Saturday, 27 November 2021

 Walking from the very centre of the island. Northumberland, November 26.

 Haltwhistle (from OE Hautwisel meaning the hill near the fork in the river) claims to be the geographic centre of the island of Britain, so does Darwen in Lancashire. Today's walk is from the town, partly one of the "Haltwhistle Rings", a series of walks provided by a group of people from the town. It is covered by OS OL 43 Hadrian's Wall.

A team of eight are making the trip; me, Harry, Dave, Ben, Brian, Margaret, John H and John C. Going with out breakfast as days are short this time of year we met on the Bellister Road. Reached by travelling west on the A69, taking the Haltwhistle by-pass for a short distance before turning right onto a minor road that is also a dead end. There are two bridges across the South Tyne on the road, both closed to vehicles. We parked near the most westerly on the side of the road.

Almost ready to go from the car park, maps being consulted I think.

Walkling back along the road we s[otted the sign post that led us across fields to the A69. A busy road needing care. It is a section of the main route across northern England from Newcastle to Carlisle. It needs dualling but it is in the north.

Having safely got over the road we continued following a defined footpath that crossed the dismantled railway that is now part of the South Tyne trail and climbed up to Broomhouse Common. Not so much a footpath, more a struggle through tussocks of tough grass with hidden bogs and ditches, several stiles with slippery steps too, until we reached the Park Burn.

Waterfall on the Park Burn. The stream meanders at this point too, aboon for Geography teachers, there is the hint of an ox-bow lake forming.

We crossed a footbridge, carefully avoiding the group of men out shooting on the hillside, and took a straight lane heading west of south for a few hundred yards. At the end of the lane we turned right, climbed a stile and continued our battle with the tussocks and ditches. At one point I heard a cry from harry who was behind me: "Oh gosh, I have fallen into a ditch and my feet are soaking" he cried.

Skirting a small wood we headed downhill to Featherstone Rowfoot. a hamlet close to The Wallace Arms. A good pub, but not today. A short distance beyond the pub we settled in a car park for a Herbie. No benches but a short series of steps made a reasonable picnic spot.

Herbie time: Festive bakewell, bakewell slices, ginger biscuiots, flapjacks and savoury and cake from Mrs A.

After lunch I decided that the knee had had enough and I intended to take the soft option, walking back to the cars by way of the South Tyne Trail, a walk that descends gently on a dismantled railway line back to Haltwhistle, Harry chose to return with me and we covered the three miles back at a gentle pace. 

The other five noble walkers followed the loop shown on the map. Eventually we all met up at the Wellington pub in Riding Mill and enjoyed hand pulled beers or coffee.

Contains OS data, copyright. Crown copyright and database right 2021.

The short walk was 7 miles, the long version about 11.

Sunday, 21 November 2021

 Czechia, St. Martin, the Goose and the lost key.

November 2021

 The covid curtain closing Europe has opened to some extent. As a result I am missing a couple of gadgie walks and heading off to the town of Bilina in Bohemia in Czechia, not having visited friends and the school there since 2019.

Unable to fly from Newcastle I was driven to Leeds Bradford airport by my chauffeuse, took off and landed in Prague two hours later. Met by Helena and Peter I was soon in the Lion Hotel in the town square of Bilina, fed at the Patkoves home and returned to my bed.

This is the "car park" shot for Bilina. In the distance is the power station which burns lignite from the local mine which is a huge open cast site. It is hazy this year, not because of pollution but fog, which seems to have covered much of the area.

  For the next three days I visited the local Gymnasium (Grammar school), an ideally sized establishment of about 250 children aged from 12 to 18. They all speak English to a good standard and mostly understand what I tell them. This year's chat for older ones is a potted history of people who have ruled England and Britain. From Iron Age folk up to Queen Elizabeth II, but only the ones who interest me like Romans, Saxons, William I, Charles I , George III . With a map of the British Empire thrown in. I have no shame.

I had lunch in the school canteen, usually soup, dumplings Czech style and meat, with a glass of juice too. Healthy meals, not a chip in sight.

My hotel room key was quite small and attached to a small fob. Somehow I lost it. I sought help from Helena who contacted the hotel. Not a problem they said. 

When I returned to the Lion a man was removing the whole lock from my room and replacing it with another. There was no spare key! The embarrassment.

The town square, Bilina with 17th century chateau which replaced a medieval castle. The Lion hotel is on the far right, the entrance to the Patkove flat is through one of the central arches.

Not having a class in the afternoon I walked along the river to Kyselka:

        Top; 19th century bottling plant for the famous Bilina Kyselka mineral water. Still bottled and still exported.
Bottom: 19th century Kyselka Spa. Famous as a health resort with cures based on the mineral waters. Sadly at the moment it is unused and in a state of minor disrepair.

After school the next day I enjoyed the canteen lunch of battered fish and potatoes before going to the town of Most about ten miles away with one of the teachers from Bilina and her husband.
An interesting and ancient town, the name means "bridge" and was originally called Brucker, the German word for bridge as this region of present day Czechia was part of the Austro Hungarian Empire.
Most sat on a vast coal field. In the mid 20th century the ancient town was demolished to allow the coal to be removed.It was a vast open cast site but has now closed. The old mine has been flooded to form a recreational lake;

Foggy day in Most, the lake is about  two kilometres long and one wide. In summer it is popular with sailors, swimmers, fishers and sun bathers. Today it is cold and slightly foggy.

                Church of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary, Most. Built in the 16th century and part of the old town. The authorities decided to preserve it when the town was demolished. The spire was removed, the whole building was jacked up, put on a train and moved 851 metres. It is in the Guinness Book of Records as the largest building ever moved in one piece. Unfortunately it no longer sits with an East- West axis.

                       Modern Most on another foggy day.

 No school on Friday 12th of November. After a lazy morning eight of us took off in a minibus for the village of Nemcice some miles east of Prague. The trip was in part to celebrate St. Martins Day (Martinmass)

St Martin was a fourth century Roman soldier who turned to Christianity. At some point he was saved by cackling geese, as Romans often were you may recall. To celebrate this event much of Eastern Europe eats goose on November the 11th (Also Remembrance Day in Czechia) and drinks the first of the years wine. Leaving our hotel rooms we walked across to theVigVam for our evening meal.

The Vigvam, outside and in. Quiet in the photo it was full later; The menu consisted of goose, served in four m different ways. No place for vegetarians.

Next day we went to the town of  Podebrady. In the 15th century this town was home to King George, one of the first Czech monarchs. Like other King Georges he could not speak the language of the people he ruled. He was a Hussite (Protestant) but quite kindly towards Catholics.

                             King George outside his castle in Podebrady.
A busy town with a bustling market and a very wide main street with a long park down the centre Podebrady also has a museum of the cinema:

                              Me and friends. Masks are obligatory in shops, trains, school corridors.

After a light lunch we walked along the banks of the Elbe which is called the Laben in Czechia before we returned to Nemcice and went to the Vigvam for dinner. On the menu was goose, four varieties.

Next day on our way home we stopped for coffee and cake in a town called Kolin, famous for a beautiful cathedral and a factory for assembling Toyota cars.

                                    Kolin and a lady's hair

For the next two days I was back in the classroom. One lesson was disrupted when all pupils and staff had to be tested for Covid. Room full of giggling kids with sticks up their noses! 

One of my classes. No uniform! Nobody asleep!

And on Wednesday we went to Prague for the day. Compared to other occasions the city. particularly round the castle, was deserted; Covid keeps tourists away. We walked round part of the castle and visited the part of the Czech National Gallery is housed there. Several rooms of Renaissance and baroque masterpieces, mostly of a religious nature. Trams and the underground are free to pensioners, I could have ridden all day, wearing a mask of course.

We walked down to the river but chose not to cross the Charles Bridge. Using another crossing we passed the National Theatre and walked down a very busy street. It was a National Holiday, celebrating on this street an uprising of students against the authorities in November 1989.

                         Remembering the struggle for freedom. something we take for granted.

                           Different view of the Charles Bridge.

Back in school again the next day for a lesson or two before starting the long process to get home. First the Passenger Locator Form telling the UK authorities I had been vaccinated months ago and that when I got to my house in England I was staying there, nor had I been to any Czech islands or other neighboring countries. Then I had to take a Lateral Flow Test which proved negative. The accompanying form was demanding. What was my National Number? We don't have one. Try my NHS number, try my National Insurance number . Make one up. To no avail. After a long phone call they accepted my home and mobile numbers, gave me a certificate and promised me I could go home.

Next day a very kind lady took me and Helena to the airport. The lady works for Tchibo. As a parting gift she gave me a calendar and 100 ball point pens!

Back in Leeds I was met by my chauffeuse again and we went home.

Another very enjoyable trip to Czechia, I love going there and hope to return next year. Friendly people, great kids and beautiful country.

                          Boden, the local basalt mountain

                                                Bilina church
           Boden and church

This Bilina citizen was an ethnographer specially interested in Native Americans (First Nations). He was made an honorary chief of the Kickapoo tribe

                              Coypus in River Bilina

                                             and on the bank, hoping to be fed.

                                             Bilina Gymnasium

                      The hall of the original Prague main station

                              Castle and Cathedral

Saturday, 6 November 2021

The Heritage Way. Northumberland /Gateshead November 5th.

  The Heritage way is a series of walks stretching north of the Tyne to south of the Wear. Today's walk, starting from Wylam in Northumberland but mostly in Gateshead is a section of it.

Six of us out today; me, Harry, Ben, John H, John C and Ian.

The walk is covered by OS Explorer 316 Newcastle upon Tyne and is more than useful. The Heritage Way is well signposted but the map is still advisable.

To get to the start, A69 west, turn off at signpost for Wylam, drive through the village, turning left at the Fox and Hounds and just before the bridge over the River Tyne there is a car park on the left. It is free!

Wylam car park near the river.

Leave the car park and head for the bridge crossing the Tyne, watch out for a heron near the water, there is one usually. Pass the Boathouse pub (crime) and walk on to the last house. On the right is the first stile of the day and a sign post. The path is interesting, wide enough for two but fenced securely on both sides. This is because Daniel Farm rears deer for venison, you can see them in fields on both sides of the path. And a rather handsome Belted Galloway bull.

                        Deer, bull, deer.

Beyond the farm continue through fields and woodland to Bradley Hall farm and follow the footpath across Bradley Park to the A695. A busy road, cross with care and follow the track directly opposite  to Bradley Fell.

Turn right here on to the delightfully named Kyo Bog Lane and then almost immediately take the footpath across fields  to Bradley Fell Road. So far the walk has climbed, sometimes gently sometimes steeply.

Turn left on Bradley Fell Road  then right then left onto Buck's Nook Lane, another great name. Follow the lane, uphill still  before spotting the sign post that takes you across fields to Penny Hill.

Out of focus but I'm only a snapper, not a photographer!

At Penny Hill turn left by the electricity sub station then right then left again towards Coalburn Farm. Watch out for the footpath, the jolly farmer's wife explained we were slightly off piste but as long as we shut gates she didn't mind. The track heads east and then across fields to Strothers Farm.

here the trail turns north west, crossing fields where there alpacas and donkeys.

                           Had Dave been with us he would have wittily said "You can call me Al"

                                              Donkeys, not for riding.

The path here needs care, it crosses fields, turns sharply and heads for Spenside Farm. Beyond this farm 

it follows the Barrow Burn through a short stretch of woodland before heading north towards Reeley Mires Farm and a small park in the town of Greenside where we finally stopped for a Herbie after 7 miles.

           Apart from Remembrance Day poppies Greenside had this poster. Never seen one before.

Rather limited gifts today, Whip biscuits, Ben's gingers and cookies. Mrs A is away.

Walk up the main street of Greenside. At the end turn right into Jacky's Plantation, turn left  and follow the Coalway Lane downhill. This lane is narrow, has a surface of cobbles and needs care, especially when the ground is covered in leaves.

At the bottom cross the A695 again with care and take the road to Crawcrook. At Tenter Hills take the footpath on the left which goes through woodland next to Bradley Gardens, passes Daniel Farm again and hits the road back to the car park.

                          Daniel Farm

                          Contains OS data, copyright. Crown copyright and database right 2021
The walk is about 10 miles, some steep climbs in the first half.
There are a lot of stiles, some quite dodgy, some quite dangerous for those with bad knees.