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.
Flowered Meadows & Honeysuckle
On a fine summer’s day last year, I set off from Durham to Shincliffe, or rather that was the plan … Following the riverside trail is always enjoyable, past the city’s historic buildings, the cathedral towering over them. There are also several fine bridges, some of them hundreds of years old.
My route took me across the Wear to the Iron Age hill fort called Maiden Hill. In what is otherwise fairly flat terrain, this fortification must have been a daunting sight. I was glad of the shade provide by the trees, great ranks of them, covering the hillside. It was a scorcher of a day. Even wearing my sunhat, I could feel the heat pressing down on my head.
May as well take a break here, I thought, and consulted the map. Shincliffe was just a mile or so away, on my left. It was still quite early though, so I decided to push on, following a footpath through Great High Wood. More welcome shade! And lovely walking on sun dappled earth; great, mossy roots, and showers of honeysuckle.
After a couple of miles, the path bought me to a place called Pinnock Hill. I had a choice of tracks. I could turn east, and make my way into Shincliffe, or west and do a bit more exploring. I chose the latter, and after a short time, the landscape changed dramatically.
The forest fell away, to be replaced by a vista of open countryside. And I just kept walking. I am not sure how many miles I covered, it was so enjoyable, walking in the sunshine. The path wound ever on, across great open fields and flowered meadows.
Finally, I stop. I’m pleased for the sunhat. The heat pulses; a great stillness that is not silence, birdsong, bees. Vivid colours too: Shimmer of butterfly wings; ladybirds; red-brown bracken; sunlight roaming, like a child playing. I push the sunhat back and wipe sweat from my brow, my hands gleam with it. And I look across a green panorama. The air is so warm, sultry, the scent of wild-flowers quite luxurious.
I still had several miles to cover, back to Durham, so enjoyed lunch and cool drink, before taking to the trail again. It was getting on for late afternoon by the time I arrived back at Maiden Hill. I was definitely tiring on that approach to Elvet Bridge, I must have walked a good 11 miles. But at-least, on that last stretch, it had got a little cooler!
A Place of Summery Magic
The Keelman’s Way, ever popular with cyclists and walkers, can be followed from Hebburn on Tyneside to Wylam in Northumberland. One morning last summer, I walked the stretch from Dunston Staithes, past the Metro Centre, to Derwenthaugh Marina. It certainly was an ideal day, with me wearing t-shirt, and shorts, and my much-travelled sunhat.
The Keelman’s Way provides plenty of riverside scenery and today, the Tyne was a glorious view, calm under that hot summer sun. At the point where the River Derwent feeds into the Tyne, I headed inland, following the footpath to Swalwell.
It had been a while since my last visit and I was impressed by how much work had been done in developing the park. I stopped for a break, and leaning on the rail, looked across the water, moving slowly, lazily, flecked with leaves and sunlight.
‘Nice park this,’ I thought. ‘I’ll have to come back.’ I wandered into Swalwell and onto the Derwent Walk. A disused railway, this can be walked or cycled to Consett, taking in the beautiful Derwent Valley.
I set off, following the broad, main path, flanked by trees. My intention had to been to make for Rowlands Gill, about six miles in total. However, the day was so warm, I decided to shorten the route.
The great thing about the Derwent Walk is that there are plenty of interesting diversions and offshoots to explore.
A quick consultation of the map yielded a circular woodland ramble, south of my position, though it took a little finding. Wooden steps climbed steeply into the trees, and at the top of the bank, I stopped to get my breath back. And my bearings. Fortunately, the track is well laid out. It meanders through the trees, beech, birch, and ash; descends a rocky dell, silvery stream crossed by stepping-stones; clambers a grassy hillock, crosses shadowy glades.
A forest clearing, covered with blue bells and buttercups, proved the ideal spot for lunch. Sitting with my back to a tree and munching a sandwich, I enjoyed a rest, in this place of summery magic.
The flowers were so bright, fragrant; lazy heat; birdsong, bees; tree roots and branches; a moss-covered rock; wild red creepers; leaves crunching under my boots as I move my feet; light trickling through leaves.
Finally, stirring myself, I shouldered my rucksack, and wandered unhurriedly back to the Derwent Walk.
Time & Tide
A particularly good walk is along the coast from South Shields. I’d picked a glorious day for mine, it was about a month ago, approx seven miles to Boldon. From Shields Metro station, the route took me down to the beach, past Bents Park, and onto the cliff tops.
En route I decided to have a go at Trow Point, a short but steep hill crowned by a gun-emplacement. It’s actually a replica, put there in the late 1980s, marking 100 years since the original. Suitably invigorated by the climb, I took a breath, and enjoyed splendid views across the mouth of the Tyne, to Tynemouth, and way beyond. Crystal clear visibility. Then I had a closer look at the gun, standing high on its platform, before making my way back down onto the coastal path.
The cliffs and coves, the rocky bays along here, are rich in history and folklore, especially to do with smugglers. There’s a cave at Marsden Rock and Frenchman’s Bay (so named because of a French ship that came aground in the 17th Century) was also said to be used by smugglers.
A rocky cove made for a good rest point. I sat down on the beach and poured a cup of coffee from the flask. Nice little place, this bay, tucked away in the rocky embrace of the cliffs.
I stretch out my legs and enjoy the sun and look around. The beach is covered by so many rocks and stones, of every conceivable shape and colour. I pick one up and turn it over in my hands and feel the texture of the stone, smooth. I put it down and pick up another. The surface of this stone is quite tough to the touch, gnarled. These are two rocks shaped very differently by how many years in the sea? Who can tell. At some point, they were washed ashore here. Another feature of the cove are pillars of rock, as old as bones, they stand about. One is bright red, smoothed by time and tide, and striped with colour, it is as if there’s a rainbow in there, encased in rock.
I sit, gazing at the sea, constant motion, currents and eddies, water breaking on the shore, ceaseless. And sounds, of the waves, of gulls, echoing off the high, gaunt, cliff walls. And light shimmers on the water like thousands of diamonds. The heat of the day builds, and the diamonds glitter, and the sea booms and crashes. It is a long, still, moment.
But finally, I stirred myself. The second half of the walk was very different, away from the coast. At Marsden Rock I turned inland. I followed Lizard Lane for a short while then the Great North Forest Heritage Trail. It skirts the old quarry, (redeveloped into a nature reserve) before crossing the golf course, to the red brick Victorian water tower. Nearby are the Cleadon Hills and, and situated on the summit, a 19th Century mill. Inland, views were splendid, of several nature reserves, crisscrossed by footpaths and old waggonways, now ideal for walking and cycling.
I lingered awhile, looking across the Cleadon Hills. The only sound was the buffeting wind, and, faintly, birdsong. Then, I tipped my hat to the sun and took to the trail again.
Beautiful Views of a Valley
THE Tanfield Railway is the oldest working steam rail-line in the world, running trains between East Tanfield in County Durham and Sunniside, Gateshead. At the mid-way point, more or less, is Andrews House Station. This was the starting point of my six-mile walk.
I was in luck because there was a steam train to see, getting ready to set off. I walked down to the station platform. Got to be worth a few pics, I thought, rustling up the camera. I wasn’t the only one there, quite a few people were getting onboard the carriages and a small crowd were taking photos, or filming, the steam engine. They have a kind of magic: Smoke trailing from the funnel and the smell of fire and coal.
I had a few minutes yet, so headed back up onto the bridge, which was a great vantage point to watch the train. With a loud burst of steam, the engine came to life: Hissing, clanking, smoke streaming from the funnel. People gathered on the bridge, snapping away with cameras. Passengers waved from the carriage windows and I was reminded, irresistibly, of the film ‘The Railway Children.’
Even after the train had gone from view, it could still be heard, a faint echo, with the occasional blast of the engine whistle. That evocative and quite haunting sound was to be a recurring feature of the day. I crossed the road, onto the Bowes Railway Path. It was a cool, windy, bright morning. I was dressed for the occasion, with coat, gloves and scarf, and a flask of hot soup in the rucksack.
The westerly wind fair blew me along. Slowly, gradually, the Team Valley came into view, and it was one to be savoured. So, I stopped and poured a cup of soup, and gazed across fields and woodland. It was getting on for mid-day and under a sudden burst of sunshine, the day felt quite warm. First touch of spring? I wondered.
The railway path descends fairly steeply to the village of Kibblesworth. I set off, down the track. That gale crashed through the trees, creating an orchestra of sound, a great creaking and grinding and rattling. And, most distinctive, a mighty rustling. It was the leaves, a tide of them. And light streamed everywhere, it bathed me in warmth and danced around my feet.
On the outskirts of Kibblesworth I came across a rather beautiful sculpture. It seemed a natural part of the landscape, as if it had grown from the earth.
A lunchtime pint was enjoyed at the Plough Inn, followed by a short trek back onto the railway line, and to Birtley. From there I wandered up to the Angel of the North. The gale was as strong as ever, coming straight down from the hills. But it didn’t eclipse all sound: There was the faint, and it made me smile, echo of a steam train.
Swans Glide, Ever Graceful
EVERY time I visit the Herrington Country Park I find new walking trails. And I’d picked the perfect day – bright, mild – to explore some. From the high street in Shiny Row, I followed Herrington Burn into the park, and then set off across the fields. Atop the biggest central hill is a ring of standing stones. A contemporary sculpture, it is striking and evocative. Shading my eyes, I gazed across at the stones, starkly silhouetted. Curious, how even though they were only recently made – maybe 20 years old – they still managed to exude a presence of great age.
There was no rush, I was enjoying just wandering along. The path meandered, around a steep hillock, and then down to a secluded lake. There wasn’t another soul about. I stayed a while, leaning on a rail, and watched swans glide, ever graceful. And light shimmered, drawing patterns upon the water.
Finally, I made my way to the main car park, crossed the road, and climbed a lane to old Penshaw village. Penshaw Monument, built in 1844 and dedicated to John George Lambton (1792–1840) 1st Earl of Durham, was just visible behind the trees.
The morning warmed, so much so it was more like spring. Nearly time for a break! Down the hill, I went, heading north.
Nice little suntrap, this, I thought. I un-shrug the rucksack and sit down on the bough of an old tree; light and dark brown, tinges of orange-red, fissured and cracked; I’m startled when starlings burst from a crevice; I watch them fly up and over a hedgerow, their birdsong like an orchestra of flutes. I stretch out my legs, blades of grass rasping against the boots. On the other side of the path, fields stretch away into the distance. Sun warm on my head and face, I look across the great green expanse of hill, watching grass bend and sway and swish in the wind.
The second half of the day took me along the old disused railway line, always popular with walkers and cyclists, to South Hylton. My six-mile wander ended at the Metro station. I only wished there had been time to visit Penshaw Monument. But, no worries, I’m sure I’ll be back, exploring the many footpaths!
A Pleasing Palette of Colours
FLINT Hill, in Country Durham, was the start of my seven-mile wander today. Normally splendid views north were somewhat obscured by low cloud and heavy showers. But that didn’t spoil the day. It was good, as always, to stretch my legs.
I headed east to Hobson, leaving the bridleway for a footpath. This headed downhill towards Burnopfield and into a great bank of mist. Curious, I thought, how mist seems to amplify quite ordinary sounds; boots crunching on gravel, rain dripping from branches.
I didn’t follow the track all the way to Burnopfield, about halfway coming to a farm, and following a public footpath up to the road. I crossed this and into a forest which lies just south of the town.
Getting on for midday now. The rain and mist were finally easing, the sky streaked by blue. The path skirted the forest, filling a ravine on my left. A wind had picked up, seemingly from nowhere. It rushed through the woodland, the shaking tree-tops sounding like huge wooden doors repeatedly slamming. It was quiet a remarkable sound.
The sun breaks free of lingering clouds; it’s warm on my shoulders. I walk on through pools of light; the wind is gusting through the forest, those mighty wooden door slamming!
There was plenty more forest walking to enjoy en route to Burnopfield. After a break – where my flask of hot soup came in handy – I pushed on for Sunniside. The nice spell continued, the day now warm enough for me to pack scarf and gloves away in the rucksack.
And superb views across the valley, I’m standing, bracing myself against a strong westerly. Out in the open, I feel its full force. I shade my eyes and take in spectacular scenery. On the other side of the valley, several large tracts of woodland are dwarfed by Chopwell Wood. Beyond, in the far distance, hill upon hill, a pleasing palette of colours.
All a Question of Perspective
Beamish in County Durham has provided some great walking, over the years. There’s something for every ability. If you feel like just going out for a wander, with even terrain, good surface, then the Consett and Sunderland Railway Path is just the ticket. On the other hand, if you feel like getting off the beaten track – that’s my last cliché in this post I promise – then there’s plenty of that too.
My five-mile wander/walk began at High Handenhold, a village near Beamish Museum. I followed the railway path for a short distance before taking to a woodland trail. There was a complete change in landscape to enjoy, with a steep wooded valley, footpath skirting its edge.
A shower of leaves, falling silently; forest canopy rustling; branches and roots; wild creepers; bracken; the sound of running water. Everywhere was covered in fallen leaves, warm yellows and russet-brown, the tree covered gorge covered in them. Something occurred to me, taking a few minutes to take in the view. Perspective. The human eye beholds marvels and is itself a marvel to behold. Steep slopes and a twisting, turning track, thick mossy roots to clamber over; all traced, tracked and fed into the appropriate part of the brain. And all in glorious 3-D technicolor.
Another definite positive about this area for days out, is the Shepherd and Shepherdess pub, something of a local landmark, with the museum just down the road. I treated myself to a pint and perused the map.
My route, for the second half of the day, took me down the road towards Beamish Hall, about halfway. Then I followed a public footpath across Beamish Park and into the rather memorably named Hellhole Wood.
This was quite different from the forest I’d walked through in the morning in that it was mainly evergreen. So, instead of warm hues, there was quite striking greenery. I noticed something else too, all along the path, the remains of what looked like a cobbled surface. Sometime in the past, this had been a road. Hardly surprising, given the area’s industrial history.
I had just looked up when I spotted movement in the forest. It was a wild deer, a magical sight. The animal was sniffing the air, alert, ears twitching, bright eyed. After a moment it bounded across the track and into the trees.
I’d covered the route in good time – the fitness regime is obviously working! There was still half-an-hour before the bus, so I added a bit to the walk, swinging north around Beamish village. There were plenty more signs of an industrial past: Remains of stone buildings, bridges, cobbles embedded into the earth.
And then, for me, a relaxed bus trip back to Newcastle. All-in-all, a very good day!
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.