After a very busy summer at this new centre, I decided to sit it out until things calmed down a bit before taking some pictures. These are a few snaps taken during a quiet term-time November weekday at The Sill Centre and YHA on Hadrian’s Wall. It is within easy reach of Housesteads Roman Fort, Vindolanda and the Roman Army Museum, as well as some of the most iconic parts of the wall.
If you are thinking of visiting the centre or staying at the YHA, you can find some suggested day walks with GPX at Roman Roaming, and an account of the whole national trail at Hadrian’s Wall Path.
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 Northumberland presently need to work around the management of vast Forestry Commission plantations, a huge man made reservoir which occupies an entire valley, privately owned hunting, shooting and fishing estates, and live firing on the military ranges at Otterburn which occupy 23% of the National Park. Some of these activities leave me wondering about their long term effects on the delicate terrain of the Northumbrian and border uplands.
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.
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.
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.
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.
In May I walked the Speyside Way as a way to remember a relative who sadly passed away this year. During the walk I made a call to rescue services for navigational advice as there was a route 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 indicated on my map, and wasn’t wide enough to pitch my tent in. My tired reasoning was simply that a call for advice now might prevent a call for help later. Unfortunately the people I spoke to were unable to answer my query. When I mentioned this dilemma on Twitter after my return, a few people were critical of my decision to make a call, 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 following an attack of vertigo, and have sought advice (usually regarding route diversions) two or possibly three times on solo long distance walks. On each of these occasions I made a donation to the relevant team.
I would just like to quote a DM I received from a professional rescue person (who shall remain anonymous) 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”
I would also like to point out that, 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 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, to donate as and when I am able, and to provide the best outdoor advice I can.
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.
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.
I have always tried to be an ambassador for the outdoors as it has been a sanctuary for me during difficult times. However it can sometimes be an aggressive place, on and offline, where some people can become unpleasant. If you find yourself on the receiving end of this kind of trolling or harassment, please don’t suffer in silence, but seek advice and report it.
It is important to remember that the majority of responsible people and organisations involved in the outdoors don’t want it to be diminished by the trolls or the bullies, and should have procedures in place to tackle the issue.
Blow the whistle to send a message that we know who the trolls and bullies are.
As I have been attempting to study for the last year, I have been unable to improve Rucksack Rose much. However now that I am back in the world, I am seeking your feedback and implementing several plans to spruce things up and show that I have been thinking about it while I was away. To keep you posted these currently include:
Creating fresh content
Refreshing all the content and some of the pictures on my blog
Giving more opportunities for feedback
Improving my existing and forthcoming videos.
Introducing ways to allow people to give financial support or advertise if they want
Re-establishing contacts and catching up on Twitter
Re-evaluating YouTube, Google+, Instagram and Audioboom profiles (See section at the end of this post)
Seeking adventure collaborators and walking companions
Feedback on any or all of these plans would be welcome so please respond to this poll, add comments or use the contact form if you have any suggestions or criticisms.
Rucksack Rose social media thoughts:
I am delighted by the popularity of some of my platforms but I recognise that some have been more successful than others. This has been due to my tendency to spread myself too thinly between different media and my lack of integration into some of my online communities. Also some social media platforms have simply fallen out of favour in the last 4 years and I try to move with the times without becoming too slavish about it. I am beginning to feel that quality is more important than quantity online which is partly why I am looking at it all afresh.
Blog – Knowing I am niche but realising that I have something worth sharing with other like minded people has been key to creating this blog and profile. I am gradually refreshing all the content and some of the poor quality, older pictures on my blog, and to actively seek feedback about the type of posts I include.
Twitter – I christened my new blog and YouTube account on Twitter. It was my first social media and has always been my most popular. Apart from the spam, I have felt a better fit with Twitter and it’s community than with Facebook (which I don’t use). I can’t see this account changing at present, although it is sometimes hard to keep up with my older followers.
YouTube – It is hard for walking videos to compete with the new generation of Red Bull™ extreme sports type videos on YouTube, so I have tried to create videos which are an antithesis to these and instead show the peacefulness and beauty of walking in wild places. I accept that the quality of my older videos isn’t good due to my poor camera and editing software. I have therefore been working through the old videos to improve their metadata and investing in new software to improve the quality of future videos.
Google + – I have not integrated very well to Google + or it’s infrastructure for various reasons, so I have not felt that I am providing a good ‘service’ to my G+ followers. I am therefore considering abandoning this profile
Instagram – I enjoyed this profile for a while and found it very moreish, but it doesn’t presently have a good interface with Twitter unless you use IFTTT. Twitter has become an increasingly visual platform but it doesn’t show pictures or even thumbnails of Instagram pictures.
Audioboom – I enjoyed producing audio content for a while, but I admit to never really understanding the conventions of AudioBoom so it has faded out to the point where I haven’t used it for some time.