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Tue 23rd April 2013

Coastal Challenge Walk 2013 - Training Walk 2

Coastal Challenge Walk 2013 - Training Walk 2

Wednesday phone call from Jon “do you fancy an easy walk on Saturday” Yes says I.  Ok its Beadnel to Alnmouth as you have walked it before it will be no problem!  So Sundance started the old soft shoe shuffle and yes it worked again.  Saturday was a bright sunny day although there was a stiff SW wind.

We met at Almouth football clubs ground and by 9.45 we were on the mini bus heading for the start of the walk at Beadnell.  A quick loo stop and we were off. The path goes through a caravan park before a sharp left leads to the back of the dunes eventually after crossing a footbridge we eventually reached Newton Links car park (which is checkpoint 2 on the challenge walk).  The path continues along the back of the dunes until Low Newton.  Here the path goes behind the village (and passes a public loo).  The route passes two bird hides at Newton pool before reaching an area with numerous beach huts, we eventually stopped for lunch near the beach huts overlooking Embleton Bay with Dunstanburgh Castle as a back drop.

After lunch we had to negotiate a golf course to Castle Point and then walked below Dunstanburgh before heading along the some fields to reach Craster.  Check point 3 is just in front of Lifeboat Station.  The path now takes a strange route as it goes through the back garden of the pub before reaching the cliffs around Cullernose Point.  The next leg walks along the cliffs and passes The Bathing House then crosses a stream by a concrete bridge at the seaward end of Howick Hall Gardens. A sharp little climb takes us up on to grassland which eventual develops in to a track that leads to Boulmer (check point 4).  After another loo stop and a coffee stop for Mike we set off passing Boulmer Haven then through another caravan park keep an eye out for a sharp left turn Seaton House.

A small problem of tides now becomes an issue as you now have to walk along the beach to reach a small gate that takes you to Foxton Hall.  If the tide is in you have to join the road from Boulmer to Alnmouth.  Having walked round the club house and across the golf course the path winds its way along the cliff top before descending down into Almouth.

Following the road to Alnwick we crossed the river Aln and just before reaching Hipsburn we arrived back at the cars.

Mon 15th April 2013

Bolam Lake & Shaftoe Crags

Bolam Lake & Shaftoe Crags

A draughty day but we only experienced a couple of short-lived “April Showers” which we managed to largely avoid by hiding behind drystone walls and calling them meal breaks (for Ian of course); the rest of us forced down coffee and biscuits just to be sociable!  This walk was the fourth in the Tour of Northumberland series where we aim to walk in each of the nine geographical sub-regions of Northumberland following a route that shows the best that area has to offer whilst avoiding the honeypot routes.  Bolam Lake and Shaftoe Crags in particular are very well known to Tynesiders but we managed to avoid the crowds and gain a different perspective of the evolving human occupation in the area.  Hopefully even the free car parking location helped?

The focus of the walk was the site of the deserted medieval village of South Middleton, first recorded in 1296, alongside the River Wansbeck where the remains of the village site are bisected by the modern road and surrounded everywhere by ridge and furrow cultivation.

The settlement was abandoned by 1760; the reason for this is unknown.  There were lots more to see en-route from the sites of stately homes and follies representing Capability Brown type landscaping (who was born and lived his early life close-by at Kirkharle, the current home to Shepherds Walks).  This is an area of mixed farming and it was a pleasure to see lambs in the fields and recently ploughed land where the drainage was sufficient to enable it to take place.  The glacially derived boulder clay that blankets this area results in a potentially heavy, cold and “late” soil especially when saturated; remember last “summer” and the weather since then?  The solid sandstone bedrock pokes through the boulder clay in places most notably forming the crags at Shaftoe where climbers test their bouldering skills, protected by crash mats below.  Unsurprisingly when we lunched in the relative shelter of the crags there were no brave boulderers, the south-west wind alone would have swept them off their routes and they would most likely have missed their crash-mats being blown sideways by the strong wind.  We saw several wind farms at various points along the route, always good for promoting healthy debate, but few were actually operating in the gusty wind including the largest one that we could see near Sweethope Lough.  It seemed to be an ideal day for wind generated energy but perhaps it was too gusty?

In the morning we considered what settlement and land-use would have looked like in the medieval period when it was farmed using the open field system.  We used evidence we’d observed along the route but particularly around the deserted village of South Middleton.  Sheltering from one of the sharp showers provided a good opportunity to see how the sets of individual ridge and furrow strips fitted together to form headlands and how the differing orientation of these changed even within a single open field.  The gentle reversed S-shape of furrows ploughed by teams of oxen was also plain to see.  We passed South Middleton Mill Farm (another farming clue) shortly before inspecting the site of the deserted village with its individual house platforms and crofts laid-out behind.  It was easy to imagine the village at a dry-point site alongside the Wansbeck overlooking its floodplain surrounded by cultivated extensive open fields with woodland beyond.  Have a look at the following website for aerial photographs of South Middleton from Newcastle University’s collection

The afternoon leg built on the morning’s experience to explain how the open field system that existed for a millennium was transformed by enclosure to produce the rural landscape we see today.  There were lots of questions about why, how and when these change took place.  Eventually the penny dropped and newcomers quickly learnt not to ask as it always led to yet another “explanation” by you know who!  Nevertheless the route did demonstrate how enclosure led to rural landscape that we see today and how the Agricultural Revolution was a necessary part of the parallel Industrial Revolution in terms of food supplies for the growing urban industrial centres.  We even went as far as considering the relative advantages and disadvantages of enclosure to the different social groups in the villages of enclosure, cerebral stuff indeed.  Never mind, the 360° view from the top of Shaftoe Crags was magnificent, Newcastle and the Tyne Valley to the south and south-west, the coast and Alcan near Lynemouth to the east, Simonside to the north and west to the Kirkheaton windfarm.  Paradoxically the Piper’s Chair was more obvious from a mile away across the fields compared to when we were standing right next to it, similarly the large south facing walled garden adjacent to East Shaftoe Hall.  Just before we left the fields for the gentle walk through Bolam Lake country Park (more landscaping but not by Capability Brown) we passed Shortflatt Tower dating from 1257 which weathered the best attentions of the Reivers to survive today as an up-market country retreat for social and corporate events, holidays etc.

It was nice to see some regulars who pull my leg incessantly to keep me in my place (I think?); I’m sure that my wife would approve.  It was god to see some new faces including four from the Deep South, or County Durham as we call the area south of the River Tyne Border Control.  We hope to see you again soon now that you know not to ask too many questions or appear too interested.  The unwritten protocol to be followed in these circumstances is a follows. You pretend to be interested but never ask follow-up questions otherwise it can take all day, anyway, Ian often doesn’t have enough food to last that long.  Kathleen, I hope you enjoyed your birthday.  Do have a look on Google Earth to see where we have been, everyone should easily be able to pick-out the site of the fort you saw (once it was pointed out) immediately to the south of us below the trig point on Shaftoe Crags.  It is easiest to see when you zoom-in to a height of about 500 metres (shown in a box at the bottom right-hand corner of the screen next to the words “eye alt”).  Thanks to everyone for another good day out.


Monday, 15 April 2013

N.B. The Budle Bay and Bamburgh walk initially advertised for Saturday 18th May has had to be rescheduled for Sunday 1st December 2013.

Mon 15th April 2013

Map and Compass course

Map and Compass course

Our first Map and Compass course of 2013 was going to be a new start for Shepherds Walks. For many years Russell has led this course, but due to ever increasing workload he has stepped back from this course and Paul Freeman has taken over the reins of this hugely popular course.

Saturday dawned bright and warm for once and Paul breathed a sigh of relief as this was the right weather for an introductory map & compass course (he secretly wants mist and rain for the advanced course in October). Our enthusiastic participants settled into the Parish Hall in Rothbury for a day of two halves like any good game. First half (well a bit shorter than half) was the indoor session getting to grips with maps, compasses and basic navigation techniques. Shepherds Walks supplied us with new compasses and very handy map extracts of the area.

To start with we filled out a short questionnaire of how confident we felt against the topics we were to cover and what key things did we wanted from the day. The idea was that at the end of the day we would do the same again to see if we had learnt anything and if our confidence had improved. We didn’t put Paul under pressure (not much) by saying we wanted ‘fun’ and also to learn ‘what is a map & compass anyway’?

The bulk of the day was working outside through Rothbury and around the Carrigeways. Paul said this was all about ‘undertaking a journey’ to practice what we had learnt and add some new things along the way (he did slip in that we should pay attention as this afternoon pairs of people would be ‘leading the way’!). The morning was spent learning about the grid system & references, contours and taking bearings with compasses. We also discovered that not all ‘Norths’ are the same! Learning was helped by completing some practical exercises on grid references and bearings.

In the afternoon off we went on our ‘journey’. We practiced pacing and timing so that we could measure distance which raised concern from one local dog walker who thought we were lost (not yet….). Up on the carriageways we practiced walking on compass bearings, identifying features in the landscape and testing our pacing to see what happens when you try it for real. We also learnt a new language – all about how to find our way using collecting features, handrails and attackpoints. Each pair led a short section which for most was the first time they had done anything like that.

Paul had said earlier that maps were more than just shapes and colours but offer a ‘window onto the world’ so along the way we saw things we might not have noticed if we had just being out for a normal walk. This included historical artefacts to do with how maps were made in the good old days, ancient archaeology and features that exist in reality but not on the map and vice versa. We finished our journey above Rothbury next to a Bronze age standing stone perhaps one of the earliest navigation tools?

When we got back tired and happy we filled out our questionnaires again and yes, our skills and confidence had improved.