Spring Awakening

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A reasonably well overwintered peacock butterfly on Rathlin Island (c) Duncan Hutt

Suddenly, after a stop start winter, butterflies seem to have stirred.  There have been one or two on warmer days in the past month or so but peacocks, small tortoiseshells and whites in particular are suddenly to be seem around the countryside.

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A more worn Peacock on primrose (c) Sally Hutt

A few days ago on a trip to Rathlin Island (for more information see our sister blog post on Rathlin Island) off the north coast of Northern Ireland peacocks, in particular, were plentiful often engaging in ascending aerial battles to claim a spot for themselves.  These butterflies overwinter as an adult in cooler places such as sheds and lofts and buildings such as churches.  The condition of the butterfly often hints at how tough a time they have had of it, and often it’s getting back out that causes the problem.  Sadly many emerging butterflies die against a closed window, unable to find a means of escape.

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Archaeology in the Mist


St Oswald’s Church, Heavenfield, in the morning mist (c) Duncan Hutt

The fog was beginning to clear as we set out past St Oswald’s Church at the appropriately named Heavenfield.  The walk took us along part of the Hadrian’s Wall trail but the wall itself was largely an irrelevance.

The mist swirled around the church giving glimpses of the sun, the promise was for a warm and bright day, more appropriate for much later in the year than a February morning.  The church itself is small, perched on the hill top but tucked into its surrounding churchyard trees.  It’s on the site of a AD 635 battle between King Oswald of Northumbria and King Cadwollon of Gwynedd.  King Oswald became a saint and the church is dedicated to him.

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Winch drum for tramway incline at Cocklaw Quarry (c) Sally Hutt


Winch drum, Cocklaw Quarry (c) Duncan Hutt

There was a chill in the air as we descended back into the fog down the path behind the church and into the seeming unknown.  Part way down the hill the path skirts the side of Cocklaw Quarry, following an old tramway incline as it drops past the void to the left.  At the base of this top incline is the top of the lower one.  Here a set of corrugated iron sheds is slowly disintegrating and in front of them is the remarkably intact winch drum.  This is the drum on which the cable would be wound so that laden trucks descending could be used to haul up the empty ones; a brake mechanism allowed for some control from the top.


Sun through the mist at Cocklaw (c) Duncan Hutt

Further on and the sun eventually burnt through providing views north to Chollerton and the North Tyne.  Ahead was the old windmill tower of Chollerton Farm which would have provided a then modern way to drive machinery when the farmstead was constructed.  On our side of the valley, at Cocklaw is an older piece of history, a defensive pele tower from the days of border reiving.

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The peel tower at Cocklaw (c) Sally Hutt


Old lane to Keepwick Fell (c) Duncan Hutt

We took an old trackway back up the hill past Keepwick Fell.  The old route never quite became a proper road, its value gone before any upgrade would have occurred.  A pleasant green lane hemmed between hedges until opening out onto hill ground above.  Here skylarks sang in the now blue sky above and a pair of curlew piped their warbling call to the east.  A line of small limestone quarries could be traced across the hillside, ones that never quite became the size and complexity of Cocklaw.

The walk back was along the line of Hadrian’s Wall, or at least the defensive ditch to its north side, the wall being lost under the nearby road.  But, there wasn’t much of the Roman history to see and the stories in the landscape of more modern times was a far more fascinating tale to be read.

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Limestone quarries, Keepwick fell (c) Sally Hutt

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A wood on the border


Entering Philipshill Wood (c) Duncan Hutt

20190217_114742.jpgPhilipshill Wood is situated right on the border of Buckinghamshire and we approached from neighbouring Hertfordshire.  It’s a very different sort of wood from those we are more used to in Northumberland, a plantation broadleaved woodland with ranks of beech in some areas, pine and other species elsewhere.  Tall straight trees letting in some light to the woodland floor in these leafless winter months.

In some areas bluebells carpet the ground but at this stage it’s a swathe of leaves with no sign of the flowers to come later in spring.  The other notable plants were also still invisible; winter still has a hold even though the sun that flickered through the trees had a modicum of warmth.IMG_7199


Ranks of Beech (c) Duncan Hutt

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Hallington Reservoirs

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Frozen corner of Hallington reservoir

Tucked away near the small village of Colwell these reservoirs had been far from my list of destinations to visit in Northumberland.  About two years ago I finally found my way cross country to this quiet part of a quiet county.  Today’s wintry, clear skies provided a crisp and clear view of these lakes, the browned vegetation around the margins taking on a golden hue in the afternoon light.

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Fishing boat on Hallington Reservoir

These reservoirs were one of a series of such structures linking the hills of Northumberland at Catcleugh to Newcastle’s water supply at Whittle Dene.  There is a complex series of pipes and aqueducts linking them all with Colt Crag and Hallington weirdly placed amongst rolling hills with dams at multiple places around the water’s edge.  Hallington Reservoirs are actually two on differing levels split by a central dam.  Today’s walk circumnavigated the western of the two.

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Bridge date and company logo, Hallington Reservoir

The green iron bridge that carries you over the western spillway has a date and intertwined company initials at its centre.  1889, NGWW.  The Newcastle and Gateshead Waterworks later became the Newcastle and Gateshead Water Company.  Now it’s run by Northumbrian Water.

It was a relatively quiet day in terms of wildlife.  A few cormorants fished the eastern section while a golden-eye repeatedly disappeared into a dive.  Tree sparrows fed on some feeders at the fishing club along with blue and great tits.  A small flock of unidentified gulls stood incongruously on the lingering ice at a sheltered corner while long tailed tits twittered through willows at the water’s edge.

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Afternoon sun at Hallington Reservoir

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Old Lanes

Occasionally you come across an old lane that has never quite become a modern road.  Most of these routes have a story to tell, some historical reason that has ceased to be important in the modern world.  A wonderful maze of these old routes occurs in the bocage of Normandy but elsewhere near abandoned routes occur for a whole range of reasons.


Mill Lane near Stamfordham (c) Duncan Hutt

Near Stamfordham, in Northumberland, is Mill Lane, one of these roads that exists but is rarely used, with an ‘unsuitable for motors’ sign marking the point the asphalt ends.  The lanes original purpose is shown in its name.  This was the route from the small farming hamlet of Heugh down to Heugh Mill.  The corn mill has long closed and the local focal point became the village of Stamfordham.  The number of people wanting to utilise Mill Lane must have dwindled and it was never properly surfaced.

Now it’s a peaceful countryside route, in summer the lane can be buzzing with hoverflies and in early winter the hedges and trees provide a food corridor for visiting fieldfares and redwings.  Today all was quiet, a bluetit and wren dived for cover in the hawthorn bushes to the edge but little else stirred.

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An Island Challenge


Sunset over The Snook on Lindisfarne (c) Sally Hutt

We’ve taken a break from blogging for a while but have set a new challenge over 2019 and 2020 to visit 50 islands.  Had budget and time been no issue this would be a simple task involving lots of interesting travel to fascinating places but in reality jobs (and families) get in the way.  To be realistic most of the islands will end up being around the UK as even these take time and planning (and some money) to reach.

January 2nd saw us visit our first island, one close at hand and easy to do in a day.  Lindisfarne is a tidal island so in our rules that we have set ourselves we needed to stay over a high tide, the tides on January 2nd were ideal.

As it’s a separate challenge we have set up its own special blog, 50 Islands.

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Autumnal fungi


Fly Agaric (Amanita muscaria) (c) Duncan Hutt


Yellow Stagshorn (Calocera viscosa) (c) Duncan Hutt

A weekend trip out to Colt Crag Reservoir wasn’t exactly rewarding from a weather perspective, showers were insistently blowing in from the coast.  Now that autumn has turned up the wildlife spotting has shifted too.  No more (or few more) hoverflies, butterflies and the like but instead here is the season for fungi.  They, like invertebrates, are a tricky group. Some easy to identify like the archetype toadstool with its red cap with white spots; fly agaric (Amanita muscaria).  Others are more awkward and easy to misidentify so perhaps the identification of (Mycena galopus) could be challenged?  These, of course, are traditional mushroom-shaped fungi but there are plenty of other variations out there such as the yellow stagshorn (Calocera viscosa) that was dotted on many of the old rotting spruce stumps.


Mycena galopus (c) Duncan Hutt


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