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.
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!
Once Upon a Quarry
I’m just wandering along and the sun is warm on my face. Across the road, a screen of trees comes into view. I cross over to it, following the pavement to a metal gate.A sign says Stargate Pond and Bewes Hills Nature Reserve.
I push open the gate and set off across the park. Lovely scenery: A lake at the foot of a hill and trees everywhere. And a great expanse of grassland, open spaces, vivid colours under the bright wintry sunshine. I come to a park bench, un-shrug my rucksack, and take a break. Hot cup of soup from the flask.
I decide that this is a gem of a place. There’s acres of grass, ponds and forestation. And to think, it used to be a quarry. And so I sit back and enjoy the sunshine and birdsong.
I’d started the walk in Stella, near Blaydon, footpath climbing through woodland. On the right, a deep, tree filled gorge lay in shadow. It was a quite a steep climb, up the hillside, watching my footing on thick, mossy roots.
And then I glimpsed a building ahead. It came more fully into view: The Path Head Water Mill, dating to the 18th century, and a popular tourist destination. I made a mental note to visit it sometime.
And so on to the nature reserve.
I finish my cup of soup, put the flask back into the rucksack, take to the trail again. This turns north, past the wooded hill and towards an even bigger lake. My boots crunch on gravel. It’s quite warm now. I take off my scarf, fold it into my coat pocket, and wander down to the lake. It’s very calm, shiny as a mirror. Sunlight shimmers on the water. I work my way round the lake, following a path through the reeds and long grass. And I stand on the lakeshore and look across the water. Very still, quiet place, only a breeze whispering through the reeds.
I must have stood there for some time, gazing across the lake. And the sunlight played across the water, so that it seemed to change colour, when touched by light: Brightest blue to silver; to gold; to green. And the water rippling now as the breeze picked up, gently lapping the shore.
‘I’ll have to come back here,’ I think to myself. ‘It’s quite beautiful.’
Getting on for mid-morning now. I leave the nature reserve, and walk down into Ryton, for a pint and lunch.
First thing I notice on setting out again is that the temperature has dropped. Out comes the scarf again! I head down to the Keelman’s Way. This walk and cycle trail can be followed, from Hebburn to Wylam, along the Tyne’s banks.
I set a brisk stride, limbs warming; hands tingling; boots clump clumping on the ground. Well worth investing in a good pair of boots, it’s like walking on air. Gloves too! And a woollen cap. Certainly needed them this afternoon.
The Tyne is at low tide, great, dark, mud banks imprinted with a mass of bird prints. I stop and look at a great number of birds, all standing together, heads nodding and wings occasionally flapping. ‘Looks like a town council meeting,’ I think.
Something else about the Tyne’s mud banks. Occasionally, the remains of an industrial heritage can be glimpsed. Wooden stumps, once part of jetties and wharves, are black with age.
My seven-mile walk ended in Blaydon. It had been a great day, magical. Best of all had been the lake in the nature reserve. And the light skipping, like a child playing, across the water.
Glorious Winter Colours
A cool morning, mist breathing over a half-glimpsed landscape of bracken and brambles, trees further off. I set off into it.
My route followed a public bridleway south from East Herrington. As time wore on, the mist began to fade, gradually at first. Then, suddenly, I was walking in brilliant sunlight. Trees glowed, their boughs entwined with wild green creepers, ivy and lichen.
I’d never been on these paths before and so there was the added enjoyment of exploring new terrain. Sometimes the trees closed in, grew so thickly, that was I ducking under branches and clambering over roots. The track wound on, emerging near Moorside, then heading east. I walked the trail for about a mile, towards woodland. The weather was changing, with clouds building. It wasn’t long before the rain came. I took shelter under the trees. Good time to munch a biscuit!
Rain pounded the forest canopy, gushing and pouring and gurgling down branches. A couple of other walkers, and a lady with her black Labrador, joined me under the trees. They told me about the great walks to be enjoyed in the area. The Labrador trotted across to me and to everyone’s delight offered his paw in greeting. So, I shook it, saying, nice to meet you.
And then the rain ended. Those of us sheltering under the trees bid farewell and went our separate ways.
I made my way back to Moorside and found a broad track to follow, more like a country lane, flanked by beech and ash trees. After a while the country lane became a narrow track. I came on a woodland clearing. Lying across it was a tree trunk, with moss covered boulders scattered about. I stopped, deciding this was a good place for a break. I put down my rucksack and took the flask from it. Nice hot cup of soup. The tree trunk looked as though it had lain there for a long time. I patted it, and the slap slap of my hand on wet, deeply fissured bark, echoed across the clearing.
The big black boulders looked just as old. I studied them, took in my surroundings. The trees pressed in close, a mass of leaves, yellow and green, russet-browns. The forest rustled gently in a breeze, rain drops still falling from the branches.
My break over, I wandered along a footpath to the Oak Tree Inn, where I enjoyed a lunchtime pint.
The second half of the walk took me back to East Herrington. Then I made for the Farringdon sports complex, which has its own lake and dry ski-slope. The sun was setting, dusk deepening, And the rain came again. This time it was torrential. As well wrapped up as I was, I felt the rain hitting me like pellets. It soaked my face and chilled the hands, despite gloves. I could barely see through the down-pour.
I decided that this was a good time to call it a day, just in time to catch a bus to Sunderland. The face towel I’d packed came in handy! It had been an enjoyable six-mile walk. And, as often is the case, I had found out about plenty more footpaths to explore.
A Hidden Gem
Bede’s Community Woodland lies on the outskirts of Birtley, Tyne and Wear. According to legend, St Bede’s body was carried through Birtley, on its way to a final resting place in Durham. Hence the nature reserve’s name.
Bede would surely have appreciated the greenery, the thought occurred to me, as I wandered across meadows and through forestation. Picnic spots can be found along the way, with tracks meandering hither and thither. I kept to the main footpath, heading for Urpeth Bridge. And trees, clothed in goldened leaves, arched over me. It was like a cathedral made of trees.
There are plenty more green spaces to enjoy around Urpeth Bridge, with another nature reserve extending towards Kibblesworth, a couple of miles away.
I was making for a particular place, a hidden gem.
Just behind the Bewick Main Caravan Park is a lake. I wandered along the shore, found a nice spot, and sat down for a break. Under an overcast sky, the water was calm, sunlight sparkling on its surface. And I sat for some time, enjoying the quiet of this place. Leaves, yellow, red, brown, drifted from overhanging branches; swans glided past; water rippled gently on the shore. I didn’t think about anything particularly, just sat with legs stretched out and hands in the long, cool grass, looking across the lake. And a breeze rustled the tall, tawny reeds, there were masses of them, swishing. It was a gentle sound, adding to the tranquillity of this place.
My break over, I took to the trail again. The path followed the eastern shore, before skirting the lake’s southern tip, and climbing into a forest. Through this could be glimpsed hills and open country. I lingered awhile, enjoying the views, then turned north, following the track through tangles of branches, a wooded dell to my left. And the only sound was that of the occasional flurry of birds’ wings.
A footpath called Clarty Lane – rather appropriate in wet weather! – led to the Bowes Railway Path. From here, another track took me to Kibblesworth, an ancient village. Its name comes from the original Saxon Cybbel’s Enclosure. Perhaps it was the name of the leader who established this community, so many centuries ago. On the way out of the village, I paused to study a great, age-worn boulder, wondering if it had been an original boundary marker. There was no way of telling how old the monument was; letters long since erased by wind and rain. But the rock felt solid, immutable, against my hand. A great tide of time could be glimpsed and felt in its gnarled surface.
I walked down the hill from the village, past fields, and to another nature reserve. This provided more enjoyable walking, to the Ravensworth Arms, and a lunchtime pint.
And then a walk into Lamesley, before heading onto Coach Road. This second half of the day gave me a chance to stretch my legs and stride along. It was getting on for dusk, with a sunset glowing red through forestation. In the flickering embers of the day, the shadows of dusk seemed like wild characters dancing through the trees.
And so I ended my seven mile walk in Lobley Hill. I was feeling a bit foot-sore but, as ever, refreshed and enriched by the journey. And, as always, there was a sense of achievement.
A World of Field, Tree and Stream
A bright, blustery morning, blue skies, but clouds building in the west. I was well wrapped up!
Starting point for today’s six mile ramble was Sunniside in Gateshead. The bus dropped me off on Gateshead Road, not far from the Potters Wheel pub. I set off north, along a public bridleway. Just a few steps and you’re into a world of field, tree and stream. I was soon crossing open country. And then the gale really let loose. Booming and bashing, it had smaller trees at right angles. Bits of branch and foliage rushed past me.
I stopped after a mile or so, to take breath and have a peruse of the map. I propped my rucksack against a massive old tree, overhanging branches creaking and grinding, a cacophony of woody sounds. The gale plucked and prodded, buffeted and pushed. I worked my right boot into a tangle of roots, to give myself a better grounding. Consulting the map wasn’t easy either, with it flapping around my ears.
But, having got my bearings, I followed a footpath west. And gradually, the day changed. The wind dropped, until, as I walked across the fields, the morning became becalmed. But deep dark clouds rolled unstoppably overhead. And now the morning was very still indeed. I was quite breathless, after the pounding I’d taken from the gale. Slowly, gradually, snow flecked my coat. The flecks turned into streaks. Within a few minutes, visibility had become just a few feet. The snow fell swift and hard and silent. Soon, it was a blizzard. The silence of it. And the beauty. My boots crunched in the snow. It had created a magical landscape, trees looking like white bearded trolls.
The blizzard abruptly ended as I reached the Byermoor road. Clouds broke and drifted. Sunlight glittered on fields. I enjoyed a relaxed wander into Byermoor for a well-earned pint at the Pack Horse Inn.
The second half of the day involved a walk down to Rowlands Gill. The valley is covered in forestation, especially around Gibside. And down in the cradle of the valley, masses of trees there too, growing along the banks of the River Derwent. I leant on the bridge and looked across the still, calm water. Silvery leaves floated on bright water, birds winged silently through the trees. Another look at the map showed a network of footpaths, via which to explore the terrain. I’d definitely be returning!
Leaves Woven in Sunlight
The start of today’s journey was Barley Mow (just south of the Gateshead Angel). I wasn’t in any hurry, wandering public bridleways and footpaths, a gentle climb west. And a chance to enjoy the moment: wild red berries and leaves so bright, it was if they were wrought from sunlight; silvery cobwebs; tangled knotty branches; moss and lichen covered roots; a squirrel running through long grass.
I arrived at Pelton and judged it to be mid-morning by the position of the sun. (At the start of each walk, the watch comes off, and the mobile is consigned to a rucksack pocket!) From here, there was a change of terrain to enjoy. Open country, rising, rising to the hills around Beamish. A long winding footpath led me across a windswept field. And so, I walked on, with the sun warm on my face.
This part of the day provided an opportunity to use my orienteering skills – I got lost! Map and compass in hand, I turned slowly on my heel, until facing due south. I was trying to get a fix on the Coast-to-Coast cycle trail. Or more precisely …. one of the rather unusual sculptures along the way. I spotted it, a giant stone face, an ideal landmark.
And so across the fields, stream on the right, the track following it, down to an embankment. And then a steep climb up wooden steps, which proved a good workout!
At the bank top I took a breather. I was here, on the Coast-to-Coast. The track itself was half covered by autumn leaves, more drifting from the trees. And the tree tops, swaying ever so gently, rustling and creaking.
A closer look at the massive stone face, set atop a hillock, was worth it. The face has an enigmatic quality. Weather-beaten, mysterious, it gazes across the landscape.
I’ve walked various stretches of the Coast-to-Coast. Popular with both cyclists and walkers, it can be followed from Sunderland, right across to Whitehaven.
The open trail is tempting, to tip your hat to the sun and walk on. But I turned east and headed into Chester-le-Street. This is one of my favourite towns, plenty of bus services, parking, and a railway station.
Munching a biscuit, I followed a footpath downhill. The wind had dropped, there wasn’t a sound. The day was quiet and tranquil. I finished my six-mile walk with plenty of rich memories to take away. And plenty more walks in the area to plan!
Enriched by Coastal Scenery
My ramble today took in a stretch of beautiful coastline, following the England Coast Path, from Sunderland to Seaham.
On a pleasant autumn morning like this, there are splendid views of the North Sea to enjoy, stretching away into a glittering distance. And on my left, the cliff, with beaches and rocky bays.
I decided to explore one near Ryhope. I had to clamber over mighty boulders, scattered about as if dropped there by a giant. This was a place of solid rock, with the boom-boom of waves echoing from a towering cliff. I worked my way down to the shore, to a pillar of stone, standing 50-feet tall. It looked ancient, as old as bones. The terrain was fascinating to explore, rock-pools home to starfish and sea urchin. And sea-weed, it was everywhere. The smell of wet rock, sea-weed, and salt water filled my nostrils. And the spray from the waves formed a watery mist.
I could have stayed here for the rest of the day, roaming about this deserted, rocky haven. But there was the rest of the walk to do!
Once into Seaham I enjoyed a break at the Crow’s Nest pub. Gave me a chance to take stock of what had been an excellent day so far.
After lunch I headed back out of the town and followed a path past St Mary’s Church. It’s an ancient landmark, late 7th Century, so old it looks more like a natural formation than man-made.
A pleasant footpath can be followed from here, winding down into Seaham Dene. It comes to a small bridge and here the path forks, one heading towards the railway station, another north. I followed this one. The sound of the sea had been a feature of the morning, now it was a forest stillness. I walked along, boots clumping on the earth. There was a profusion of plants and trees, green and autumnal red, yellow and rich browns.
The path came out at Lord Bryon Walk. I followed this road for about a mile, before joining a public bridleway to the B1285, and the end of my six- mile ramble. From here I got the bus back to Sunderland. One thing I find so enjoyable about the walks, is that each one is unique, has its own sense of journey. You may have walked a route several times before, but each is different, offering a mosaic of sights and sounds to please the senses.
The Roots of the World
THE Bowes Railway Museum in Springwell village, Tyne and Wear, is a memorial to the earliest days of steam locomotives. George Stephenson designed some of the track back in the 1820s. In its heyday the steam engines that worked the line transported more than 1m tons of coal very year. Some of the old railway can still be seen. Like the skeletal remains of some prehistoric creature, the wooden rails create an evocative link with the past.
A footpath, named after the railway, can be followed from Tanfield to Jarrow and is well worth exploring. From Springwell I followed the track due east, in a gradual descent. Pleasant, relaxed walking, on a bright autumnal morning, clouds suggesting showers later.
Down the path slopes, flanked by trees, wild red berries flaring like small red flames in the sunshine. About two thirds along, I found a footpath to the River Don, a mile or so away. I walked across the open country to it, fields stretching away to Springwell village on the skyline. And on the left, grassy banks sloping down to the river, which crosses South Tyneside. Though it’s not really a river, more like a stream or burn.
It proved a pleasant sheltered spot, trees growing thickly along the water’s edge. I sat on the bank and enjoyed a cuppa from my flask. The sun was bright, and I noted how it played on the water, creating a ripple of sparkling specks. I noted too, old gnarled branches, deeply fissured. And from one such came a burst of starlings. Under the green-brown surface of the stream were mossy rocks, smooth with age. I reached my hand into the water and picked one up, shock of cold water on my skin. I turned the stone over in my hand, observing how it was worn smooth by countless years of being in the stream. The stone glistened, and the water dripped from it, and the stone smelt of the roots of the world. I placed the dripping stone back into the stream. The clouds were now directly overhead. A few tentative raindrops plopped in the Don, a brief shower, with the rain falling more quickly, rustling in the foliage, puckering the water. And then it was over, almost as quickly as it began. When I got up and set off again, it was virtually into a rainbow arcing brilliantly over the fields.
On reaching Leam Lane, my route followed the Great North Forest Trail. And so I wondered along, in no rush, autumn leaves rustling underfoot. At one point the trees formed almost a tunnel, of bough and branch and silvery leaves gently falling.
With another shower coming on, I headed for a pub in Springwell, and the end of my walk, around five miles. A rather good way of siting out the rain! After that I walked through village and once again it was glorious sunshine, making the hills to the west glimmer like jewels.
The Park that was a Pit
My five-mile walk began in Philadelphia. But this Philadelphia isn’t in the USA but on Wearside. During the American Revolutionary War, a local pit owner named our Philadelphia after the American city of the same name, when British troops took it.
Especially enjoyable about walking is finding rural settings in urban areas. Herrington Country Park is one such, reached from Philadelphia via a cycle and walking trail.
I had chosen a good day for the walk; warm sunshine and no sign of rain! So, I enjoyed a relaxed wander past trees and stream, with a breeze gusting through the branches, and a cascade of flowers almost a blizzard.
After maybe half-a-mile, an expanse of hills and fields came into view: The country park. It is crisscrossed by paths, in-fact I was spoilt for choice. I followed one towards the park’s dominant hill, crowned by stone sculptures. I wanted to take a closer look at these.
It’s hard to believe that Herrington Park is built on the site of a colliery, in operation between 1874-1985. At the height of its production, in 1960, the colliery employed 1,766 people, 1,509 of them working underground. When it closed, the colliery had the largest spoil heap in the North-East. And now – there are fields and trees and several lakes.
It was a bit of climb to the hill’s summit. Worth it though for the views, with Penshaw Monument a great black shadow on the skyline. And to the west, hills heaving into the sky and receding back into a far distance.
‘Good place for a break’ I thought, un-shrugging my rucksack and rummaging around for the coffee flask. And so, I sat atop the hill, with the great gaunt stones that ring it, for company. There was a definite autumnal feel to the day. It was in the air and the keen, bright sunlight making the stones glow gently. And the wind, sighing and whispering.
Going down the hill proved a lot easier than climbing it. And a tip here, whenever descending a sharp incline, always lean into it. That way, if you fall, it’s against the hill and not into space!
Having safely negotiated the bank, I followed a broad pathway past the lakes. There were plenty of people, wandering along the shore of the largest. I didn’t blame them, it was a glorious day.
I headed east, past West Herrington. Some enjoyable walking here too, along a quiet grassy trail. It led me to a country road. This rises to an old bridge, which crosses the A19. Away on my left, Hasting Hill jutted into the sky like a giant’s tooth. It’s an historic site. In 1911 archeologists found burial goods dating back some 4,000 years.
My route though led to Middle Herrington, where a pint was much enjoyed at the Board Inn.
The second half of the day’s trek followed the nearby Barnes Burn. This green corridor, right in the heart of Wearside, heads into Barnes Park. Another case of finding unexpected green spaces in urban areas. The park was opened in August 1909, quite historic. It was certainly very pleasant, found somewhere to sit and enjoy my sandwich.
It had been a great walk. Herrington Country Park is well worth a visit. And most memorable, sitting atop the hill with its standing stones.