Earlier this year the Northumberland NationalPark celebrated 60 years since it’s formation and as the only National Park I have not spent any time exploring I was determined to visit this year. Northumberland is known as England’s Secret Kingdom and it’s National Park is situated to the west of the county, sandwiched between Scotland to the North and West, the rest of Northumberland to the East and Hadrian’s Wall to the South. There are around 405 square miles of superb wilderness within the National Park to explore and I had only a few days to make the most of it. The landscape is an outstanding mix of high hills, dales and crystal clear rivers and, not forgetting, the magnificent Kielder Water – Northern Europe’s biggest man made lake. Within the Park the population is less than 2.5 people per square mile, but when you consider that most live in the small villages dotted around the Park, you really can get away from it all. Northumberland’s National Park is officially England’s most tranquil location.
Having visited the best of Hadrian’s Wall before I decided on this occasion to go straight to my first stopover at Bellingham. Arriving late afternoon and a pleasant evening in prospect I decided to take the 3-mile return magical walk over six bridges to Hareshaw Linn, a 30-foot high waterfall set in fantastic ancient woodland at the head of Hareshaw Dene. Here the Hareshaw Burn plunges over a band of resistant sandstone overlying softer shales. The waterfall erodes the shales and undercuts the harder rocks which collapse in blocks allowing the flowing water to display creative cascades.
The following day I made my way to Kielder with the largest working forest in England at over 250 square miles. Parking at Leaplish Waterside Park my plan was to walk around the Bull Crag Peninsula hoping to find good photo opportunities of the Water. Unfortunately, that was not to be as most of the way around the 7-mile route many views were restricted or what decent light that was available never seemed to be at the right angle. At least I got some more exercise and arriving back at the start of my walk the sun came out for a short while allowing me to capture at least one reasonable shot of the Water.
Reading a local guide the night before my visit to Kielder reminded me that it is home to a unique collection of art and architecture located at sites around the lake and in the forest. In fact, I had passed one of them – Freya’s Cabin on the earlier walk but I did not find it too inspiring mainly as the view across the water shown in the guide is no longer available due to trees and shrubbery having grown considerably since the guide photo was taken. One of the artworks did intrigue me – Silvas Capitalis which is located on the opposite shoreline and a 4-mile round walk from Kielder Viaduct. I drove to the viaduct and set off along Lakeside Way to reach Silvas Capitalis (a play on the Latin for “forest head”) which is a giant timber head created by American artist’s collective SIMPARCH. The head has been conceived as a watcher, an imagined presence who has observed the passing occupation of the landscape over the past millennia and how the environment has dramatically changed during the last one hundred years with the coming of the forest and more recently the lake.
The next day I moved on into that heart of the National Park basing myself just outside its boundary at Powburn. On route, I took the opportunity to visit the Simonside Hills, a dramatic sandstone escarpment. After waiting for a brief but heavy rainstorm to pass through I set off from the Lordenshaws car park up the paved pathway to the Beacon cairn and wind shelter. It was windy but fortunately, it was not necessary to use it on this visit although I can imagine in worse conditions the shelter would be highly welcome. Continuing along the ridge passing cairns for Dove Crag, and Old Stell Crag I eventually reached the summit and cairn of Simonside with its spectacular views across Coquetdale.
Having completed the Simonside walk I decided to take a closer look at the Coquetdale Valley although I only got as far as Alwinton. Time was not on my side but I did manage a walk around Holystone and visited Lady’s Well where in AD 627 Paulinus (later Bishop of York) is reputed to have baptised 2000 converts on Easter Day. Unfortunately, the light was poor so no decent images to share and so I headed for Powburn from where my objective over the next few days was visiting the Breamish, College and Harthope Valleys.
Many say that The College Valley is arguably Northumberland’s finest. Arrow- straight, it pierces the heart of the Cheviot Hills and is very close to the England Scotland border. This is hill fort territory, where seemingly every other windswept summit bears the reminders of a harsh and distant past. The walk I had chosen was to GreatHetha via Little Hetha both with 360-degree views of the surrounding hills including The Cheviot, the highest summit in the Cheviot Hills only 1 mile from the Scottish border. The summit of the Cheviot is very flat as it is an ancient, extinct volcano and is covered with an extensive peat bog up to six feet deep.
Next day was the Harthope Valley where I took a rather strenuous walk up to the 1500 foot summit of Cold Law. Boy is it aptly-named because on reaching the triangulation pillar the wind was gusting so having removed by jacket whilst on the way up it quickly went back on. Then along the ridge and back down to the valley floor via Hawsen Crags. Immediately it was again steeply uphill to Housey and Long Crags with a fine view of conical Hedgehope Hill and The Cheviot. Returning back via Hawsen Crags I walked along the top side of the valley to the superb Langlee Crags and eventually back down to my starting point at Langlee. An 8-mile roller coaster with very contrasting conditions of both wind speed and light.
For my final day in the National Park, it was the turn of the Breamish Valley and a walk to another waterfall at Linhope. The nearest parking to the waterfall is at Hartside from where it is a 3-mile round trip but having found a 5-mile walk I decided to take the indirect route via Alnhammoor. After an initial walk downhill it became a steady climb on a road before turning back downhill towards the village of Linhope and then back up to come down again to get to the waterfall itself. One of those walks I am sure you have come across that seems to go a long way around just to make the distance where it can be called a reasonable walk. Still the waterfall was worth the effort although because of all the wet weather they have had in the North East the final section and access on to the bottom of the fall was rather precarious and I had to watch my step very carefully in order not to end up in the pool of water at the foot of the fall along with camera and tripod.
So that was my visit to England’s Most Tranquil Location and the final National Park explored – well at least part of it.
If you have enjoyed this don’t feel too disappointed that it’s at an end as I then headed into the Scottish Borders parts of which I had driven through many times before but this time, although briefly, I will enjoy the scenery more closely. Anyway more of that in due course so keep following and hopefully, I will have more to share with you about the Borders shortly.