Sunday’s wander took us up the River Allen from the National Trust’s car park for Allen Banks through to Northumberland Wildlife Trust’s Briarwood Banks, over the river at Plankey Mill and back on the opposite bank of the Allen.
The steep-sided valley of the river provides for a set of occasionally precipitous paths crisscrossing the sides of the narrow valley. In Allen Banks the high path passes a modern summer-house and the historic base of one with a floor ’tiled’ with sheep’s vertebrae. The small side streams drop quickly to the river below through narrow gorges green with mosses, ferns and liverworts – the damp shaded conditions providing an ideal micro-climate for them. Great scented liverwort (Conocephalum conicum) is a striking leafy liverwort found on many of the stream boulders while most of the other mosses remain, to us, un-named (for now at least).
Some of the plants do seem to think spring is around the corner. Some of the dog’s mercury (Mercurialis perennis) was showing its buds. It may still be a bit premature but as an early flowerer it shouldn’t mind if snow does end up arriving.
In Briarwood Banks the path passes an old lead smelt mill site, now no more than a few ruined walls. The ill-considered scheme only operated for a year or two in the 19th century and has now reverted back to woodland. Plankey Mill itself, on the east bank of the Allen, was a corn mill and the building still remains.
A balloon stuck up in a tree was a reminder that balloons released into the environment don’t just disappear or wait conveniently to be found and returned as part of a balloon race. It wasn’t the only litter of course, unfortunately it’s an inevitable occurrence and probably most visible at this time of year.