Straying into Cumbria 17th September 2017

For logistical reasons most of our walks are based in County Durham or Northumberland; most of us live there and our walks are relatively easy to get to. A long drive home is often more tiring than the drive to the start point so we don’t often venture too far from civilisation. Therefore, this walk took us out of our usual stamping grounds and into Cumbria. But only just.

We met up just off the A69 near Brampton and into the wilds of Cumbria by a hair’s breadth on an OS map. It seemed to be a popular local spot as there were plenty of dog walkers about on what was a warm overcast morning in Low Geltbridge.

The first leg of the walk took us around the surreal landscape of a local sand quarry, the left-overs from the ice age when sea levels were a lot higher in these parts. The quarry looked like a set for Dr Who or even Blake’s 7 as we circled the perimeter before heading off into surrounding woodland.

The footpaths were well laid out and overhead the trees were just beginning to thin out with the end of September looming and Autumn setting in.

Our lunch stop was in the tiny hamlet of Greenwell on the postage stamp village green. It’s obviously a quiet place as the village post-box still has VR on it.

After lunch the walk took us back towards the river Gelt and past a small cluster of cottages (one dating back to 1741) at a three way junction that sat beneath a spectacular railway viaduct housing the Newcastle-Carlisle line. A great film location we thought. It certainly still seemed like an important local junction as many cars passed by as we stopped for a short break.

Heading off the roadside we soon dipped down into the steep sided valley of the river Gelt. What a spectacular place – thick ferns and dripping stone sides give this stretch of the valley a distinctly Jurassic Park feel. It was cool and still with only the sound of the gurgling river Gelt to break the spell. Just near the end of the footpath we started to see other walkers and then we came out to a spectacular circle of land, looped round by the river and dotted with enormous beech trees. A fabulous spot.

Before we knew it we were back at the car park after another fantastic Family Walk.

5 miles

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Looping along the river Coquet September 3rd 2017

It’s quite daunting leading your first walk even with a group of friends you have known for years.

  • What if you get lost?
  • What if the footpaths are blocked?
  • What if it rains?
  • What if someone falls and breaks their leg and has to be helicoptered out to the RVI and it’s all over Look North on Monday evening as you peep out from behind the sofa in acute embarrassment?

All perfectly valid worries for the first time walk leader. Thankfully, Sally, who led her first walk today, had none of those things to worry about. It all went really well and the walk was fantastic.

We met up just outside the small village of Hepple Bridge, deep in the Northumbrian countryside and set off across nearby pasture, climbing steadily to a row of terraced houses overlooking the valley. One of the houses had a garden shed painted up like the Tardis. Strange folk round here!

Continuing on past an impressive barn conversion we carried on our walk into mixed farmland – all thigh-high barley and contented sheep – before emerging out onto a shallow plateau that overlooked long sinuous loops of the river Coquet. It’s like a geography textbook in this part of the Coquet valley – you can almost see ox-bow lakes forming before your very eyes. Not to mention deposited sediment and undercut banks.

We crossed the river using a long bridge that spanned almost as much land as it did water, testament to the common flooding in this area.

Next stop was the hamlet of Holystone and our lunch break at the site of a beautiful spring that supplies fresh water to the village. The Romans (remember them?) converted a simple spring into a beautiful shady glade with a rectangular stone pool containing the spring.

The second leg of the walk took us back into farmland; the tough, hardworking type of farmland in this part of the world. We were lucky enough to see a hare scampering in front of a combined harvester as the farmer gathered in his wheat harvest at Sharperton. Looping back towards the start point we passed through Low Farnham and plenty of lush pasture land and back down to Hepple for the end of our walk.


7.5 miles

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Sunset Stroll at Stocksfield August 25th

One of our regular walk leaders, Kevin Hilton, suggested a short walk for this programme – only 2 ½ miles he said. How about we do this one evening? I suggested. Good idea.

So here we were, parked up at Stocksfield on a balmy August evening ready for a short walk in the Tyne Valley. I’m going to have to type quickly as we get to the end of the walk really soon and I don’t want to run out of time, so here goes.

Starting out through lovely deciduous woodland the walk rose through the trees by well worn footpaths surrounding the village; just as the rain started. Thankfully, not too heavily and as we were under the canopy, we didn’t suffer too much. It was almost dusk like conditions at this point, yet in a group we all felt safe and un-threatened as we wove our way through unknown footpaths and copses.

Almost surprisingly we encountered the village suburbs and skimmed off the edge of the village as we ducked and dived through the labyrinthine pathways, passing well tended gardens, wooden sculptures and playgrounds.

After only an hour or so of carefree rambling we were back at the cars, walk over and everyone happy.

So happy, in fact, that we headed off to the Bluebell Inn in High Mickley to rehydrate.

2.5 miles

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Walking around Featherstone 20th August 2017

It’s a lovely couple of miles’ drive to the start point of this walk once you have exited the A69, just past Haltwhistle. Fantastic undulating, winding country roads that pass through verdant pasture full of contented looking sheep. The grassy verges awash with wild flowers. Very much the epitome of northern English countryside.

We started this walk at the small car park just beyond the Wallace Arms pub in the village of Featherstone Park. This irregularly shaped (free) car park can get quite crowded as the nearby South Tyne Trail is popular with weekend dog walkers.

The first leg of the walk took us on to the South Tyne Trail, yet another fabulous walking route created from the embers of a disused railway line. In this case the Haltwhistle – Alston line that carried mineral ore and smelted metal from the North Pennines on to Newcastle and then the British Empire. And probably other areas too.

Turning right from the car park we immediately encountered the old station house, now a domestic dwelling with a lovely big garden. Past the house the walk continues in that glorious flat way that old railway paths do – this time through a lovely grove of silver birches like a Klimt painting. After walking through the pretty village of Featherstone Park and the Park Burn we continued along the valley until we encountered the stunning Featherstone Bridge. This is a lovely high arched structure that looks quite out of place in such a rural setting but it is well worth seeing.

After lunch in the shadows of Featherstone Castle we continued along the South Tyne valley and through the remains of a World War II POW camp. It’s an interesting site with a history that belies its obscure location.

Just past the POW camp is a 430-year-old oak tree known as the Diamond Oak, a tree that was alive when Elizabeth I was on the throne.

We climbed out of the valley and up to the utterly spectacular Lambley Viaduct. This magnificent Victorian railway bridge should be as well-known as the viaduct on the Carlisle-Settle line but as it’s out of use, it is also out of mind.

Continuing back onto the South Tyne Trail our walk took us conveniently back to the car park.

6 miles

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A walk around Kielder – August 6th 2017

Somewhat optimistically this post is entitled a walk around Kielder. We didn’t manage an entire circumference of the reservoir as that’s rather a long walk. About 27 miles apparently. Nonetheless, we went around some of it. About 20%.

The original plan was to start at the Lewisburn car park but when we arrived it was shut. And shut permanently by the looks of it, so we made alternative plans. Doubling back we parked up at Tower Knowe visitor centre and decided to walk from there, across the dam and into the woods.

Following the easy footpath we arrived at the dam after quarter of a mile and headed across. There’s always something cinematic about dams, I feel. Not sure whether that is the Dam Busters, the Fugitive, or Golden Eye or indeed any number of other films shot in and around dams. They’re certainly spectacular examples of engineering and often great honeypots for wildlife.

At the far side of the dam, the going gets a little more rural and the footpath a bit more undulating and we picked our way through trees and bushes heading for lunch at the Belling, home of the Wave Chamber. This is a small, dry stone building looking for all the world like a bee hive. Inside there is a small seat and when the door is closed and there is almost total darkness, you can hear the sounds of the nearby waves (it’s right on the water side) bouncing off the rocky shore.  It’s very immersive.

After lunch we headed further along the coastal path to where Goodwell Sike enters the lake before heading back. By this time the rain had begun to fall, the skies were gloomy and our pace started to quicken along the forest track. Thankfully the trees overhead afforded us some good cover as we headed back to the dam. After crossing the dam we headed for the café at Tower Knowle for a cup of tea, before heading home.

6 miles.

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Rambling around Redesmouth July 30th 2017

When I looked at this walk on the schedule I thought Redesmouth sounded like it should be up near Berwick or Jedburgh. Scotland-ish. Thankfully it wasn’t as that would have been a bit of a drive.

Redesmouth is a tiny village just west of the [marvellous A68] before you get to Bellingham. The road to get there is a fantastic roller coaster ride. You should try it.

After some improvised car parking (more of that later) we set off across fields that were a bit damp, tussocky with un grazed grass and a bit uneven; these conditions really put the feeling of long miles into your legs pretty quickly. As we were going uphill as well, we were a bit puffed out after only thirty minutes. After a slight detour (thanks to a grumpy local who told us where to go) past a shepherd’s hut we encountered a pair of charming donkeys in a field who were only too pleased to say hello.

Passing the adjoining cottages, we headed quarter of a mile down a farm track past another house and then plunged into thick silver birch woodland. This seldom used path in the woods tumbled steeply downhill and was pretty tricky going. After twenty minutes of scrambling, we passed under a disused railway arch and then emerged into lighter, flatter woodland and then out onto a wide open stretch of grassland on the North Tyne riverside. It was stunning. A beautifully situated barn conversion overlooked this idyllic spot; lucky people!

The walk continued along the North Tyne, which is particularly wide and fast flowing here and looks spectacular. It must also contain a good salmon run as the Duke of Northumberland has a lovely fishing lodge on the banks.

Carrying on through light woodland by the river we emerged onto the disused Border Counties Railway line. This must have been, even in its heyday, a relatively obscure railway route carrying few passengers. Now, it is a fine grassy walk sprinkled with old sheds and sidings.

This walk brought us back to Redesmouth at the disused station of Redesmouth Junction with its converted signal box, railway sheds (now cow byres) and intact platform.

We got a bit of verbals from a local resident who contested our parking position although we checked we weren’t blocking any access or driveways. No Private Road sign either.

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Industrial heritage in Hexhamshire June 25th 2017

There are some stunning little walks laced throughout the Hexhamshire countryside and this one proved to be a gem. Starting out in the little village of Whitley Chapel it wound its way through quiet countryside that once was a hive of industry but is now just buzzing with bumblebees and dragonflies. You can find it in the excellent book Walks in Tynedale and Allendale and its a nice easy stroll of about 6 miles for a sunny summer day.

Walking past the lovely St Helens church we strolled down the quiet road for a mile or so, passing well fed, glossy hided ponies and fields ripe with grainy goodness before a sharp 90 degree turn took us deep into leafy green woodland. We soon passed Jingles Haugh, once a ford across the Raw Burn (now a convenient footbridge too) and named after the sound of pack horse harnesses as they trod their weary way around these parts.

There’s a charming fish ladder just under the bridge here; no doubt a tricky but useful thing to negotiate if you are a trout heading to the spawning grounds.

From there we passed the confluence of the Raw Burn and Devil’s Water, walking beautiful country lanes and footpaths up to the hamlet of Dukesfield Hall, once an important stopover for drovers who plied their trade amongst these rural settlements. We had lunch here, resting against a stone wall and enjoying the warm summer sunshine.

Heading downhill through Hall Burn wood we came upon the remains of rural industry; the Dukesfield Smelting Mill that transformed lead ore into lead ingots that were then passed down to the River Tyne, onto barges and out across the world. It’s hard to believe that kind of thing happened here such is the peace and tranquillity amongst the ruins of the smelting mill.

Walking back to Whitley chapel along Devil’s water follows the old waggon way and is good walking; plenty of dog walkers and cyclists to share the path with. After passing through houses at Low Rawgreen we were back on the quiet road that winds back up the hill to the village.

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