Saturday, 14 January 2012

Alnham, gateway to the north   (January 13th)
as Peter Sellers almost said.*

  Eleanor (Nellie) Heron lies in Whittingham churchyard. She died in December 1863, aged 50, walking across the moors from Alnham, where she had been looking after a sick shepherd, to Hartside in the Breamish Valley, where she lived.  She was caught in a winter storm. A memorial stone was erected at the place where she died and one of the aims of today's walk was to find it.

Eleanor Heron's grave in Whittingham Churchyard.

 There are six gadgies out today, Ray, DandDmeister Brian the Punmeister, Ben the halfmarathonmeister, Dave the archaemeister, Harry the routemeister and me.
 Today's walk starts at Alnham, a tiny village in the Northumberland National Park. To get there, from Newcastle, take the A1 north, turn off onto the A167 north of Morpeth and turn left at the crossroads where the sign says Whittingham. Take the second left in Whittingham and follow narrow country roads west, looking out for fingerposts saying Alnham.
  There is a small church at Alnham and not much else. The church is dedicated to St. Michael and was restored from ruins in about 1870, although some of the building suggests it originated in the 12th century. There is a grass verge in front of the church, room for half a dozen cars. On OL16 the church is at GR 990109.
St. Michael's Church Alnham. "It was a sunny day"

  Walk past the church and a house, on the right is a small stream and a footpath which leads off in a North West direction across a couple of fields before hitting the moorland. A path on the right leads to Prendwick, ignore it and continue heading north. At the next fork take the right, heading just west of north and continue across the moorland towards  Cobden. Just before Cobden is the site of Nellie Heron's memorial stone. As we approached, Harry, Brian and Ray wandered off towards Hogden Law, as we later discovered. Dave Ben and I spent some time looking for the memorial stone. We had a Grid Reference, 979136 and the use of a hitec GPS system with references on the screen, a map and everything, but the stone remained invisible. Eventually admitting it must be covered by plants and running out of time we gave up, promising to return another day and search again.
 The three of us continued down to Alnhammoor Farm, a farm poor Nellie would probably have passed on her way home to Hartside had she not been caught in a storm.
 We have often made this a Herbiespot and today was no exception. We dined in warm sunshine, sitting against a wall, waiting for the others. They did not arrive so we continued the walk. They are grown up after all, and well equipped.
 There is a gateway by the farm with a marker. It leads eventually to Hartside, but for this walk continue on the path past the farm and down a short incline to cross a stream on a couple of well positioned planks. The path runs west for a short time and then turns  south west, climbing steadily uphill. The views are magnificent, Hedgehope to the north(ish) and Cunyon Crags to the north east.
 Eventually the path joins the Salters Road track, now a well made up road, not with tarmac but surfaced with stones. The road bed is fairly new, if you turn right it leads to High Bleakhope (seeHigh Cantle 11-11-11). But turn right and follow the road down to the Shank Burn. A young man was working hard pedalling his mountain bike up the steep slope out of the burn which brought to mind Harry's famous piece of advice to me and Allan as we approached a long hard climb on a bike ride once " Just put it into bottom lads and tickle away!"
The memorial to two shepherds who perished in a storm in 1962
 Walk through the farmyard at Ewartly Shank and continue on the metalled road towards Alnham.  Leave the road to see the Shepherds' cairn, a memorial to two shepherds who were caught in a blizzard in November 1962 and perished.    A  mile South East of Ewartly Shank and about 300metres north east of the road  is a homestead, High Knowe, of the first millenium BC, complete with parallel slots for its timber palisades, the outlines of buildings inside. And 100metres away to the east is a smaller settlement with a number of houses outlined inside.

 We stood on the hillside admiring the view, hills on three sides and far in the east, the north sea. How lucky we are to live so near the Northumberland National Park and how lucky we are to be able to enjoy it. It was a bright, January day, cold but with no wind, the sort of walking day you rarely get. I made the comment that this was England's big country, far horizons and not a city in sight. Ben replied that his American nephew, on his first visit to Britain and thinking all sixty million of us would crowd out our little island had exclaimed "Gee, mom, I never thought there was so much open space in England!" How right he is.
 Down the hill, near Alnham we could clearly see Castle Hill, another ancient hill fort, and built, apparently, mostly of earth.
 Back at Alnham there was no sign of the lost boys but within five minutes they had arrived. Pedometer readings were compared;
Dave the bipedometer man said  9.9 or 8.8
Higear said 9.2 but I know it had had a false start. I had managed to switch off the hitec iphone App.
Ben's exageratorGPS said 10.4 miles and personally I think it is an excellent machine and accept it.
 On the way home we stopped at The Anglers Arms for beer, except for us two drivers who ordered the largest pot of tea they had, and biscuits.
One of the interesting things about blogs is the stats page. Last week I had 11 Ukrainian hits. Well of course it might be one person eleven times but thank you. A few years ago I stayed in Kiev and Yalta. Kiev was beautiful, Yalta was interesting, partly for the wartime conference palace and partly for Chekhov's House.
* Peter Sellars. For my foreign readers he was a British comedian and film actor. He was one of the Goons on radio and made the Pink Panther films and the very funny Dr. Strangelove.