A Travellerspoint blog

UK Road Trip 2020 - South to North and Back (Second Leg)

Route: North Pennines - Newcastle-upon-Tyne - Northumberland National Park

semi-overcast 12 °C

SEPTEMBER 2020

The plan for our visit to the North Pennines Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty was much the same as other places, explore on foot. But not before our feet and legs had had a chance to recover from the past few weeks of hiking.
So day one and two consisted of shopping in our local town of Alston and a resting day with a bit of travel admin thrown in for good measure.
This all came very easily as we were staying in a lovely cottage with great views out of every window. The double height window in the lounge was particularly good as we could see sheep grazing on the moorland meadows as our eyes were drawn to the high fells in the distance. Then if we wanted a different view we could sit on our garden bench and look in the opposite direction, something we did on a number of occasions whilst drinking a cold local beer.

Our accommodation near Alston

Our accommodation near Alston

Pennine Beers

Pennine Beers

View from our accommodation

View from our accommodation

The location wasn’t just pleasant during the day, the nights could be spectacular as well. On a clear night, as there is no light pollution in the area, you could see thousands of stars and planets. This was star gazing from your back garden, we only wished we could remember some of the clusters. Although we were convinced we could see Venus.

In many ways the scenery in the North Pennines was similar to that of the Yorkshire Dales (our previous location). This wasn’t surprising as they were geographically connected with the only divide being man made and called the A66 trunk road. However, there was a difference, the sharp lines of the Crags and Scars in the Dales have been replaced by smoother hill tops, but just as high.

Pennine scenery

Pennine scenery

Pennines scenery

Pennines scenery

Lead mining used to be very important in the North Pennines and we were keen to find out a bit more. Therefore, what better way to do this than to go for a hike to discover the process. We started in the Lead Mining town of Allendale and followed the water source to the smelting plant. Today there isn’t much left of the plant but the site has been put to good use and now houses a local brewery. It also only seemed fair to support the local community by purchasing a selection of their products, all of which were very drinkable.

Water tunnel

Water tunnel

Technical descriptions of how all of this works

Technical descriptions of how all of this works

From the smelting plant our route continued up on to the moors following two old vapour flues. The flues were in fact stone tunnels, partly buried under the soil and ran for several kilometres away from the plant to a high moorland escarpment. The function of the flues was to take the toxic fumes away from the workers in the lead smelting plant and emit them far away from the town.

The dual flue tunnels

The dual flue tunnels

Technical description of a flue

Technical description of a flue

High up on the moors we reached two chimneys. These were connected to the flues and were the point at which the toxic vapour was released in to the air. Like the flues the chimneys had fallen into disrepair, but there was enough of both to get a good idea of how the process worked.

Moorland chimney

Moorland chimney

The 2 chimneys at the end of the flue on the moors

The 2 chimneys at the end of the flue on the moors

There were also plaques all along our route to explain each of the processes we were passing and gave us a good insight of 19th century engineering.
After the chimneys our route circled back to town and our original starting point.
This was an enjoyable journey through industrial history with beautiful scenery all around us, and to top it all, some rare sighting of Red Squirrel and Red Grouse.

See if you can spot the red squirel?

See if you can spot the red squirel?

Further hikes in the area extended our understanding of past and present industry.

Our next destination was the 19th century Lambley Viaduct.
Getting to the viaduct required a drive through the centre of the North Pennines, along narrow roads, through intermittent hill fog and avoiding suicidal Pheasants. For some reason today the Pheasant population of the area had a death wish as they would launch themselves off of stone walls right in the path of oncoming traffic. Fortunately we didn’t hit any, but squashed carcasses on the road proved that not all had been so lucky.

Sometimes we didn't have such a good view

Sometimes we didn't have such a good view

Built in 1852, the viaduct was formerly a railway bridge but now helps walker cross the South Tyne River which flows 33 meters below. An impressive feat of engineering and well worth the hazardous journey required to reach it. On the day of our hike the weather wasn’t very good, with low cloud making the air damp and not much sunlight to brighten our surroundings. It was for this reason we kept the hike short, focusing mainly on the viaduct.

On the top of the viaduct

On the top of the viaduct

Viaduct

Viaduct

From viaducts we turned our attention to reservoirs and in particular the Cow Green Reservoir. Built between 1967 and 1971 it is 2-mile long and supplies the industries to the east in Teesside. The reservoir provides river regulation, releasing water into the River Tees during dry conditions so that it can be abstracted further downstream. We hiked along its edge and beyond the dam. At this point the River Tees gushes over a cliff to form a waterfall known as “Cauldron Snout”. It then continues its journey through an attractive valley on its way east. Beyond the dam our hike got a bit more tricky as the ground underfoot became boggy and unstable. Even so we pushed on and were rewarded with great views over the valley, before turning back and retracing our steps.

Cow Green Reservoir with view of the observatory in the background reflected in the water

Cow Green Reservoir with view of the observatory in the background reflected in the water

Cauldron Snout

Cauldron Snout

Tees Valley

Tees Valley

Our other hiking activities were closer to home, as we rambled around the countryside near our accommodation. Beautiful scenery as usual with pretty waterfalls dotted around.

Ashgill Waterfall

Ashgill Waterfall

As with all hikes its not only reaching your final destination that sticks in the memory but also what you encounter on route.
On a number of occasions we were treated to the spectacle of sheep herding. Usually on a hillside opposite to where we were walking but close enough to see what was going on. The process was team work between the Shepard and his Border Collie sheep dogs. The Shepard would lead up front on his Quad-Bike and the dogs would corral the sheep behind him as they were led from one pasture to another.

We were also happy to interact with the locals to find out all about life in the North Pennine towns and villages. Alway outdoors and always social distancing. Every time we learnt a bit more and on one occasion quite a lot about what goes on in a tiny village not far from where we were staying.
This information was communicated by an elderly gentleman who told us he was an author, but that you could only find his books in very select outlets. He told us stories of long time residents moving away, the subsequent decline of the village and of a wealthy woman who now owns most of the land, that arrives by helicopter, surveys her estate then leaves again. He also told us of axe wielding locals chasing each other down the street and the strange characteristics of many of the new residents. All an interesting prelude to the start of our hike, even though we left him not knowing quite how much of it was true.

At the end of our enjoyable week in the North Pennines we had a spare day before we could access our accommodation in the new location of the Northumberland National Park. We therefore decided to visit the historic city of Newcastle-upon-Tyne.
Just on the outskirts of the city was the massive sculpture known as the “Angel of the North” (see below). Constructed in a small park its height means it's visible long before you arrive at the car park. Although its one of the area’s major tourist attractions it was quite quiet when we were there which enhanced our enjoyment and made photography easier. The lack of crowds may have been the result of new Covid-19 restrictions that came into force in the Newcastle area that day.

Angel of the North

Angel of the North

Angel of the North

Angel of the North

The centre of Newcastle was only a further 6 miles down the road so we were at our hotel very soon after leaving the “Angel of the North”. The route into Newcastle was across The Swing Bridge and over the River Tyne. This was quite significant for us because our previous accommodation had been very close to the source of the River Tyne.

The Swing bridge that pivot in the middle to allow shipping through

The Swing bridge that pivot in the middle to allow shipping through

Once settled at our hotel and with the sun shining we went out to explore the old city of Newcastle-upon-Tyne. We had a self-guided walking tour to follow which picked out famous landmarks and provided a brief explanation of each.
We first progressed to the Greys Monument where the tour started and then followed a fascinating route through this historical city. From the Greys Monument we passed through the Central Arcade past the Theatre Royal and down Greys Street, all the time stopping to read the commentary. Mosley street followed before arriving at the cathedral and the statue of Queen Victoria. It was then around the back of the cathedral for Thomas Bewick’s workshop, the Vampire Rabbit and Amen Corner, before continuing down towards the river and Newcastle-upon-Tyne castle. Having briefly looked around the castle we crossed the River Tyne via the High Level Bridge and arrived in Gateshead on the south bank go the river. Our route now took past the Sage building and on towards the Baltic Centre of Contemporary Art before re-crossing the river via the Millennium Bridge. By now we were getting a bit knackered so we returned to the hotel passing the statues of Joseph Cowen and George Stephenson on route.

The Tyne Bridge (smaller version of the Sydney Harbour Bridge)

The Tyne Bridge (smaller version of the Sydney Harbour Bridge)



An immensely enjoyable walk with lots of interesting history to take in. In particular:
The Greys Monument is a memorial to Earl Grey and the passing of the first Reform Act 1832. This is also the chap who gave his name to the famous tea.

Earl Grey monument (and yes the Earl Grey Tea is named after him)

Earl Grey monument (and yes the Earl Grey Tea is named after him)

The Central Arcade was built originally as a Corn Exchange in 1837 (but never used as such) and has had many uses during its existence. The inner architecture is quite amazing.

Central Arcade

Central Arcade

Grey street was planned and built by a local man, Richard Grainger, and has been described as “the finest street in England”. The fronts of the buildings are made of local stone and built in 1837. The front of these buildings was of great importance and appearance was everything. Thats why you will only find one drainpipe on the front, all the rest are on the rear of these buildings.
The positioning of the Queen Victoria statue is interesting. Her Royal Highness is said to face down the street because she could not turn her back to the cathedral or to the Victorian Town Hall, which once stood on the opposite side of the road.

Newcastle Cathedral spired

Newcastle Cathedral spired

The Vampire Rabbit is more of a hare than a rabbit. Little is known about this quirky decoration, but it is believed to be there to frighten away evil spirits from St. Nicholas’s opposite. Its red claws and teeth have given it its name.

Vampire Rabbit

Vampire Rabbit

Several points of interest surround Newcastle castle.
Firstly, the city got its name from this structure. Because the first castle on this spot was built of wood by Robert Curthose, the son of William the Conqueror, in 1080. And because it replaced old fortifications it was the “new castle” which gave the town its name. A stone castle built by Maurice the Mason replaced it in the 12th century;
Secondly, the last part of the castle to be built was the Black Gate. This has nothing to do with the stone colour it refers to the merchant who once owned the land, Patrick Black; and
Thirdly, “The Heron Pit”. This is a fine example of an oubliette or secret dungeon and was named after a sheriff of Newcastle. Prisoners were dropped into this dungeon and forgotten about. There was no way out unless a ladder was lowered down to you. The lid was nailed closed and there was no light, food or water to be had, therefore the prisoner would die a slow and painful death.

The Newcastle Castle

The Newcastle Castle

Heron Pitt, the oubliettes you never come back from

Heron Pitt, the oubliettes you never come back from

The Millennium Bridge is a pedestrian bridge which opens to allow ships to pass under it. Described as a “blinking eye” both sections of the bridge move. It cost £22m and was opened by the Queen in 2002.

The millennium bridge

The millennium bridge

The following day we left Newcastle and drove a short distance to our next accommodation at Hexham on the southern edge of the Northumberland National Park.
The accommodation was very comfortable and only a short walk from the centre of Hexham. A centre of the town still retains many of its historical buildings and a cluster of traditional shops selling local produce. With all the usual conveniences found on the outskirts.

Our accommodation in Hexham

Our accommodation in Hexham

Hexham house and bowling green

Hexham house and bowling green

The purpose for our stay in this area was to visit the Northumberland National Park and in doing so see Hadrians Wall (see below) and the Kielder Forest (see below). With six days to achieve this we were fairly confident of success, then the weather intervened. However, with a bit of planning and a close eye on the weather forecast we found sufficient dry days to see what we wanted.
With the best preserved parts of Hadrian Wall and most of Kielder Forest situated within the Northumberland National Park, we achieved two goals on each visit.
After a damp weekend the sun finally came out. This was the cue to make our first visit to Hadrians Wall. A short drive north soon got us into the National Park and to the car park at “Steel Rigg”. Here the section of the wall is particularly well preserved as it runs along the top of a high crag. We left the car park and walked along side the wall for a couple of miles before leaving it and heading out onto the moors.
The sight of the wall exceeded our expectations, firstly because of the feat of engineering and secondly how intact it was, hard to believe it was nearly 2,000 years old. These days the wall retains it original width but not its height, soil movement means you walk along side what would have been the top. This has the benefit of providing great views over the surrounding countryside. In addition to the wall, the ruins of small forts, known as a “Milecastle”, appeared every mile, hence their name.

Sycamore gap in Hadrians wall

Sycamore gap in Hadrians wall

Walking away from the wall and out onto the moors gave us another prospective. One that tribal groups would have experienced if they wanted to get into Roman Britain. A walk across farmland got us back to the carpark and to the end of our first Hadrians Wall visit.

Hadrians wall escarpment

Hadrians wall escarpment

View towards Hadrians wall

View towards Hadrians wall

With the window of good weather continuing into the next day we decided to explore the National Park’s central region. This area is dominated by the largest forest in England, the Kielder Forest (see below).
After a longer drive than expected, due to a number of road closures, we arrived in the forest. Our chosen hike was from Kielder Castle, so we drove deep into the forest to access our starting point. This had the benefit of giving us views of Kielder Water as we drove past.

Kielder Water

Kielder Water

From the car park at Kielder Castle our hike took us along Kielder Burn, a small fast flowing river, before crossing a bridge and into dense woodland. Our path undulated through the forest and required the negotiation of some very muddy areas. It was extremely quiet, just the sound of birds and the crunch of our footstep. All the while we kept a sharp lookout for a Red Squirrel (highly endangered in England) as this was one of the best places to see them, but with no luck. Our route eventually brought us out into a clearing, then across a viaduct before following the Kielder Burn back to the start.

Decomposition and mushrooms in Kielder Forest

Decomposition and mushrooms in Kielder Forest

Kielder Forest

Kielder Forest

With the following day wet again, we had to wait until our last to make a second visit to Hadrians Wall. The usual scenic drive took us back into the Northumberland National Park and to our starting point at Cawfields Quarry. Although the quarry has nothing to do with the Romans, it does has a car park and is a quite attractive location. As with our previous visit to the wall we started with a steep climb up onto the top of a crag. Immediately in front of us was a very well preserved section of Hadrians Wall and just to the right an equally well preserved milecastle. Looking over the wall we could see for miles , this helped us appreciate the Roman’s strategy for building it here. Hundreds of feet below we could also see the cattle that had been herded along the road in front of us as we approached the car park.

Herding of cattle

Herding of cattle

We continued along the wall for a couple of miles, admiring it as we went. Then in the face of a biting wind we decided to turn around and head back to the car park. It also made us think about what it would have been like to be a Roman Centurion posted to guard the wall, especially in the winter. You could imagine when the posting were being put out in Rome, not many, if any, were hoping for Britannia when southern Europe could have been an option.
[Photo’s - Cawfields wall]

And with that we had completed our second leg of our UK road trip. The following day we left England and crossed the border into Scotland.

Personal Observations & Interesting Facts

Angel of the North
The Angel of the North is a contemporary sculpture, designed by Antony Gormley and located in Gateshead, England. Completed in 1998, it is a steel sculpture of an angel, 20 metres (66 ft) tall, with wings measuring 54 metres (177 ft) across. The wings are angled 3.5 degrees forward to create, according to Gormley, "a sense of embrace".
The angel, like much of Gormley's other work, is based on a cast of his own body. It is Britain's largest sculpture, and is said to be the largest angel sculpture in the world.
According to Gormley, the significance of an angel was three-fold: firstly, to signify that beneath the site of its construction, coal miners worked for two centuries; secondly, to grasp the transition from an industrial to an information age; and thirdly, to serve as a focus for our evolving hopes and fears.
Work began on the project in 1994, cost £800,000 and was installed on 15 February 1998. Due to its exposed location, the sculpture was built to withstand winds of over 100 mph (160 km/h). Thus, foundations contain 600 tonnes of concrete to anchor the sculpture to rock 70 feet (21 m) below. It was made in three parts, a body weighing 100 tonnes and two wings weighing 50 tonnes each. The components were transported in convoy from their construction site in Hartlepool, 28 miles (45 km) away. The nighttime journey took five hours and attracted large crowds.

Angle of the North

Angle of the North

Hadrians Wall
Hadrian's Wall, is a former defensive fortification of the Roman province of Britannia. Its construction began in 122 CE (current or common era), during the reign of the emperor Hadrian, and was completed in 128 CE. It ran from the banks of the River Tyne near the North Sea (Eastern England) to the Solway Firth on the Irish Sea (Western England). It also marked the northern limit of the Roman empire. Immediately north of the wall was the unconquered lands known as Caledonia, home to the northern Ancient Britons and the Picts.
It had a stone base and a stone walls. Every mile there was a milecastle (small fort) with two turrets (look-outs) in between. In addition, about every five miles, there was a large fort. From north to south, the wall comprised a ditch, wall, military way (Roman road) and vallum (huge earthworks). It is thought the milecastles were staffed with static garrisons, whereas the forts had fighting garrisons of infantry and cavalry. In addition to the wall's defensive military role, its gates may have been customs posts.
It is the largest Roman archaeological feature in Britain and runs a total of 73 miles (117.5 kilometres) across northern England. Regarded as a British cultural icon, it is one of Britain's major ancient tourist attractions and was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987.
The wall lies entirely within England and has never formed the Anglo-Scottish border. While it is less than 0.6 mi (1.0 km) south of the border with Scotland in the west at Bowness-on-Solway , in the east at Wallsend it is as much as 68 miles (109 km) away.

Hadrians wall and a milecastle

Hadrians wall and a milecastle

Kielder Forest
Kielder Forest is a large forestry plantation in Northumberland, England. It is the largest man-made woodland in England with three-quarters of its 250 square miles (650 km2) covered by forest. It is also the second largest in the UK, only superseded by the Galloway Forest in Scotland.
Within the forest is Kielder Reservoir which holds 200 billion litres (44 billion gallons, or 0.2 cubic km) of water. This makes it the largest artificial reservoir in the UK by capacity (Rutland Water is the largest by surface area).
The forest is owned and managed by the Forestry Commission and contains mostly conifer trees. Sitka spruce is the most common, accounting for about 75% of cover. This species thrives in the damp conditions afforded by northern Britain. Other species include Norway spruce, Lodgepole pine, larch, Douglas-fir and various broadleaves (birch, rowan, cherry, oak, beech & willow).

Kielder Forest

Kielder Forest

Posted by MAd4travel 05:59 Archived in England

Email this entryFacebookStumbleUpon

Table of contents

Be the first to comment on this entry.

This blog requires you to be a logged in member of Travellerspoint to place comments.

Login