Tuesday, 29 August 2017

Bolam Lake and Shaftoe Crags

Bolam Lake
Most people thinking about walking in Northumberland would naturally want to explore the coast or Hadrian's Wall.  If you were more intrepid you might consider Kielder Forest or the Cheviots but the area around Morpeth is not natural walking country.  However, this is where we had based ourselves for our week away (deliberately as it happened as we wanted to visit the Wall and the Coast and this was halfway between).  The most local walk in volume 35 of the Pathfinder Guide Northumberland and Scottish Borders was number 15 and after a lengthy spell of heavy rain earlier in the day I was pleased to see a sunny evening open up, which allowed the prospect of a walk.

Bolam Lake is a country park approximately 8 miles to the west of Morpeth and is a lovely little oasis in among grazing land and low moorland.  Judging from the number and size of the car parks it is quite well used and most of the roads around are parking restricted to make sure cars actually use the parking areas and don't clog up the narrow lanes.  That proved a little bit of a problem for me as the car park gates are closed at 8pm, rather earlier than I needed to complete this walk.  Luckily I found a pull off spot at the western end of the lake where I didn't cause a problem.  It did mean though that I had to start from a different spot and the lake couldn't be visited at the beginning and end of the walk but circumnavigated at the start.
Straight Ahead
The lake was laid out in Victorian times to provide timber and was restored as a country park some time later.  It provides a useful habitat to many species of bird and mammals that are rare elsewhere including weasels and red squirrels (sadly I didn't see either).  I started at the western end of the lake and circumnavigated in a clockwise direction.  The results of the earlier rain were still evident in the shape of dripping trees and puddles although the heat of the sun also showed off some localised mist created as the significant amount of wet evaporated.  I walked round half the lake without getting a glimpse of it so thick were the trees!  I paused briefly at the visitor centre which marks the official start of the walk.  Unfortunately there wasn't anybody there so I had to make do with the signage about the animals and other wildlife I was likely to see on the way round.
Harvest Time
From the visitor centre the path dropped down to the lakeside and on the eastern end I got to walk along some boardwalks that afforded the best views across the lake. It seemed pretty popular with swans and coots but I didn't see a lot of other birdlife.  Maybe other species were fed up with the feisty behaviour of these two!  The path continued along the southern shore and I enjoyed the sunny sparkles from the lake.  Sadly I didn't see enough sunshine in my week in this beautiful county.
At the end of the lake I transferred onto the adjacent road taking a left hand turn at the next lane junction to Harnham.  It didn't really look like a public road to be honest as the centre line had a fairly good crop of grass growing on the surface and not long into the lane I had to cross a cattle grid.  As I did so a wonderful view of the surrounding countryside became evident.  There were sheep and cows as far as the eye could see, unlikely bedfellows but they seemed very happy occupying the same fields.  The farm that I passed looked equally attractive - a rural idyll if ever there was one.

At a lane junction I took the right hand turn and passed along the foot of a small hill showing some rather odd looking patterns in the grass.  I later learned that these were a relic of ancient farming practices and they certainly stood out in the low evening sun casting shadows across the surface.  To the right of me the field had recently been harvested and was dotted with shredded wheat style bales at nice neat intervals.  Again the shadows of the evening sun seemed to enhance the prettiness of the scene.

Shaftoe Hall
As I continued down the lane a big black cloud that had been lumbering across the sky finally blotted out the sun and the change in lighting was astonishing.  I went from a glorious sunny evening to a murky overcast one instantly - it was almost as if I had witnessed a solar eclipse!  Luckily this coincided with perhaps the least interesting part of the walk for soon I had left the lane and followed a field boundary towards the far off hill that Shaftoe Crags is housed on.  In the very distance I could see Shaftoe Hall, a pretty good looking house high on the back side of the hill.  I could also see a very busy looking wind generator; not one of the big ones that dominate the skyline but a smaller more homespun looking one.  I was to keep seeing this as I looped around the rest of the walk.

Lonely Tree
Apparently this path was the course of a Roman Road although I am not sure I would have known that if I hadn't been told - there was no remnants of it now, nor of the Roman Station that was buried under the field somewhere.  What I did catch sight of though was a very large buzzard perched on the gatepost ahead.  It stayed for quite a time before eventually flying off.  As I got closer to the large house on the hill I could see quite the growing operation going on in the walled garden to one side of the estate.  On a south facing slope I imagine this is quite productive even in an area like this.

Shaftoe Trig Point
I climbed up and passed the walled garden and headed out onto the 'moor' beyond.  The change of scenery was quite remarkable and by now the sun had reappeared too, which was perfect timing!  I plodded up to the top of the crags and the view out was quite remarkable.  Ahead of me were the Northumberland Fells in the distance and below I could see the Wallington Estate, a largish National Trust property that I thought would make for a good trip in the morning.  This little area of crags reminded me a lot of Dartmoor although the underlying geology of sandstone rather than granite could not have been more different. The official path actually passes below the crags but I couldn't resist climbing up on top for a better view.  Getting down was a bit of a challenge though - I had to find a fairly convoluted route to get off the top.

Crag View
I headed alongside a large dry stone wall before turning right at the next path junction and heading through a gap in the crag.  This very much had the appearance of an ancient trackway and the gap had been further exploited by the numbers of feet and wheels across it over the centuries.  At the top of the crag the slope fell away gently and initially at least the path was actually made of solid rock.  As I descended into a field of cows the landscape got gradually gentler until the sandstone gave way to pasture once again.  As I looked closer at the cows I realised that not all of them were female.  This caused me some alarm but thankfully the bull had other ideas on his mind concerning the cows and didn't seem to be too bothered about me.  I passed through the area as calmly as I could, looking for exits constantly!

Shaftoe Crag
Eventually I got to the end of the field and the wind turbine came back into view as I completed the loop around the farm where it was home to.  The path now entered a delightful tree lined lane qand once again the shadows created by the evening sun created a little extra magic.  The beech trees had an almost silvery look about them, while the puddles sparkled even though up close they were mostly murky water!  At the end of the lane I met the original road once again by a small cluster of houses.  They all looked delightful - I imagine if you like countryside these would be fantastic to live in although they are perhaps a little further from facilities than I would like.  From here it was a short walk back down the road to Bolam Lake and my car once again.

Tree Lined Lane
As an evening walk this really could not be beaten.  I didn't meet a soul all the way round and I appreciated the solitude.  Although perhaps not an area of Northumberland that you may have considered walking it is worth a look.  Well done to the book publishers for including it in the volume as I wouldn't have thought of exploring this area otherwise.

Is Summer Over?

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