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Wed 29th August 2012

The Ingram Horseshoe The Shepherds Perspective

The Ingram Horseshoe  The Shepherds Perspective

Today was going to be a walk with a difference. The walk had been titled as ‘The Ingram Horseshoe – The Shepherds Perspective’ and that is exactly what is going to be.

Also we had a guest with us today, Kirsten, who had come over from Germany to record a programme for Deutsche Radio. She was recording a 1 hour programme about British sheep and shepherding and part of this programme was going to feature Shepherds Walks. She believed it was totally unique, myself Jon, a former shepherd who now spends his life shepherding people around the hills rather than sheep and showcasing and explaining the landscape from a shepherds perspective.

The group of walkers met at the bridge car park and a quick introduction we started our walk.

After days of rain it was great to have the sun shining and at last we had a bit of summer weather. It was just what we all needed as we rose up from the valley floor. Kirsten recorded our feet squelching along the wet path as she was very keen to ‘paint a sound picture’ of this great countryside.

We stopped a number of times to look at the sheep and to look at the landscape, discussing the way it has been managed by the farmer.

As we skirted Wether Hill the day got better, as the local shepherd approached on his quad bike and after seeing us all smiling at him he stopped and explained in great depth about the way he manages the hill ground we were all walking through. He was a very passionate man who truly loved the countryside he worked in and to be honest this was the icing on the cake of the walk.

We then dropped down and climbed up around the back of Old Fawden Hill to find some shelter for lunch. Sheltered from the wind it was a lovely day as we looked east.

After lunch we continued on to Fawden farm and watched the farmer as he gathered his sheep up with his Border collie. May I add again this was all unplanned but as we walked through this working countryside the skill of both the dog on the handler was second to none.

As we skirted East Hill we headed back down to the valley floor we headed into the Ingram National Park Visitor centre for Ice Creams.

A great end to a good days walking.

Tue 28th August 2012

Moss Troopers Trail 2: Housesteads to Simonburn

Moss Troopers Trail 2: Housesteads to Simonburn

This was the last section in a series of walks we have been doing each month since January 2012 based on routes both north and south of Hadrian’s Wall within the Hadrian’s Wall Corridor.  A characteristic of nearly all of them has been a high squelch factor underfoot regardless of the prevailing weather conditions.  The majority of the walks have taken place on little-used routes and we have seen parts of Northumberland that we wouldn’t have experienced otherwise.  Our most recent walk began in sunshine, most unexpected for a Bank Holiday and as it turned out by far the best day of the weekend. 

A quick transfer from Simonburn to Housesteads saw us walking up to Housesteads Fort in ideal walking conditions, sunshine, a comfortable temperature and virtually no wind.  The walk in to where we left the route last month adjacent to East Stonefolds near Greenlee and Broomlee Loughs along the Pennine Way took until noon.  This section of the walk held more interest for most of us with the Roman fort, the pastoral agriculture and the remains of the old lime kilns and quarries being most in evidence.  It was notable just how quickly we left our fellow walkers behind as soon as we turned north at Rapishaw Gap.  The east – west trending scarps and dips of the glacially smoothed geology also contributed to the feeling of solitude.  Looking south it was often quite difficult to pick out the line of the Wall along the top of the Whin Sill.  We were now walking east in a moorland corridor between Hadrian’s Wall to our south and the Wark Forest to our north.  We walked through an outlier of the latter just before leaving the Pennine Way en-route for Houghtongreen Bothy where we had lunch in its sunny south-facing “garden.”  This bothy is one of three in the Wark Forest looked after by the Mountain Bothies Association (MBA) the others being Roughside and Green.  The MBA’s aim is “To maintain simple shelters in remote country for the use and benefit of all who love wild and lonely places.”  The majority of bothies are located in Scotland with a further seven in Wales and nine in the north of England.

Leaving our lunch stop we disappeared into the fringes of the Wark Forest once more and started the first of several parallel walks we were to adopt to avoid waterlogged sections of the route for the remainder of the day.  The scarp crests proved to be a real asset allowing us to walk dry-shod for at least some parts of the route – and sometimes even to see where we were aiming for.  The high drainage density on the map certainly doesn’t give a realistic indication of the actual conditions underfoot.  The dominance of poor quality rough grazing land with relatively low stocking ratios is a far better indicator on the ground and we certainly found that the sheep tracks were the preferred overland routes to follow.  Perhaps sheep aren’t as dim as they are portrayed and know more about avoiding foot-rot than we give them credit for.  Even on the walk-in along the Pennine Way anyone departing from the stone causeways across the mire had a rude awakening e.g. with boot and leg up to the knee disappearing first into water and then glutinous mud on touching “bottom.”  The key skill is to recover said leg with boot still attached!

The route between Houghtongreen Bothy and Great Lonbrough Farm was challenging both navigationally and in actually finding a viable route over the ground.  The word “ground” is used advisedly as, with the exception of the aforementioned scarp crests, the terrain is essentially a moss (aka as mire, blanket or peat bog); really a watery world more liquid than solid.  It is hard to generate an enthusiasm for these unique and important habitats when you can’t see where you are going and you suspect that you are developing webbed feet.  Facts such as those below take-on a different perspective when you have your own personal bog inside your boots:

•    Britain has approximately 13% of the total world resource of blanket bog so these mires are internationally important and a priority for conservation.

•    The mires started to form about 12,000 years ago when the last glaciers retreated from Northern Britain. The ice scoured hollows and dips in softer rock and the cool, wet climate then allowed bog plants to thrive in these depressions. When they died the wet conditions meant that plants did not decompose fully in the anaerobic environment and peat formed.

•    Peat is up to 15 metres deep in places, I particularly didn’t want to draw everyone’s attention to this under the circumstances.

•    More carbon is stored in the Border Mires than in all the trees growing in 62,000 hectare (155,000 acre) Kielder Forest – England’s biggest man-made woodland.

•    The bogs also hold more liquid than Kielder Water – Europe’s largest man-made lake. The mires were a refuge of the Border Reivers in the Middle Ages, who escaped the clutches of the law thanks to their knowledge of this chilly swampland - they were often called “Moss-Troopers” and were ostensibly our justification for being here.

We had a particularly muddy diversion to make on reaching Great Lonborough Farm as our route was blocked by sheep being attended to in the yard and every other alternative way ahead was a morass.  Just short of the farm we took the opportunity to visit the standing stones on the Rigg of the same name 100 metres off-route.  These were formed of sandstone and very similar to the solitary Harraway Stone we’d seen earlier on Haughton Common.  The going became easier once we left the Access Land and walked through better quality inbye land towards and beyond Fenwickfield Farm then steeply downhill past the unseen remains of Simonburn Castle in the dense trees to our left.  The final walk uphill in to the village was rewarded with afternoon tea at the Simonburn Tearoom, most unexpected as it was almost 5.00 pm but very welcome nonetheless.

Congratulations to all of the stalwarts who have completed all, or most, of the Hadrian’s Wall routes i.e. the Roman Ring between January and May and Moss Troopers Trail in July and August in the current series.  We have certainly seen some very different countryside, experienced a range of weather and had a lot of fun along the way, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed your company.

Monday, 27 August 2012

Sun 19th August 2012

The Cheviot and Schil, via the Hen Hole

The Cheviot and Schil, via the Hen Hole

Last of the Pennine Way via the Hen Hole

Sundance had soft shoed shuffled, Jon had promised that it was going to be a good day and what did we wake up to Rain.  By 07.30 it had stopped whoopee!

Dry drive up to Wooler where it promptly started to rain by the time we arrived at Hethpool it had stopped but as we sorted out selves out it started to yes you’ve guessed rain. On the drive up to Mounthooly it had stopped. 

As we walked past Mounthooly the top of Cheviot and the surrounding hills was lost in cloud. For the first one and a bit miles we followed a rough track but soon left the track to walk over rough pasture along the side of the College Burn. The view into the Hen hole was block from view by a shoulder of The Cheviot. On coming round the shoulder we got our first view of what Mike was leading us into, with the low cloud and dark threatening sky it looked very spooky.

Entering the narrow gorge with the sides towering above with the tops lost in the mist it had a very Scottish mountain feel.  We followed now on a small path which frequently disappeared, lead us along the west side of the burn.  All the while Mike was looking for an easy crossing of the burn as the path on the east side being easier to follow.  We continued to make progress although several times we had to make scrambled detours round the rock faces forming the numerous waterfalls.

Eventually we entered a large amphitheatre above the Hen Hole formed by the Cheviot Platue towering still above us and had lunch.  After a well earned rest we continued to follow the College Burn until a rocky spur took us up to Auchope Cairn and an unbelievable view back down through the Hen Hole and up across the valley to the Border ridge and the Schil. 

We now followed the Pennine Way to the spot height 743m which we had reached on an earlier walk. On the way we met two ladies whom we had met at Barrowburn Tea rooms after an earlier walk in the year.  Once at the spot height we started to fill in the last three mile gap of The Pennine Way that we had not walked in Northumberland by retracing our steps to Auchope Cairn.

After the steep decent from Auchope (it must have been steep as Mike slipped in the clarts and got a mucky bum) we reached the Mountain Refuge Hut.  Mike must have found the walking hard as much to everyone’s surprise he said we would have a 15 min break.  The cloud had now started to break up and the sun began to shine.  All too soon we were off again and in true Cheviot style the path became very wet and squashy which entailed lots of little detours to get round the really bad bits. 

Eventually we started the last climb of the day, the assent of the Schil.  At last we had done it; we had completed all of the Northumberland Pennine Way.

As we sat and enjoyed the sunshine and the views Mike started wittering on about the next years project which is to walk back to Alston from Berwick using the North Sea Trail Then St. Oswald’s Way, some of the Hadrian’s Wall and some how linking up with Isaac’s Tea trail to finish back at Alston.

We continued to follow the Pennine Way for the decent down the Schil until the Pennine Way crossed the border into Scotland. 

We turned east to follow a path down the Fleehope Burn.  This was a very wet path with lots of slippery bits we allowed three of the party to sit down (fall) and take a close look at the vegetation.  Eventually Mounthooly came into view and then as the sun began to set behind the Schil we reached the cars and the end of a long but really good days walk.