Dear Northumberland National Park

I don’t often feel moved to comment on the stewardship of the places I visit, but as I have spent over 15 years walking in this area, I feel entitled to make some comments about Northumberland National Park.

As I still regard myself as a guest in the countryside, I have always tried to be respectful and leave no trace. However I am sometimes confronted by enormous traces left by other parties which leave me feeling that my efforts are a bit one sided. Walkers in the area presently need to work around the management of vast Forestry Commission plantations, privately owned grouse shooting estates and live firing on the military ranges at Otterburn, which occupy 23% of the National Park.

Heather burning (muirburn), live firing, overgrazing and badly eroded footpaths in this area leave me wondering about their long term effects on the delicate terrain of the Northumbrian and border uplands.

View of heather burning from the Cheviot

View of heather burning from the Cheviot

Heather burning

Large parts of the Cheviot Hills have been completely given over to the sport of grouse shooting. The management of these enormous private estates involves feeding and protecting the grouse, creating an environment in which they will breed, eliminating predators such as the Hen Harrier, and muirburn (burning heather) to create new growth for the young grouse to feed on. These practices are damaging the whole ecosystem of the upland areas in many areas, leading to flooding in the valleys, the extinction of certain species and the creation of an unsightly landscape which deters the outdoor community from coming to the Cheviot Hills.

Aerial view of heather burning in the Cheviot Hills

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

After reading about the movement which lead to the creation of national parks and the opening up of private land for working people to use after the war, I can’t help feeling that Northumberland was somehow left out of this movement. With no burning and grazing, these hills would slowly be overgrown by shrubs like gorse and fast growing trees such as birch. 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 National Parks are aware 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 sometimes seems to be more focussed on supporting local businesses than with investing in the landscape.

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, without proper maintenance, have become huge sunken scars. I have tried to point my camera away from some of this, but now I wish I hadn’t, because some footpaths are in a bad state and need urgent maintenance work. If the decision not to invest more in protecting the landscape is a purely economic one, then perhaps the benefits of attracting walkers, runners and cyclists needs to be properly costed out in this potentially attractive area.

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My GPX Routes

I have been gradually adding day routes onto Viewranger 👣 for some time on an ad hoc basis. As long as the routes don’t seem to involve any hazards, I have made them public and free for people to download, but I hadn’t put much effort into the quality of the route information. As I have gradually realised how helpful good quality downloads can be, I decided to start adding GPX files for all my day routes and publishing some routes retrospectively to replace the slightly vague descriptions I had been giving on early YouTube and blog descriptions.

Viewranger

My Viewranger profile

There are now over 30 free, downloadable routes on Viewranger. I am pleased to see that there has been a steady interest in downloading these routes, so I have started adding links from my blog posts and YouTube, as well as improving the route information. I hope you will find them helpful if you are considering walks in this part of the world, and that they will work well in conjunction with the blog posts and videos.

Salters Road

Hartside to Salter’s Road route map on Viewranger

Happy Hiking. Rose🌹

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A crack at the Cateran Trail

I chose the Cateran Trail, which is divided between Perthshire & Angus, for my next hike, partly because it looks to be a fine route, but also because this area was the site of the happy honeymoon which was my introduction to central Scotland some years ago. Although the happy memories of this area have lasted longer than the marriage, I was drawn to explore it again.

The Cateran Trail is a 65 mile / 104km circular route which includes Strathardle as well as parts of Glen Shee and Glen Isla. The route is named after the bands of cattle thieves known as Caterans who previously brought terror to these glens.

Cateran Trail

Cateran Trail, Perthshire and Angus

The Strathardle section I completed between Blairgowrie and Kirkmichael contains all the different types of terrain which this area is known for; various types of woodland, untamed heather moorland, rolling farmland pastures, and many burns feeding into the Ericht and Ardle rivers.

Unfortunately for me, a recent event on the trail had left it a bit too churned up and muddy to complete at anything other than a very slow pace. If I had worn my boots and taken my gaiters, it would have improved things, but hindsight is a wonderful thing. Anyway here are a few photos of the varied section between Blairgowrie and Kirkmichael, which included a camp at Pitcarmick, to give you an idea of the route.

River Ericht

River Ericht near Blairgowrie

Lornty Burn

Farmland near Lornty Burn

Blackcraig Forest

Views across Strathardle from Blackcraig Forest

Dalnabreck

Near Easter Dalnabreck

Dalnabreck

Near Dalnabreck

Pitcarmick Burn

Pitcarmick Burn

These pictures give some indication of how lovely the trail is, but avoid the mud underfoot. At this point it began to rain heavily, so I pitched the tent quite early to dry out.

Pitcarmick Camp

Dreich view from my tent at Pitcarmick

Drying out

Drying out in the Duomid

I continued my hike the following morning down the lovely, verdant country lanes into Kirkmichael for a much needed hot breakfast. There I decided to return to this trail when it has had the chance to recover, and I can focus more on the lovely countryside and less on where I am putting my feet.

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Using Mountain Rescue

On the Speyside Way recently I made a call to rescue services for navigational advice as there was a discrepancy between my map and the signage. It was getting late and I was stuck in a seemingly endless rocky barbed wire corridor which wasn’t wide enough to pitch my tent. My tired reasoning was simply that a call for advice now might prevent a call for help later. Some walkers, who are not really representative of my readership, were critical of this decision so this is just a quick response to them.

In the 20 years since I began hiking, I have once requested a call out from Mountain Rescue and have sought advice two or possibly three times on solo long distance walks. On each of these occasions I made a donation to the relevant team.

Speyside Way

Speyside Way Map

I would just like to quote a DM I received from a professional rescue person regarding my call for advice:

“I think if your call prevented you from getting into danger then it was worthwhile. The Mountain Rescue teams would rather you didn’t get hurt and so would I…I’ve met lots of people who should have done what you did”

As I have a relative who was involved in mountain rescue, I realise how valuable their service is to the outdoor community. My relative sustained a permanent injury whilst carrying out a mountain rescue with his team, so I am fully aware of the risks teams face while providing this service. I am also aware of my personal responsibilities to use their resources sparingly and to provide the best outdoor advice I can on this site.

Pennine Way

Pennine Way route map

Thanks. Rose🌹

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Hiking the Speyside Way 

I have just returned from the 65 mile Speyside Way walk from Aviemore in the Scottish Cairngorms to Buckie on the Moray coast, accompanied by my new tent. My write up can be found in the trails section.

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Tent Talk

As regular visitors will know, I am not in the habit of posting tent pictures for the sake of it, but I couldn’t resist a couple here. For people who like this sort of thing I have started a Camping Gallery as a memento of my trips.

As the sun is shining and I am stuck at home, I have been practising pitching my preloved Mountain Laurel Designs Duomid, in a non stealth shade of yellow sinylon, and sealing my old Force Ten tent. For the Duomid, after advice from several people, I used Colin’s method of attaching my two z poles together with cord, and Emma’s suggestion of using velcro to hold them together to form a support pole. The result works really well, and encourages me to use my poles more often.

Duomid 3

Mountain Laurel Designs Sinylon Duomid and 3F UL inner first pitch

Duomid II

Getting to grips with pitching and ground sheet

I have worked out how to attach the inner to the tent using the back three pegs and the result feels really palatial after my snug Force Ten (below). It takes up a lot of space once all the guy ropes are staked out, but I guess they add to the stability of the shelter. On advice from Daron, I made a Polycro (Double glazing film) ground sheet to go under the inner and into the porch. (See above).

I welcome any advice from other Duomid users, as I hope to continue using it over the coming months. For anyone who is interested, there is a good pitching video for the Duomid on Stick’s Blog YouTube channel.

Force Ten

Force Ten Helium Carbon 100 seam sealed

Duomid Pole

Creating a support for the Duomid from two Z poles.

With thanks to Colin, Emma, Daron, Stick and Matt.

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Exploring the coastline

Since I returned to my blog after some time away, I have been trying to improve my videos. To do this I have planned several clusters of walks using my new car club car. A couple of months ago I did 3 walks on the North Northumbrian coast between Holy Island (Lindisfarne) and Berwick upon Tweed in the Northumberland Coast AONB. To be honest it was a disappointing trip because the weather was a mixed bag for the new videos I wanted to make, and the route recording didn’t work well for the routes I wanted to upload. However I did the walks anyway, made the videos and uploaded the routes and put it down to experience.

I have finally written them up because they remain beautiful walks, and that is the most important thing in spite of my bad luck on the day. So do take a look at my new Coastline Collections page and I hope the sun shines for you if you visit this lovely part of the Northumbrian coast.

Coastline

Coastline Collections: Clockwise from top left – Lindisfarne Castle, Holy Island North Shore, Cocklawburn Beach, Holy Island dune path.

Also in other news I have finally uploaded my first talkie. I have overcome the urge to delete everything with my voice in it and uploaded my first walk video with a commentary. I hope you enjoy the video if not the commentary.

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Happy Easter

Happy Easter to those who celebrate it. Wishing sunshine and happy holidays to all my readers. Rose 🌹

Happy Easter

Happy Easter | Buona Pasqua

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Books and Digital

I have quirky preferences about books. The world of routes in particular, has become more complex than it used to be. I like to have real, paper route and route reference books rather than ebooks for some reason that I can’t entirely explain. I also enjoy paperback long distance walk guides, which I tend to read beforehand to save weight, and then credit them in my trip reports. However, I usually read my fiction, adventure and technical books on my e book reader.

Books

Route books and maps

Regarding navigation and maps, I keep my options open and switch from one method to another. I download and record routes, and dip into both route books and apps to get ideas. I have also been known to take photos of relevant pages, so I can read them on my phone as I walk. At times I rely entirely on digital GPX routes, but personally I am finding that books remain an important resource for me. It is a strange hybrid world that outdoor users live in now, with proponents of different methods hotly debating which is best.

Berwickshire Coastal Path

Berwickshire Coastal Path route

Recent discussion has turned to the unreliability of some downloads by or for inexperienced users. In acknowledgement of the good use I have put my day route books to, even in this digital age, I thought it would be a timely moment to mention a few of the old school route and route reference books I use as well as the downloads:

Reference:

  • Townsend, Chris. ‘World Mountain Ranges – Scotland’ Cicerone. 2010
  • ‘The UK Trailwalker’s Handbook’ Eighth Edition. LDWA. 2009

Northumberland:

  • Bagshaw, Chris et al. ’50 Walks in Durham and Northumbria’ AA. 2010
  • Baker, Edward. ‘Walking the Cheviots’ Sigma. 1996. Out of print.
  • Baker, Edward. ‘Walks in the Secret Kingdom’ Sigma. 1998. Out of Print
  • Brooks & Conduit. ‘Northumberland, The Borders and Hadrian’s Wall’ Pathfinder. 2000
  • Hall, Alan. ‘Walking in Northumberland’ Cicerone. 2010
  • Hallewell, Richard. ‘Short Walks in Northumbria’ The Ramblers. Collins. 2011

Scotland:

  • Hall, Alan. ‘The Border Country – A Walker’s Guide’ Cicerone. 2010
  • Jackson, Peter. ’25 Walks. The Scottish Borders’ Mercat Press. 2009
  • Turnbull, Ronald. ‘Ben Nevis and Glencoe’ Cicerone. 2007
  • Scotways. ‘Scottish Hill Tracks’ Scottish Mountaineering Trust. 2011.

Cumbria:

  • Goodier, Steve. ‘The Low Fells. Top 10 Walks’. Northern Eye. 2012
  • Marshall, Stuart. ‘Walking the Wainwrights’. Sigma. 2013

GPX downloads:

My go-to sites for digital downloads are mainly:

  • LDWA (Long Distance Walkers Association) website for LDPs in Britain (downloads only available to members)
  • Walkhighlands.co.uk for LDPs and Day Walks throughout Scotland

If you would like to recommend any new or interesting route books, sites, apps or maps, please let me know.

Rose 🌹 April 2017.

Chesters5

Good paths heading north to Ingram

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The Farne Islands revisited

This is the time of year that I start to get restless for a trip offshore to see the seabirds and the grey seals. A quick glance at the weather and the bus timetable, with the added bonus of online booking, and I was off on the incredibly long bus journey up the coast to the fabulous Farnes. At this time of year there is thankfully much to see from the bus with the sun shining, the trees greening up, the daffodils at their best, and the colours gradually returning to the sea and the skies.

IMG_4498

St Cuthbert II, Seahouses Harbour. Billy Shiels Boat Trips

The Farne Islands are a group of islands off the coast of Northumberland. There are between 15 and 20 islands depending on the tide. They are scattered between 1½ – 5 miles (2.5–7.5 km) from the mainland and divided into the Inner and the Outer islands. Among the birds and animals I saw on this trip were Puffins, Grey Seals, Kittiwakes, Guillemots and Shags but it varies at different times of year. The onboard commentary and the NT Ranger’s talk provide plenty of specialised information on what birds are there and the history of the islands.

Farne Islands

The Farne Islands accessible from Seahouses

Seahouses, where the boats depart from, is densely populated with fish and chip shops and so my choice of lunch was straightforward. My ticket included a cruise of the islands from Seahouses with a landing on Inner Farne bird reserve for an hour. As well as raising my spirits after northern winters, I used the  opportunity of another trip to re-record a video of the trip which incorporates the best short walk in north eastern England.

Inner Farne Circular

Inner Farne Circular walk route

Having realised that I needed to improve on my videos, which began life as more of a diary for me, I have been working hard to utilise the tools at my disposal to better effect. I hope you will enjoy the results and consider subscribing to my YouTube Channel Rucksack Rose

With thanks to the crew of the St Cuthbert II from Billy Shiels Boat Trips (Other cruises are available) and the National Trust Rangers on Inner Farne for a great day out and a reminder that there is more to the Farne Islands than puffins.

Posted in About walking, Nature, Northumberland walks, walking, Walks | Tagged , , , , , , | 6 Comments