Evening on Deadwater Fell

Top of Deadwater Fell (c) Duncan Hutt

Top of Deadwater Fell (c) Duncan Hutt

View towards Kielder (c) Duncan Hutt

View towards Kielder (c) Duncan Hutt

Deadwater Fell stands guard of the border crossing near Kielder, at 571m it’s not that high but on a clear day it’s possible to see from the Solway Firth to the North Sea.  Sunday wasn’t that clear and by evening the cloud had built up and a chilly breeze was blowing from the East.  The walk from Kielder Castle weaves through the forest before opening out onto the heather moorland flanks of the fell.  The track takes a while to make its way to the top where there is a plethora of masts and receivers, mostly military, making the most of the vantage point.  Meadow pipits flew away from the track edge next to us and the occasional skylark sang above but it was mostly quiet.  The view west was of hazy hills in the evening light fading into the distance and by the time we got back to Kielder Castle the light was fading fast.

View west from Deadwater Fell (c) Duncan Hutt

View west from Deadwater Fell (c) Duncan Hutt

Posted in Northumberland | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Sandstone and Coal

Saltom Bay and view North (c) Duncan Hutt

Saltom Bay and view North (c) Duncan Hutt

Haig Pit winding gear (c) Duncan Hutt

Haig Pit winding gear (c) Duncan Hutt

Saltom Pit and St Bees Head (c) Duncan Hutt

Saltom Pit and St Bees Head (c) Duncan Hutt

The cliffs of St Bees Head continue north of the main headland around Saltom Bay and towards Whitehaven.  Here the remains of Haig Pit, the last of the area’s deep coal mines, stand high above the sea; the old winding gear still and used as a perch by the occasional gull.  This mine exploited the coal far out from the shore under the Irish Sea and was one of many in the local area.  Indeed tucked precariously at the base of the cliffs are the remains of Saltom Pit, the path down to it now closed due to the unstable cliffs.  Further south are some of the remains of the Marchon Chemical Works, the site itself, a little inland, now flattened leaving just the turnstile gates and the old security fence standing.  This was a distinctly industrial area with mining (coal and anhydrite), quarrying for the red sandstone and the chemical industry, all has now gone and instead the view north and out to sea is dominated instead by wind turbines.

Coltsfoot seed head (c) Duncan Hutt

Coltsfoot seed head (c) Duncan Hutt

Coltsfoot (c) Duncan Hutt

Coltsfoot (c) Duncan Hutt

Blackthorn (c) Duncan Hutt

Blackthorn (c) Duncan Hutt

On these cliffs the thrift was just coming out into flower while there were patches of scurvy grass in full bloom.  A scattering of yellow was either dandelions or coltsfoot (Tussilago farfara) and in a small slightly sheltered hollow the blackthorn (Prunus spinosa) was putting on a surprisingly late show.  Overhead a kestrel hunted and skylarks sang while an occasional small tortoiseshell butterfly passed by.  Spring is clearly here and, as usual, about two weeks ahead of Northumberland due to the influence of the Gulf Stream along these western shores.

Posted in Archaeology, Cumbria, Flowering Plants | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

No View from the Top

Top of Slieve Donard (c) Duncan Hutt

Top of Slieve Donard (c) Duncan Hutt

Glen River Donard Wood (c) Duncan Hutt

Glen River Donard Wood (c) Duncan Hutt

It wasn’t the day for a climb up Slieve Donard if the aim was a good view.  Nevertheless ascending a hill in thick fog does alter the perspective, heightening the sense of hearing while giving few visual references from which to work.

Stunted fir trees (c) Duncan Hutt

Stunted fir trees (c) Duncan Hutt

The walk started almost at sea level with a steep path up through Donard Wood following the Glen River.  The water cascades over slabs of rock in a small but often steep-sided ravine.  This was the grounds of Annesley Demesne and has suffered the fate of many such places with Rhododendron taking over and hiding the river; although much work has been done in clearing it.  The woodland itself is largely pine changing to fir at the upper extent, some trees have done reasonably well but this is tough ground and the exposed edges are stunted and gnarled.

Ice house, just visible in the fog (c) Duncan Hutt

Ice house, just visible in the fog (c) Duncan Hutt

Mourne Wall and snow drifts (c) Duncan Hutt

Mourne Wall and snow drifts (c) Duncan Hutt

Just beyond the tree line is an old ice house; a high and inconvenient location out on the hillside.  It must have been close to the ice supply but it must have been a tough job transporting the ice down the rough ground to the house, not that it would have been a concern of the owner.  The path climbs slowly upwards to the Mourne Wall; a massive structure and a huge and tough undertaking from the early 20th century when it was constructed to enclose the reservoir catchment to the south and keep livestock out.  The wall climbs the steep side of Slieve Donard and makes a right angle turn at the top, a little turret carries the trig pillar and is dated 1910.

The final ascent turned more and more bleak, the wind picked up although the wall offered some shelter and the ground became more and more snow-covered.  An occasional meadow pipit call broke the sound of the wind and the sound of boots on the rocky path.

Orange peel on the hill (c) Duncan Hutt

Orange peel on the hill (c) Duncan Hutt

One disappointment of the walk was the huge scattering of orange peel.  It seems that the expectation that it is ‘biodegradable’ makes it OK to throw it down (along with banana skins) but in the hills, and particularly in the cold of winter, it takes ages to decay.  Why, if you can carry an orange up a hill is it not possible to carry the peel back down?

This was the eleventh hill for Sally as part of her 50 hill challenge and the longest climb so far with a view somewhat similar to the first of them, Killhope Law!

Posted in Archaeology, Flowering Plants, Ireland, Sustainability | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Back on the Nent

River Nent near Blagill (c) Duncan Hutt

River Nent near Blagill (c) Duncan Hutt

The River Nent looking upstream (c) Duncan Hutt

The River Nent looking upstream (c) Duncan Hutt

Duncan was back on the River Nent near Alston yesterday doing some maintenance and remedial work on sections of river bank protection.  Shortly after installation last winter the river suffered a severe flood.  This scoured out some of the newly repaired banks as it hadn’t had a chance for the roots to bind it all together.  The work was to help repair some of this damage and to do a trim of the rather vigorous willow spiling.

However the best part of the day wasn’t the work or even the river but the often noisy signs of spring.  Oystercatchers flew past with their piercing call while curlew trilled overhead.  The lapwing were flocking and circling with their distinctive pee-wit sound, not yet paired up but still readying themselves for the coming season.  On the river a dipper shot out from beneath a small footbridge and overhead a kestrel suffered the attention from three crows.

River Nent willow spiling (c) Duncan Hutt

River Nent willow spiling (c) Duncan Hutt

The first hawthorn may be coming into leaf in more lowland areas, alongside flowering coltsfoot, but up in this Pennine terrain there were very few signs of plants recognising the season; the exception being the willow coming into flower.  The morning was sharply frosty but the sun is beginning to find its heat and the day soon became pleasantly warm.  This could be the start of spring or a false beginning, the next few weeks will tell.

Posted in Birds, Cumbria, Duncan at work | Tagged , | 1 Comment

Shillhope Law

View South from Shillhope Law (c) Duncan Hutt

View South from Shillhope Law (c) Duncan Hutt

The Coquet (c) Duncan Hutt

The Coquet (c) Duncan Hutt

Another weekend and another hill; this week’s ascent was of Shillhope Law in Upper Coquetdale.  The weather swapped between winter and spring with hail flurries and sunshine, a cool breeze but warmth in shelter.  The wildlife too tried to cling to the hope of spring with a pair of oystercatchers by the River Coquet and pairs of ravens flying close.  Up on the hill skylarks climbed in song, to go suddenly quiet as the hail came, restarting as it passed.  The air was clear but the showers shortened the horizon making Cheviot almost invisible to the north.

Pleurozium schreberi (c) Sally Hutt

Pleurozium schreberi (c) Sally Hutt

Map Lichen, Rhizocarpon geographicum (c) Sally Hutt

Map Lichen, Rhizocarpon geographicum (c) Sally Hutt

The path ascends through hill grasses until it approaches the summit where heather takes over.  Here crowberry and mosses such as Sphagnum capillifolium and Pleurozium schreberi shelter below the mini canopy of the heather.  Lower down, by the river, small rocky outcrops were coated in lichens such as the descriptively named map lichen (Rhrizocarpon geographicum) and others that will remain anonymous to us at least.

Posted in Birds, Lower plants, Northumberland | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Stainton Tower

Muncaster Castle and the River Esk (c) Duncan Hutt

Muncaster Castle and the River Esk (c) Duncan Hutt

Stainton Tower (c) Sally Hutt

Stainton Tower (c) Sally Hutt

A bit of research would have indicated that the way up to this odd little tower was not the one we chose.  The structure goes by the grandiose name of Stainton Tower although locally it’s know as the pepperpot.  There is another ruined ‘monument’ on the same ridge and there seems to be very little information to explain these two buildings.  The view north looks out over the Esk estuary and across to Muncaster Castle.  Some suggestions are that these are follies, presumably to enhance the view from the castle and to go alongside the other structures built there.  Another explanation is of a lookout over the Esk and it is a great vantage point although possibly not the most suitable for such a purpose.

Lasallia pustulata (c) Duncan Hutt

Lasallia pustulata (c) Duncan Hutt

The tower is best approached from Dyke Farm but we attempted it from the northern end of the same ridge, a somewhat awkward approach.  The path climbed up through oak woodland before opening out onto the craggy ridge above.  A buzzard circled on our level for a while and a great tit chimed its monotonous call from the woodland.  Lichens coated the old trees and clung onto the windswept rocks.  Here Cladonias and the wonderfully named Lasallia pustulata vied for space with an array of crustose species.  Lasallia pustulata is one of a few lichens known by the English name of rock tripe and is supposedly edible but is probably best reserved for desperate times.

One lone Herdwick sheep seemed to be grazing the hillside.  The view up the Esk valley was up to snow-covered hills although the snow level was surprisingly high given recent weather.

View up Eskdale (c) Duncan Hutt

View up Eskdale (c) Duncan Hutt

Posted in Cumbria, Lower plants | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

A surprise return to Thrunton

View north from Long Crag (c) Duncan Hutt

View north from Long Crag (c) Duncan Hutt

Cowberry (Vaccinium vitis-idaea) (c) Sally Hutt

Cowberry (Vaccinium vitis-idaea)
(c) Sally Hutt

It had been years since we last visited Thunton Woods, and then it was on cross-country skis.  Why we haven’t been back for so long is a bit of a mystery and it was certainly worth the trip.  A bout of dog-sitting forced us to find a suitable spot to go for a walk and Sally’s 50 hill challenge directed us to a hill.  Long Crag isn’t particularly high at 319m but it does have an amazing vantage point overlooking the coast to the east and the Cheviots to the west.  This is one of the hills on a long line of sandstone crags sweeping down Northumberland and across to Simonside.

Alder bud (c) Sally Hutt

Alder bud (c) Sally Hutt

The hill is reached through conifer forest at the start opening out onto heather carpeted moorland with patches of crowberry and cowberry.  A fresh and icy wind made us take shelter in the sandstone outcrops for lunch from where we dropped back to the valley of the Coe Burn, overlooked by the castle like rocks of Coe Crags.  Here the buds of the small alder and willow were swelling, giving a hint of the spring ahead.  We found a route back through the trees to our start point using what appeared to be an old track now partially lost in the covering conifers.

Posted in Flowering Plants, Northumberland | Tagged , , | 2 Comments