Of Mice and Walkers!

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Disused rail-lines and waggonways across the North-East have become walking and cycle trails. They are a great way of getting out and about and seeing the countryside, as-well as getting some exercise!

Today’s outing by the Launchpad Wanderers took in one such trail.

On a beautiful sunny morning, Darren and I set off from Boldon Metro station. It was more like spring, Darren commented, and I could but agree. A pleasant footpath passed allotments, some with stables and horses grazing, others full to bursting with fruit and veg. One allotment had a particularly excellent collection of tomatoes and Darren had a wander across to ask the gardener if any were for sale. Sadly they weren’t.

From Tileshed Lane we followed the disused railway north towards Tyne Dock. Darren commented on the fact that it’s hard to believe this was once a railway. Sometime in the past this would have been a scene of smoke and steam as locomotives clanked and rattled and hissed their way from pit to docks. Though, I mused, it could have actually been a waggonway. Before the advent of steam engines, coal was hauled along wooden rails by horse drawn wagons. In either case, it would have been noisy! Now it’s an ideal rambling trail, through woodland and passed fields.

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Banks of leaves covered the earth track, with twigs and leaves cracking and crunching under our boots. The sun was high and warm in the deep blue sky and the forest glowed under sunshine. Birds flitted about hedgerows and tall trees that were draped in wild creepers. Along the track itself, meanwhile, was all sorts of flora to enjoy. Most spectacular were the red berries and also blackberries, which Darren enjoyed munching on!

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My aim had been to follow the rail-line for a while and then take to Bede’s Way, a walking trail between Jarrow and Sunderland. We somehow missed the turn-off but it worked out ok, with us following the old railway into Whiteleas. From there, Darren and I walked along a road towards Cleadon Grainge, which would get us back on track.

“It’s just getting warmer and warmer!” Darren said. Once again, I could but agree with my companion. It really was a glorious day. The landscape became increasingly rural, with fields climbing, climbing to the great wooded bulk that was the northern edge of the Cleadon Hills. And ahead of us …. just the open road and a glimpse of far-away summits.

This is the great thing about walking, tipping your hat to the sun and heading out into the open countryside.

Finally, we were able to look south over miles and miles of great green expanse. And on the left, the slopes of the Cleadon Hills, crowned by a Victorian water pumping station and early 19th Century mill.

We took to Bede’s Way and the climbing began, gradually, lovely walking, with green fields bright as emeralds. Before making for the summit of the Cleadon Hills, Darren and I repaired to the New Ship pub for lunch.

Sitting outside, I enjoyed a pint and sandwich. Darren went one better, with Scampi and chips, washed down with a half a pint of Guinness. We hadn’t been sitting there for long when my companion said, “Chris look – there’s a mouse!”

I turned round and there indeed was a mouse, rustling through the undergrowth. Darren and I watched the little creature sniffing and wandering about. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d seen a mouse. At one point he sat on his back legs and peered up at us, nostrils twitching. And then he was away, mooching about through the long grass. Sipping my point, I wondered about a typical day in his life. He was clearly used to humans, wasn’t put off by Darren and I in the least.

Lunch over, we left the pub and followed Bede’s Way, the ascent becoming steeper now. The path climbed higher and higher, with the sun beating down. Gravel crunched underfoot, birdsong burbling like a stream. There were the colours to enjoy too, of wild flowers and green fields and, coming more fully into view, the red brick of the Victorian water pumping station.

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Darren and I peered through the gates at the distinctive building. It was operated by the Sunderland and South Shields Water Company and began service in 1863. The chimney is 100 feet tall – and looked it! During World War 2 the landmark did have one draw-back – the Luftwaffe used the tower as a navigational aid during bombing raids.

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From the water pumping station our route led right up to the summit of the Cleadon Hills, crisscrossed with footpaths. Ours headed across the wind-blown heights to the old mill. Its great whitewashed walls reared above us, forming the memorable conical shape.

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From up here, the views are really superb, east over the North Sea and south to Sunderland. West, the great plateau that is the top of the hill, towered over the fields and urban areas below. In the distance, a smoky blue, could be seen Penshaw Monument. The summit of the Cleadon Hills is the highest point in South Tyneside. It is thought that the Romans had a signal station up here and I could see why. Shading my eyes, it was possible to gaze all the way to the North Yorkshire Moors.

Also pleasing on the eye was the palette of colours, green fields and yellow gorse, with linnets and yellowhammers winging over the hilltop. And there was the wind, sighing around the gleaming white walls of the mill, which helped make the spot very atmospheric.

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Darren and I unhurriedly descended the hill. It was mid-afternoon and the day was starting to cool off a little. A country road drops down to Cleadon and made for relaxed wandering. I strode along, boots clumping on tarmac. I asked Darren how he was doing and he smiled and said fine. He was pleased to have invested in a good pair of boots!

Cleadon village is always a pleasant place to visit. Its name is based on Cliffa-dun, this meaning a hill with a cliff. The village is more than 1,000 years old and the pond was once part of an ice age lake! The settlement is first recorded in the Boldon Book, a sort of Northern version of the Domesday Book, dating to the 1180s.

After a break, Darren and I set off along the road to Boldon, visiting en-route a really excellent organic tea shop and garden centre. Shadows were lengthening now, woodland becoming a hazy blue and ponds glittering. Finally, we were back in Boldon, turning off the road and along the pathway to the Metro station. When we’d followed it that morning, coming the other way, it had been bright and sunny. Now dusk was descending and the temperature suddenly dropping. At one point we encountered a lady walking her dog. On seeing a cat the canine went for it. The cat was far too fast though, shooting under a gate and into an allotment. With a sniffy, backwards glance at the dog, the feline walked off, not in the slightest way put off by the horses. They seemed quite at home with the cat.

The walk, at around seven miles, ended back at Boldon Metro station. Darren kindly gave me a lift home and we had plenty to talk about. This included the once busy railway line and splendid views from the Cleadon Hills. Not to mention a mouse!

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