Southern Spotlight

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

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.

IMG_6570
Coquet Island, Northumberland seen from the boat.

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

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.

Across Coquet Valley
Rothbury across the Coquet Valley
Cartington Castle
Cartington Castle, Rothbury, Northumberland

Hopefully it won’t be long before I can get further afield to bring you more walking from this season.

Creating a walk

Having created a long distance route from a map for a challenge event, I was reminded that following pre-existing routes with signs, guides, waymarks, apps and other hikers for company is reassuring and even soporific at times. However as you may know, once you can absorb the information contained in a map, it becomes easier to create a route of your own. If you have ever looked at Foul Weather Alternatives or taken a short cut, then you have created your own walk.

OS Maps

My background has involved following a lot of other people’s routes, and a helpful spell of route checking for the Ramblers. Their training covered areas such as safety, legality, accessibility, topography, themes and focal points on routes. There are then two stages involved in the process of creating a route. One involves looking at the route on your map and in satellite view (which can reveal inaccuracies in the map), and the other is to reccy the route on foot with all these issues in mind.

Harvey Maps

What should a good route involve?

The legality of a route is essential if you are offering it for other people to follow. It is therefore good to familiarise yourself with the symbols which denote what type of track it is; right of way, bridle way etc and any rules and exemptions which apply.

Route signage

Safety is a crucial issue so it is important to be aware of any potential hazards such as river’s in spate, slippery rocks, eroded tracks or obstructions such as fallen trees. You should then try to incorporate these into your route data. 

Fallen tree

In case of access issues and the use of wheeled vehicles, it is helpful to mention any steps or stiles on the route and a note on the condition of the tracks i.e whether they are full of potholes or overgrown.

Boardwalk

Focal Points

The received wisdom when I trained was that a good walk should involve a focal point/s. This could be a view, or historic, natural, sacred, architectural or topographic features in the case of a day hike. In the case of a distance hike there is the opportunity to introduce a theme or feature such as the Pennines (Pennine Way), historic landmarks (Hadrian’s Wall), Abbeys (Borders Abbeys Way) or geographical features such as a river (Speyside Way). A walk could also follow a person’s life (John Muir Trail) or encompass a pilgrimage route (Camino di Santiago).

Steps on St Cuthbert’s Way

Questions

When working from the map, the following questions could be considered when creating a day hike:

  • Are the start and finish accessible?
  • Is the walk is do-able?
  • What are the gradients like?
  • Has it got a gradual start?
  • Does it have variety?
  • Does it include suitable rest places and shelter?
  • Are there any avoidable eyesores?

For a distance hike you could add these questions to your list:

  • How far apart are the resupply points?
  • Where are the water supplies?
  • Is there a variety of accommodation?
  • Is it possible to backpack the route?
  • Are refreshments available?

Summary

This is just a sketch of some of the issues and questions to bear in mind when walking somebody else’s route or creating your own. It can be interesting to evaluate the decisions which have been made for you on pre-existing routes, and to try and improve on them on your own walk. This can become the first step towards creating your own.

With thanks to the Ramblers for the experience, opportunities and training.

Waterfall walks in Northumberland

I always enjoy walking by water, as I find it very relaxing, so I thought I’d include a feature on some of the Waterfall Walks in Northumberland. Clockwise in the picture are; Hareshaw Linn in the North Tyne Valley, Linhope Spout in the Breamish Valley, and Hen Hole and Hethpool Linn in the College Valley.

Northumberland often uses the Gaelic word ‘linne’ as Linn, to indicate a pool formed at the base of a waterfall such as Hareshaw Linn and Hethpool Linn. ‘Spout’, also used, is indicative of the physical features of the waterfall. Read up on how to get to these four waterfalls on walks to suit all abilities, each with the reward of a tranquil focal point at which to stop and rest or camp.

Waterfalls in Northumberland.
Waterfalls in Northumberland.

A Tyneside Nanoadventure

This microadventure could more aptly be described as a nanoadventure really. It involved a modest attempt at creating a short route, rather than following somebody else’s route from a book or website. My short tick-list stipulated that it must be local, accessible by public transport and interesting, preferably involving some places I hadn’t been before. The final result is also on YouTube and ViewRanger / Outdooractive now if you would like to give it a go.

For me a great walk should always involve a good beginning and a good finish, rather than just going from Place A to Place B. I opted for going from St Mary’s Lighthouse in Whitley Bay to North Shields Fish Quay, both notable landmarks on the north east coast which I had never been to before. The distance of my short but varied walk was roughly 5 miles, with plenty to see and do plus some decent cafes and bars – both worthwhile features to incorporate into my walk I decided.

St Mary's Lighthouse
St Mary’s Lighthouse

Traces of history and heritage are everywhere along this stretch of the coast. Tynemouth Castle is located on a rocky promontory overlooking Tynemouth Pier. Apparently the moated towers, gatehouse and keep are combined with the ruins of the Benedictine priory where early kings of Northumbria were buried.

Tynemouth Castle and priory
Tynemouth Castle and priory

Whitley Bay and Tynemouth were formerly popular resorts in the age before international travel became available to ordinary people. Now the fascinating relics of that time have been left to dissolve slowly back into the landscape. There are old paddling pools and swimming pools gradually filling with sand and mud, rotting beach huts and corroded iron railing lining the empty esplanades. At the time of writing, Whitley Bay would almost qualify as an English ghost town.

Remains of an open air swimming pool at Tynemouth
Remains of an open air swimming pool at Tynemouth

I tried to keep away from the roadside development and to stay on the beach and the esplanades, which give a much greater insight into the history of the area. Although the esplanades have faded, I noticed that rock pooling has replaced the rides and candy floss sellers along the coast since I was a child.

Rockpooling on the coast near Whitley Bay
Rockpooling on the coast near Whitley Bay

I carried on past Tynemouth Castle for the first time, and around the corner into the mouth of the River Tyne. This is the main artery of the city in which I was born, but I had actually never visited the mouth of the river.

The mouth of the River Tyne from the north bank near North Shields
The mouth of the River Tyne from the north bank near North Shields

Here the atmosphere imperceptibly changes from faded seaside resort, via a short wooded section, into the modern day hustle and bustle of a busy river, with ferries plying to and fro, a lifeboat station poised for action, fish processing plants, smokehouses and dock buildings gradually increasing in density towards North Shields Fish Quay a mile or so inland.

Heading inland along the banks of the Tyne towards North Shields
Heading inland along the banks of the Tyne towards North Shields

On this short walk through an area which I have taken completely for granted because it is local, I learned a lot about the economic and social past of the area in which I grew up. I also mixed happily with the distant ghosts of childhood trips to the seaside which littered parts of this route for me.

5 favourite Northumberland walks.

I am just back from a short walking holiday by car to enable me to visit some of my favourite Northumbrian walks which are difficult by public transport. Here is my list:

*Drumroll*

  1. Best hill-fort award: Yeavering Bell on the Wooler common to Yeavering Bell walk (linear)
  2. Most romantic spot award: Hethpool Linn on the Kirknewton to Hethpool Linn walk (circular)
  3. Most atmospheric place award: Castle hill fort site on the Thrunton Woods to Long Crags walk (circular)
  4. Most magical place award: Dove Crag on the Holystone, Lady’s Well & Dove Crag walk (circular)
  5. Most awesome walk award: Hethpool to the border fence (circular)

You can read the full walk reports complete with photos, maps and GPX links of the winners on my Wicked Walks page.

College Burn near Westnewton

Happy New Year 2013

2012 has been a great year for my walking. In June I completed Hadrian’s wall from Wallsend to Bowness on Solway for the MS Society and in August I did the Dales Way from Ilkley to Bowness on Windermere for the British Lung Foundation. I also had walking weekends throughout the year in Rothbury, Craster, Bamburgh and Wooler in Northumberland, Berwick on Tweed in the borders, and Coniston in Cumbria. As well as completing my two of my first distance trails, I also completed my first three Wainwrights and bought my first tent which will change the way I approach walking.

Birdoswald
Birdoswald
The Strid
The Strid, Wharfedale

In 2013 I am planning to walk the Pennine Way for Crisis UK which I am really looking forward to. Realising that I can combine my favourite activity with fundraising is a win win combination. Apart from the Pennine Way, my wishlist for 2013 includes the Cumbria Way, the St. Cuthberts Way, the St. Oswalds Way and a trail in Scotland, if resources allow

There are so many walks I would like to do and the list seems to grow rather than diminish as I hear other people’s suggestions and read blogs of their distance walks. I would like to thank everyone for reading and for the suggestions and conversations during the last year. I wish you a very happy new year and hope that 2013 will see you fulfil some of your dreams too.