Posts tagged ‘Northumberland’

March 6, 2016

A solo mid Winter Borders / Kielder bothy trip (part two)

by backpackingbongos

Once the van had defrosted it was a short drive back to Newcastleton, the bakery providing some not very complex carbohydrates to take away for lunch. The destination was Kielder reservoir but I was keen to detour to deepest Liddesdale and the imposing Hermitage castle.

The castle sits in a wild and lonely spot, sombre moorland hills rising up around it. Unfortunately it does not open until April, so I was unable to explore inside. The low gate across the bridge that leads to is easy to hop over though and I spent a while walking around its forbidding exterior. The morning was cold and sunny, the grass still frosty in the shadows, with surrounding hills covered in a light mist. During the long bothy nights I was reading the fourth book in the Game of Thrones series, Hermitage castle conjured up the sights and sounds I had imagined in Kings Landing. More info on the castle can be found here. I look forward to returning in the summer when it is open.

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I returned to Reuben who was waiting patiently inside the van. It was not too far to drive to Kielder and I parked up in a woodland car park to the south of the village. The ground and air were damp and fragrant,the smell of the forest filling my nostrils. Low winter sunshine was filtering through the trees at an angle, casting mysterious beams of light onto the mossy floor.

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I decided that the car park was too secluded to leave the van so I drove into the village of Butteryhaugh and left it at the Village Library / School car park. There was a nearby sign stating that public nudity was an offence, with a request for people not to get changed in the car park! Luckily I was fully dressed when Reuben and I set off south, heading for the path along the north shores of Bakethin and Kielder Reservoirs.

The sky was becoming overcast as we walked along the Lakeside way, the forecast was for heavy snow to arrive later that evening. A mysterious shape in the woods beckoned us onwards, its empty eyes and gaping mouth looking over the large expanse of water. A large wooden sculpture called Silvis Capitalis invites you to explore inside its head but unfortunately the ladder that leads you upwards has been removed, to be replaced in the spring.

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The reservoir was left behind, forest tracks taking us uphill towards Wainhope Bothy.

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The bothy sits in a large clearing, a pleasant space after being hemmed in by trees. I looked for the telltale smoke from the chimney or movement outside but it looked like I was going to have another bothy night with just Reuben for company.

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The bothy is a very attractive building with a lone tree outside and surrounded by a stone enclosure. Inside there are two main rooms, the one on the left being large with a stove and space to sleep lots of people on a wooden platform. I chose the smaller right hand room with its open fireplace. The bothy was tidy with no rubbish about but it looks like it receives a large amount of traffic, confirmed by the comments in the bothy book. I set about giving it a good sweep and then went to fetch water from as far away from the building as possible.

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As I was filling my bottles from a stream Reuben pulled off one of his poses on a handily placed moss-covered log.

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I was glad that I had carried in a bag of coal and kindling as the bothy was devoid of any fuel. It saved me a long trek into the woods with a rusty bow saw. With the fire lit and candles spread around the room, the bothy soon felt warm and cosy.

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When I popped my head out of the door later that evening I saw that snow had started to fall, gradually settling after the earlier drizzle. At one point I noticed bright lights and the sound of machinery to the north as if there was a vehicle on one of the remote forestry tracks. It never passed my way and I assume that it was someone working in the forest.

I awoke to a white wonderland, the first time this winter that I had seen proper snow. I crunched around outside for a while, a big grin on my face as my hands got cold whilst throwing snowballs at Reuben.

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I had planned to bag the remote Dewey of Monkside but a late start and the effort of walking through the snow would have meant I would not be able to get back to the van before dark. Instead I picked a series of high level forest tracks that eventually led down to a bridge over the kielder Burn. It was great walking through the virgin snow, with not a soul to be seen all day. Reuben especially enjoyed yomping along, seeking out all the best smells.

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When I got back to the van it was still plastered in snow which had frozen solid. It took ages to scrape it all off but at least the doors had not frozen shut this time. The set of winter tyres that have been next to useless this winter finally came into their own as I drove towards home on the snowy road along Kielder reservoir.

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February 5, 2016

A solo mid Winter Borders / Kielder bothy trip (part one)

by backpackingbongos

The River Esk was in full spate as I drove over the bridge in Langholm, the brown turbulent water an impressive sight. Once past Bentpath and heading up the Meggat Water the road was a mess of stones and gravel washed down from the recent heavy rains. One long flooded section gave me cause for concern, but luckily the water was only a few inches deep.

I left the Doblo at the end of the road next to an information board at the deserted¬†Jamestown.¬†I was a bit nervous leaving our new van on its own and full of kit¬†in such a remote spot. Reuben was saddled up with his panniers and I hoisted a full¬†and heavy 80 litre pack onto my back. Much of the weight was a bag of coal, kindling and firelighters, you can’t head into a bothy in January without the means to have a warming fire.

It took less than an hour to walk to Greensykes bothy, first along a firm track and then a boggy slosh through the forest. Under a steely grey sky with a hint of drizzle in the air the scenery was hardly inspiring, but it was good to fill my lungs with fresh air and stretch my legs.

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The bothy was hidden until the very last minute, the first glimpse being through a break in the conifers. I looked for signs of life and smoke from the chimney but all was quiet. I really wanted the place to myself, space to clear my head and relax.

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The place was indeed empty, clean, well-kept and with a good supply of coal and dry logs. With dark falling I set about lighting the candles that I had carried in and got the fire going. The chimney drew very well, the fire filling the room with warmth and a friendly glow. I made a cosy nest on the sleeping platform, putting Reuben’s bed next to mine. It was one of the most pleasant bothy evenings that I have had. I sat reading in front of the fire whilst drinking the half a bottle of red wine I had brought along.

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The warm room meant that the winter sleeping bag that I had brought along was not really needed, I didn’t¬†zip it up until the early hours. For some reason Reuben did not settle down that night, he kept shifting around, sitting up and staring at something. I didn’t feel any ghostly presences, but perhaps he sensed something I could not.

In winter, bothy mornings are much more preferable to waking up in a tent. There is space to stretch out and make breakfast in comfort. There is always a good quality spade to make the morning walk of shame much easier. Before leaving I swept the bothy and left it as neat and tidy as I had found it. The bag of coal I had carried in was left with the existing pile of fuel.

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The walk back to the van was much quicker, my rucksack a bag of coal lighter. Much of the snow that had been on the ground had now melted, leaving the track even wetter. A solitary shepherd with his collie passed on a quad bike as I neared the road head.

Before driving off I restocked my rucksack with another bag of coal and food for Reuben and I.  The aim this time was Kershopehead bothy, just to the east of Newcastleton, deep in the forest to the south of Kielder. It was a very scenic drive over the moors between Langholm and Newcastleton, an area very worthy of returning to for a backpack. Newcastleton is a pleasant place and the village shop and bakery provided a boost to my supplies.

The van was once again left in a remote spot, this time at Kershopehead Bridge. The walk into the bothy this time was longer, taking a good couple of hours. The problem with forestry tracks marked on the map is that you don’t know if they are going to be wide roads or narrow grassy trods. I managed to pick one that started off promising but soon left me stuck in the middle of a bog. I had to re-trace my steps and start again.

Kershopehead is another well looked after bothy, although I was glad that I had carried in a big bag of coal as it was lacking in the dry fuel department (although it is in the middle of a huge forest!). The stove was soon roaring and another cosy night was spent staring into the flickering flames and reading Game of Thrones. I had carried in with me a huge brick of a book, weight not really being an issue when you are only walking a few miles a day.

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The following morning we set off into low cloud and light drizzle to find a way to climb Glendhu Hill. This isolated moorland lump is defended almost to its summit on all sides by forestry. Height was quickly and easily gained on a series of forestry tracks until we got to Coal Grains and a convenient place to leave the track. Here the forestry had been felled and replanted. That meant that the conifers were only a couple of metres high and there were gaps between them. I hid my pack before climbing to the summit, relieved to get the weight off my shoulders. The going however was still very tough due to the rotting brush underfoot from when it had been felled a few years ago. There were many traps for the unwary hidden in the long grass and heather.

The summit itself was a desolate place in the wind, rain and mist and we did not hang around. We retraced our steps back to the ruckack for a quick snack break. Reuben was not enjoying the weather and did his best to build a nest in the heather by much kicking and turning round and round in circles. No sooner than he had got comfortable we were off again.

The trudge back to the car seemed to take ages, tracks through forestry plantations never being very exciting the second time round. I was glad when we rounded the last corner to see the van still where I had left it.

With it being late in the afternoon there was not enough daylight to walk to the next bothy on my list. Instead I drove to the end of a single track road and a gravel forest car park. A quiet night was spent in the van, owls hooting in the dark woods. The morning brought mild panic when I could not open either of the rear sliding doors. Climbing undignified over the front seat and exiting head first it was evident that they had frozen shut, a bit of a design flaw. The stove in the Doblo is designed to be used alfresco so I stood at the rear of the vehicle brewing up and cooking breakfast, my breath steaming in the sub-zero air. The forecast promised a bright and sunny morning with cloud building in the afternoon, followed by heavy snow during the evening and night. Once again I repacked my 80 litre pack with plenty of coal and kindling.

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January 19, 2015

New Year in Northumberland

by backpackingbongos

During the New Year I was lucky enough to spend a week in a cottage deep in the wilds of Northumberland with Mrs Bongo. We were based in the tiny village of Greenhaugh, inside the National park itself and not too far from Kielder Water. It was a magically tranquil spot, seemingly miles from the hustle and bustle of modern life. It’s one of my favourite parts of the country. There are no huge rocky peaks or dramatic gorges, just miles of unspoilt moors, hidden valleys and an abundance of conifers! Not a single other hiker was spotted during the week. My kind of place. Here are a few brief words and some photos.

 

Collier Law – 516 metres

Collier Law actually sits over the border in County Durham, but to me the accent sounds the same. We did a small detour on the drive north and parked next to the Parkhead Station cafe on the moors above Stanhope. I don’t think that you could really class Collier Law as an exciting or even attractive hill. It was all tracks, quarries and masts. Reuben however thought it was great and I got a¬†tick on¬†one of my hill lists. The view once at the summit was extensive on the clear and crisp winters day.

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Deadwater Fell Р571 metres & Peel Fell Р602 metres

After leaving a very snowy Nottingham behind it was rather disappointing to find that there was no snow in Northumberland. We had even taken the Bongo just in case 4WD was needed, sadly (really thankfully) it was not. They actually grit the roads up there, unlike the treacherous city streets we had left behind.

Corrina was happy to be left in bed on our first morning whilst I scooted off at the crack of dawn to bag a couple of remote hills just above Kielder village. I started the walk in freezing fog, everything glazed by a thick penetrating frost, the air perfectly still. Gaining height I was soon in the snowy forest, shifting mists giving teasing glimpses of the sun overhead. Suddenly I was above the fog, the sun shining hard but providing no warmth. Much of the day was spent crossing rough trackless ground, a covering of snow making things more difficult and hiding the bogs. The clouds flirted with me all day, often obscuring the hill tops, taking away the view from Peel Fell itself. I arrived back at Kielder shortly after dark, tired and happy and without seeing a person all day.

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Padon hill – 379 Metres

I picked what I hoped would be a scenic but easy walk for Corrina. What could be easier than a stroll down an isolated lane and then a walk over the moors on the Pennine Way? This section of the Pennine Way was bloody awful, especially when it passed through the forest. There was no path as such, just saturated ground that tried to steal your boots. The flagstones of the Peak District would have been very welcome here. The views though were classic Northumberland, moors to the horizon and huge skies. Lunch was eaten whilst perched on a tussock.

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Kielder Water

For such a large expanse of water it was a little bit underwhelming to be honest. Too many signs telling you where to go and what to do. We got off to a bad start when after paying for the car park we found the public loos were locked. Luckily there are plenty of trees to hide behind. We walked to one of the arty things that are dotted around the shore. The information board promised that inside the structure the lake would be reflected on the floor and we would be soothed by the sound of water. We went into a pitch black chamber and had a minor panic when the door jammed shut.

It then rained and even Reuben wanted to go back and sit next to the fire.

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Roughside Moor

I fancied another big leg stretcher whilst in Northumberland, so I left Corrina a cup of tea next to the bed and buggered off again for the day. On the map my circuit just looked like a loop in a giant conifer plantation. In reality it was much more pleasant. My first destination was Roughside bothy, a place I vow never to spend the night. It is a horrid dark, damp place with evidence of the nefarious folk who frequent it at weekends. Most of them having graffitied their name somewhere. Far too close to the road and easily accessible.

The Chirdon Burn is a hidden gem. The river swollen after heavy rain passes through steep contours and plunges over Jerry’s Linn. An oasis amongst the monoculture of the forestry plantations.

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January 26, 2013

Out of the firing range into the bothy

by backpackingbongos

After Mike and Bruno had left I sat in the Bongo for a while and made a coffee.¬† I waited for a convoy of 4×4’s towing quad bikes to pass along the road, the hunt was clearly over.¬† I did not want to come face to face with a vehicle on the narrow ribbon of tarmac whilst driving to the head of the valley.

The drive up to the parking place near Chew Green was slow, given the state of the potholed road.  I got a real sense of getting away from it all as I progressed further up the valley.  The final building was Makendon which has been taken over by the military.  Near the old farmhouse was this sign.

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As I drove up the hill I noticed that the surface became smoothly tarmaced, the military doing a better job at maintenance than the local authority.  Just before the gate that sometimes bars traffic from the firing range there is a small parking area.  I spent a peaceful night there in the van, totally undisturbed by passing traffic once it had got dark.  It was cosy laying in my sleeping bag listening to the wind and the rain.

It was still dark when I got up.  I made a coffee and wandered around the van whilst Reuben sniffed about.  The weather had cleared in the night and the sky had turned a glorious shade of pink in the pre-dawn air.  A few pockets of frost had formed on bits of the grass that was sheltered from the wind.

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After breakfast I quickly packed a bag with my camera and a few snacks and we set off up the military road.  The flags would not be flying for another couple of days which meant that the gate across the road was open.  It was a steep haul up the smooth tarmac, giving views back to where I had spent the night.  As we got higher I could hear the sound of dreaded trail bikes, unseen they sounded like a hornets nest that had been disturbed.  With the noise growing louder I could see a convoy of about a dozen riding the border ridge a couple of miles away.  Riding illegally and churning up the soft ground.  Bastards.

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Strictly speaking you are meant to stick to the rights of way when crossing the Redesdale and Otterburn firing ranges, open only when there is no firing taking place.  However there was a hill I wanted to bag.  The sheep on the moor had all their limbs present so I made the assumption all was well, crossing rough ground to the summit of Thirl Moor.  There are what appears to be several tumuli and a few metal posts with star symbols on them.  I assume they mean there is some archeological remains.  The best feature of this hill however is the view.  It sits in the middle of nowhere and the surrounding moors stretch unbroken to all horizons.  There are no modern man-made structures to break up the landscape.  Cloud drifting above the distant Kielder forest just added to the perfectness of it all.

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A quad bike track to the north soon petered out and we descended through deep heather before finding a contouring path.  This gave a cracking view down the Upper Coquet, the van a tiny white spec in the distance.

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With the building of Makendon directly below us we made a steep descent through the heather which did its best to trip me up.  It was slow going trying to stay upright.  Finally we made it to the river bank, crossing at the far end of the old farm and exiting through numerous sheep pens.  We timed this to perfection as a farmer came up the road at that very moment and we were not on a right of way.  Thankfully he waved as he passed.

A track took us up pastures on the other side of the valley where I came across evidence of trail bike riders.  The bridleway was a wide boggy mess from numerous wheels, mud flung in all directions.  It took a while to carefully pick my way to the summit of Brownhart Law, ducking briefly into Scotland just because I could.

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The Cheviot sat large and brooding in the distance, a long march away via the Pennine way.

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It was an easy yomp back to the Bongo via the Roman Camp of Chew Green, not particularly noticeable on the ground as you walk though it.¬† You need to head across the valley and view it from there to really appreciate the scale.¬† Back at the van I got the stove on and made lunch whilst watching the clouds begin to lower onto the hills.¬† I sorted out my pre-packed backpacking rucksack and added a few extra bits such as a bow saw.¬† It’s not very often that I head into the wilds with a bow saw strapped to my pack!¬† I set back off towards Chew Green with Reuben in tow, stopping almost immediately to put on waterproof trousers as a fine drizzle set in.

We passed a hiker out for a day walk from Byrness,  we were the first signs of life he had seen all day on these remote border hills.  After a chat we continued on our separate ways and I stopped after a while to watch him as he moved across the wide open and increasingly murky landscape.  Watching the small speck finally disappear just seemed to enhance the sense of bleakness.

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I had left the comfort and security of the van to head for a tiny bothy five kilometres away.  I had stayed there a few years previous on a lovely summers weekend and had always planned to return in the winter.  I was a little nervous hoping that it would be empty, four would be a crowd in the single room.  I was not carrying a tent as pitching options are pretty non-existent outside.  If it was occupied and no room for me and the dog it was going to be a long walk back to the van across the moor in the dark!

The first section of the path was fairly easy-going, following the course of the Pennine way.¬† This was soon left for a boggy and tussocky squelch towards the bridleway at¬† The Heart’s Toe.¬† However I soon got fed up with the rough going and hopped the fence, fighting my way across a section of felled forest to a gravel forestry track.¬† It was then an easy downhill walk all the way to the bothy.

It’s amazing how often the mind plays tricks on you.¬† Whenever I approach a bothy I get a whiff of wood smoke, whether there is smoke or not.¬† Is it the way my brain anticipates the people who may already be in residence?¬† The tiny building sat below me amongst a scene of devastation.¬† Pretty much the entire forest that surrounded it has been clear felled.¬† The last time I had visited it was secretly nestled deep in the forest.

I found a recently felled small pine tree in the forest and dragged it down the steep slopes towards the bothy.  I was keen to have a roaring fire that night.  As I approached it was evident that no one was in residence, the door was bolted from the outside and no smoke was coming from the chimney.  The carved wooden sign welcomes you in.

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Less welcoming however is the new ‘Bothy watch’ sign.¬† The bothies in the Kielder area have unfortunately become notorious for some of the people that they attract.¬† A few have been shut down recently, including the lovely one at Kielder Head.¬† A draw for complete f***wits for a spot of mindless vandalism, parties and drug taking.¬† At least Bothy watch is a positive commitment to keep these shelters open rather than letting the mindless few ruin it for others.¬† On my walk down I had been wondering ‘who’ I might end up sharing with rather than ‘if’.¬† On the positive side, strangers do not know that Reuben is a completely soppy hound!

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The bothy as it turned out was completely spotless.  There was not even a scrap of rubbish or any of the ubiquitous wine bottle / candlestick holders.  The floor was swept and the stove still had warm embers from the previous occupants.  Even better was the basket of bone dry logs.  My earlier worries quickly faded away.

I spent a pleasurable afternoon drinking coffee and sawing the tree into smaller pieces so that it would fit in the woodshed.  A constant drizzle sent me inside where I lit the fire.  The stove was soon roaring, Reuben claiming his spot for the evening.  I love bothy nights and this was one was very enjoyable.  The wind and rain picked up as the evening progressed, enhancing the general feeling of coziness.

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The morning dawned dull and grey, however after a good and long sleep I managed to get up early.  After breakfast I set about replenishing the wood that I had used the night before.  Half an hour with the bow saw and there was a satisfying pile of dry logs stacked in the bothy.  A good sweep and an idiot check to make sure I had not left anything and we set off across the bridge and up to the forestry track.

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The walk back to the van was a bit of a trudge in the rain, more chore than pleasure to be honest.¬† I was pleased to see the Bongo was still where I had left it.¬† I worry about leaving a vehicle in such a remote spot but figure it is no more risky than somewhere more populated.¬† I suppose it’s just luck of the draw.

The red flags were still not flying so I took the opportunity to drive home via the military road rather than returning back via Alwinton.¬† The Cottonhope road is marked as a bridleway on the map but is often open to civilian traffic.¬† It’s a cracking drive over the moors to near Byrness, the steep sections something you would not want to attempt in snow or ice.¬† Driving the empty road after being alone on the moors it felt like human life had been wiped from the face of the earth.