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.
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.