The hard winter seems to have brought about a bumper spring with an abundance of wild flowers and sunny days up here. I have spent most of the first part of this fruitful year exploring and revisiting the southern part of Northumberland, including Amble and Rothbury. This part of the county is less familiar to me than North Northumberland where I lived for about nine years. However it has been interesting to get to know the area more, revisit older walks and create new ones.
Amble is a bit further up the coast on the main bus route from Newcastle to Berwick. It has a reasonable selection of shops, cafes, and facilities, as well as a busy harbour from which there are boat trips to Coquet Island. Amble Ambles features long and short walks and a trip out to Coquet Island.
Amble isn’t very familiar to me so I felt like an explorer trying to create walks with only the maps and local chat to go on. I am not able to write about this area as intimately as a local person can but I have enjoyed learning more about it.
Rothbury is the site of some of my earliest walks as a teenager and one of my early Rucksack Rose trips in 2012. I have a soft spot for the town which benefits from good facilities, a regular bus service and a great path network radiating from the town centre. My aims here were to add a new walk to my Rothbury Rambles page, and to improve the existing photos and videos on a better camera. It has been a pleasure to revisit these walks and I am quite pleased with how much better the page looks.
Hopefully it won’t be long before I can get further afield to bring you more walking from this season.
As you may know, Northumberland was my previous stomping ground, and I have managed to accumulate a large number of posts, trips and routes in this area (listed under the Northumberland tab).
For those just joining me, there are routes arranged geographically by towns and places including Amble, Bamburgh, Rothbury, Wooler, Breamish Valley and the Farne Islands. There are also routes arranged thematically by their common features such as Roman remains, caves and rock art, waterfalls, castles, coastal and short walks.
I hope you enjoy my blog and all the featured routes. ICYMI GPX files are now available for most of my routes, including all my Northumberland routes, from Outdooractive (formerly ViewRanger).
After a very busy summer at this new centre, I decided to sit it out until things calmed down a bit before taking some pictures. These are a few snaps taken during a quiet term-time November weekday at The Sill Centre and YHA on Hadrian’s Wall. It is within easy reach of Housesteads Roman Fort, Vindolanda and the Roman Army Museum, as well as some of the most iconic parts of the wall.
If you are thinking of visiting the centre or staying at the YHA, you can find some suggested day walks with GPX at Roman Roaming, and an account of the whole national trail at Hadrian’s Wall Path.
A video of the Sill can be found on my YouTube channel.
With the recent opening of The Sill on Hadrian’s Wall, complete with its shiny new Youth Hostel, I decided to put together a collection of day hikes which incorporate some of the excellent Roman sites, such as Housesteads, Vindolanda, Chesters and the Roman Army Museum, along the Northumbrian section of the wall.
So, if you enjoy history, archaeology, ancient walls, forts, turrets, milecastles and temples, but don’t have the time to do the complete National Trail, Roman Roaming offers three moderate hikes between 5 and 10 miles long. Together they offer a great introduction to this famous World Heritage Site. The page includes maps, photos, videos and GPX downloads.
I don’t often feel moved to comment on the stewardship of the places I visit, but as I have spent over 15 years walking in this area, I feel entitled to make some comments about Northumberland National Park.
As I still regard myself as a guest in the countryside, I have always tried to be respectful and leave no trace. However I am sometimes confronted by enormous traces left by other parties which leave me feeling that my efforts are a bit one sided. Walkers in Northumberland presently need to work around the management of vast Forestry Commission plantations, a huge man made reservoir which occupies an entire valley, privately owned hunting, shooting and fishing estates, and live firing on the military ranges at Otterburn which occupy 23% of the National Park. Some of these activities leave me wondering about their long term effects on the delicate terrain of the Northumbrian and border uplands.
Large parts of the Cheviot Hills have been completely given over to the sport of grouse shooting. The management of these enormous private estates involves feeding and protecting the grouse, creating an environment in which they will breed, eliminating predators such as the Hen Harrier, and muirburn (burning heather) to create new growth for the young grouse to feed on. These practices are damaging the whole ecosystem of the upland areas in many areas, leading to flooding in the valleys, the extinction of certain species and the creation of an unsightly landscape which deters the outdoor community from coming to the Cheviot Hills.
After reading about the movement which lead to the creation of national parks and the opening up of private land for working people to use after the war, I can’t help feeling that Northumberland was somehow left out of this movement. With no burning and grazing, these hills would slowly be overgrown by shrubs like gorse and fast growing trees such as birch. Looking at the present landscape, I find it hard to even imagine what that alternative landscape might look like.
In other national parks, much time and money is devoted to path and landscape maintenance by organisations such as Fix the Fells in the Lake District National Park, and Moors for the Future in the Peak District. This is done precisely because the National Parks are aware that the revenue created by these popular areas is an enormous asset to the region as a whole. As one of the less populated parks, Northumberland sometimes seems to be more focussed on supporting local businesses than with investing in the landscape.
Some of the more popular trails around The Cheviot and Simonside, without proper maintenance, have become huge sunken scars. I have tried to point my camera away from some of this, but now I wish I hadn’t, because some footpaths are in a bad state and need urgent maintenance work. If the decision not to invest more in protecting the landscape is a purely economic one, then perhaps the benefits of attracting walkers, runners and cyclists needs to be properly costed out in this potentially attractive area.
I have been gradually adding day routes onto ViewRanger / Outdooractive 👣 for some time. As long as the routes don’t seem to involve any hazards, I have made them public and free for people to download on an ad hoc basis. As I have realised how helpful good quality downloads can be, I decided to start adding GPX files for all my day routes and publishing some routes retrospectively to replace the slightly vague descriptions I had been giving on early YouTube and blog descriptions. I have also been improving and standardising the route information provided with the downloads.
There are now over 50 free, downloadable routes on Outdooractive. I am pleased to see that there has been a steady interest in downloading these routes, so I have added links to my blog posts and YouTube. I hope you will find them helpful if you are considering walks in this part of the world, and that they will work well in conjunction with the blog posts and videos.
Since I returned to my blog after some time away, I have been trying to improve my videos. To do this I have planned several clusters of walks using my new car club car. A couple of months ago I did 3 walks on the North Northumbrian coast between Holy Island (Lindisfarne) and Berwick upon Tweed in the Northumberland Coast AONB. To be honest it was a disappointing trip because the weather was a mixed bag and the route recording didn’t work well for the routes. However I did the walks anyway, made the videos and uploaded the routes and put it down to experience.
I have finally written them up because they remain beautiful walks, and that is the most important thing in spite of my bad luck on the day. So do take a look at my new Holy Island Holiday page and I hope the sun shines for you if you visit this lovely part of the Northumbrian coast.
This is the time of year that I start to get restless for a trip to see the seabirds and the grey seals. A quick glance at the weather and the bus timetable, with the bonus of online booking, and I was off on the long bus journey up the coast to revisit the Fabulous Farnes.
The Farne Islands are a group of islands off the coast of Northumberland. There are between 15 and 20 islands depending on the tide. They are scattered between 1½ – 5 miles (2.5–7.5 km) from the mainland and divided into the Inner and the Outer islands. At this time of year there is thankfully much to see from the bus with the sun shining, the trees greening up, the daffodils at their best, and the colours gradually returning to the sea and the skies.
My ticket included a cruise of the islands from Seahouses with a landing on Inner Farne bird reserve for an hour. As well as raising my spirits after northern winters, I used the opportunity of another trip to re-record a video of the trip which incorporates the best short walk in north eastern England.
Among the birds and animals I saw on this trip were Puffins, Grey Seals, Kittiwakes, Guillemots and Shags but it varies at different times of year. The onboard commentary and the NT Ranger’s talk provide plenty of specialised information on what birds are there and the history of the islands.
With thanks to the crew of the St Cuthbert II from Billy Shiels Boat Trips (Other cruises are available) and the NT Rangers on Inner Farne for a great day out and a reminder that there is more to the Farne Islands than the puffins.
As well as the geographical posts which focus on a particular area or valley, I have been gradually creating themed walk collections from my Northumberland routes which I can add to as and when. Sometimes it is interesting to focus on one aspect or feature of an area, which can then be done as a group. So far there are walk collections in the Northumberland section featuring the coast, castles, waterfalls and short walks.
I’ve always had a soft spot for a sacred place or a cave, so my latest collection Sacred Sites features some of my personal favourite geological, historical and archaeological places in Northumberland with links to GPS files.
I am gradually adding more maps, data sheets and GPX links to all my posts. I hope you will enjoy these moderate walks which are all lovely in different ways.
This subject has never been far from my thoughts since I started this blog, but I would preface this post by saying that I am not an expert in this area. I saw my first fox up close when out walking on the South Downs at university, and later became aware of foxes scavenging from the neighbourhood bins in south London. Like many city dwellers, at the time I was thrilled to realise that I could be living in such close proximity to wild animals.
When I moved to the borders however, it was hard to ignore the fact that there were several active local hunts, who in those days took huge packs of noisy dogs out with them, or that the hills were chequered with burnt heather patches (muirburn) to encourage the grouse population.
Although the fishing troubles me less, as a walker I soon realised that it would be valuable to know when, where and how to avoid the hunting and the shooting. I lived amongst hunters, guns, anglers, ghillies, guides, beaters, gamekeepers, hotel staff, holiday cottage rental owners, equipment suppliers and the invisible landowners who make serious amounts of money from these pursuits, for several years. Although I am not and have never been pro hunting or shooting, one point I would now make through gritted teeth to my old city self about the H words (which I still hesitate to use), is that they still provide much needed employment in some areas.
Many rural communities in this area suffer from high unemployment, rural poverty and lacklustre tourism compared to areas like the Lake District. Like it or not, hunting, shooting and fishing are therefore still a mainstay of the north Northumbrian and Scottish Borders economy, which currently provide sustainable jobs and attract tourists who need to be housed, fed, kitted out and entertained.
Without these jobs and income streams, more young people would be forced to leave this part of the countryside in search of work, and the subsidiary businesses which are presently sustained by the hunting, shooting and fishing tourists would fail or close. All this could have the effect of making it an unsustainable community which is why I have so far been hesitant to be too confrontational about it. The point I am making is simply that if people want to abolish any of these pursuits, this needs to be done in conjunction with the development of sustainable alternative employment for the people and businesses involved. Sorry to inject a bit of realism into what I realise is an emotive debate.
Although I would never hunt or shoot personally, I gradually realised that my existence in the borders was dependent on a successful local economy. I do eat meat now, and I began to value the fact that I was surrounded by a ready supply of fresh, traceable fish and meat from farmers, although their livelihood was seriously compromised by the foot and mouth epidemic. It was all a far cry from the the meat section of the London supermarkets. So with my city morals and the last vestiges of my vegetarianism increasingly under strain, I eventually even partook of the spoils on occasions, which probably makes me every sort of hypocrite in the eyes of some readers.
All that said, I have gradually become aware during my walking of the damage which is done to the countryside in the name of grouse shooting in particular. My personal objections are concerned with the effects on the ecosystem of native plants, wildlife and birds. There are many ghost villages, industrial remains and abandoned buildings in Northumberland and the Borders to remind us that communities have come and gone since the Iron Age, so I would be sad to see this area emptied out and unable to regenerate without relying on the hunting, shooting and fishing economy.
In my humble opinion, the area needs sustainable jobs, and to attract different kinds of tourists such as walkers, cyclists, climbers, riders and nature lovers who will represent a different spectrum of opinion in environmental and outdoor debates. So, if you haven’t already sampled the borders countryside please do so, as I hope this site has shown that it doesn’t all look like the photo above.
Note: The lack of appropriate pictures in this post is due to the fact that I normally avoid areas where hunting or shooting are taking place. I have only once got close to a hunt complete with a pack of dogs, and once to a small shoot, and I got clear of both as quickly as possible, without lingering to take photos.