft landscaped roads and new homes signalled our arrival at Royal Quays Marina.  We walked across the locks and around the marina.  Alongside the marina was moored HMS Chatham, a Type 22 frigate built by Swan Hunter, launched in 1988 and in service with the Royal Navy since 1990.  In the marina, along with the yachts was a North Sea Fishery Protection vessel, two training craft of the RNLI and two naval patrol boats.

It was lunchtime and we sheltered from the breeze on the landscaped approaches to Royal Quays Retail Park using their facilities on the way past but resisting the temptation for retail therapy en-route to cross the site of the new Tyne Tunnel Toll Plaza currently under construction and skirting north of Howdon Green Industrial Estate.  The final section of the walk took us via the residential roads of Willington Quay to cross Willington Cut in the shadow of the massive Willington Viaduct built in 1839 to carry the Newcastle and North Shields Railway across the valley.  George Stephenson lived near hear following his marriage in 1802 and his son, Robin, was born here in 1803.  The link still exists today in the form of the Stephenson Memorial Schools.  After the climb back up from the valley the route followed the line of the former Newcastle and North Shields Railway, which predates the present Metro line, back to the Segedunum site adjacent to the former main entrance to the Swan Hunter shipyard.  We arrived back with a few minutes to spare before the gates were due to close to retrieve our cars and transfer everyone back to their own cars in Tynemouth. 

A good time was had by all, we didn’t get wet or too cold and at no time did we have to jog to get back to the cars in time to beat the gate closing deadline at Segedunum.  Next time I’ll make sure that there is time to include the Metro ride, information about Howdon Pans and Jarrow Slake, even an excursion to the Pedestrian Tunnel or a ferry trip across the Tyne to view our route from a different perspective, there are lots of possibilities, we have only just scratched the surface!

Wed 19th January 2011

The Countryside in Winter.

The Countryside in Winter.

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?