Monday, 7 November 2016

The aftermath of Storm Desmond

We had a lovely but slightly disappointing walk with the lurchers on Sunday, heading up to the Boatside at Warden. We  have not been up this way since about October, partly because I had my gall bladder removed in November, so more ambitious walks have been off the cards. The Sele is a great place for our lurchers to walk, but in winter there are disappointments such as the grounds of Hexham House being closed off in the evening, so any change is very welcome not just for our hounds, but for us too!

Between our last walk to Warden and today there have been a number of storms, most notable Storm Desmond, which have caused extensive flooding across northern England. Here in the Tyne valley we have escaped the worst of it (unless you live in Corbridge - sorry!) but the Tyne was very high and not content to stay within her banks - or even to be contained within flood defences. Being a pair of closet Geomorphologists, my wife and I have been looking forward to seeing what had happened up that way, having already witnessed the aftermath down Corbridge way.

The riverside towards Warden did not disappoint. In numerous areas there were fresh deposits of sand and the vegetation has been scoured away. Some of the trees are badly damaged too, although they have fared better than those down at Corbridge, I would say.

The most dramatic thing was the fresh scar on the opposite bank. Beyond the A69 bridge over the Tyne there is a field that is high and dry above the river. This does not mean that it is safe from the river, however. Over the summer this scar had a fair covering of plants but it was obvious that this was an erosion feature. The first time I saw it early last year, there were the buried portion of a pair of telegraph poles just emerging from the bank (new poles had been inserted further back from the edge in the field and presumably these ones had just been sawn off at ground level). After a storm earlier in 2015 these stumps were casting a shadow - meaning that the soil around them had been eroded, but they were still well enough embedded in the bank to remain in situ. Today they were gone. The whole lot has been washed away and is spread across the Tyne valley downstream. I wonder how many years it will be before the newer poles have to be replaced in the same way. Clearly the river will continue to erode this bank of the Tyne and the course of the river will shift northwards little by little. The field will be getting smaller, and there is nothing that the owner can do - property law concerning rivers and streams is quite clear that the boundary lies mid stream - and if the stream shifts, one side gains and the other side loses out. Life is tough.

The lurchers were clearly confused by all of this. Not only has their beloved undergrowth been stripped bare, it is almost certain that the rabbits have gone too. Furthermore the river is still on the wild side and there are no ducks to entice them into the water. Over the summer the river has been our friend, causing great mirth as Rover somehow manages to find "the exact same stone" that you threw in for him, or with the pair of them competing for a stick. The Tyne is nearly fordable here in the summer-time. However, now is not summer, now it is winter and the river is cold, fast-flowing and very strong. So we have not been encouraging any water play - I would not like to have to jump in to rescue them if anything went wrong. Thankfully, although they have been drawn to the water's edge, they seem to either pick up our anxiety or feel unsure of the raging torrent themselves, so they have gone in no more than their fore-paws in depth. Rover keeps assuming that he is fine, then hastily jumping out looking surprised.

We found two breaches in the flood defence here (levee is the wrong term, these are definitely man-made). In both cases I suspect that rabbit warrens have weakened the defence, as you can see other areas where there are collapsed burrows. When the weather was better you could walk along the top of the structure, and some of the chamber of warrens near the surface would collapse leaving holes that were a trip hazard at the time. I can remember thinking that these could affect the integrity of the barrier if it was put to the test. As I said earlier, there do not seem to be any rabbits in the area at the moment, although I have no doubt that they will recolonise it over the coming months. There has been no attempt to rebuild the barrier yet, but this will take a lot of soil to achieve.

In among all this waste, Rover found something to roll in. He was shouted at to stop, which he listened to, had another roll and then came away. Strangely I kind of forgot about this, so when I was later sorting out one of Amazon's poos later on, with Rover back on the lead, I associated the new smell with Amazon. The smell kept coming from time to time, so I was checking my feet, my hands, my clothing, then got Cath to do the same. Finally Amazon had the indignity of having her tail lifted up to see if there was anything clinging there. There was not. Finally we put it down to silage. It was only much later, on the way back, that I noticed the stiff spiky hackles on Rover's neck and I put two and two together.

The snowdrops are out along the way again, which is nice. I got a great picture of some which have had to push away some of the deposited sand in order to get to the surface, and it is so obvious that this has happened. I will try to upload it later, along with other pictures of the day.

I mentioned disappointment. Well, nature certainly didn't disappoint, and Rover, well, you have seen posts about Rover rolling before, so although it was a pain, it was hardly a disappointment. Well, the disappointment was yet another effect of Storm Desmond that we were unaware of. When we got to The Boatside at Warden, we found that it was closed. In spite of its name, the Boatside is a good two hundred metres from the river, and much higher up, lying beyond another line of flood defences. We had often joked that you would be hard pressed to get a boat up to the pub. Well, it would seem that in the aftermath of Desmond, it was perfectly possible to get a boat to the pub, which suffered flood damage and was closed. I really hope they got a photograph of the pub with a boat outside it.

So, no sit with a pint of Northumberland (or occasionally Cumbrian) real ale and a bag of peanuts for us while the lurchers eye up the bar snacks hopefully. Also no rest for Cath's hip and no loo stop. These things are important, although the latter is not so important if you skip the real ale. Having no other alternative, we peered in through the windows with heavy hearts. According to their website they are hoping to reopen in mid February, but I think from the state of things on Sunday that it may be a bit longer.

Then we retraced our steps through all of the devastated terrain already described, and on to home. It was here that we finally discovered the awful smell had nothing to do with Amazon, and the culprit was lured into the bathroom, then carried back into the bathroom to meet the fate of dogs who roll. He wasn't happy with being in the bath or with the shower, or with the shampoo for that matter, but I think he was happier with the warm water than the outside tap that he gets in the summer, so after he had been toweled dry he gave me lots of licks to say that he understood why we had to do horrible things to him and that he forgave me. It's a good thing that dogs have big forgiving hearts, isn't it?

Friday, 27 November 2015

Time has passed

More of an update than a Lurcher Tale I am afraid. We have moved again, this time to Hexham, and I have a job again, which is why the Lurcher Tales have been neglected. We have a new regular route that takes us to the Sele and back, and we have a handful of alternatives that keep life interesting, such as the walk up to Warden (with a stop-off at the Boatside, naturally!) or a drive down to Corbridge to walk along the riverside there.
Rover and Amazon are still much the same but they are getting older, though no more sensible. We are surrounded by cats here, which is not good, but there is a sensible attitude to fireworks, which seem to only be used very close to Bonfire night and not to continue after 10pm, which is a real blessing.
I took this picture of Rover recently in Whittle Dene near Ovingham, which is a walk that they have known since they were puppies and is probably about as far from us in Hexham as it was when we lived in Newcastle.

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Route via Coalburms (post lost and found from over the summer)

It is a beautiful Friday and the conflicting need to tidy the house and desire to set off on a long lurcher ramble was won by the latter - hands down.
So we are heading to the head of Moor Road and from there heading across country to Coalburms, a tiny place with nothing to recommend it except a little blue mug symbol on the map.
Rover and Amazon are a little disgruntled by all of this time on the lead and I am a little disgruntled by all the flies drawn by our sweat, but the road is carrying us onwards and upwards very swiftly and we can enjoy the rarified air of the moors soon.

Well the best laid plans of mice and men ... The walking has been fine for the most part but just when things should have been easiest I couldn't find the way out of the last field before the road, so we ended up in a little wood full of nettles and brambles before deciding the barbed wire fence in the field would be easier.

But that was not the worst. We got to  Coalburns to find the sign for the Fox and Hounds welcoming us. Unfortunately the door was closed fast against us at about 1pm. Denied! So we have turned around and looked for somewhere shady to have lunch.

On the way we passed the field, and from the roadside I spotted what was invisible from the field: a signpost. To be fair it was nearly invisible from the road too, thanks to 2m tall bracken. So I pulled and trampled until sign and stile were visible from both sides and continued on.

A dull day in Stanleyburn Dene

We are off on a set piece walk today but in the opposite direction because there was a letter to put in the post. Actually I think it might be an improvement because there was a bin this way and they disappear soon enough down Moor Road. 
We are heading down the public footpath through Prudhoe Hospital and the dene is opening in front of us:

Which is nice. Clearly part of the grounds of the old Prudhoe Hall which became the hospital, it suffers from Cragside envy as evidenced by the attempts to turn two minor streams into something sublime and of course the ubiquitous rhododendron bushes.

Whatever the human impression, the dogs love it. Any woodland turns them into happy little hunters, although Amazon has become very much an "at heel" dog as she has matured and leaves all the adventurous stuff to Rover - until she hears the hunting call of course! It is strange to think that they are nearly seven years old now, so in dog years my "puppies" are now older than me! I think the hardest thing about owning dogs is watching them grow older, seeing them slow down and take less risks than formerly. Rover will be the puppy for as long as he can, but Amazon, old before her time in her bid to be dominant, is showing her age.

She has finally left my side after crossing South Park - a nice little meadow this summer, now just another grassy field. She knew it was the last chance for freedom before going back on the lead on Moor Road, which is a rarely used single track lane here. She is now back, as is Rover, and it is their job to pull me back up the road into Prudhoe. 


Tuesday, 12 August 2014


The lurchers and I are at Northumberlandia today which is a bit of a downer for them because they have to stay on the lead.
Initial view of Northumberlandia - her face in profile between two gateway mounds.

The idea of the place is one of landscape sculpture combined with wildlife conservation. The sculpture part is of a goddess or giantess called Northumberlandia who is looking up to the sky. You explore the sculpture by following circuitous and maze-like paths. For example we have just now walked up her arm and are passing her ample right breast.

Northumberlandia's right arm and bosom. You can just make out one of her open eyes. 

The opportunity for the landscape sculpture arose in the wake of an area of open cast coal and fireclay extraction being closed down. It is normal for the company extracting the site to restore the landscape to something like its former state, but in this case it was felt that they could create something a little bit different.

Blagdon Estates open-cast workings continue adjacent to the Lady.
Although Northumberlandia is a brazen hussy on top, she is a little more demure further down, lying on her right hip which is deep within the earth. You can see her left hip and her left knee beyond the swell of her breast below: they look a bit pointy because there are shelters there, which were very much appreciated by visitors today, with the remnant of Hurricane Bertha still being felt here in the North East of England. In this picture you also get the best idea of what her eyes look like, as the picture is taken from her brow, looking down her nose. You are not allowed to get any closer to her face than that.

View from the Lady's brow. You can just see her eyes gazing up into the clouds and the ridge of her nose. If you follow the path through her decolletageyou come to her left hip and left knee, both visible here.

Northumbriana's face from below. You can just see her eyes, her nose is prominent and the grey lump below is her mouth. Not her best side!

There are handy sight-lines dotted about the site: this one to Lindisfarne is on her left bosom.
Rather than have a single place which points out local landmarks, etc, they are instead dotted about the site so that you are rewarded with them as you explore. Her left pap points to Holy Island (above), while her right acknowledges her rival, The Angel of the North. I feel that what the Angel is to travellers from the south on the A1, Northumbriana must be to air travellers, as the site is on the eastern approach to Newcastle Airport, although I must say that I did not notice any planes flying overhead while I was there.

The Lady from the much neglected left side

The rocky bump at the summit is her hip, so I guess this is the most flattering view of her bum.

Well, I'm sorry that had so little to do with the lurchers today, but apart from getting a very long walk, they really didn't get to do much here. I had planned to take them to Plessey Woods Country Park, but I didn't have my wallet with me and the coins I had in my pocket would not have covered even the two hour stay in the car park there. It seems daft that all of the town centres in Northumberland now have free parking, but the country parks do not. Still, there you have it, for want of £1.80 the lurchers had a walk on the lead around the biggest lass in the North-East!

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

There and back again

How annoying! I was composing a blog on the go throughout our long walk up to Hedley on the Hill and back, I had two pictures ready to go and I lost it all on getting back home. Grrrrrr!

So, I will recap. We set out at about ten this morning intending to do a circular walk, but the walk I did ended up being somewhat different. We covered some of the ground on an earlier excursion, but this time we left the safety of the Stanleyburn area and headed up onto Hedley Fell. Here R&A encountered a partridge, which they chased. In spite of it not taking flight any great distance, it managed to confuse them and they were running around in circles looking for it. Luckily I was able to entice them into the wood nearby, which must have offered more excitement than a strange bird, so they left it and headed into Hyons Wood (or Huorns' Wood as I have re-christened it).

When we got to the top, I was rewarded with a fine view across Derwent Valley to Dipton and Tantobie. At this point I was planning to turn left to Currock Hill, then follow Moor Road down, perhaps cutting off into Stanleyburn Wood for some lurcher fun time. Instead I saw Hedley on the Hill off to my right and thought I would see what it was like over there. As I walked along the road, the whole of Northumberland seemed to open up before me, with the Cheviot on the far horizon. I thought I could even hear the artilllery going off at Otterburn, which was quite a thought given the distance.

Well, Hedley turned out to be a very nice little ... well village would be too grand a title. A very nice little ley. The OS map showed that it had a post office but it did not advise that there is also a very nice little pub called The Feathers Inn, where Amazon persuaded me that it would be a good idea to drop in and sample the ale. In actual fact I arrived about ten minutes before opening time, so R & A had to content themselves with water in a rather gritty dog bowl outside. I checked the map and decided on the route home, choosing to follow a route called Ward Lane towards High Mickley, thence along the tracks along the ridge back to Prudhoe.

When  the door opened, I went in for a refill of the dog bowl and a pint of Wagtail (Allendale Brewery), which was well appreciated, but I did not linger over it, as I had no company but the dogs. The beginning of Ward's Lane was easy to find as it was over the road from the pub, but it was a bit of a strange path, having stiles rather than gates that the lurchers had to scramble over/under, and there were a lot of horses in the fields. Now I don't have a problem with horses, I'd sooner cross a field of horses than cows any day, but Amazon was getting skittish as in every field the horses were clustered around the gate, so we headed along a track to the road, which we followed instead.

From High Mickley I found a lane leading in the right direction and followed it. I took a picture of an old land rover in a field, then a bloke came up asking if I minded going back around the corner as they were driving some sheep up the lane, which we did. R&A not bothered by the sheep as usual, so that was fine.

I then asked if it was ok to go down a track that wasn't marked as a ROW and was told that was fine, that it led to Prudhoe. I already knew that and I would have gone that way if there had been no one about, but it never hurts to ask. From there we were pretty much back on home turf, so I let the lurchers off again in the next empty field and I gave them lots of praise for waiting at the top of the rape field.

Monday, 16 June 2014

Back to real walks

We have been away for a while now, for a number of reasons which predate our move from South West Denton. We moved to Benwell last July and that was not really a very inspiring place for lurcher tales. 

Now things have changed a bit and we are living the semi rural life in Prudhoe, which is a lovely village/town in Northumberland. We are just getting used to the network of official and unofficial paths around here, so we have yet to settle into anything like a daily route. Today we crossed a field from which there was a fantastic panorama - I would say nearly 300• - covering swathes of Tynedale, Newcastle and Gateshead, as well as the near horizon which is the view from the house, of Hedley Fell and Currock Hill.

The picture is just a quick one of R and A on a path through a rape seed field near home, just to show that there have not been any more changes in the dog lineup since my last post.