Exploring my own backyard

Apologies that I have recently had to compromise all my adventure plans and explore what is on my doorstep instead. This has been due to family commitments, dreadful public transport and lack of resources. If you are a lover of wild places then it is hard not to view this as a demotion. Following 5 long distance trails and 15 years of walking in some of Britain’s least populated hills in Northumberland and the Scottish Borders, it is easy to become a bit of a purist.

Heading inland along the banks of the Tyne towards North Shields

Heading inland along the banks of the Tyne towards North Shields

I suppose I was trying to expunge my urban roots and a long spell living in London, but some people on Twitter have reminded me that there is plenty to see and some valuable wild space in large cities if you know where to look.

The whole national park movement was intended to bring the countryside within reach of ordinary people. However, for purists there is a temptation to want the ordinary people out of the parks again, and this doesn’t sit well with me. All this has involved me in some navel gazing about my attitudes.

Newcastle Quayside from the Millennium Bridge

Newcastle Quayside from the Millennium Bridge

Inspired by some groups trying to create National City Parks in London and Glasgow, and by people like Alastair Humphreys promoting the idea of finding do-able adventures on your doorstep, I have been exploring my own back yard a bit.

North Shields Fish Quay Area

Union Quay by North Shields Fish Quay

Like many people, I thought I knew my local area so well that it had nothing to teach me. However I have gradually realised that familiarity had bred some contempt, and that necessity can indeed be the mother of invention.

Bolam Coyne in the Byker Wall development by Ralph Erskine

Grade 2 Listed Bolam Coyne in the Byker Wall development by Ralph Erskine

I will continue to bring you posts from wild places, but I need to shape my interests around the possible for the moment. For those of us who live in cities for whatever reason, we either discount this kind of walking and sit at home reading other people’s wild adventures, or we get out there.

With apologies to the purists.

Posted in About me, About walking, microadventure, nanoadventure, Tyneside walks, Urban walks, Walks | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

A Tyneside Nanoadventure

This microadventure could more aptly be described as a nanoadventure really. It involved my first, modest attempt at creating a short route, rather than following somebody elses route from a book or website. My short tick-list stipulated that it must be local, accessible by public transport and interesting, preferably involving some places I hadn’t been before.

For me a great walk should always involve a good beginning and a good finish, rather than just going from Place A to Place B. I opted for going from St Mary’s Lighthouse in Whitley Bay to North Shields Fish Quay, both notable landmarks on the north east coast which I had never been to before. The distance of my short but varied walk was roughly 5 miles, with plenty to see and do plus some decent cafes and bars – both worthwhile features to incorporate into my walk I decided.

St Mary's Lighthouse

St Mary’s Lighthouse

Traces of history and heritage are everywhere along this stretch of the coast. Tynemouth Castle is located on a rocky promontory overlooking Tynemouth Pier. Apparently the moated towers, gatehouse and keep are combined with the ruins of the Benedictine priory where early kings of Northumbria were buried.

Tynemouth Castle and priory

Tynemouth Castle and priory

Whitley Bay and Tynemouth were formerly popular resorts in the age before international travel became available to ordinary people. Now the fascinating relics of that time have been left to dissolve slowly back into the landscape. There are old paddling pools and swimming pools gradually filling with sand and mud, rotting beach huts and corroded iron railing lining the empty esplanades. Whitley Bay would almost qualify as an English ghost town.

Remains of an open air swimming pool at Tynemouth

Remains of an open air swimming pool at Tynemouth

I tried to keep away from the roadside development and to stay on the beach and the esplanades, which give a much greater insight into the history of the area. Although the esplanades themselves have faded, I noticed that rock pooling has replaced donkey rides and candy floss sellers along the coastline since I was a child.

Rockpooling on the coast near Whitley Bay

Rockpooling on the coast near Whitley Bay

I carried on past Tynemouth Castle for the first time, and around the corner into the mouth of the River Tyne. This is the main artery of the city in which I was born, but I had actually never visited the mouth of the river.

The mouth of the River Tyne from the north bank near North Shields

The mouth of the River Tyne from the north bank near North Shields

Here the atmosphere imperceptibly changes from faded seaside resort, via a short wooded section, into the modern day hustle and bustle of a busy river, with ferries plying to and fro, a lifeboat station poised for action, fish processing plants, smokehouses and dock buildings gradually increasing in density towards North Shields Fish Quay a mile or so inland.

Heading inland along the banks of the Tyne towards North Shields

Heading inland along the banks of the Tyne towards North Shields

On this short walk through an area which I have taken completely for granted because it is local, I learned a lot about the economic and social past of the area in which I grew up. I also mixed happily with the distant ghosts of childhood trips to the seaside which littered parts of this route for me.

With acknowledgements to Alastair Humphreys; creator of the micro adventure.

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Heather burning and erosion

It is not often that I feel moved to comment on the stewardship and maintenance of the places I visit, but as I have spent over 15 years walking in Northumberland, I can’t resist making some comments about areas of Northumberland National Park. I have always tried to live and let live, but I am sometimes confronted by hillsides scarred by heather burning and gouged by erosion, which leave me wondering about their long term effects on the delicate peatland terrain and beauty of the Northumbrian uplands.

View of heather burning from the Cheviot

View of heather burning from the Cheviot

Heather burning

I realise that some controlled hunting is a part of country life, but large parts of the Cheviot Hills have been completely given over to the lucrative sport of shooting game birds. The management of these enormous estates is a year round job involving feeding and protecting the birds, creating an environment in which they will breed, “managing” predators such as the Hen Harrier, and burning heather to create new growth for the grouse to eat. It seems to me that the extent of this burning practice in Northumberland is increasing, and this is damaging the ecosystem of the hills and creating an unsightly landscape which deters the outdoors community, including the walkers, from coming to Northumberland.

Aerial view of heather burning in the Cheviot Hills

Aerial view of heather burning in the Cheviot Hills. Google maps ©

After reading about the post war movement which lead to the creation of national parks and the opening up of private land for working people to use, I can’t help feeling that Northumberland was left out of this movement, and is still more of a playground for the few. Left to their own devices, with no burning and no grazing, these hills would slowly be overgrown by shrubs like gorse and fast growing trees such as birch, and the heather moors would be gone forever. Looking at the present landscape, I find it hard to even imagine what that alternative landscape might look like.

Path erosion between Scald Hill and the Cheviot

Path erosion between Scald Hill and the Cheviot

Erosion

In other national parks, much time and money is devoted to path and landscape maintenance by organisations such as Fix the Fells in the Lake District National Park, and Moors for the Future in the Peak District. This is done precisely because the parks know that the revenue created by these popular areas is an enormous asset to the region as a whole. As one of the less populated parks, Northumberland seem much more focussed on supporting local businesses than with investing in the landscape which makes it feel more like a business park. I realise this may be a controversial viewpoint.

Path damage and erosion on The Cheviot

Path damage and erosion on The Cheviot

Some of the more popular trails around The Cheviot and Simonside are like walking along dry river beds or huge sunken scars. I have tried to point my camera away from some of this, but now I almost wish I hadn’t, because I think some paths are in a terrible state and need rescuing. If the decision not to invest more in protecting the landscape is a purely economic one, then that is a terrible shame for such a potentially beautiful area.

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Making hay while the sun shines

A sudden fear that the year was passing me by without my getting out and enjoying it has brought about a bit of a flurry of short walks and trips. All the well worn sayings about when to make hay sprang to mind, so today I jumped on the metro to the coast to do a local-ish walk from Cullercoats to Tynemouth, so here are some sunny days captured to hoard for those dark days of winter.

Cullercoats, Tyneside

Cullercoats, Tyneside

Looking south from Tynemouth beach

Looking south from Tynemouth beach

Tynemouth Beach

Tynemouth Beach

Looking north towards Tynemouth Castle

Looking north towards Tynemouth Castle.

This short linear 2.5 mile / 4 km walk was from Cullercoats lifeboat station on the North East coast past Tynemouth Castle to Front Street at Tynemouth near the mouth of the River Tyne and the port of North Shields. The beginning and end of the walk were near to stations on the Newcastle metro system. It was awash with plenty of cafes and restaurants along the route for refreshments, and the weekend market at Tynemouth station was in full flow. A flag system even indicated that swimming was permitted there today which is not a very common occurrence.

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Edinburgh Microadventure

Sometimes in life we have to make the most of where we are, and the time and the resources available to us, and these dictate our adventures more than our daydreams and long term plans. So a couple of days in Edinburgh is to me the equivalent of an expedition to the Matterhorn in terms of the escapism it affords at the moment. As I spent a good while living in London, I have learned to appreciate urban walking and green spaces, and how much they can add to the quality of life in a large city.

View back towards Arthur's Seat

View back towards Arthur’s Seat

A recent trip to Edinburgh became a microadventure as I decided on the train to finally climb up the crags to Arthur’s Seat, and experience this familiar city from a new angle.

View from Salisbury Crags

View from Salisbury Crags

The views across Edinburgh and out onto the Firth of Forth just get better and better as you go, so don’t put off until tomorrow what you can do today.

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Walks around Britain podcast

Earlier in the year I was approached by Andrew White of Walks around Britain along with Damian Hall (writer and ultra runner who achieved a podium position in the tough Spine Race in 2015) to discuss our very different experiences of completing the Pennine Way, a national trail which celebrates it’s 50th birthday in 2015.

I backpacked the famous national trail over 20 days during the hottest part of the year, while Damian ran the route during the coldest part of the year in only 5 days. Talking about it was a great reminder of my hike along this brilliant trail and listening to Damian about his experience was fascinating.

In the second part of the podcast we hear from organisations and people involved in repairing the erosion of the moorlands in the Peak District and the South Pennines.

Here is a link to the Walks around Britain podcast which you can subscribe to via Audioboom or iTunes.

High Cup Nick on the Pennine Way

High Cup on the Pennine Way

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A day with Terry Abraham

The chance to part with a small amount of money when Terry set up his fundraising page for his current film about Scafell Pike, was a way to demonstrate my faith in his abilities as a film maker and to pick his experienced brains about wild camping.

Camping at Wasdale

Camping at Wasdale

Terry has assembled a huge cast of characters for  “The Life of a Mountain – Scafell Pike”, from mountaineers to mountain rescue, farmers and a shepherdess. All have a connection to Scafell Pike and the narrative of the film explores these connections. Terry’s ambition was to film a year in the life of the mountain which is the highest peak in England and one of three of the highest in the UK.

I travelled to Nether Wasdale in the Lake District to spend a day with three of the National Trust Rangers responsible for maintaining the hugely popular route up to Scafell Pike. Apparently 40,000 people, including many 3 peaks challenge teams, take this route each year and the footpath is key to their success.

The National Trust Rangers being filmed at work

The National Trust Rangers being filmed at work

Terry and the Rangers filmed a day at work on the route to the summit during April. Although there were many signs of spring on the lower part of the route, the summit was still shrouded in low cloud.

Hampered in my climb by an asthma attack, I still met all sorts of people during the day, from young children to a 79 year old man, who said this was going to be his last climb. All these people made me realise what universal and enduring appeal this mountain has.

Daffodils by Wastwater

Daffodils by Wastwater

The Scafell Pike film generated a lot of interest within the outdoors community following the fundraising drive and Terry’s previous Cairngorms film with Chris Townsend in 2013 (which received a commendation at the Kendal Mountain Festival).

I feel certain that the project will bring Terry the recognition he deserves. The film premiered at Rheged in Penrith on Saturday 10th May 2014 and tickets quickly sold out for the first screening. The download / dvd are available online. An abridged version of the film was shown on the BBC4 on 14th January 2015 to record audiences.

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Gifting your old clothing and equipment

For the month of March 2015 you can give your unwanted outdoor gear a new lease of life and get 15% discount at award winning outdoor retailer Rohan.

Gift Your Gear, an award winning UK initiative is inviting you all to look around your wardrobes, attics and garages for any unwanted outdoor clothes.

WANTED - Your unwanted outdoor clothing and equipment

WANTED – Your unwanted outdoor clothing and equipment

Gift Your Gear provides outdoor clothing and equipment to organisations who encourage the next generation, to get outdoors. Young people need to get outdoors for their physical and emotional well-being. As readers of this blog are probably aware, it’s hard to enjoy your early experiences in the outdoors when you’re cold, wet and uncomfortable. 
Having the right clothing and equipment helps to ensure that outdoor experiences are safe and enjoyable.

The outdoor gear you donate will make a real difference to the UK community organisations, youth groups and charities who receive it. Gift Your Gear gratefully accepts all unwanted waterproofs, fleeces, outdoor trousers, insulated jackets, gloves, hats and boots that are gathering dust in your cupboards, attics and garages.

The big three items: Lightweight rucksack, sleeping bag and shelter

Gift Your Gear has partnered with Rohan, the award-winning outdoor and travel clothing company. Drop off your unwanted outdoor clothing at any Rohan Shop during March 2015, that’s all outdoor clothing regardless of brand including children’s clothing and in return Rohan would like to offer you 15% off a full priced purchase made the same day as a qualifying Gift Your Gear donation.

You can contact the “Gift your gear” team at the following sites:-

and you can find your nearest Rohan store via this link:-

Cross Fell summit for lunch

Cross Fell summit for lunch

Posted in About walking, Charity, Charity walks, Walks | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Best long distance trail results

Well, Twitter has spoken. Following a brainstorming session on Twitter and Google +, I created a poll of polls (below) in which people were invited to nominate and vote for their top 3 international long distance trails.

As you can see from my previous post, the shortlist included trails from all over the world, including the USA, New Zealand, Scotland, France and Turkey. The capture below shows the results on the closing date, but please feel free to continue voting.

The top five long distance trails as voted for by readers

The top five long distance trails as voted for by readers

Unfortunately some of the less well known trails like the GR5 (Netherlands to the Mediterranean) and the Lycian Way in Turkey didn’t fare so well in the poll, but perhaps that was to be expected.

In the end the poll was just for fun and I hope you enjoyed taking part.

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Which long distance trail?

After a Twitter brainstorm which lasted for most of the day, and involved some great hikers and runners, I thought I would collate the answers I received into a blog post so that you can vote for your top three trails. The closing date for votes is 1st March 2014.

Sorry if your favourite trail isn’t included in the poll but I had to close the nominations at some point. The list is entirely made up of trails suggested by people on Twitter. It can only ever be a selection as there are so many great trails out there. Please feel free to vote and add your own comments or additions to the list as a comment. Thanks for taking part.

Hadrian's wall near Housesteads

Hadrian’s wall near Housesteads

Posted in About walking, Distance walks, Trails, Walks | Tagged , , , , , , | 5 Comments