Happy Easter to those who celebrate it. Wishing sunshine and happy holidays to all my readers. Rose 🌹
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.
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.
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.
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.
I realise that circumstances have meant that it has taken me a while to get round to wild camping my first trail. As I have attempted to explain in my camping section, it has been a gradual journey from bed and breakfasts on Hadrian’s Wall to tea in a tent on the Berwickshire Coastal Path.
I don’t often hear this dramatic trail come up in conversation on social media or blogs, perhaps because people who backpack in Scotland are understandably drawn to the magnetic Munros, the famous national parks or the beautiful highlands and islands, ignoring the beauty of parts of the east coast.
When I moved to the borders, I was struck by the beauty of the east coast between Holy Island in Northumberland and St Abb’s Head in Berwickshire, so I am often tempted to return there to walk. On a recent trip to Edinburgh, I was gazing out of the window, as the train runs so close to the coast between Berwick and Burnmouth that it almost knocks walkers into the sea. I noticed a couple of backpackers across the field walking along the coast path, who stopped and waved at us on the train. I got an overwhelming urge to be there waving, instead of on the train on my business errand, and so a week later I was.
Berwickshire has some of the highest, longest and most dramatic cliffs on the British coast, which make walking this path a challenging and dramatic experience which is ideal for wild camping. I’m sure I made some rookie wild camping errors, but I really enjoyed the challenge. I hope you will take a look at my trip report.
As well as the geographical posts which focus on a particular area or valley, I have been gradually creating themed walk collections from my Northumberland routes which I can add to as and when. Sometimes it is interesting to focus on one aspect or feature of an area, which can then be done as a group. So far there are walk collections in the Northumberland section featuring the coast, castles, waterfalls and short walks.
I’ve always had a soft spot for a sacred site or a cave, so my latest collection Rock Routes features some of my personal favourite geological, historical and archaeological places in Northumberland with links to GPS files.
As well as videos, I am gradually enriching my blog by adding more maps, data sheets and GPS links to all my posts. I hope you will enjoy these moderate walks which are all lovely in different ways.
This subject has never been far from my thoughts since I started this blog, but I would preface this post by saying that I am not an expert in this area. I saw my first fox up close when out walking on the South Downs at university, and later became aware of foxes scavenging from the neighbourhood bins in south London. Like many city dwellers, at the time I was thrilled to realise that I could be living in such close proximity to wild animals.
When I moved to the borders however, it was hard to ignore the fact that there were several active local hunts, who in those days took huge packs of noisy dogs out with them, or that the hills were chequered with burnt heather patches (muirburn) to encourage the grouse population.
Although the fishing troubles me less, as a walker I soon realised that it would be valuable to know when, where and how to avoid the hunting and the shooting. I lived amongst hunters, guns, anglers, ghillies, guides, beaters, gamekeepers, hotel staff, holiday cottage rental owners, equipment suppliers and the invisible landowners who make serious amounts of money from these pursuits, for several years. Although I am not and have never been pro hunting or shooting, one point I would now make through gritted teeth to my old city self about the H words (which I still hesitate to use), is that they still provide much needed employment in some areas.
Many rural communities in this area suffer from high unemployment, rural poverty and lacklustre tourism compared to areas like the Lake District. Like it or not, hunting, shooting and fishing are therefore still a mainstay of the north Northumbrian and Scottish Borders economy, which currently provide sustainable jobs and attract tourists who need to be housed, fed, kitted out and entertained.
Without these jobs and income streams, more young people would be forced to leave this part of the countryside in search of work, and the subsidiary businesses which are presently sustained by the hunting, shooting and fishing tourists would fail or close. All this could have the effect of making it an unsustainable community which is why I have so far been hesitant to be too confrontational about it. The point I am making is simply that if people want to abolish any of these pursuits, this needs to be done in conjunction with the development of sustainable alternative employment for the people and businesses involved. Sorry to inject a bit of realism into what I realise is an emotive debate.
Although I would never hunt or shoot personally, I gradually realised that my existence in the borders was dependent on a successful local economy. I do eat meat now, and I began to value the fact that I was surrounded by a ready supply of fresh, traceable fish and meat from farmers, although their livelihood was seriously compromised by the foot and mouth epidemic. It was all a far cry from the the meat section of the London supermarkets. So with my city morals and the last vestiges of my vegetarianism increasingly under strain, I eventually even partook of the spoils on occasions, which probably makes me every sort of hypocrite in the eyes of some readers.
All that said, I have gradually become aware during my walking of the damage which is done to the countryside in the name of grouse shooting in particular. My personal objections are concerned with the effects on the ecosystem of native plants, wildlife and birds. There are many ghost villages, industrial remains and abandoned buildings in Northumberland and the Borders to remind us that communities have come and gone since the Iron Age, so I would be sad to see this area emptied out and unable to regenerate without relying on the hunting, shooting and fishing economy.
In my humble opinion, the area needs sustainable jobs, and to attract different kinds of tourists such as walkers, cyclists, climbers, riders and nature lovers who will represent a different spectrum of opinion in environmental and outdoor debates. So, if you haven’t already sampled the local countryside please do so, as I hope this site has shown that it doesn’t all look like the photo above.
Note: The lack of appropriate pictures in this post is due to the fact that I normally avoid areas where hunting or shooting are taking place. I have only once got close to a hunt complete with a pack of dogs, and once to a shoot, and I got clear of both as quickly as possible, without lingering to take photos.
Living in a town as I currently do, every walk now begins and ends with a rail or road journey which has to be considered and planned for, which is why I include a discussion of transport here. Since I began walking in the Scottish Borders at the time of the foot and mouth epidemic, I have become aware of the fragility of the environment I enjoy so much. My earliest walks involved swilling my boots in troughs of chemicals aimed at halting the spread of the disease and some paths were completely sealed off, but the farmers were keen to encourage outdoor people to continue visiting the countryside.
Through my walking I have experienced up close the effects of things like disease, invasive species, erosion, flooding and climate change, as well as confronting the realities of threatened species such as elm, ash, red squirrels and bees. As a result of this experience, I have learned to respect the places I visit and to minimise the traces of my being there. Without shouting about it, I have also tried to make this blog consistent with the development of my environmental beliefs.
When I created the blog, I was lucky enough to have a car which I was able to jump into at the first sign of good weather like a true weekend warrior. When resources, transport and time are available, it is easy to write prolifically and pleasurably about the things I love. However when running a car became more costly, and I began to become aware of the environmental contradictions of my outdoor pursuits, I did my utmost to make my blog work using public transport. I am proud to say that I got to and from all my long distance walks on public transport.
For my shorter walks and trips, I really have battled with the logistics of trains, coaches, taxis and buses, which often don’t visit the places I want to reach, or run once or twice a week at most, but I have achieved less in the way of interesting blog posts. Because large areas of my local stomping grounds are inaccessible by bus, I tried car hire for a while, but found it a bit inflexible. After much deliberation, I have finally opted to join a car club to enable me to reach the wilder places and trails I love with some degree of spontaneity.
I won’t be abandoning public transport (where it is feasible) any time soon, but using a car club seems the ideal way of achieving the best of both worlds; minimising my environmental footprint and exploring wild places. I hope that this will find some kindred spirits among my readers.
Having completed my first solo wild camp this week, I have rather ambitiously begun a separate tab called Camps on this blog in which you can follow (or not) my attempts to conquer my fears and become experienced at wild camping. There you can read about my first group trip to Shining Tor in the Peak District and my first solo trip to Shillhope Law in Northumberland.
In my young imagination darkness and the outside were always full of terrors. I was the kind of child who wanted to sleep with the light on, and that shaped my view of the outdoors and wild camping in particular. This fear hampered my walking and my long distance trails for a few years, restricting me to accommodation schedules and adding to the cost of my trips. Several things have helped me to overcome this fear.
The first is to set myself some hard and fast goal/s which would give me a reason to wild camp, and some deadlines to work towards (although one of my first goals fell through). The second has been to gradually assemble a kit in which I have confidence, and the third has been to devise a game plan in which I progress gradually from bed and breakfasts to wild camping on my long distance trails. The fourth continues to be the advice and support of some people who have been very helpful (hopefully they know who they are). The fifth is learning to beware of people who try to undermine you, under the guise of helping you, because it is your development which matters most in that situation.
My advice is not to put pressure on people who are afraid of any outdoor situations. Fear is natural and inevitable at certain times and in certain situations in the outdoors. The truth is that many outdoors people have had experiences which have made them afraid, and it is much more helpful to people with less experience if we can be honest with ourselves and eachother about this. After all, fear performs a necessary function, keeping our senses alert and sharpening our survival instincts.
As the enclosures became virtually non existent at recent campsites, and I was forced to walk in darkness several times on long distance trails, my fears began to disintegrate, and it became an easier transition into wild camping. The old spectres have hopefully now been replaced by beautiful images of the first rays of the sun hitting the tops of the hills in Upper Coquetdale on a beautiful, if chilly, January morning, making my journey worthwhile.
I have listed a selection of six of my favourite short, easy walks (under 5 miles long) in Northumberland, hand picked because they contain some lovely places. Take your pick from castles, waterfalls, grey seals, St Cuthbert’s Chapel, puffins, scheduled ancient monuments, salmon fishermen and pristine beaches on walks which are suitable for all the family. They all have easy parking and facilities such as pubs, cafes and shops nearby, details of which are included on the page. Take a look at Six Shorts in the Northumberland section.
Wishing you all happiness and fulfilment in 2017. Rose 🌹
Although it hasn’t been a very busy year the outdoors has been in my thoughts and plans for the coming year. Rose 🌹