Saturday, 31 August 2013

All around the Blooming Heather...August 30th

Late August and the heather is in bloom on the hills, acres of purple colour the familiar Cheviots and six of us are off to walk in the Bowmont Valley on the Scottish side of the hills. The team consists of Brian, Dave, Harry John and, making a welcome return, Ben, plus me so we have two cars.

To get to this beautiful valley from Newcastle take the A1 north, A697 at Morpeth and just beyond Wooler take the B6351, driving through Kirk Newington, (English) Kirk Yetholm and Town Yetholm, small Scottish towns, no passport needed yet., but the referendum approaches. Watch out for the signpost pointing to Belford on the left and follow the road to the hamlet. There is some parking on a grass verge on the left just beyond the phone box.
A map is very useful, OS OL 16 The Cheviot Hills covers the walk and the car parking area is at
GR NT 815207.

Of course we stopped on the way in Wooler for bacon or scones and tea at the excellent Terrace Café. Brian and I did think the bacon was a little too salty for our taste and knocked off a half flitch, so only four and a half this week. Very nice place though, well worth a visit, friendly staff.

The walk:
                                    Yet another in my series of car parks, and a free one too.
We followed the metalled road that is clearly visible in the picture, heading roughly in a south east direction. Eventually the metalled road became a gravelled track near Cairoust Farm. WE have noticed that many farms these days look like scrap yards with piles of junked machinery left uncleared but this farm was immaculate and won the rare accolade of Tidy Farm of the Walk, a pleasure to walk by!
  From here the track, still gravelled, followed the Cairoust Burn and climbed steadily past two artificial looking ponds, a pretty little house that looked as if it could be a holiday let, and a wood that contained a small flock of turkeys.
                                                Waiting for Christmas, only 16 weeks to go.

                                                     Peaceful place for a holiday in the hills.

                                                     Cheviot view.
We continued on the track which we suspect was built for forestry work or to give access to the grouse moors, still heading south east until the road came to an end at a turning circle. A footpath leaving the circle in a south westerly direction took us across moorland to a wire fence and a grassy track. Harry, Ben, John and I turned left at this point and walked  south east until we came to a sign post that informed us that Hownam, a target on the walk, was in the opposite direction, so we turned round. However Dave and Brian had crossed the fence and headed towards the Border Fence that marks the English Scottish boundary. We saw them once on the horizon, but never again.
The four of us headed west and were soon walking downhill in the Heatherhope Burn, with a view of the Heatherhope Reservoir which once supplied the small valley towns with water but is now disused, except by a family of swans.
                                                      Heatherhope Reservoir, home to a cob, pen and
                                                         three cygnets, plus some fish.
                                                         Any lassie would be only too happy to
                                                        go around the bloomin' heather that
                                                        is in full bloom this time of year, hiding
                                                        the grouse from the hunter, and the buzzard.

                                                   A new use for an old sheep fold.
                                                  Bee hives near the reservoir, not Manuka but good
                                                   old Scottish heather honey for your porage.
  Approaching the dam we disturbed a small herd of goats. There are several herds of feral goats in the Cheviots, usually brown and white but the majority of this herd were black.

                                  Two of the Billy Goats gruff have crossed the bridge
                                 and await the fate of either the big bad troll or their older
                                 brother. Will he be eaten for supper?
A light drizzle began to fall and we stopped at the deserted building beyond the dam hoping it would offer us shelter but there was no way in so we held a Herbie Spot outside, sandwiches and ginger biscuits from Ben, plus ALDI chocolate.
This area was home to literally thousands of pheasants, grouse and partridges which flew backwards and forwards across the stream and in and out of the heather. I have never seen so many together, whether it was haven from the shooters, a breeding ground for next year or just a handy meeting place I do not know. ( The OED has given its blessing to the more modern use of the word literally, but I am using it correctly, the place was crawling with them.)
                                                 The Hearherhope swans. Numbers are down this
                                                  year apparently, but here is a grand little family.

Late lunch over we continued on our way down the road in the direction of Hownam. We passed this military looking, but abandoned vehicle. It had  a left hand drive and seemed French for some reason. Thinking it could be a target for incoming Tomahawk missiles we soon left and walked on to the village of Hownam.

                                                      Qu'est que c'est? C'est un auto francais.
Hownam is a pretty little Scottish village with a row of houses, a few more buildings behind and a church. First mentioned in 1165 the name is believed to come from Hunas, the name of the Iron Age tribe who lived here and built the many hill forts and settlements whose embankments can still be seen in the area, the largest being on Hownam Law, worth seeing but a stiff climb.
                                                    Hownam Village...
                                         .... and church, which does not seem to have a
                                       saint.  An old church, restored in 1752 and 1840.
Having admired the village street we turned east up a road by what looked like the old village school. The road passed a house and became a grassy track that led us over low hills back to Belford. On the way we passed the ruins of Seefew house, so called because not many people see it, according to the locals. It was in a field of turnips, presumably winter fodder for the areas large number of sheep.
                                                                Seefew house.
Back at Belford we considered our options and chose to head for the Anglers Arms at Weldon Bridge, that home for the tired and thirsty. We left a note on the windscreen of Brian's car hinting broadly where we were.
We arrived at our favourite hostelry about 6.30 pm. On offer were Timothy Taylor's Golden Best, which wasn't, Directors and Spitfire, "The Bottle of Britain", but on draught. Very nice too.
Naturally we discussed the fate of the other two and considered going back to Belford to see if the car was still there. Not a good idea, we might pass them on the way. They are big boys with a map, experience, proper clothes and food. Give them until 8.15 pm and then think again. They arrived in the pub at 8.10 having walked further than us and, much to Dave's delight come across one of the many hill forts in the area, and some ridge and furrow fields. All's well that ends well, as somebody once said.

The Matrix MMMCVII
                                                                   steps                         miles
ASDA Ped                                                24728                   11.62
LIDL 3D                                                   26999                   12.16
OUTDOORS GPS                                                                 11.8

Dave and Brian claimed 16 miles and who am I to doubt them.

Bird of the blog
We saw buzzards, ravens, pigeons, grouse, lbjs and partridges but the award goes to the pheasant.

 Appendix, this could be a new feature
Dave and Brian walked due south until they hit the border fence and then turned west, continuing along the border to the mountain refuge hut where they stopped for lunch. The then retraced steps to a point east of Lamb Hill and headed north to the reservoir. At the reservoir they took a compass bearing and headed back to Belford.

Distances were:
                                                      steps                  miles
LIDL3D                                      35680                16.41
LIDLUSB                                   34174                 16.17
Brians GPS                                                             16            

Saturday, 24 August 2013

Back in Angela's Arms .................August 23rd

  The gadgies have been quiet for a couple of weeks after the great Fort William and Orkney adventures. Two weeks ago I went to watch England play Australia in the fourth test match at Chester le Street. A great game, England won on the fourth day. I feel sorry for non cricketing nations. Last Friday I had family commitments, as have several gadgies today so we are reduced to a turn out of four and have opted for a fairly local walk from Alnham.  We are, John, Brian, Dave and me.
  This walk has been described twice before:
Alnham, Gateway to the North    January 13th 2012  and
Ancient and Modern                     February 2nd 2012

Alnham is a backwater in rural Northumberland, a few houses and farms close to the River Aln, surprisingly. But it has a long history; there is an Iron Age fort (Castle Hill) whose bivallate site is clearly visible, St. Michaels Church, renovated in 1870 but dating back to 1200, and the site of a Medieval Castle mentioned as long ago as 1405 and probably destroyed by the Scots at some time. And there is evidence of several ancient settlements on the walk.
To get to Alnham from Newcastle follow the A1 north, the A687 from Morpeth and turn left at Whittingham, watching out carefully for signposts directing travellers to the hamlet. It is possible, and permissible, to park on the grass verge outside the church at GR. NT991109 on OS map OL16 The Cheviot Hills.
                                                 An information board outside the church relating the
                                          sad tale of the shepherds who perished in the winter of 1962.
                                         St. Michael's Church, Alnham.
The walk, which is relatively gentle.
  Walk past the church and Tower House, which was once a vicar's pele tower (Fortified house) and turn up the footpath on the right which crosses the mighty river Aln, very much in its infancy. Cross a small field, walk through the narrow plantation and cross a larger field labelled Northfieldhead on the OS map.
Take care; deep in conversation, no doubt something highly controversial or philosophical, John and I wandered on ahead of the others before we realised they had vanished. We retraced our steps a short way and took the signed path heading roughly north, staying on it all the way to Cobden and ignoring the path off to the left which is part of the Salter's Road. There is a memorial stone to poor Nellie Heron a lady who was caught in a storm one night in the 19th century and died, not too far from shelter. It is off the track and difficult to find although we found it once. We finally caught up with the others at Cobden and headed down to Alnhammoor Farm for lunch, distance covered so far 3.8 miles but without the sustenance usually provided by a bacon sandwich.
  Alnhammoor is a pleasant enough Herbie Spot and the usual sandwiches were enhanced by Mrs. A's chocolate covered offering and Dave's Yorkshire super sweet flapjacks. I forgot the chocolate.
 We saw a couple studying a book of walks and an OS map. They were from Pudsey so presumably liked cricket but were a little concerned about the directions given for their walk in the book. We sent them on the correct route. We should have advised them to read gadgie blogs for walks.
                                              The River Breamish at the Herbie Spot.
                                                      Alnhammoor Farm.
  Lunch over we continued on our way, walking past the farm and taking the footpath on the left which crosses a stream by means of a wooden footbridge and followed the footpath across the grouse moors above the Shank Burn until we came to a fairly new looking gravelled track, probably built for the shooting fraternity. Turning left we stayed on the track, crossed the Shank Burn and headed up to the gap in the plantation that leads to Ewartly Shank. (Ewart means an enclosure by a river, but I can't find a definition of Shank; all offerings welcome.)
                                                         Typical Northumberland, with future trees!
                                                          Road to the moors
                                            Trap for innocent creatures such as stoats who may
                                              eat grouse eggs or fledglings.

                                                                           There is a new map on the fence at Ewartly Shank showing the footpath round the farm, which is fair enough. However the map is upside down so be careful, some farmers, but not many in Northumberland, get upset if you leave a footpath.
From the farm the road leads all the way back to Alnham. It is possible to divert from the road to see the memorial stone to the shepherds who died in 1962, or to divert to see the remains of the Iron Age fort at Castle Hill.
Back at the car we changed and headed for the Anglers Arms at Weldon Bridge where we welcomed by the usual cheery staff. The beers of choice were Speckled Hen, Directors and Ruddles, the latter two being in excellent condition.  They must have known we were coming, they had The Beatles Number 1s on! Of course we sang along.
                                                     Angelas' Arms
A shortish walk but very enjoyable on a warm but cloudy day, especially after a lay off from the boots.

Start and finish at Alnham church. Herbie Spot at Alnhammoor Farm

Matrix MMMVI

                                                    steps                          miles
ASDAPED                                   17817                        8.37
LIDL3D                                       20045                         9.02

Daves LIDL 3D                           19036                         8.75
LIDLUSB                                     18673                        8.83

OUTDOORS GPS                                                          8.80
 Some consistency for once and the walk, including stops took 3 hours 30 minutes

Bird of the blog
Quiet day for birds, a kestrel was the best!

                                                   Kestrel (  or Windhover; a poem by Gerald Manley Hopkins)
A new free magazine is about to appear called OUTDOORS NORTH EAST. Currently available on line at

Monday, 5 August 2013

Tomb Raiders. The Orkneyinga Saga .July 27th-August 3rd.
Four gadgies set off for Orkney very late on Friday July 26th.
The fearless foursome were:
Dave Kearflanghorn (Skull Splitter)
Harald Haraldson  (Saga illustrator and metal worker)
John Hamptonfjord (Bardic player)
Michael Kostshowmuch of Jorvik (Rune writer)

 Rather than cross the seas in a longboat we drove from Newcastle to Thurso overnight and arrived in time for a hearty breakfast at the town's Rock Café and pub before filling in a few hours before taking the ferry from Scrabster to Stromness on Orkney and driving to the Youth Hostel at Kirkwall. On the boat we passed close to the famous stack known as The Old Man of Hoy.
                                                   The Old Man of Hoy, 450 feet (137m) of vertical climb.

                                                               Once settled in our rooms we went to the local Tesco to get food for the week. much easier than pillaging round the island. A supper of fish and chips from the Happy Haddock and a couple of pints of ale in The Bothy Bar and The Shore rounded off the day nicely.

                                                         The wake  we left behind.

Sunday July 28th.
It was raining when we got up and remained wet for most of the day so we opted for a trip to the Italian church just south of the first Churchill Barrier.
  In September 1939 a U-boat breached the defences of Scapa Flow where the Royal Navy had a base and sank HMS Royal Oak, an old battleship moored in the flow and used a a floating gun platform. 834 sailors died in the attack. As a result Winston Churchill ordered the building of the four barriers that made the base more secure. Much of the work was done by Italian Prisoners of War. In their spare time they converted two Nissen huts into a church and it remains, and is carefully looked after to this day.
                                                  The front of the Italian Church

                                                The Altar

                                                      The roof
                                                       The outside, a Nissen hut!

The art work is beautiful, faithful reproductions of the type of decoration found in Italian churches. Some clever  trompe l'oeill on the interior walls give the impression of tiling although the walls are plastered flat. In 1992 some of the prisoners returned, no doubt delighted their efforts were so well cared for.
  In the afternoon we visited St.Magnus' Cathedral in Kirkwall, a building that dominates the small capital of Orkney. St Magnus had been ruler of Orkney  but in a dispute with a cousin he was killed. His skull is hidden in the cathedral walls. Other items of interest include a memorial to Sir John Rae, adventurer, who sailed off to try to find what happened to the famous Franklin attempt to discover the North West Passage.
                                                               Stained glass in St. Magnus Cathedral.
                                                          Memorial to Sir John Rae

                                                                     The East Window.
  There was also a "Death Board", a sort of Middle Ages method of showing in which house a death had occurred, the board being placed outside. A precursor of Births, Marriages and Deaths columns.

Having visited an Italian church we opted for pasta for dinner, and an Italian red wine.

MondayJuly 29th.
The morning was sunny, just right for our first foray into the Neolithic sights and sites of Orkney.
Our first stop was at the Stones of Stenness, the remains of an ancient ring close to the narrow isthmus between the brackish Loch of Stenness and Loch of Harray. Keith, guide for Historic Scotland, but English took us round the stones and the nearby Barnhouse. These remains are some five thousand years old, (Built before the Pyramids as we kept being told).
                                                     Stones of Stenness

                                            The Neolithic Barnhouse.
The next stop was at the Ring of Brodger. Sarah, Historic Scotland guide and an Orcadian with a lovely soft accent, took us round the ring of stones.  The stones are quite tall and thin. As  with the blocks at Stonehenge they were brought from various parts of the island, possibly as a "contribution" by various settlements to a site used for ceremony and ritual, that phrase meaning " we are not exactly sure."

                                              Two views of the Ring of Brodger
   The fields around the ring were full of flowers, they had been sown to recreate a traditional meadow, very colourful too, we should have more of them.

  The last visit of the day was to the relatively new site on the Ness of Brodger. Here a few years ago the farmer made the first discovery that has led to the slow excavation of a huge Neolithic site including a large building probably designed for ceremonial and ritual. It is thought that the area uncovered so far is a mere 10% of the total site.
  When we visited our tour was conducted by the lovely Sarah. In one corner of the site we could see Sir Tony (Baldrick) Robinson performing for the cameras, making another Time Team programme no doubt. We hoped to get his autograph, (It's not for me Tony but would you mind.....)/
 The site souvenir shop confided he had not bought anything. Probably because they didn't sell turnips.

                                               Two views of the Ness of Brodger archaeological site.
                                            Archaeologists are today's hippies, apparently.
That night we dined on sausage and mash, with cabbage, and retired to the Shore for some ale.

Tuesday July 30th.
There are approximately forty islands that make up Orkney, we chose to catch the ferry from Stromness to Hoy for a day out. Dave opted to join the RSPB tour of the island and took off in a mini bus with Kate and Inge as guides and several sweet little ladies as company. Harry John and I opted for a walk across the island. The road we followed took us past a café, we stopped for tea and scones and then continued up the road which became a track which became a rough path over the island to Rackwick. From here we could have walked on to The Old Man of Hoy but decided we would not get back in time for the ferry so we picnicked on the beach before returning by a different route to the café for tea and tiffin, and the boat back to the mainland. The chosen route passed the Dwarfie Stone, an ancient burial cairn but we didn't visit it. We did see a pair of juvenile Sea Eagles though, which had not been spotted on Dave's RSPB walk!

                                                   The Scrabster Stromness Ferry, close by on
                                                   our way to Hoy
                                                        The track across the island
                                                      Rackwick Bay
                                                     Stone roofed bothy at Rackwick
                                                           Hoy has the highest hills on Orkney
                                                     Hoy   ferry

Back at the Youth Hostel we  dined on chilli which was hot and needed cooling down with some ale.
Wednesday July 31st.

The highlight of Orkney's many Neolithic sites is Skara Brae. Built some five thousand years ago, well before the Pyramids, the village was abandoned for some reason and slowly covered by sand. In th middle of the nineteenth century a storm washed away the ancient blanket revealing the village in almost perfect condition, apart from roofs on the buildings The settlement of round houses is connected by covered passageways. Each house  has bed spaces and "dressers", either for storage or ceremonial and ritual. A central hearth was used for cooking and watertight troughs were use3d for preparing bait or storing fish. The whole village was protected by a midden, a collection of animal and food waste built over a long period of time. Pottery and tools have been found, some evidence of simple games, but no weapons.
The visitor centre shows a short film of the whole site and offers an explanation of some of the artifacts on display. A trip well worth the money. And the entrance ticket throws in Skaill House, the home of the local laird.
                                                      Stone age dresser at Skara Brae

                                                          Bed space at Skara Brae
                                                 Two views of the village
                                                       Artifacts at Skara Brae.
   As if this was not enough for the day we drove back towards Kirkwall but stopped at Maeshowe . This looks like an earth mound, very much out of place in the flat landscape. It is a large burial mound, possibly also used for ceremonial and ritual. Broken into by Viking raiders and used a shelter, some of the stones of this amazing place have runic graffiti and art work scratched into the stones. Photography is not allowed, the entrance tunnel is a few metres long and the interior does have a modern roof but this does not detract from the high quality workmanship visible in the stone work.

                                             Maeshowe interior, from a postcard!
  On the way home we visited three other burial mounds, one at Unstan.  And then had quiche.

Thursday August 1st.

Another wet day. We headed for Tingwall and caught the ferry to Rousay. One of the perks of being a gadgie is the concessions made on ferry fares.  A mere £4.20 instead of the normal £16 return! (it was the same for Hoy, I love Scotland)
Leaving the ferry terminal we headed west on the island's circular road, stopping first at Taversoe Tuick, a burial mound.  This is a two storey mound, access today to the lower floor by means of a very non stone age iron ladder.

                                                     Ferry, cross to Rousay
                                                    Tomb entrance
                                                          Inside the burial tomb
                                                    Neolithic photographer
                                                     Tomb with stalls instead of side chambers
                                                 Tingwall meteorological office.
We visited two more tombs which were slightly different, being elongated rather than circular. We then continued walking on the road intent on finding a bronze age village but the heavy rain  made us retreat to the pub near the pier to wait for the ferry back to mainland Orkney.
On the way back we stopped at the Happy Haddock and stocked up with fish and chips for dinner, followed by a wet walk to the Shore.

Friday August 2nd.
What a way to spend my 44th wedding anniversary. A warm day, slightly foggy but with a promise that it would lift and be a scorcher. We headed south across all four of the Churchill barriers to visit the Tomb of the Eagles, which is, believe it or not, a burial chamber. Mr Simison, farmer, some years ago was looking for stones to repair a wall when he came across some which, on excavation, proved to be a burial tomb. This one contained skeletons and eagle remains, hence its name. It is thought that the dead were laid out on platforms and once the bodies had been picked clean the sleletal remains were placed in the mound The process is called excarnation I think and is practised by several cultures around the world.
The narrow entrance tunnel has a trolley and rope, similar to the system used in the film The Great Escape.  Inside the tomb has stalls for the dead and the usual high quality stonework. The visitor centre is first class with a fine display of skulls and implements used by the Neolithic locals. And the lady who took us round was extremely friendly, and knowledgeable to boot. She told us that in some respects life on Orkney had not changed since the time of the tombs. Her house did not have electricity until she was 18 (we were too polite!) and as a child she had to fetch water from a well.
Also on the site was the Burnthouse, a Neolithic house where the inhabitants had cooked using stones heated on a fire and then put in to a water trough. They had fresh water coming in and a drain for used water going out too.

                                                           The Burnt House
                                                            Tomb of the Eagles, inside
                                                                    and outside
                                            Churchill Barrier number 4
Leaving the tomb we drove to the Brough of Deerness, a must for jacket wearing geographers as it has a gloop and a geo. (look them up).
 We walked along a grassy path to the brough, down some steep steps, up a steep path along a cliff side, with a chain fortunately, and visited the ruins of a chapel
                                                       Churchill barrier, built by Italians
                                                       The gloup, a partly covered inlet
                                                        Information board for..

  Brough of Deerness

                                                        the chapel.
Back at base we dined on curry and then paid a last visit to the Shore.

Saturday August 3rd
Ferry to Scrabster, all day breakfast about 6pm in Pitlochry and home shortly before midnight.

Bird of the blog:
The Orkneys, not surprisingly support many seabirds, fulmars, skuas, puffins, gulls and gannets. But the bird of the blog award goes to the Sea Eagle.