These walk stories are – well just as it says on the tin – about walking! But they are also a bit more than that.
The focus of this website is mental health and that is very much the slant of these features. The benefits of physical exercise in relation to mental health are well understood. (Though not always to the ‘outside world’. I remember one conversation, years ago, about my walk stories which were being published in a newspaper. The lady I was speaking to didn’t, frankly, see the point if it. “A story about someone walking along a footpath,” she said.)
Not quite. The point being someone walking along a footpath and taking in their surroundings. Senses engaged with sights, sounds, a perhaps restless mind calmed by this. Thoughts given a chance to follow more productive lines.
That is the point of these articles and I hope you enjoy reading them. And perhaps are encouraged to walk along a footpath. I recommend it.
Marker of Time
HOW long had the boat lain here, on the banks of the Tyne? A long time, I thought. It was a rather sorry sight, a relic from some previous age. Now, bow cracked, body broken, slowly but surely, she was being claimed for its own by the river.
The old boat lies just short of Lemington Point, which was the starting point for my six mile walk. I headed into Newburn Haugh. This was the site of Anglo Great Lakes Graphite Plant and Stella Power Station. Both are long gone. Redevelopment of the land includes a park and walking trail, along the riverside. I enjoyed it very much, just wandering along. Till break time, then I rustled up the flask from my rucksack, and poured a cup of hot soup.
Leaning on the rail, I enjoy great views of the Tyne. Broad, grand, the river seems to be barely moving, a restful mood today. Bird prints pattern mud banks; gulls shrieking; wooden stumps, blackened with age, all that is left of wharves and jetties; flowers, a flare of yellow and red, grow wild in cracks and fissures; and the constant lapping of water, marker of time.
I arrived in the Tyne Riverside Country Park and spotted a rather striking sculpture. It’s a gaunt, standing stone, and made for interesting study. I’d never seen this monument before. I placed my hand on the stone. It had a sense of presence, quite raw. I wondered if it was to mark the spot of a battle fought here, centuries ago. On 28 August 1640 a Scottish army defeated the English. The Scots then marched on, and occupied, Newcastle. The Battle of Newburn served as a grim prelude to the English Civil War (1642–1651).
After a pint at the Keelman pub, I followed a public bridleway up into Throckley. It’s quite a steep climb and pauses along the way are worth it for views of the Tyne Valley. Today visibility was excellent. I could see for miles, a panorama of hills folding back into a far distance. And out there, great wings of sunlight roamed.
Frosty Woodland & Patterns of Light
I was back to Fatfield, Sunderland, for this week’s walk and thought. This time, I was following the River Wear to the hamlet of Cox Green, situated on the banks of the river.
Always on the look-out for new footpaths, I came across a woodland trail, winding, descending steeply, and white with frost. I watched my footing because conditions were icy. I kept to the edge of the frozen path, walking on fallen leaves, crunching loudly under my boots. It was the only sound on a quiet quiet morning.
In wintry conditions, going downhill is probably more dangerous than climbing, so it took quite a while, placing my boots carefully, step after step, taking hold of branches, tree trunks, for extra support. I’d avoided a serious fall, so far, this winter and wasn’t in any hurry to change that!
At Worm Hill I turned east and followed the river, able now to stretch my legs, and get up a decent pace. But it was still cold, with a glacial mist hovering over the Wear. On the other side of the river, the iconic Penshaw Monument enjoyed a commanding presence on its steep, frozen hill.
Cox Green lies on the south bank of the Wear, reached by a pedestrian footbridge. It’s quite a scenic setting, and I paused, to take in the views downriver. Forestation crowds in on the river, which today was motionless.
That icy breath of mist, slowly dispersing, acts as a prism for the sunlight, so that it becomes a display of red and blue, beams moving over the water and forests. It’s as if the light is exploring.
After a pint and something to eat in Cox Green, I set off west, along the River Wear Trail. I set at a brisk pace. It would be dark early, and the temperature was steadily dropping. I was pleased to be so well wrapped up!
The trail breaks away from the Wear, turning south, and skirting the Lampton Estate. The final part of my five-mile walk took me through more frosty woodland. A breeze had stirred, making branches sway gently, and the leaves swirl, creating a great rustling. Dusk was deepening, but in the glow of the sunset, that light formed exquisite patterns.
A Magical Encounter
Sometimes, on a walk, it’s good to explore footpaths, follow tracks across country, test out the map reading skills. Other times, like today, it’s good to follow a route walked various times. I know where I’m going. I can put the map away and concentrate on – well, on not having to concentrate.
I was back on my old stomping grounds, with a return to the Coast-to-Coast, this time near Sunderland. The starting point of my trek was Fatfield, the morning route taking me the three miles to Birtley. Even though I may have walked a route numerous times before, each occasion is different, every one a unique journey. There is always plenty to engage the senses.
A brief diversion, due to repair work, didn’t spoil things. It was such a glorious, sunny day, a walk anywhere would be fine. Cyclists I met, however, weren’t too happy at the prospect of this stretch of the Coast-to-Coast, even if only a couple of miles, being closed for months. I followed the diversion, rejoined the trail, and followed it down into Barley Mow. But not before pausing for a break on a long disused railway bridge, for a cup of hot, steaming soup from my flask. It was also a chance to enjoy the views, of hills and forests.
After a pint at the Lambton Worm pub, I decided it was time to do some exploring, so followed a footpath, west. The terrain, of frozen earth, provided quite a contrast with the morning. A flat, easy to walk on surface, had been replaced by rutted tracks. Daylight was already fading, the temperature dropping even lower. My boots crunched on hard as steel earth. As well wrapped up as I was, I could feel the cold pressing in.
The track climbed and turned, skirting woodland. The afternoon was so still! Fir trees tall and slender, glowed faintly in the reddening sun. There was a spellbinding stillness, only added to by the occasional flap of wings. No wonder forests were considered such magical places by our ancestors. And I then I spotted something, out of the ordinary.
I dared not moved, not an inch. In amongst the branches and entwined roots, low hanging branches, a pair of silvery eyes were watching me. It was a compelling moment. And then a wild deer emerged from the trees. It bounded across a clearing and disappeared into more trees. I was still thinking to myself, wow look that that, when a second deer followed, hooves clattering on the ground.
It had been quite an encounter, magical. I only wished I could see the deer again. But my own day’s journey was nearing its close. I took to the Coast-to-Coast, following it back to Barley Mow.
So ended my six-mile wander, rounded off with that memorable encounter with the deer.
Lighting the Path
I decided to return to the Lanchester Valley Railway Path for this walk. I started at Delves, on the outskirts of Consett, following the disused railway line east, three miles to Lanchester.
Dark brooding clouds promised rain but it wasn’t too cold. Still, I was well kitted out with warm clothing, including woolen cap and a spare in the rucksack. If it rained heavily and the headgear got soaked, there was no guarantee I could find somewhere to warm it out. The waterproofs were packed away in the rucksack too, and easy to hand, should they be needed quickly …
Off I set, and as always it was great, stretching the legs. There was a pleasing contrast in terrain, with hills, meadows and forestation. Fallen leaves were piled up everywhere. In places, I found myself wading through a great bank of them, crunching and cracking underfoot.
The views became increasingly beautiful and I kept stopping, to enjoy them. I was able to gaze west across a wooded valley, noticing the many different shades of green. The valley side reared up, close-by. It was like a huge tidal wave of earth. And a flock of birds came flowing through the valley, the beating of so many wings getting gradually closer and louder, until a great drumming. Flying in tight formation, the birds swerved and climbed the valley wall and the drumming faded.
About two miles out from Lanchester, with the rain finally arriving, I came to a nice spot for a break. Fir trees lining the path provided shelter. I rustled up the flask from my rucksack.
The rain hammers the trees and craters the earth. But, due south, clouds are parting. A sudden burst of sunshine glides across a hill, a great knuckle of land. The light swirls around it, as if exploring, and under its gentle touch, the earth glows as bright as an emerald.
I enjoyed my pint at a pub in Lanchester. But the rain just got heavier and heavier. Discretion being the better part of staying dry, I got the bus back to Delves, and then walked the couple of miles into Consett. Keep up the miles, nothing less than six miles will do!
Jewel in the Fire
ON the outskirts of Consett, two magnificent steel sculptures are well worth a visit. I spent a while, studying the massive structures. They are a tribute to the town’s proud industrial heritage. There was the steel works of course, which closed in 1980. The area was also packed with pits and railways. One of the latter is now the Coast-to-Coast path, over 100 miles, between Whitehaven and Sunderland. On my day walks, I’ve trekked various stretches (though never all of it!) Today I followed the trail west, towards the rugged moors above Derwent Reservoir. It was sunny out there now. But stormy weather was forecast for later. All being well, I’d have finished the walk by then ….
After a mile or so I came to a junction. The Derwent Walk could be followed east to Swalwell. There was the Coast-to-Coast, heading on, ever west. My route was along the Lanchester Valley Railway Path. But first – coffee break! And, right on que, there was even a conveniently placed wooden bench. I sipped my drink and studied, with interest, another striking visual reminder of Consett’s history. This was in the shape of a wagon.
I hadn’t been there for long when a cyclist came into view. He pulled up, and asked if I minded him joining me on the bench. I said no of course not. The cyclist propped his bike up. The pannier bags were packed to bulging, fella was obviously on his travels. The biker, I put him in his mid-70s, was short and sinewy, bare arms and legs splashed with mud. His face, framed by long grey sideburns, was weathered and tanned from years in the open air. When he pushed the helmet back on his head, and gave me a broad smile, it was through a couple of defiantly remaining teeth. “Never liked dentists, ye see,” he said.
I told him that I used to be a keen cyclist many centuries ago, well in the 1980s, anyway. The traffic was bad but once you were off the main roads, it was ok, you could go for miles and never see a soul. But not now.
“Aye, knaa what ye mean,” the cyclist said. “There’s still quiet roads aboot, ye’ve just go to knaa where to find ’em. And there’s the old waggonways and railways like this. I’m Mattie by the way.” Chris, I said. We shook hands. Mattie told me, “I never miss a Sunday bike ride oot. Me and me wife took up cycling 50 years ago. Then, when she died, 10 years gone, the cycling became even more important. I’m retired noo and this is what I de.” He patted his bike.
I asked him where he’d been.
“Just following me nose, really. Wherever I feel like.”
We chatted some more and then it was time to take to the trail again. Mattie headed off along the Derwent Walk. He waved and then was gone from view. Passing ships in the night.
I walked along the Lanchester Valley Railway Path. My lunchtime destination was Knitsley, three or four miles south-east. I trooped into the Old Mill. Lovely pub. There was even a log fire. I said to the bar lady that you didn’t come across many of them. She smiled. “Oh I know, people love it. Adds real atmosphere. Warm too!”
I decided to sit by the fire. I pulled up a chair and enjoyed my pint and thought about the day so far. I thought about Mattie, on the open road.
I gaze into the fire. It is like a living thing, glowing in the big, age darkened hearth. I feel the heat on my face, hands, legs. Moments become long and deep. Gazing into the fire, it is like watching a poem. The top log is glowing quite intensely. I watch the flames engulf it; the log breaks in the middle, and then collapses, amidst a flaring of sparks. Smoke thickens and rolls up. Its strong smell fills my nostrils; that and the smells of flame and wood. And now the fire is starting to feed on the log below; the flames caress it, exploring; cracks in the wood simmering and sparks forming rivulets of jewel red; crackling, snapping, popping, showering; and shadows stretch and beat like wings.
That storm was on the way, second half of the day. Clouds had closed in and the leaves swirled about, a great rustling. I followed the railway path back to Templeton, Consett. The magnificent, rugged moors to the west were now partially obscured by a heavy mist. Fascinated, I watched it rolling down. I reached Templetown, and the end of my seven mile walk, just in time!
There are lots of walks to enjoy in the Team Valley. Mine began on Birtley high street, from where I followed the Urpeth road. Good work has been done in redeveloping waste ground and old industrial sites. Now, there are several nature reserves and countryside parks. I’ve walked this area on numerous occasions and there seem to be new footpaths each time. I crossed the railway bridge and stopped. The landscape had changed since my last visit, with more landscape work done, new paths. ‘Ah well,’ I thought, folding the map away into my rucksack. ‘Just dive in!’
I took the first footpath I came across, following it uphill. The morning was characterized by a real pea soup of a mist. The higher the track climbed, the thicker the mist seemed to get. It wasn’t long before I could barely see more than a few feet ahead. I couldn’t really get lost …. I hoped! On the summit of the hill I paused for breath, broke out the flask, and poured a coffee. Very welcome!
The moments pass, one becoming another, another, again. The sun is a small white ball, bathing the rugged hill in a spectral-like glow. The grass is shiny with frost; a sudden burst of wings; a fox loping by; a nearby coldness indicating a body of water. Sparkling specks of light appear in the mist, appearing, disappearing, appearing again. They are all around me, captivating. And then the minutes are ticking again, separate and functional.
The body of water turned out to be a pond. Quite a pleasant spot, I made a mental note to return. I followed the path downhill to a new road. But I knew where I was now. Footpaths climbed directly to Ouston, and along the bottom of the Team Valley, to a farm I recognised.
From Ouston I headed across country to High Handenhold. The mist was finally dispersing as I trooped into the village. ‘Right,’ I thought. ‘A well-deserved pint is in order, I think.’ And I repaired to the Bird pub.
The second half of the day saw me doing what I’d managed to avoid all morning – getting lost. I was looking for the Coast-to-Coast walking and cycle trail. I took a wrong turn and trooped along for a while, then saw the Coast-to-Coast crossing a railway bridge. And no way to reach it. Nothing for it, I walked back into High Handenhold. The unexpected diversion had been worth it though, some lovely countryside.
I perused the map, finding a correct route to the Coast-to-Coast this time. I followed it towards Stanley. Several cyclists, covered in mud, told me they had headed down from Waskerley Park, out to the west. They had been caught in the middle of a storm. But the bikers all had grins on their faces, flashes of white in mud. They’d enjoyed the challenge. “It was lush, man,” one said. We went our separate ways, they east and me west. I was reassured by the waterproofs packed away in my rucksack!
I was on the final stretch of an eight-mile walk, and my legs were sore, but I had plenty of energy left. I went passed Beamish, looking out for a forest trail. The old railway embankment on my right gradually sloped down. I could see that it had a flat, broad top. The Beamish forest trail? Too soon to tell, and there was no way I was going to go clambering about a steep, wooded escarpment. I walked on. The embankment dropped lower and lower and lo, there was the Beamish forest trail.
Fields and forests were radiant in sunshine. But there was a sign of the storm the bikers had encountered. Out over the beautiful but rugged wilderness to the west, lightning crackled.
The storm was a long way off, but even so, I was thankful to clamber aboard the bus at Beamish!
A Chalice of Light
Hetton-le-Hole, on Wearside, was the starting point of today’s walk. More like a wander really, it was such a pleasant autumnal morning, I didn’t feel like hurrying anywhere.
I set off along the disused railway line, the three miles to Low Pittington. In the 19th Century, steam engines clunked and hissed up and down here, wagons laden with coal. It’s a very different scene today, woodland including silver birch, beech and ash. Beyond the trees, open country: On my left, High Moorsley, and a great muscle of a hill that was once a quarry. Now overgrown, or mostly, it offers some enjoyable, if at times demanding, walking. Plus, the views, are awesome.
The morning slowly unfolded. It got warm enough to take off my coat and pack that away in the rucksack. Time for a cup of coffee too and I pressed the flask into service. I thought of the days, long ago, when this had been a busy railway, when the area was packed with coal mines. I thought too of the generations that had come and gone, all the people, their lives now unreachable through the passage of time.
I arrived in Low Pittington at mid-day and made for the Blacksmiths Arms and took my pint outside. This is a nice village, paddocks, stables, horses grazing. Just a few miles away lies Durham and, shading my eyes, I could make out the cathedral.
After lunch I set off back along the wagonway. The temperature had dropped, shadows lengthening. It wasn’t long before I was getting the coat back on!
I walk along, enjoying the play of sunlight on the ground, on leaf and fauna: stitchwort glowing like tiny suns; knapweed, growing late into the autumn. Crouching down, I study a cluster of meadow cranesbill. I cup one in my hand, feel its texture, an exquisite maze of veins. The plant is slightly curved at the edges, so that its petals form a tiny chalice, and it drips sunlight onto my hand.
My return route took me onto the Great North Forest Heritage Trail. As the name suggests, there was plenty of woodland around, and lots of saplings too. I stood on the track and looked out over fields of cereal, swishing and bending in the breeze, a constant mosaic of shapes. And in amongst the golden patterns, poppies the brightest of reds. It was a moment for reflection, contemplation.
Then I continued on my way, returning to Hetton-le-Hole. It had been a six mile walk and a magical journey.
Like a Silvery Galaxy
I’m walking along a quiet country road. It crests a hill that is well named, High Moors. There is open country all around, descending on my left to Hough
ton-le-Spring. Beyond that, a pleasing palette of colours are the hills folding back into the distance.
I follow the road for a couple of miles and thoroughly enjoy it, a chance to stretch my legs, and feel the sun on my face. I’m looking out for a footpath on the left, according to the map … ahh there it is! A grassy track descends through the trees.
After about a mile, I came to a junction, with one footpath branching left, down to the town. My route followed the other. But first, I decided on a break, get my bearings. I rustled up the flask and enjoyed a cuppa.
The footpath skirted the forest: Tangled branches, roots and mossy boughs; frost in the woodland shadows, an exquisite pattern on the fissured trunk of a beech tree. The pattern is like that of a star, sparkling, it looks so delicate! Individual specks glow like solar plumes within the star. Frost patterns are known for being curious, eye-catching. And down the wooded slope, they could be seen everywhere, like a silvery galaxy.
Coffee break over, I wandered downhill to a broad bridleway and this took me north. And it was just pleasant to walk, flanked by trees, with horses grazing and those panoramic views beyond.
Following Hangmans Lane, across the bridge that spans the A19, I’m looking out for the footpath to East Herrington. I’m not in any hurry and tuck into my sandwich. I come to a great slab of rock, partially overgrown with winter jasmine. A breeze rustles through the trees. I look up at the treetops. They are swaying gently, the gentle creaking of wood.
My lunchtime pint was enjoyed (a lot!) at the Oak Tree Farm, a couple of miles further on. The second half of the day took me through the country park near Farringdon.
Getting on for late afternoon now, sun melting in the west, and temperature dropping. I reckoned I had done about seven miles. I walked on, boots clump clumping on the ground. And in the trees and on the grass, those frost patterns were gradually forming again.
Valley of Great Forests
The term ‘rugged’ could have been invented for the landscape around Stanley Crook in County Durham. A vista of moors and fells, purple and mottled, grey as hard bone, it stretched away into the distance. Very tempting for a walker! Today though I was following the Deerness Valley Railway Path north, firstly to Waterhouses, and then on to Ushaw Moor.
The day was already warming but thankfully there was a breeze. I had a nine-mile trek ahead of me, so I set a good pace. It’s a well looked after path, used by both by walkers and cyclists. Pine, beech, ash and birch trees, line the path. In fact, this is a land of trees, with several big forests nearby.
After a mile, I stopped for a break, rustled up the flask from my rucksack, poured a coffee. I enjoyed several minutes of just gazing across the Deerness Valley. The landscape had changed, from bronzed ruggedness to green, smooth slopes. Stillness: Leaves drifting to the ground heralding the change in seasons. A great forest covers the valley, light glowing on towering trees; flapping of birds’ wings; wild flowers brilliantly illuminated. And light breaks off from light, a melody of colour, playful.
I walked on at a nice leisurely pace, having made good ground early on. I enjoyed a pint at the Black Horse pub, in Waterhouses village, and then took to the track again.
Down here in the valley bottom there was no breeze. And the afternoon was hot. It wasn’t long before I was packing my coat away into the rucksack. That proved to be quite fun, as the coat is bulky, and at the finish I had to sit on the rucksack to get the top back on.
The afternoon wore on, it got warmer and warmer. Fortunately, I was wearing shorts, t-shirt and hat. The track was a hot, dusty, white. Forest glades graced the lower valley slopes, scent of pinecones luxurious in the sultry air.
Finally, I arrived at Ushaw Moor – but then had a splendidly steep hill to climb. ‘Oh well,’ I thought. ‘I enjoyed the trek down into the valley!’
Sunlit Beauty .. and Timeless
On a very hot morning, Brancepeth Castle in County Durham, was the starting point of my walk. The castle is an impressive sight, its history going back a thousand years. Shading my eyes, I looked up at the great walls. All those centuries ago, a Saxon leader established this place. Life was good, leader of his community, in this fertile land. The arrival of William the Conqueror in 1066 changed all that for Saxon England. But the mighty fortress remains, testimony to generations.
I enjoyed a leisurely wander through the village before joining the Bishop Auckland Railway Path. The route is well surfaced, ideal for cycling and walking, and mostly flat.
It really was a hot hot day, the air sultry, no breeze. I set an easy pace; I’d need my stamina for later. I was well stocked up with liquids, big bottle of water in the rucksack. I was wearing my wide brimmed sunhat, a bit battered round the edges, but perfectly good. At nine miles this was the longest walk of the summer season – and what a day I had picked! I could still feel the heat pressing down on my head like a giant hand. Colours of tree, bracken, berries, flowers, all seemed brighter in the glare of the sun.
I covered the first couple of miles without using up too much energy. My boots clumped on the earth and with each step dust clouds rose. I paused to take a sip of water. I was just outside Brandon. I followed a footpath north through woodland area. Nice and shady!
Lunch was at the Brawn’s Den pub, which is virtually on the walk and cycle trail. Being a glutton for punishment, I sat outside in the sunshine, and sipped my very well-deserved pint.
And then I was back on the trail. There still wasn’t a breeze. Fortunately, the railway path headed through woodland and the overhanging trees offered welcome shade.
There were four miles to go, to Durham. I’d been right about reserving stamina for this afternoon, I needed it now. The railway path broke clear of trees and I was out in the open country, with that sun bearing down. I strode on, clump clump of boots on dusty ground. The only sound was birdsong, faint, across the fields. The heat seemed to pulse. Finally, the path descended, through forestation, to the River Deerness. At last – more cool shelter!
The river was crossed by a footbridge. I leant on the rail. Here, in this place, time seemed … not to slow but to have no importance. The water is flecked by leaves; dragonflies flicker; a flutter of wings disturb reeds, making them rasp together. And that light, shimmering on the water, light shapes within light, exploding like suns.
I still had some distance to cover yet, and a steep climb for starters. Pacing myself in the morning had proven a good idea. I was tiring. It wasn’t the distance, just the heat. I kept putting one boot in front of the other. The beating of my heart boomed in my head. Sweat shone on my hands and my face and neck was wet with it. I stopped for a break, halfway up the steep hill. My whole body felt as warm as toast. Being so sun-warmed is life affirming. Finally, I reached the top of the hill and followed the railway path through very lovely forestation. Bicycles rattled past, other walkers stopped for a chat.
Finally, I was on the last two miles to Durham city centre. I was thankful for wearing good boots and for my trusty old sunhat. And then I was there, at the bus station. And there was a real sense of achievement. And an ice cream!
A Forest’s Magic
THE first drops of rain arrived just as I was heading out on my walk. But was I well wrapped up with coat, woolen hat, waterproofs in the rucksack. It was still a warm morning, so I was faced with a dilemma; stay dry from the rain but sweat like mad. Off I set though, walking through Winlaton and enjoying views of the Derwent Valley. It stretched away into the distance, blue-grey, under those clouds. More distant hills and moors looked moody but magnificent.
The first part of my journey led the couple of miles – I had kept the walk quite short because of the weather forecast – to Winlaton Mill. This was via a footpath descending the wooded lower valley. To reach the main section the forest I had to make my way, bending low, through a tunnel of small squat trees. This broadened out and became a great cavern but one made of trees, not rock.
I took a few moments, to take in my surroundings. The walls of this most curious place were the great, solid tree trunks, the roof that of interlaced branches. Massive old roots crisscrossed the earth. Something in the ground, white flecks, drew my attention. At first I thought they were stones, but on closer inspection, I saw that they were in fact shards of white pottery. They were well embedded, clearly had been there a long time. Stones, not scatted about haphazardly but laid out, suggested a cobbled surface. It made sense, Winlaton had been an industrial town for hundreds of years. Had there been a pottery works nearby? I was mulling this over when the storm came. The old saying ‘and the heavens opened’ didn’t quite do it justice. Fortunately, I was well sheltered. Rain pounded the roof tops with tremendous force. Enough of it came through to form rivulets, gushing through the red-brown earth. Drenched bluebells, clustered between tree roots, sparkled like precious gemstones. And the rain cascaded through the branches, soaking ferns and bracken, and this wood made cave smelt of rich earth and wildflowers.
I arrived – mostly nice and dry – in Winlaton Mill, stopping for a pint and bite to eat at the Red Kite pub. It’s named after the birds of prey that the area is noted for. They were reintroduced in 2004, the first Red Kites to grace these skies for many years. Alas I had not spotted any of the magnificent birds so far.
The second half of the day took me onto the Derwent Walk. The rain had finally stopped but left its mark. The River Derwent had broken its banks and, a peaty brown with all the earth it had swept up, turned meadows into lakes.
It was an enjoyable couple of miles to Swalwell. I paused halfway, to gaze out west. The forests and hills were misty under dark skies. But way out over the moors, a rainbow rose, brilliantly.
You don’t have to go to an art gallery to see some fine sculpturing. I’ve come across plenty of striking and memorable sculptures on my walks. Today was a case in point. The statue of a pitman stands on the main road through Craghead, County Durham. The pit is long gone but the statue, enigmatic, is a reminder of that lost world.
Craghead was the starting point for my six-mile walk. I checked the rucksack, re-laced my boots – not quite tight enough – then was all ready for the off. South Stanley Woods lay away to my right, about a mile down the road to The Middles. It was a while since my last visit. There were plenty of new tracks to explore. I followed the lip of a wooded ravine, descending to Stanley Burn. I went down to the water’s edge. There was a pleasing contrast of colours: trees, earth, the stream. I enjoyed the tranquility, of gently flowing water and the rhythmic cooing of wood pigeons.
Having enjoyed my wander through the wood, I came back to the road and after a bit of looking around, found the public footpath to No Place. The terrain was very different to that of the forest, with miles of open country. In the middle distance, a copse of trees could be seen, and I decided to take my break there.
Boots clumping on the ground, I followed a long, white, dusty trail. The clouds gradually cleared and with the appearance of the sun, the day got very hot indeed. I was pleased to get to the trees and some welcome shade. I rummaged around in the rucksack for my water bottle, took a couple of sips, then dampened the face towel and used it to cool my cheeks and forehead.
I sat in the long grass and gazed across a vista of hills, forests and fields. Several long, lazy minutes went by. In fact, it was as if time slowed almost to a stop. There was only this long, still, moment: Overhanging trees, long flowery branches; deep cracks in the hard, hot earth; silvery butterflies flickering like starlight.
Finally, I stirred myself. I wandered across the fields and, shading my eyes, saw a curlew, or perhaps a hawk, hovering. Then it soared high. The bird of prey’s cry was haunting, unforgettable. It seemed to leave an imprint in the very air.
I arrived at No Place. Its unusual name could be an abbreviation of North Place or perhaps Near Place. There is another theory, so glorious it could have been scripted for a 1950s Ealing Comedy starring Alec Guinness. Way back when, the houses were situated on the border of two parishes. Neither would accept the village. Hence the name of No Place.
I made for the Beamish Mary Inn. This rather fine old pub offered respite from the heat and a refreshing pint. Suitably revived, I set off on the second half of the day, making my way to Beamish via the coast-to-coast cycle and walking path.
Getting on for late afternoon now, it was still hot, sultry. With half-an-hour till my bus, I made for a park bench, conveniently located in the shade!
Gale, Sunshine – and Steel Cows!
About two miles away, atop the hill, could be seen a cluster of buildings. This was the village of High Urpeth; lovely countryside, a gradual climb across fields, only today against a strong westerly wind. The morning was mild, overcast, there was just a gale to contend with! Great views though, north to the Gateshead Angel and west, the forested hills around Beamish Museum.
I stopped as planned, for my break, near High Urpeth. The trees on either side of the broad track provided shelter from that westerly, still crashing about. I un-shrugged my rucksack and enjoyed a sit down, feeling a bit disheveled after my battle with the gale.
It takes a few minutes to get my breath back. I remove the sunhat and wipe my brow. I rustle up the flask and pour a cup of strong black coffee, no sugar. The drink is a bit hotter than I’m expecting, and I have to blow on it, to cool it down. Then I take a nice long sip and savour the taste. Gradually, I become aware of the many different sounds made by the gale. It crashes into the trees; it swishes through the long bending grass, echoes from stone walls. And the trees creak and crackle, sway and twist under the onslaught. And the movement, it’s as if everything has become fluid: Branches bending and shaking; leaves streaming, swirling; grass flowing this way then that; stones skittering across the track. All is motion and sound.
I perused the map. From here, my route followed the High Handenhold road to the Consett and Sunderland Railway Path. I traced it on the map, flapping around in the wind, with my finger. A couple of miles to Beamish and a well-earned pint at the Shepherd and Shepherd pub: sounded good!
The inn is always busy, being just outside the museum, and does a very decent pint. The pub is also popular with walkers and cyclists, so there’s a chance to compare notes on the day’s journeys. After lunch I walked back to the railway path and had a look at several striking steel sculptures – of cows. One of them was ambling – very very slowly – towards Stanley. All along the Coast-to-Coast, such artwork can be found, always worth looking out for.
I crossed the road into Edenhill Plantation. A gently rising track took me into the trees of Eckmy Law, and deeper still, into the forest. And I came to a clearing and there in the middle was a conical shaped sculpture. I walked around the cone, studying it with interest. And then I became aware of just how quiet the day was ….
The morning’s gale force wind has been replaced by sunny stillness. Trees stand tall and slender and motionless. There isn’t a sound, here in the heart of the forest. I pat the side of the cone and the noise echoes across the clearing. Signs of the morning’s storm are clearly visible. Broken branches scatter the forest floor. And now … now everything is as calm as can be.
From here, there was no shortage of footpaths, so I decided to follow my nose, enjoying a ramble through the forest, back to Ekmy Law. My six-mile wander ended in High Handenhold, where there was a very conveniently placed park bench. Time to stretch out my legs, watch the world go by, and enjoy the sun.
I would like to dedicate this story to Keith Terence Rooney (13.3.68 – 17.6.19).
They’ve done wonders with the Keelman pub, near Newburn Riverside Park. Years ago, the place was a derelict building. Now it’s an inn / restaurant, with extensive gardens. Nearby, there is even a small colony of cats. People come and feed them and, if its sunny, the felines sunbathe on the pavement. And it was certainly sunny today, so I sat outside the inn, stretched out my legs and sipped a pint.
I’d set off, earlier that morning, from Newcastle Business Park. From there I took the Hadrian Wall Path and after a very short time was into the countryside. Much of it is re-landscaped, having once been the site of heavy industry, it’s impressive work, what they’ve done. There were plenty of people, bikers and walkers, always good to exchange smiles and chat with fellow travellers.
On this first half of the day I got in a good four miles before arriving at the Keelman. Then on to the second half of the route, along a quite country road, past a hamlet called Blayney Row.
And I walk and walk, with the sun on my face. Another nature reserve comes into view on the right; meadows and woodland bathed in sunshine. I come across a horse grazing and I stroke his flank, warm under the sun. He lifts his head and nudges me.
I patted his head and walked on. After about a mile I came to Wylam Waggonway. I was spoilt for choice as to where to head next. I could follow the wagonway or explore Throckley Pond Nature Reserve. I decided to wander down to the river. I found a nice spot, near an old jetty, and wondered if it had once been used by a ferry. Right up to World War Two, several rowboat ferry services worked the Tyne.
I remove my boots and socks and sit barefoot in the long cool grass. That sunlight again! Glorious. All is still, tranquil, just birdsong and murmuring of water. Massive tree roots form a natural bay and, looking into the shallows, I see mossy boulders and golden glimmer of fish. Once again, I’m struck by the qualities of light. It glows red on the sandy-like bottom of the bay; sparkles like stars on the surface of the water. And I sit there for some time, watching the stars flare and burst.
My reverie was interrupted by a bird taking flight, a cascade of water from its wings. I strapped on my boots and walked through a park adjacent to the Keelman pub, back to the Newburn road. I was now on the last stretch of my seven-mile trek, following a public bridleway to Throckley. It was quite a steep climb, up Rye Hill, with Hallow Hill rearing up on my left. I had to work at it. With each step, small clouds of dust rose. Finally, the climb became less severe, the track heading through trees. Bees buzzed; starlings burst from a hedgerow; horses grazed.
I stopped on the summit. Pushing the sunhat back on my head, shading my eyes, I gazed at the Tyne Valley. I stayed there a long time, looking across the hills and the forests.
Stillness of a Moment
Panns Bank, Sunderland, was the starting point of my walk, around six miles. The day was to provide an enjoyable wander along the banks of the River Wear. I set off, following the riverside trail west, under Wearmouth Bridge. Conditions were cloudy but the weather forecast was for sun later. I lived in hope!
The trail is narrow, with overhanging foliage growing out of age darkened walls. I paused every now and then to view the river sweeping past. There were glimpses of an industrial past too, in Victorian stonework.
I wasn’t in any hurry, I never am on my Sunday walks, enjoy just strolling along. The clouds were dispersing. The weather forecast had been right! Time to take off my coat, pack it away in the rucksack. I walked on for a couple of miles, until coming upon a quiet lane, set back from the water. Nice spot for a break, somewhere to sit, courtesy of a park bench. I settled myself down, taking a sip from the water bottle.
The day’s innumerable sounds recede. They are replaced by a stillness. Under the sun, I can feel my body warming, relaxing. Trees overhanging the bench; rustling leaves, cherry blossom drifting, grass patterned by it. And the light, illuminating.
This was such a pleasant place I stayed awhile. In fact, I lost all sense of time. When I looked at my watch, nearly 30 mins had passed. I thought I’d only been sitting there for 15 at the most. I shouldered my rucksack and, a little reluctantly, left behind the bench under the trees.
The route from here took me over Queen Alexandra Bridge. I found a pub for a pint, then headed off on the second half of the walk. This was along the River Wear Trail, back towards the city. The afternoon was very warm now. Hot, sultry.
The River Wear Trail was nice and wide, plenty of space, a chance to stretch my legs. It was quite busy, with cyclists and other walkers, some with their dogs ambling along.
A lazy, summer’s afternoon.
Forest Meadows and River Views
THE River Wear Trail, at around 10 miles, provides particularly fine riverside walks. My route took in just a short distance, for the second half of my day. I headed off from Worm Hill, near Fatfield. It was a cool, overcast afternoon, more like autumn. On my right, the River Wear lay at low tide, revealing islets and bays, mud banks crisscrossed with bird prints.
Near the Victoria Viaduct (which dates to the late 1830s), I took a footpath back to Worm Hill, walking right along the river’s edge. The forestation formed a towering cliff of greenery, especially on the southern shore. In fact, I kept stopping to take in the view, it was so impressive.
The track meandered through dense woodland. There wasn’t a sound. A canopy of branches lay so low at times, it was like walking through a tunnel of bark and leaves and wild growing flowers. Red, purple, white, yellow, they grew in profusion. Their scent was intoxicating.
This tunnel of trees meandered for quite a while and gradually, a sound grew louder. It was the River Wear.
Finally, the path climbed right, to the Wear Trail. I went left, down to the river and found a boulder to sit on. It was a good vantage point for taking in the scenery.
Sitting here on the banks of the River Wear, not thinking about anything in particular: Watching – and fascinated – by how the light takes on different forms, on the water. It draws silvery patterns; it ripples and glows; it dances about, at times seems almost playful, at others, commanding a majestic presence. And the light glides across the water and rests on my hand, making me smile.
The Wear provided much to study: Ripples of water on the shore; further out, breaking over rocks, flowing around them; the gentle undulation of water becoming swifter here and there; or lying almost still. Shallow, deep, flowing and restful, it’s a river of many moods.
I sat back and rustled up my flask from the rucksack. It had been a grand day’s walking. I had started at Barley Mow, heading along the Coast-to-Coast. This popular long-distance walk and cycle trail, from Whitehaven to Sunderland, comes in at over 130 miles.
Having walked through Vigo Wood, a particularly pleasant footpath took me to the Lambton estate. In the 1970s it was Lambton Lion Park. I can remember various family outings there. Once, I was about 10, I asked Dad if our cat Sandy was a small lion. “Yes, I suppose he is, old son, but I wouldn’t try tickling that lion over there under the chin.”
From Lambton, it’s an enjoyable wander to Worm Hill, and a pint at one of the pleasant pubs there.
This area is probably best known for the legend of the Lambton Worm. (It is so named after a powerful local family.) Way back when, so the story goes, a young lad – John Lambton – was fishing in the Wear. Rather unimpressed by a worm he caught, he threw it back. Now fast-forward about 20 years. John, a soldier, returns from the Crusades. The worm he had so carelessly thrown away is now a gigantic serpent. It is eating livestock, terrifying the locals, generally getting up to all sorts of anti-social behavior. The beast even wraps itself around a hill – Worm Hill. John (no doubt astonished at the size worms can grow to) decided that it was up to him to do something about it. He killed the beast in mortal combat.
My days’ journey – at around seven miles – was nearly over. But before heading back to Fatfield, I found another woodland walk. There was even a nice, steep climb involved, which I was absolutely delighted to find …… It certainly made me look forward to my dinner!
The Light of Life
I was back in Durham for today’s seven-mile walk, this time following the Weardale Way north. (I had previously taken the trail south to Shincliffe.) The morning was overcast but warm, with the occasional shower. The ramble provided an enjoyable contrast of terrain, a few steep banks along the way, to test the stamina!
Climbing away from Durham, there were plenty of opportunities to pause, and gaze across the ancient city. Then back to the walking, interesting woodland trails en route. And beyond, a teasing panorama of open country. This is where the path, meandering, led. It skirted the tip of a shallow valley, for a mile or so, before undulating into it. The breeze dropped and it was very still. On my right, Durham Cathedral, couple of miles away, struck an imposing sight. It must have been even more so several centuries ago. I’d read somewhere that cathedrals were brightly painted, so that they were almost like spiritual lighthouses to pilgrims, guiding them safely in.
I made my down to a winding country road, this climbing to the Low Newton Junction Nature Reserve. As the name suggests this was once part of a railway. Now, greenery abounds, with ponds where once were railway lines.
Leaving the park, I rejoined the Weardale Way. It heads north to Finchale Priory, a 13th Century landmark. My route though was west, to Brasside. Once there, it was maybe a couple of miles, I made for the Newton Grange pub for a lunchtime pint.
For the second half of the day I decided …. on a mystery tour! I put away the map. I was just going to follow my nose.
So, I set off north along a winding country lane, deeper and deeper into the quiet. After several minutes, a bridleway came into view on my left, wooden gate rather overgrown with ferns. The gate just seemed to grow out of the side of a massive oak tree . And beyond, a footpath climbing through a field of rapeseed.
My boots pressed into the earth with each step; faint snap of twigs. The rapeseed formed a vista of yellow, seemed to go on forever. To my right, trees grew from a grassy bank, and in amongst the roots were a profusion of plants and flowers. I reached out and touched a leaf. Immediate impressions; silky texture, intricate tracing of veins. These circulate nutrients, water and carbohydrates related to photosynthesis, conversion of light energy into chemical energy. The smells of plants, earth, rock and roots, was intoxicating.
Light moves about, resting on tree and plant and boulder, the field shimmering yellow, dazzling, under its touch. And the light plays around me. It warms and illuminates.
There were splendid views from my vantage point. South, Durham Cathedral was an unmissable landmark. West, a vista of smoky blue hills. Memories of many other walks, these special journeys, bound up with the land. Like a memory-scape.
A Great Forest
If medals were given for steep hills this one would take gold. The climb was nearly vertical at times, through the massed ranks of trees.
I climbed on, taking deep slow breaths. Trying to rush a hill is the worst thing to do. The ascent went on for a good mile, bringing me finally to the summit, and a very conveniently placed boulder. I was pleased to sit down before falling down.
I removed a rather battered old sunhat, wiping my brow. One thing I have learnt, the importance of keeping your head warm and dry or cool and dry, depending on weather conditions. And it was such a hot day. Sweat ran down my face and neck, glistening on my hands. The minutes past. I felt the pulse in my throat, which had been hammering away, slowing to its usual resting state.
It was very pleasant, sitting there in the long cool grass. Glorious sunshine. This was the first time I’d been able to wear shorts and t-shirt this year. I took a bottle from my rucksack and gulped the water. I poured a little onto the towel I always carry and dampened my face. I made sure there was water left for later.
Now there was time to take in the surroundings; a great forest, a vista of trees. They towered, glowing faintly in the hot sun, skyward . ‘This is alright,’ I thought. Faintly, a lawn-mower could be heard. That must be from Duke House, maybe a couple of miles away. I wasn’t lost!
The ground was dusty white and I could feel the heat coming from it. Crevices revealed tree roots, entwined hither and thither. There were plenty of ants too and they certainly looked busy. Then there was a bark and a black Labrador came running up the hill. “You did it a lot faster than me,” I told the dog. Tail wagging furiously, he beamed at me, and then went charging back down to his owner who was calling his name, Ben.
‘Phew,’ I thought, taking a sip of water. ‘I wonder what gym Ben works out at.’
Boots removed, I sat in the long grass, bathed in the shade of overhanging branches. I closed my eyes. The sound of Ben charging back up the hill and his owner telling him to slow down, for God’s sake, made me smile.
Several minutes past, I was in no hurry. Sounds patterned the moment: the slightest creaking, as tree tops swayed in a breeze; wood pigeons cooing; wings flapping; bees; Ben barking! The drone of the lawn mower drifted lazily on the air. And scents too, of wild flowers, a profusion of them.
Finally, I stirred myself. Stretched and yawned. Splendid views of the Tyne Valley could be enjoyed. Corbridge was maybe four miles to the north-east. That’s where my walk had started, heading along the bank of the River Tyne to Dilston, and then up into the forest.
My break over, I turned right, and followed a wide trail flanked by trees. After a while, Duke House came into view, on the left. It’s a substantial old building, its aged walls keepers of history. The house was built in the 1870s for a local family. They certainly chose a good location.
I came to a junction of footpaths, one heading south, ever deeper into forestation. Deep woodland. My route went north, involving a very pleasurable descent (!) to Hexham. More splendid views too, west, over far distant hills, blue and grey and then misty white.
Having treated myself to a well-deserved pint in Hexham, I wandered around the town. There are plenty of historic buildings. This includes the abbey of course, the town’s iconic landmark. There was even time for a sit in the sun before making for the bus station. And that’s where my seven mile trek ended.
‘Grand day,’ I thought. ‘Worth every step, even the steep ones!’
Scenery & Brainwaves
The Hetton-Warden Law Trail, Tyne & Wear, makes for some very pleasant walking. It was once a unique railway, the first in the world built specifically for steam locomotives. The line opened in the 1820s and was in operation for something like 130 years.
That, I thought, is quite an industrial heritage. I joined the trail at Hetton-le-Hole, following it past the Hetton Lyons Country Park. And the track climbed, gradually at first and then more steeply, out into the hills. The morning had got off to a cold start but was warming nicely. I tramped up the hill, with the last of the frost glittering on leaves and branches. ‘A little further,’ I thought, ‘and then have a break.’ But the trail was so pleasant I just pushed on.
Finally, I came to a junction of footpaths. I turned north and crossed country, into woodland. ‘No shortage of paths here,’ I thought. ‘Take your pick!’ I decided to head down to the country park’s lake. The track I chose took me through the trees, pine and fir, and the sun continued to warm, and pine-cones perfumed the air.
A group of horse riders came the other way and I let them by, the riders advising on the best route to the lake. I worked my way downhill until finding a sunny spot. I sat down, rustled up a sandwich from the rucksack, and looked across the lake. Hard to believe this was once a colliery. Some great work has been done, right across the North-East, in redevelopment of post-industrial sites.
I relax, propped up on my elbows. Sounds form a pleasing tone of sensory input. Horses’ hooves, distant; wings flapping as a wood pigeon wings from tree to tree; a football match, laughter. And scents, of sun-warmed earth; pine trees and long grass; honeysuckle scent of gorse.
And I lie back, resting my head on my arm, and gaze up at the sky; my body warming under the sun; slight ache in left calf, after that steep climb, it’ll work out; feet tingling a bit, that happens, I’ve noticed that, during a break on a walk.
I read somewhere that an imbalance in the brain chemistry plays a part in serious depression related illness. And stress also. It has often occurred to me that there is little understanding, in society generally, of the difference between optimal pressure and stress. Human beings do optimal pressure very well, it got us to the moon and back. Unfortunately there is nothing good about stress. And the problem is, for people suffering from mental health disorders, the stress system never shuts down. But deep relaxation is a very effective way of counteracting this. It slows the brainwaves, rebalancing its complex chemistry.
I don’t know what slowed down brainwaves look like but it felt good. I’m lying on the hillside and looking up at the sky. And thoughts flow and form, rounding out from discordant, dystopian, cutting, and pattern the mind.
I finally stirred myself. I walked down the hill and headed along the lakeshore. Then I took the Hetton-Warden Trail to Copt Hill, before wandering down to Broom Hill. I treated myself to a pint, then followed the walking track back to Hetton-le-Hole.
It had been a very enjoyable seven-mile walk. Good for the legs – and brainwaves!
Riverside Wander in Spring Sunshine
It’s a kind of magic, countryside walking. Senses are engaged with sights and sounds, physical exercise refreshes and energises. It is also my observation that there is a rather curious psychological process at work. The mind recalibrates, to engage with the experience. During physical exercise, the brain releases chemicals like endorphins, which alleviate stress. But further to that, in my experience, a mental interaction with the landscape effectively removes you from the outside world. So, each walk is like, if you excuse the pun, stepping into another world.
Today, I was following the riverside from Durham to Shincliffe village. I headed across Elvet Bridge, pausing to enjoy views of the River Wear. The morning was already warming up. It was going to be a beautiful day.
Once onto the riverside, I walked south. There were quite a few people out and about, savouring the spring weather. There were a fair number of rowers too, their boats gliding up and down the river. After maybe a mile, I came to a most interesting building, it was like a miniature Greek temple. Fascinated, I took a closer look, peering at the shadowy interior. The stonework was warming and starting to glow in the sunshine. ‘Bet this place is a sun-trap,’ I thought. There was a sign-post nearby, which I read with interest. The building, known as the Count’s House, was built in around 1820, by the Dean and Chapter of Durham Cathedral. The building had a sound practical purpose, as a summerhouse. ‘I was right,’ I thought, ‘suntrap.’
Time for a break, I decided. And so, I sat on the riverbank and rustled up my flask. I became very aware of brilliant colours, emphasized by sunlight, of weeping willows, beech and ash, creepers, ivy and clover. And the river had become flowing light, a dazzling display.
The morning continued to warm nicely, and on reaching Shincliffe, I packed my coat away into the rucksack. My route crossed Shinclife Bridge before following a lane past Houghall Farm. Then I was heading into a forest, the path rising and falling, meandering through the trees. The day just got warmer and warmer. I came on a forest clearing, it was very still. There was a most striking sight, in the heart of the clearing, patterns of sunlight swirling, changing shape, reforming.
I treated myself to a pint at the Rose Tree Inn before setting off again. I followed the riverside trail past Maiden Hill. This is a commanding local landmark. Steep and wooded, it enjoys a brooding presence. This was, no doubt, the intention of its builders. Originally an Iron Age hill fort, its name is thought to mean a ‘fortification that looks impregnable’ or ‘never taken in battle.’
‘Clue’s in the name,’ I thought.
My seven-mile walk ended back on Elvet Bridge. Before making for the bus station, I shaded my eyes against the sun and looked south, out over the landscape. The journey had provided rich memories, as-well as an enjoyable day out.
Rain and Rainbow
Before starting my walk, just uphill from Plawsworth in County Durham, I checked the rucksack. I was looking for a towel, had a feeling it might be needed later to dry off, if the rain came again. Satisfied that the towel was there – nice and handy! – I set off. A wide grassy track took me down into a wooded gill.
My boots splashed in pools of water, evidence of heavy rainfall, and more clouds were rolling over the skyline.The woodland pressed in and now I was walking through the trees of Howlmire Gill. More pools to splash through, the only sound, in the forest stillness. After a few minutes this was added to by the faint noise of running water. I checked the map. It must be Black Burn. I needed to follow it to a footbridge.
It’s quite easy to get disorientated in a forest, so I followed the sound of running water, ducking under branches and clambering over entwined roots. The noise grew louder and after maybe half-a-mile the footbridge came into view. Black Burn, swollen by rain, ran under the bridge, the water a dark peaty brown.
On the other side of the small bridge I climbed to a copse of trees. Break time, I decided. There was even a boulder to sit on! I rustled up the flask from my rucksack. And I watched the rain come, a dark veil moving slowly downhill, into the gill. It rose up the field and reached me. Fortunately the trees offered shelter. The rain made a terrific noise, striking the earth with great force. It wasn’t long before impromptu streams were gushing everywhere.
Rain drumming on the tree-tops, showering from branches, glistening; and the smells of wet bark and rocks, of earth. But it was beautiful; the countryside, pounded by the rain, the great, dark rain cloud; it was all beautiful. A pheasant broke free of the undergrowth, shaking its wings, as if indignant at getting soaked.The veil of rain moved on, across the landscape.
I finished my cup of soup before taking to the trail again. It was a relaxed wander to Plawsworth. On reaching the road, I looked back, and there was the most glorious rainbow to enjoy. The trees I had sheltered under were bathed in its radiance.
I made for the Red Lion to enjoy a much-deserved pint!
Low and behold, the afternoon was characterised by bright sunshine. The second half of my day was a three mile walk to Chester-le-Street. I made a detour to have a quick look at Chester Dene and decided to explore this some other time.
And so to Chester-le-Street and the end of my seven mile walk. A couple of hours of sunshine had dried out my coat and hat nicely. I even had a cup of soup left!
There’s no shortage of walks to enjoy in the Durham area. Today’s six-mile trek began near Pity Me. And it was a glorious, sunny morning. I headed west, following footpaths across the fields. Away on my right lay Folly Plantation and beyond that, the open country rising to Kimblesworth and Sacriston.
Sunshine warmed the fields and a breeze ruffled long grass. It was so warm in fact, that after a short while I stopped and took off my coat, packing it away in the rucksack. It gave me a chance to get my bearings. Shading my eyes against the light, I looked across Folly Plantation. The trees grow in and around a gorge. It’s a place that provides welcome shelter on a hot day because for miles around is open country.
I walked on. The terrain was mostly flat, plenty of time just to wander along, and enjoy the sun on my face. And then there was a brisk stride along the Sacriston road (pavement kindly provided) and onto a public bridleway.
This landscape was very different to the first part of the day, mainly woodland, fir and ash I thought. In amongst the trees were wild flowers, winter honeysuckle or snowdrops. This was such a pleasant place I decided to take a break. I made for a bench that helpfully came into view just as I thought of finding one. ‘Pleasing serendipity,’ I smiled. Legs stretched out, I enjoyed the forest quiet, the only noise being the occasional flap of birds’ wings.
Finally, I stirred myself. My route took me to Pity Me and then east along Rotary Way. And I decided to treat myself to a pint at the Brewers Fayre pub. The morning was so warm I sat outside, lapping up the warmth.
After lunch I followed a public bridleway, from Hag House, down across the fields. It was a still, lazy, afternoon. And I walked, not in any hurry, and birdsong burbled like a stream, and the sun warmed my shoulders, and afternoon shadows stretched languidly across the fields.
The track came out near the Finchale Abbey Training Centre. From there I headed to Pity Me, discovering, on the way, pleasant parkland. With more footpaths to explore! But that was for another day.
Light and Colour
Across a bridge, and then along the bank of a stream, through the trees. There was hardly a sound. The morning was sunny and cool and frosty bright.
I walked through Dalton le Dale, to Dalton Bridge, on the outskirts of the village.Then I took the footpath to Cold Hesledon. The track crossed another old bridge before climbing a steep hill. I noted how the ground was covered with stones. Crouching down, I inspected one, wondering if this had once been a cobbled road.In the 19th Century this area had been steeped in industry.
A copse of trees crowned the hill’s summit. From there, I looked across country to Seaham and the North Sea, whilst sipping a cup of soup. I was still thinking about the stony surface of the track. I could well imagine horse drawn wagons trundling up and down here, with a nearby colliery and railway, to serve.
The descent from the hill was rather less demanding! It brought me to the old Seaham to South Hetton line, or Braddyll’s Railway, named after a colliery owner who had the line built in the 1830s. Now it’s a walk and cycle trail and very pleasant too.
I made for Dalton Park nature reserve. It’s hard to believe the grassy expanse is built on the site of a colliery. The dominant hill, once a mound of spoil from the pit, offers great views for miles in every direction. The park is impressive, with signposted walks, and I did some exploring. Then I wandered down the other side of the hill, rejoining Braddyll’s Railway path. All was peace and quiet. But it must have been very different in the 1830s when this was a railway. I followed it for a while, before heading back to the park, and clambering the hill. The second steep climb of the day, I was looking forward to my dinner! Coming down from the summit, I saw a pond, a quiet tucked away oasis. A bench provided somewhere to sit and rest after the climbing. It had been a beautiful day, with now the first hint of dusk over this tranquil place.
The pond is perfectly still, mirroring reed-banks; sunlight shimmers on the water; sparkles on droplets of water beading the reeds; the light, it enhances colours, shifts and moves; as the sun sets, the light reaches out across the shadows, dispersing them, and warms my body. My senses respond, with calm pulse.
Eventually I had to stir. Time was getting on. I followed the walkway, clump clump of my boots on wood, and then headed for the bus shelter. So ended a good six-mile walk, with plenty to see and hear, something for all the senses.
Frosty and Beautiful
WINTER’S wind blowing skeletal trees, their branches clacking and creaking and rattling; but there was blue sky too, promising sunshine later.
I set off along the public bridleway, across country, miles of green fields, and swathes of blue / grey forestation. Frost glittered everywhere, leaves silver with it. Breath steaming, boots crunching on the frosty ground, I followed the path as it swung north and climbed a hill. The wind roared in my ears, the sheer physical force of it breath-taking. I climbed on, up the hill, face stinging from the wind’s onslaught.
At the summit I rested and looked out at Northumberland stretching away into the distance. Visibility was excellent, I could see all the way to the Simonside Hills and further north again, the great, brooding presence of the Cheviots.
My destination, Ponteland, lay a couple of miles away. I set off towards it, downhill this time. The gale dropped away. It had given me a good pummelling, ears and face stinging. But the climb had warmed me up nicely.
I was following a long disused railway, now a countryside trail. Made for a lot less strenuous walking! Very relaxed.
The day had warmed up, so much so, I took off my woollen hat. A wooden bench invited a break. It was ideally located, to catch the sun. I stretched out my legs and lapped up the sunshine and took in my surroundings: The colours, the shapes; frost still glistening on leaves and branches and tangled roots. And there were birds, darting about, hither and thither. Next to the bench stood a big tree, gnarled with age, and I patted a lower-hanging branch. It was solid, old as bones, by the look of it. How long had the tree stood here? I wondered. I felt the bark cold under my fingers. And as sunlight slanted across my hand, I observed the textures of skin and the hairs and veins, and the pulse beating. My fingers were slightly flexed, partially covered by a plant growing from the branch. And a raindrop of melted frost dropped from the flower onto my skin and glistened there.
I wasn’t in any hurry and sat in the sun for 15 minutes or so. Then I took to the trail again, which brought me out near the town centre. I made for St Mary’s Church. It’s a grand old building.
Like many border towns, Ponteland got caught up in the medieval wars, between England and Scotland. There is said to be a tunnel, linking the church to what, centuries ago, was a small castle. (Now it’s the Blackbird Inn.) I wondered if the tunnel had been for people to get safely into the castle, or as an escape from the castle. It certainly had a violent end, put to the sword and fire by a Scottish army.
The second half of the day took me east, the three miles or so to Dinnington, past the Prestwick Carr Nature Reserve. And then snow came! On with the hat again!
Rome’s Final Frontier
WALBOTTLE Dene, just a few miles west of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, is one of those should be visited green areas. It offers a variety of walking trails, both south, almost to the River Tyne, and north. This is the direction I headed in,setting off on a cool, bright morning. Plenty of sights and sounds; a burn on the left and steep, wooded escarpment on the right; the wind gusting through the trees. In fact the dene was a cacophony of sounds, the water, the trees creaking and swaying. I came across one tree, upturned, its base as big as a car. I had a good look at the felled giant, wondering what had brought it down. A fierce gale perhaps.
The trail meanders north, offering fine views of the burn and jagged wall of rock on its other side. The flowing water echoes off that great, gaunt rockface, laced by deep shadowy crevices and green with moss and wild creepers. Some of the trees seem to grow horizontal, straight out of the rock.
I came across a sunny forest clearing and decided to pause for a break. A boulder made for a comfortable seat. It was good to enjoy the warmth, the clearing a suntrap, even on a winter’s day. Even so, the wind was really getting up, making the trees shake and sway. All around me, the trees bent, this way and that, and the wind sounded like waves on some distant shore. And the sunlight swirled on the ground, forming a fine mosaic of colour. I stayed there some time, just sitting, face upturned to the sun.
Then it was time to get back on the trail, to Throckley North, and a quiet country road. It was a chance to stretch my legs, and get up a good pace, bit of a work-out. I do this on most walks, find a good stretch of track, really push the pace, more like jogging than walking, then slow, then push again. I did this for maybe a mile, until my body was warm with the exertion, heart thumping, having to earn its pay for the day! Worked muscles felt good. I paused and took a sip of water from my bottle.
And then the open road to enjoy, only traffic being horses, riding out, tails swishing and heads up, eyes bright. I was soon spotted and one horse nudged me.The rider laughed and said, ‘Eee I’m sorry, he’s looking for an apple.’ Sadly, I had none to give.
On arriving in Heddon-on-the-Wall, I wandered down to the Roman Wall on the outskirts of the village. What makes this stretch particularly interesting is that its width was built to the original Roman specifications of 10 Roman feet (2.96 metres).
I enjoyed a pint at the Swan pub before walking through the village and heading west along the Military Road. And ahead of me, the great open spaces of Northumberland under vast skies. And the Roman Wall, running west, out into a landscape of ever higher hills. Pale as pearls in the sunlight.
Tempting as it was just to keep walking, I was mindful of time, and the temperature dropping. Despite coat, gloves, hat, I could feel the cold pressing in. So, I swung east along a forest trail, and back to Heddon-on-the-Wall. Then it was a brisk walk into Throckley, with a break to enjoy views of the Tyne Valley, shining pale and frosty.
And the end of my eight mile walk.
Wreathed in Mist
SETTING off, I was well wrapped up, with coat, gloves and woolen hat. And once I began walking, I soon warmed up, striking a brisk pace.
From Southwick I followed the River Wear Trail for a couple of miles. As ever, there was the pleasure of just stretching my legs and enjoying the scenery. To my left lay the River Wear, whilst on the right, around Hylton Castle, quite a lot of greenery promised good walking.
Taking to the Great North Forest Heritage Trail, I made my way to Hylton Dene. It’s a shallow, wooded ravine, one which I have walked before, always enjoyed it. I left the road, and followed a footpath, sloping down into the dene. And through trees, glistening white with frost, could be glimpsed a small, dark, lake.
The sound of traffic faded, the further I went, down through the trees. By the time I reached the bottom of the bank, there was only quiet, stillness.
I headed for a park-bench, rustled up the flask from my rucksack, and enjoyed a cup of piping hot soup. ‘Nice spot,’ I thought, sipping my drink. And then something caught my attention: A mist lay over the lake. It was such a striking sight, I got up, and walked to the water’s edge. Most noticeable was the cold, separate to the wider low temperature of the day. I didn’t know whether it was caused by the body of water, or the mist, or maybe both, on such a wintry morning. But that lakeside cold was like a physical wall.
Over quite a long period – I seemed to lose track of time – the mist thinned. Dark blue water could be glimpsed.
And I watched the comings and goings of birds; a fox on the far shore, loping along; a couple of squirrels scurrying along a branch.
I was turning to go when I observed that the mist was back …. It was reforming, on the far shore. Slow moving, it spread out. Little wonder, I thought, that lakes held such significance for our ancestors. Places of magic, of wonder, of mystery.
Time to get going. I followed a path, twisting and turning, further into the dene, through the trees. Trees of all shapes and sizes, mossy trunks and branches.
On leaving Hylton Dene, I walked the couple of miles to the Wessington pub, on Wessington Way.
The second half of the day took me to Hylton Castle via a park. Quite pleasant walking, with the sun setting, leaves carpeting the track aglow, in it. And so ended my six-mile trek.
There had been lots of memorable scenes from the day. Best of all, had been the misty lake wrapped in that cold. Brrr!