A walking weekend in Berwick 5th – 7th April 2019

berwick bridge

It’s been a couple of years (or more) since we had a group weekend away. School exams for kids, YHA ‘issues’ and other stuff has seemed to get in the way but this year we managed it.

I’ve been through Berwick many times on the train and it always looked like an interesting town to visit and so this weekend trip was one to look forward to. We arrived at the Berwick YHA at about 5pm and were immediately impressed by it. There’s a vibrancy and liveliness about it that is often lacking in other hostels we’ve been to. This is due in large part to the ground floor café that is open to the public and very welcoming. The staff are amazing!

The building itself is a stunner and well worth a look; an abandoned granary that has had a new skeleton built inside the extant walls and now provides three floors of excellent accommodation, a floor with a fantastic self-catering kitchen and diner as well as an arts space on another floor.

Our Saturday walk was a tricky affair; a linear walk along the beach that necessitated cars taken to the end point and drivers brought back again. A bit like one of those puzzles where you need to cross a river with a fox, a goose and a bag of corn.

We started out on the beach just south of Spittal on a bit of a bleak, overcast day with rain in the air. Nonetheless, our group of eleven hardy souls strode confidently southwards across the flat sandy beach as the tide continued to ebb.

berwick beach 2

The beach here is bounded by undulating grassy sand dunes so typical of the fabulous Northumberland coast and we made occasional forays into their grassy environs to avoid deep channels and large rock pools barring our way. Quite a few streams run directly into the sea on this stretch of coast and we did have to venture about a quarter of a mile inland at one point to cross a channel via a flood gate. We had lunch beside a collection of concrete cubes and we couldn’t decide whether they were tank barriers or [badly implemented] tidal protection.

berwick beach 1

Our walk continued south after lunch and the weather brightened, the rain eased off and we completed about 8 miles back to our cars at the excellent Barn at the Beal café. Highly recommended!

Our Sunday walk was much shorter but had much more content. We opted to walk the walls around the old town and mix in the Lowry Trail as well. The walls are fully intact and quite fantastic, a must-see if you’re in the town. A mix of walls and earthen embankments they protected the town from a whole host of ne’er-do-wells in days gone by; both from the sea and from land. There are old gun positions still visible and one or two replica guns in place to give you an idea of what it must have looked like. The Lowry Trail is an interesting view of what LS Lowry would have seen and what inspired his paintings. There are several information boards dotted across the town that explain his time here in greater detail

berwick lighthouse

On our way along the walls at the harbour mouth we took a detour along the pier to the old lighthouse. It stands tall against the buffeting wind and is an impressive sight in itself. Unfortunately, you can’t go inside but when you look back at the town you get a fine view of the higgledy-piggledy layout.

berwick 1

Inside the old barracks gym was an exhibition consisting of a scale model of the old wooden pier which was mesmerising. Inside the old wooden building was sparse and bare, with the elegant tracery of the wooden pier dominating the void. I loved it.

berwick exhibition

After the walk we headed back to the hostel and they allowed us to eat our lunch in the unused conference space on floor 1 – what a lovely bunch.

We browsed the art display in a leisurely fashion before packing up and heading home after a great weekend.

 

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My favourite Allen valley walk 17th March 2019

colliery lane

One of the perks of being a Walks Coordinator is that you can schedule your favourite walk on your birthday! Hence, this walk in the lovely valley of the river East Allen. We do this walk regularly and it never fails to be enjoyable.

On this particular outing we had a good turnout of around a dozen walkers on a fine if somewhat cool Sunday morning. This walk previously started in the car park of the East Allen Regeneration Centre but unfortunately that walled-in area is only open on weekdays therefore roadside parking is necessary.

Crossing the nearby bridge over the East Allen we entered a woodland path that ran parallel to the fast flowing river.

east allen bridge

This lovely path took us nearly a mile along the valley, crossing Isaac’s tea Trail, before exiting into sheep pasture a little further on and still alongside the river. The footpath passes through the lovely garden of an isolated farmhouse before continuing its partnership with the river and passing through another patch of woodland. A little further on we passed by another isolated stone house; well-kept and with another well-tended garden before continuing along a dusty lane to a bridge that links Appletree Bank and Colliery Lane.

This is a lovely, well-made stone bridge that suggests that in previous times a good solid bridge was needed to transport something along these lanes. We head up Colliery Lane which is a steep, high banked and metalled road with drainage channels either side. It’s a tough little climb but the surrounding flora and fauna is worth the effort in springtime.

Near the top of the rise we stop for lunch under the remnants of a railway bridge that passed over the lane. The bridge over the road has long gone but the stone abutments are still there and the nearby grassy verge is a sheltered and comfortable place for a sandwich and a cup of tea.

lunch stop

A little further up the lane is a stile on the right – quite a climb up to it due to the sunken lane but once over you get fantastic views down the valley with rolling hills inscribed with stone walls and the village of Catton nestled at the bottom. From here on in it’s all downhill; literally.

We criss-crossed about half a dozen fields and then followed a semi-overgrown lane down past a stone barn to the riverside woodland again. It was a bit of a steep descent but after that it was easy walking back to the parking spot.

5 miles

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Craghead; where Hollywood meets County Durham: 3rd March 2019

craghead

That intriguing title has worked as clickbait hasn’t it?

This walk, around the Stanley area of County Durham, passed by a local character who went on to become a big cheese in Hollywood so read on for more!

We started out from the home of one of our walking group and followed a route that threaded its way through houses that now sit where industry was once dominant. We were quickly walking into neighbouring countryside that skirts the area around Stanley. Still slowly waking from Winter slumber, the area was a sea of dun coloured grasses overlaid by a pale grey sky – typical March weather!

This first section of the walk headed up to the small hamlet of Craghead overlooking Stanley. Once a bigger mining village, it is still a thriving community and you can still see the footprint of the wagon way that once ran through here, taking coal to nearby distribution yards and on to coastal ports. The coal industry has made way for modern wind turbines that stand tall and skeletal against the skyline.

turbine

Craghead was the birthplace of David Horsley who emigrated to America in 1884 with his extended family to start a new life. Here he set up a bicycle making business and ran a pool hall before setting up the Centaur Film Company with Charles Gorman and his brother William Horsley. They eventually moved their film company to California in order to take advantage of the sunny, dry weather and the rest is history.

sculpture

Sculpture commemorating mining heritage

From Craghead we headed South East down a quiet local road called Wagtail Lane before heading North again and completing our five mile loop back in South Moor.

 

6 miles

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A Stamfordham Ramble 17th February 2019

farm track

I can honestly say that I have never walked around the village of Stamfordham. Indeed, I have never been to Stamfordham before we did this walk despite it being a few miles from our house.

It’s a surprisingly big village with a lovely spacious village green which was the start of our walk today. We headed out of the village by way of the footpath that loops around the lovely church of St Mary before heading out into farmland.

st marys stamfordham

It was a bright and breezy day, not too cold for February and good walking weather. Following the footpath markers, we walked West, down a grassy lane between fields before a short spell of road walking and then cutting through a small hamlet after a mile or so. After crossing the Fenwick Burn and a bit of a wrong turn through a badly way marked field, followed by a dainty hop over an electric fence, we passed through a large farmyard and back out into open fields.

It’s fairly flat around this part of Northumberland and so we tucked ourselves behind a stone wall for shelter and ate our lunch. We were lucky enough to catch a bit of winter sunshine here and some bird song for a lunchtime cabaret. It was a bit chilly though so we didn’t hang around for long.

farm track

We headed back towards Stamfordham before we were close enough to nearby Matfen Hall to hear the thwack of expensive golf clubs, following quiet roads and country lanes for the most part. We did pass through an enormously heavy metal gate that led from open pasture onto a local road. It was obviously a relic of a grander age and was crowned by a pair of impressive carved stone gateposts.

gate post

 

7.5 miles

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Newcastle Historic Walk 3rd February 2019

tyne bridges

One of our occasional urban walks.

With a programme theme of Local Heroes, a saunter around the centre of Newcastle offered us the chance to explore the historical figures that loom large in the list of Newcastle inhabitants.

We started out at Grey’s Monument, the towering 40m column crowned by a handsome statue of Charles, 2nd Earl Grey. It bears an uncanny resemblance to Nelson’s Column in London and was created by the same sculptor, Edward Hodges Bailey. Grey was a local landowner and politician famous for assisting in the passing of the Great Reform Act of 1832.

We headed off south, down the slope of Grey Street, a very handsome street in the middle of what is known as Grainger Town. Richard Grainger was a developer who cleared and replaced 36 hectares of crumbling, rambling buildings with his vision of classical architecture in the 18th century.

We turned right into Mosley Street, the first in the world to be lit by electric street lights in 1879, and headed up to cathedral square to take in a fine statue of Queen Victoria. Ducking behind the cathedral itself into a narrow cobbled street, we came upon a small bust in a wall niche to commemorate the site of where Thomas Bewick’s workshop once stood.

bewick

Heading past the remains of the Castle at Black Gate, we crossed the Tyne via the High Level Bridge; designed by Robert Stephenson and built by local engineers, the Hawks family. After a restorative break in the Arch16 café, we returned across the bridge and descended one of the many stairways down to the quayside.

nigh level bridge

After a leisurely stroll amongst the market stalls we headed back up the steep streets towards the railway station and the handsome statue of George Stephenson the railway pioneer. From there it was a short stroll to another statue, that of Joseph Cowen, a radical liberalist politician of the 1870s.

We sneaked inside the remains of the city walls and ended our walk by exploring the monastic heritage of Blackfriars restaurant.

4 ½ miles

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Wylam Wanderings 13th January 2019

wylam station

The first walk of our new 2019 ‘Local Heroes’ Programme was based in and around the village of Wylam in the Tyne Valley. There are rich pickings for local heroes in this corner of Northumberland, you can barely walk a mile without stumbling across references to an eminent engineer, railwayman or steam pioneer.

Starting off in the excellent, but well hidden, Riverside Country Park car park we walked up the main road to St Oswin’s church; the only church in Northumbria dedicated to this important local king from the 7th Century.

st oswins wylam

From here we walked back down into the village, passing by the site of the family home of early railway engineer William Hedley before descending to a woodland walkway that was one a railway line. This lovely tree lined pathway is much used by locals for dog walking, cycling and running and the traffic is probably greater than in its steam heyday!

The path leads us to the spectacular Wylam Railway Bridge spanning the Tyne at this bend in the river. An elegant wrought iron arch that is redolent of its more well-known descendants the Tyne Bridge and Syndey Harbour Bridge, the Wylam Bridge was built in 1876 to carry a local branch line but is now a pleasant footbridge with spectacular views.

cropped-wylam-bridge-from-above.jpg

Retracing our footsteps, we headed back though the village allotments that occupy the area that was once an old colliery. This part of the UK was riddled with small scale coal mines in the early 19th century and this area was the site of the Wylam Colliery (Haugh Pit). Continuing past the vibrant local sports field we returned to the centre of the village and crossed the 1836 road bridge to eye up on of the world’s oldest working railway stations (see first picture).

Returning across the bridge we linked up again with the wooded former railway line, walking due East to George Stephenson’s cottage.

stephensonscottage

This tiny house was shared with three other families and was Stephenson’s childhood home from 1781. Climbing up a farm track we passed through a cluster of stylishly converted before rejoining the houses of Wylam via a scrubby woodland and retraced our steps to the car park.

5 miles

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A Christmas walk at Corbridge 16th December

christmas walk 1

With many of our children at University or already graduated and out in the big wide world, this is the walk when we are guaranteed to see them all together. For the last few years we have started from Corbridge on the last walk of the year and finished off in a local pub for a Christmas feast.

This year we had seventeen oldies and young ‘uns gathered together for the traditional photo by the market cross.

christmas walk market square

We set off north up the Stagshaw Road for quarter of a mile, before taking a right at Cow Lane and up to the footpath that runs alongside and below the A69. Having crossed under the A69 we joined Milkwell Lane briefly, before turning East along a footpath that crosses three fields and leads to a narrow belt of trees fringing the Corr Burn.

christmas walk oldies

This footpath took us over the Burn and then up to the ruins of Aydon Castle where we stopped for our traditional Christmas nibbles and fizz. This 13th Century fortified manor house is a lovely place to visit in the summer.

christmas nibbles

After suitable refreshment, we continued the walk, circling the castle and heading back down through woodland to cross the Corr Burn once again. After crossing a sloping field we found ourselves by the tiny hamlet of Ridley and turned right to cross the B6321. We crossed two more fields to reach the busy A69 and negotiated a safe crossing. This is such as busy road and we were thankful for the refuge of the central reservation. After crossing two more fields we found ourselves in the tiny hamlet of Thornbrough with its pretty stone cottages and imposing manor house.

The footpath took us West out of the hamlet and back towards Corbridge and a mile of comfortable pavement walking brought us back to the market square. From there, it was on to the Robin Hood Inn for our Christmas feast!

christmas meal 1

5 miles

 

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