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Explore Redesdale

Use our interactive map to discover the Rede Valley, add your own points of interest with photos and text or simply explore other places people have pinned to the map.

Celebrating and protecting
the rich cultural
heritage, landscape
and wildlife of
Redesdale.

Working with local people in the Rede Valley, we have successfully secured an award of £1.8 million from The National Lottery Heritage Fund, to celebrate Redesdale’s rich cultural heritage and to protect and enhance the area’s landscape and wildlife.

5th September 2020 – Marie Ness, Project Manager St. Cuthbert’s Three-Church Trail

Bishop Christine was one of the many Pilgrims that set out from St. Cuthbert’s Elsdon on Saturday 5th September to bless the official launch of the St. Cuthbert’s Three-Church Trail from Elsdon, via St. Cuthbert’s Corsenside and then on to Cuddy’s Well and St. Cuthbert’s Bellingham.

As we set off across the village green and up into the hills we stopped to remind each other of Cuthbert “stories”. We recalled how Cuthbert himself had seen a light in the sky and the next day had learned Saint Aidan had died, and so prompted Cuthbert followed his vocation and joined the monastic community at Melrose.

St. Cuthbert’s Elsdon

The St. Cuthbert’s Three-Church Trail Group have worked with Revitalising Redesdale to provide waymarkers along the Trail and improve the crossing at Smoutel Ford, which is passable when the River Rede is low. Unfortunately after a wet August we were not able to cross the Ford. However in blessing the newly installed Ford Bishop Christine also reminded us that in life just as on our pilgrimage walk today we often are faced with barriers that we have to overcome and find ways around. In the distance we could see St. Cuthbert’s Corsenside on the top of the hill, we were rewarded in our detour with deep conversations with new and old friends, more Cuthbert stories, wandering paths and rushing streams. Up the hill we walked once more on the steady climb up to the simple peace and tranquility of St. Cuthbert’s Corsenside.

Recalling stories of St Cuthbert en route

Fortified by our picnic lunch in West Woodburn, where many friends joined us, some to continue with us on our journey, others to encourage and support friends on their way. Undeterred by a sharp shower we continued across country and on a bridge where the River Rede meets the North Tyne stopped for rest and to listen to the story of Cuthbert and the Otters who lovingly  warmed Cuthbert’s feet after he had sought solitude in the sea.

St Cuthbert’s Corsenside
The St. Cuthbert’s Three-Church Trail booklet is available for purchase in the three St Cuthbert’s Churches.

Eventually we emerged from the Riverside path to arrive at “Cuddy’s” Well Bellingham, a natural Spring said to have never dried up since St. Cuthbert blessed it, and linked to miraculous cures over the centuries. Most of the pilgrims certainly partook of the metallic tasting water to quench their thirst. After a blessing at the Well we ascended the steps to St. Cuthbert’s Bellingham where we had prayers including special thanks for Revd. Dr Susan Ramsaran who has played a major part in the Trail’s creation and has written the St. Cuthbert’s Three-Church Trail booklet and retires after St. Cuthbert’s Festival Weekend. Bishop Christine expressed her strong support for the installation of steps and a pathway to connect Cuddy’s Well and St. Cuthbert’s Church Bellingham, emphasising that it will encourage more  visitors and importantly further the development of spiritual pilgrimage in Northumberland.

The three St. Cuthbert churches are also working together on the Rural Churches for Everyone project. The Trail and the installation of steps at St. Cuthbert’s Bellingham is very much part of the sustainable future for these churches, communities and our St. Cuthbert’s Heritage. If you would like a copy of the St. Cuthbert’s Three-Church Trail booklet written by Revd. Dr Susan Ramsaran please e-mail Marie Ness marie@training4business.org If you would like to make a donation to the further development of the St. Cuthbert’s Three-Church Trail you can donate via the Diocese Donate page https://www.give.net/3churchtrail/oneoff

Bishop Christine and Revd. Dr Susan Ramsaran outside St. Cuthbert’s Bellingham at the end of the Trail

Article and photos:
Marie Ness, Project Manager St. Cuthbert’s Three-Church Trail
Jill Swaile, Churchwarden St. Peter’s Falstone

It’s been a long lockdown…..

Well, it’s been a long time since our last newsletter. A global pandemic got in the way of our planned activities! The team have continued to work from home, but sadly a lot of our planned delivery has been affected. Since July we have been slowly re-starting volunteer activities and we are planning how to carefully increase this over the coming months in a safe way.

So here’s a round-up of what we have managed to do over the last month, and what we hope to be doing next!

Welcome to Natasha!

Natasha at the River Rede. Photo credit: Jennifer Care.

We welcomed our new Trainee Assistant, Natasha, at the beginning of August. Natasha will be supporting various aspects of project delivery, working part-time as part of the Redesdale team and part-time for Northumberland Wildlife Trust at their new reserve, Benshaw Moor. Find out more on Natasha and what she has been up to so far on the link below.

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Nick jumps ship!

Planting wildflowers with colleagues from Natural England. Photo Credit: Maria Hardy

We are very sad to announce that Nick Lightfoot, Programme Officer, is leaving us at the beginning of September to take up a new, more senior role within Natural England. He’ll be sorely missed, but we wish him all the best in his new role.

We are currently recruiting for Nick’s replacement, find out more about the Programme Officer role and application here.

Revisiting Rattenraw 

Volunteers at the Rattenraw dig. Photo Credit: Karen Collins

One of the first volunteer activities we were able to carry out post-lockdown was the second phase of our excavation of an Iron Age settlement at Rattenraw, where we made further exciting discoveries.

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Excavation with Operation Nightingale 

Volunteers at the Bellshiel excavation in 2019. Photo Credit: Crown/MOD

We’re also going to be running a second dig, in partnership with Breaking Ground Heritage and Operation Nightingale, an initiative for injured and sick veterans and service personnel. We’ll be looking at probable prehistoric features on the Otterburn Training Area identified during our Lidar survey.

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The Gun Inn Re-Opens!

New picnic benches at The Gun Inn. Photo Credit: Alison Thompson

After a hugely successful fundraising campaign, the Ridsdale Community Group re-opened The Gun Inn at Ridsdale on Thursday 27th, with full restaurant facilities from Friday 28th August. You will now find a brand new set of picnic benches in the pub garden to enjoy a drink with a view, which the Group applied for funding for through our Community Heritage Fund.

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St. Cuthbert’s Three Church Trail

Look out for these waymarkers along the St. Cuthbert’s Three Church Trail. Photo Credit: Nick Lightfoot

We are working with St. Cuthbert’s Three Church Trail Group to create a new marked trail through Redesdale. The route takes walkers and pilgrims alike to the three local St. Cuthbert’s Churches, from Elsdon to Corsenside and Bellingham. The Group was awarded funding from our Community Heritage Fund to produce a guide booklet for the route and we have recently installed new waymarkers to aid navigation.

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St. Cuthbert’s Weekend 4-6th September 2020

‘Cuddy’s Well’ at St Cuthbert’s Church, Bellingham. Photo Credit: Natasha Hemsley

Join the festivities for this year’s St. Cuthbert’s Festival!

Friday 4 September 7:30 pm by Zoom – Join John Grundy and Peter Ryder in conversation about St Cuthbert’s Bellingham, followed by a Q&A. E-mail Elaine Ryder for joining details: revelaine212@gmail.com

Saturday 5 September 9:00 am– Walk the St Cuthbert’s Three-Church Trail with Bishop Christine. Bring your own picnic or contact Revd Dr Susan Ramsaran to book lunch: smramsaran@aol.com

Sunday 6 September – Special services for St. Cuthbert’s weekend at St Cuthbert’s Bellingham (9.30am) and St Cuthbert’s Elsdon (6:00pm). E-mail Elaine Ryder for joining details: revelaine212@gmail.com

We are recruiting! Do you want to join a dynamic team and help deliver a landscape scale programme of innovative projects celebrating Redesdale’s natural and human heritage? Find out more below…

On behalf of the Revitalising Redesdale Landscape Partnership, Natural England would like to appoint a Programme Officer to work as part of the Revitalising Redesdale team to support the delivery of a five year National Lottery Heritage Fund (NLHF) funded programme of 12 inter-related projects. The Revitalising Redesdale Landscape Partnership Scheme began implementation in January 2018 and will end in December 2022. The four person team are delivering a £2.8 million programme to celebrate Redesdale’s rich cultural heritage and to protect and enhance the area’s landscape, archaeology and wildlife.

The Programme Officer will have particular responsibility for supporting administration, managing and maintaining the financial records of the programme and managing the small grants Community Heritage Fund. They will work with partners and Revitalising Redesdale team to help deliver rights of way improvements, and record project activity progress within Redesdale.

For full job specification and application details see: https://networkrecruitment.tal.net/vx/appcentre-7/brand-4/candidate/so/pm/1/pl/8/opp/2879-2879-Programme-Officer-Revitalising-Redesdale-Landscape-Partnership/en-GB

Deadline for applications: 4th September at 23:55 hours

This week, we have the pleasure of introducing our newest team member, Natasha Hemsley, the Revitalising Redesdale Trainee Assistant. We are thrilled to have you aboard! Without further ado, over to you, Natasha…

Who am I?

Name:  Natasha Hemsley

Background:

  • Geography Undergraduate Degree at Newcastle University
  • Environmental Resource Assessment Master’s Degree at Newcastle University, focusing on biodiversity conservation, soil analysis and habitat surveying.
  • Trainee placement at Yorkshire Wildlife Trust with the conservation team.

Interests: One of my favourite parts of working in conservation is public engagement on volunteer task days, getting to know local people and exchanging knowledge and heritage of the local area. The physical work is enjoyable too, weather permitting!

Hobbies:    In my free time I like to explore new places with friends or alone. Getting out and about has been so important to me during lockdown. I’d like these trips to continue and perhaps go further afield as time allows.

What I’ve been up to…

As the newest member of the Revitalising Redesdale team I’ve had an enjoyable, yet busy, first week getting to know Redesdale a little better. This week I have delved into the worlds of history and archaeology at Rattenraw Farm and Bremenium Roman fort, habitat management at Steng Moss and Benshaw Moor, and also river management along the Rede, a particularly important feature within the Redesdale Valley as I’m sure you will agree!

Rattenraw Excavation

I joined a wonderful mix of enthusiastic volunteers and extremely knowledgeable members of local archaeological groups on one of their final days of excavation on this Iron Age site. For some, these 10 days at Rattenraw Farm have been the first time they’ve been out in a very long time and this project represents months of hard work and perseverance to bring outdoor volunteering back onto site, working safely.

As my first ever archaeological dig it was great to get stuck in with the team and learn some trench etiquette, like keeping your feet out of the trench! From photographs of the site it was difficult for me to imagine the structure of the Iron Age settlement and envisage how life could have looked for the people that lived here.

Rattenraw Farm excavation site, Revitalising Redesdale’s Lost Redesdale project, Otterburn. Photo credit: Karen Collins.

Getting shown around in the flesh changed all that. For a complete novice like me, being able to see the change in the landscape between inside the ramparts and beyond the outer ditch was all I needed to start speculating what certain excavated features were and why they were there.

Impressive finds like the 100+ coloured glass beads found at the site, during this and a previous excavation, are suggested by experts to have Egyptian origins, pointing to a rather more sophisticated life here than I had previously imagined for this Iron Age farmstead.

Bremenium Roman Fort      

This Roman Fort at High Rochester unfortunately could easily be missed within the landscape if you weren’t paying close enough attention. This important piece of history was in great need of repair and so the project here aimed to protect the site from further degradation rather than rebuild the fort in its entirety.

Despite the site still being very much in ruin, taking the pathway around the site gave me a feel of how defensive the outer walls would have been when inhabited by Roman troops.

Sections of the walls and features like the western gateway have been repaired and look like they had not been touched at all, concealing the huge effort and hours of work put into the project here. This means that future generations can enjoy this site as it is now rather than see it disappear due to deterioration and collapse.

Western gateway of Bremenium Roman fort, High Rochester. Photo credit: Jennifer Care.

Blakehope Nick

This treat for the eye captures stunning views in all directions and is a lovely spot to take a minute to relax within the landscape, as I found out on my first visit to the structure.

Standing at 457m above sea level ‘The Nick’ sits at the highest point of Kielder’s Forest Drive and while it forms the very Western edge of the Redesdale valley, it should be celebrated as a great example of project partnerships within the North East.

Blakehope Nick, Kielder Forest Drive. Photo credit: Jennifer Care.

Whitelee Moor National Nature Reserve

What a reserve! Entering Whitelee first from the forest track entrance off the A68 and then from higher ground at Carter Bar, a stone’s throw from Scotland, I really got a feel of how vast the site actually is (over 1500ha).

The active blanket bog and heather moorland here pique my interest as numerous hours could be whiled away surveying the site across its diverse range of habitats. Despite the mist on this particular day, the views were stunning and I’m sure they’d have been even better if we’d have carried on up to the highest point!

An Antler Moth (Cerapteryx graminis) on Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) taken at Whitelee. Photo credit: Natasha Hemsley.

Newcastle University’s Go Volunteer Project at Rupert’s Wood

One part of Redesdale needed no introduction on my tour of the valley…Rupert’s Wood! Across the four years I spent as a student at Newcastle, almost every half term and summer holiday I accompanied excited young people to the wood for camping fun, team building, outdoor games, fire lighting, campfire cooking and telling stories by the fire while roasting marshmallows before bed.

While some of those young people are now adults, I’m thrilled to see the project is still such a success and I am incredibly fortunate to be able to come full circle from a student, volunteering in the hope of improving her CV, to working in my chosen industry and being able to give back to the project that helped me get here.

Work at Rupert’s Wood in 2016. Photo credit: Rupert’s Wood Environmental Project.

This week, 13-19 July, is Bees’ Needs Week; an annual event where government, charities, businesses, conservation groups and academic institutions work together to raise awareness of bees and other pollinators. Find out more about the event through the Bumblebee Conservation Trust website.

If you don’t already find bees fascinating, let me outline five reasons why you should have huge respect for these busy little critters:

  1. The UK is home to more than 270 species of bee but only one produces honey, the Honey Bee: Apis Mellifera.
  2. We would be very hungry without them. The Department for Environment, Food, and Agriculture estimates that bees contribute more than £500 million a year to UK agriculture, through improving crop quality and quantity.
  3. The honey bee has 5 eyes, 3 on the top of its head and 2 on the side. That said, their eyesight is pretty poor and they are known to crash land frequently…
  4. It takes far more effort than you might think to produce one jar of honey. 12 bees will only produce a teaspoon of honey in their entire lives. For every 1lb jar of honey, the bees would have flown 55,000 miles or 2.2 times around the world!
  5. The drones are male whose sole purpose is to mate with a queen. They only mate once in their short lives as the process kills them! During copulation their sexual organ gets ripped off and they fall to the ground and die from the injury.

Why do we need bees?

Insect pollinators are essential for much of our food, for our environment and for biodiversity. They are essential for seed production by wild plants as well as flowers, vegetables and fruit grown on farms and in our gardens. Pollinators support healthy (and beautiful!) ecosystems, particularly by helping plants to produce fruits and seeds which birds and other animals rely on.

See, beautiful! A stunning wildflower meadow in Redesdale. Photo credit: Natural England

Bees are, perhaps, the most charismatic and recognised pollinators but there are tons of others! Pollinating insects include honey bees, bumblebees, solitary bees, wasps, hoverflies and other flies, butterflies, moths and beetles.

Why do bees need our help?

Globally, most pollinating insects have experienced declines since the 1980s. Unfortunately, the picture in the UK matches this worrying pattern. A recent study showed that “every square kilometre in the UK has lost an average of 11 species of bee and hoverfly, between 1980 and 2013” (BBC) and the “the number of widespread butterfly species fell by 58% on farmed land in England between 2000 and 2009” (The Guardian). Intensive agriculture, urbanization and urban spread, and climate change all contribute to these declines.

That these declines are driven by so many factors tied to our daily lives is both bad news and good news. There is no one solution but we can all help, even in very small ways! That is the motivation behind DEFRA’s Bees’ Needs Week, to highlight the plight of our pollinating friends and what we can all do to give them a helping hand.

For a start, here are five simple actions you can take to help bees and other pollinators:

There are loads more resources and suggestions for how you can get involved on the Bumblebee Conservation Trust website, as well as specific information sheets for farmers, gardeners, and land managers of every type.

Revitalising Redesdale’s Re-flowering Redesdale project is working with farmers, land-owners and local communities to restore and enhance the floral diversity of Redesdale, creating a network for pollinators. A great example of this is at St Cuthbert’s Churchyard, Corsenside, where local community members have established a scything group to manage the churchyard for wildflowers, using the traditional method of scything.

Scything at St Cuthbert’s Corsenside. Photo credit: Jennifer Care
A poplar hawk moth at our Bioblitz 2019

Our Rediscovering Natural Redesdale project aims to help residents and visitors to Redesdale identify and record the wildlife around them. We are working with the Environmental Records and Information Centre North East to boost the recording of pollinators, as well as all wildlife, because we cannot protect what we don’t know is there!

We are also working with the Redesdale Beekeepers Group to fund their project to establish a conservation apiary near Byrness. This will be a haven for the native honey bee, apis mellifera mellifera, which was once thought extinct.

If you are interested in getting involved with either of these projects, please get in touch with the Revitalising Redesdale team.

Now that small steps are being taken to relax restrictions on movement and from the 4th July many more businesses will re-open, many of us are starting to think about holidays and longer trips in the outdoors. So, this week’s My Revitalising Redesdale is a bit of expedition inspiration brought to you by Mike Duckett.

Mike works for Go Volunteer!, which is part of Newcastle University Students’ Union, and leads on our fantastic Redesdale Revitalises project but has been furloughed since the end of March. Mike’s cycle tour is a great example of how we can re-start exploring in a conscientious and green way. Over to you, Mike:

As lockdown eased at the end of June, we decided to cycle from our house in Tynedale to Redesdale. The 68 cycle route goes from Bardon Mill (where we live, on the South Tyne) all the way through Wark Forest and the North Tyne near Stonehaugh to Bellingham, before going over the edge of Corsenside Common and down into Redesdale. In total, from Bardon Mill to Elsdon, it worked out as about 54 kilometres. There were regular hills and some very contrasting roads – from forestry tracks to lovely smooth back-roads. We were on hybrid tyres and they were fine throughout.


Now I should mention that I am not an experienced cyclist. I bought my first ever bike at the start of the covid period when, as a non-car owner, I realised I was really going to struggle to get around – even so far as a post office. My partner Caroline, who shared the journey described below, is a much more competent and practised cyclist. Personally I never even managed my cycling proficiency test at school, because I’d fallen from a roof and was off school at the time with broken things. And then this time, one week into getting my new bike, I went bouncing into a hedge, completely buckling the front wheel and giving myself a 4 coloured bruise that took a full month to ease off.

Bust bike! Photo credit: Mike Duckett

So the 68 route was a sensible choice, because it was mostly off shared roads. While Caroline expects other vehicles to abide by the highway code I generally take a more cautious approach and would often pull the bike off the road for a breather when I saw cars coming. My newbie nerviness however did not affect our speed and our enjoyment of the cycle ride and we can definitely recommend doing it. Get off the train at Bardon Mill and just follow the 68 signs north!

Sign for the 68 pre-Bellingham. Photo Credit: Mike Duckett

I will skip the early part through Tynedale (although I am writing up this and more trips into Redesdale at www.redesdaling.blogspot.com), and begin at the most relevant part for Redesdale: starting off at a proper functioning town with bakery, pharmacy, George’s great new veg shop and all those extra essentials that you need.

Bellingham

Bellingham. Photo Credit: Mike Duckett

As ‘outsiders’ at this time we weren’t sure where we were welcome to sit (some pub benches had ‘do not sit here’ signs) but we had to stock up on energy before leaving Bellingham. The first climb out of Bellingham is shared not only with the Pennine Way but also with motor traffic on a fairly steep and curvy road that is busy by virtue of being an important link route. When you lose the houses and pavements either side and pass the caravan park, this becomes a section of the cycle route to just plug on with and not relax or drift about. The good news is there is no navigation to do.

Pennine Way Sign. Photo Credit: Mike Duckett

Spoil heaps from the old mining days mark the peak of the hill and give a pleasing platform for grazing sheep.

Spoil-heaps. Photo Credit: Mike Duckett

After this short slog up the hill (80 metres gain) you’re on fairly narrow roads with a massively abundant hedge on one side (especially full of pink wild roses) while the first soft views of the watershed to Redesdale appear on your right hand side.

Hedge and view. Photo Credit: Mike Duckett

I took advantage of the laybys to take stock of where we were passing. Like everywhere in Tynedale and Redesdale, there is great detail and history in the rural buildings of the area: I’d never before noticed this bastle as part of Hole farm (looking back to where the Rede joins the Upper Tyne).

View back to Hole bastle. Photo Credit: Mike Duckett
Roses in hedgerows. Photo Credit: Mike Duckett

The road is pretty smooth, suitable for touring bikes as well as our own hybrids. An easy decline takes you down to your first proper stop in Redesdale.

Smooth route down into Redesdale. Photo Credit: Mike Duckett

Low Cleughs Bastle, a picturesque ruin with information board, would be a nice short walk (amongst many here), but we didn’t do any extra side trips on this occasion : one thing about cycling is it really puts your legs off walking!

Low Cleughs Bastle sign. Photo Credit: Mike Duckett

Carrying on to West Woodburn stays easy and slightly downhill, plus it has a better views around you so you feel less of a sense of traffic risk as you gaze around. The exposed rock at Calfclose Crag looks especially good from here.

And then the approach to West Woodburn is surprising, at least for people like me who are used to the A68 route, who have never seen the scenic village row from this direction before.

Back of W. Woodburn. Photo Credit: Mike Duckett

Ah, if only the Bay Horse had been open and there were no troubles in the world.

The Bay Horse Inn. Photo Credit: Mike Duckett

We stopped for a breather, and I’d encourage anyone to get off their bikes here and push right, for the 150 metre section that you’re on the A68. Nice wide pavement and you get to see the Rede as it passes under West Woodburn Bridge.

Along the A68. Photo Credit: Mike Duckett
West Woodburn Bridge. Photo Credit: Mike Duckett

And then this is the sign left for the road to East Woodburn.

Towards East Woodburn. Photo Credit: Mike Duckett

A new bit of Redesdale for me, and it was a really lush quiet road. We passed a walker and a man teaching his daughter to ride a bike. It strikes me as a great, fairly flat, nicely picturesque stretch for anyone who wants to have a little pootle about (very little – the road connecting the Woodburns is only one and a half kilometres long and by car you’d zip between without barely noticing): in June it’s packed full of flowers and a peaceful riverside feeling.

Roadside flowers in Woodburn. Photo Credit: Mike Duckett
Signs in East Woodburn. Photo Credit: Mike Duckett
East Woodburn. Photo Credit: Mike Duckett

Into the lovely collection of old buildings that is East Woodburn, where the 68 route turns left and crosses the next bridge and then heads uphill.

Crossing the Rede. Photo Credit: Mike Duckett
Looking back to the bridge. Photo Credit: Mike Duckett

This uphill, coming at the end of a long day’s cycling for us, meant there was nothing for it but to push the bikes up.

A push up the hill from East Woodburn. Photo Credit: Mike Duckett

The view back down behind us made us think it would be amazing fun coming the other way here on the 68 route: just imagine freewheeling down this way into East Woodburn and then along to the Bay Horse.

View back to East and West Woodburn. Photo Credit: Mike Duckett
The road up from East Woodburn. Photo Credit: Mike Duckett

You skirt the bottom of Darney quarry and then for a good long while you’re in peaceful, very rural country on single lane roads.

Quarry. Photo Credit: Mike Duckett

The sort of country that would be recommended as therapy for those stressed out.

Stream. Photo Credit: Mike Duckett

Streams, hidden views, cattle grids. At one point there is even a white gate to open and close to carry on, so you have full permission to go as slow as you like.

One thing to mention is that the signs for the 68 cycle route fizzled out some time after East Woodburn. Not that there are a whole lot of choices to go wrong with, but as you go for 5 km on this lovely pastoral valleyside you get so you’re not quite sure where your delightful, slightly up-and-down route is taking you, the odd bit of reassurance might come in handy!

A696 turn right. Photo Credit: Mike Duckett

And then it’s the A696 at Monkridge. It’s been a lovely stretch coming down here and I am frankly terrified of this major road. We hadn’t researched in advance so were anticipating having to share with traffic as we headed right and south east a little till the Elsdon turn off at Raylees. Happily, there are people out there much forward-thinking than me and after a layby which is there as you meet the A696 (meaning you do not need to venture on to the A696 at all), there is a continuous cycle path parallel to the main road.

Elsdon Sign. Photo Credit: Mike Duckett

Unclear signage for bikes I thought, and Caroline was about to carry on before I called to her to stop here.

The path carries on. Photo Credit: Mike Duckett

You cross at the roadsign for Elsdon and beware.

Entry to Elsdon. Photo Credit: Mike Duckett

It is natural, if you’re not thinking, to cross over into the wrong lane, where the traffic coming out of Elsdon has a blind passage just before it joins the A696. So a bumbling cyclist could easily find themselves encountering a blindsided vehicle. Incidentally, the cycle signs here are written for the Sandstone way, temporarily equivalent to the 68.

Sign for the Sandstone Way. Photo Credit: Mike Duckett

Then after this pinchpoint, it’s back to that Redesdale country tranquility again. A little bit of uphill, tree covered lane, which is fairly narrow if there IS traffic, though we met none.

A leafy path to Elsdon. Photo Credit: Mike Duckett

Then a properly delightful freewheel into the lush green of Elsdon where we stopped again on the Rede.

View of Elsdon. Photo Credit: Mike Duckett

Elsdon bridge. Photo Credit: Mike Duckett

Welcome to Elsdon! Photo Credit: Mike Duckett

We cooked up some coffee on a camping stove under the great oak, but you will no doubt make use of refreshments from the cosy Bird in Bush or Bike Café.

This week, we would like to take the opportunity to showcase other fantastic blogs from our Partners and elsewhere. Revitalising Redesdale is a Landscape Partnership and it is because of the support, guidance and investments made by our Partners that we are able to deliver such a wide variety of projects for Redesdale.

Blogs are an informal way to find out about an organisation, its raison d’être and its values, which is why we created My Revitalising Redesdale. What better way to find out about the Partners that make up Revitalising Redesdale Landscape Partnership?

The Natural England blog covers a wide range of environmental topics and is a great place to learn about its pioneering work helping to protect England’s nature and landscapes for people to enjoy. From other landscape-scale ecological improvement projects like the North Devon Landscape Pioneer to researching how we are connecting with nature during the coronavirus pandemic, it is a great place to get up to speed with what is happening all over England.

Over the past few months, many of us have found a new appreciation for natural and outdoor spaces. Part of the reason for this is how much better we feel for spending time in them. Northumberland Wildlife Trust’s blog has featured a number of recent posts about the very real mental and physical health benefits we get from spending time in the natural world.

Similarly, Northumberland National Park’s blog spotlights how local businesses are adapting to the pandemic and…velvet sausages (you’ll just have to trust us on this one). You can also take a virtual tour of the Park!

Here are a few of our other favourites from Partners and elsewhere:

  • It isn’t in Redesdale but for stunning videos and high drama, the Kielder Ospreys are hard to beat!
  • For distinctly lower drama, at least in terms of elevation, Forestry England’s post about beavers returning to England’s forests is well worth a read.
  • Wild Intrigue’s Journal is home to beautiful photography and some great Redesdale-focused wildlife stories. The recent post on moth trapping is a knockout!
  • Finally, the Battlefield Trust have recently started a YouTube channel, with their Five Minute Battles series sure to be a home-schooling win.

The title photo is of the viaduct at Ribble Head, copyright Natural England.

It may not feel like mid-June but summer is fast approaching and it is a great time to be out in the natural world! The birds are singing, wildflowers blooming, and lambs are putting on some timber.

This week we are handing over to Billy Bell, the famous Redesdale poet, to celebrate natural Redesdale and, perhaps, inspire you to write a poem about nature near you. As part of The Wildlife Trust’s 30 Days Wild challenge or simply because it is a wonderful way to engage with nature, why not write a poem about somewhere in Redesdale and send it to us. We would love to hear what you have to say!

Amid the hills of Redesdale. Photo Credit: Nick Lightfoot

From ‘Amid the Hills of Redesdale’ by William ‘Billy’ Bell

Now Phoebus with his kindly beams

Smiles sweet on woodland, fields and streams

Where happy songsters chant their themes

Amid the hills of Redesdale

Now with radiant stately mein

Summer spreads her mantle green

Where the new shorn flocks are seen

Amid the hills of Redesdale

Where the many coloured flowers

Sparkling with the dewy showers

Lighten up the fragrant bowers

Amid the hills of Redesdale

Leafy woods and ferny fells

Time worn deep and rocky dells

Clear cold bubbling crystal wells

Amid the hills of Redesdale

Where the heath bedecks the wold

Where the sunsets sink in gold

O’er the mountains grim and old

Amid the hills of Redesale

Where the pricker once did ride

Trusty broad sword by his side

Moon and stars his only guide

Amid the hills of Redesdale

Where the hut and sheltering peel

Oft the touch of fire did feel

When the Scotsmen came to steal

Amid the hills of Redesdale

Where the din of battle brayed

Where drank deep the flashing blade

Deeds of valour were displayed

Amid the hills of Redesdale

But these times have changed today

Blessed peace now holds her sway

May she reign for ay and ay

Amid the hills of Redesdale

If you haven’t already discovered it, Northumberland National Park’s collaboration with Simon Armitage – Poems in the Air – is a fantastic example of how poetry exists within the landscape. Where does poetry exist in Redesdale for you? Send us your poems about a place of natural beauty or evocative of the valley’s colourful history.

If you are looking for inspiration, you might find poetry in the ripples of wind through a wildflower meadow?

Restored meadow at Ravenscleugh Farm, 2019

Even if poetry is not your thing, look out for wildflowers in your local area, especially the not so familiar ones, such as wood cranesbill, sneezewort, globe flower and pignut. How many types can you spot? Don’t worry if you’re not an expert, snap a photo and add it to the inaturalist app and members of the recording community can help to identify it! You can also use Plantlife’s Spotter Sheets to get an idea of what to look out for each month.

Our Reflowering Redesdale project is all about increasing the wildflower diversity and connecting networks for pollinators, in hay meadows, village green-spaces, along road verges or in certain lay-by parking spots. If you would like to get involved in this project once we are able to work outside again, please get in touch with the Team.

Please remember to follow the UK Government’s guidance on enjoying time outdoors responsibly and be considerate of local communities: www.gov.uk/coronavirus

As promised, this week’s ‘My Revitalising Redesdale’ is the second part of our Battle of Otterburn double-bill. If you missed last week’s, catch up here.

Join historian and author John Sadler for an in-depth look at our current understanding of how the Battle of Otterburn played out, what we do and don’t know and some competing theories surrounding the battle’s location.

A huge thanks to John Sadler for sharing this video with us! An intriguing story, expertly told.

Follow us on Facebook or Twitter to keep up to date with any developments and find out more about the project on the dedicated project page here.

We are handing over to Geoffrey Carter of The Battlefields Trust for this week’s My Revitalising Redesdale blog, the first of a Battle of Otterburn double-bill. Next week, Military Historian John Sadler will talk through the current understanding of how the battle played out, as well as the uncertainties we are hoping to shed light on through this project.

Geoffrey is leading on the Battle of Otterburn project, which is working with volunteers to research the story of the battle and with landscape archaeologists to locate where it took place. If you have been wondering: “What is going on at Otterburn?”, he is here to let you know! Over to you, Geoffrey:

A huge thank you to Sue Thouret for this week’s My Revitalising Redesdale blog. This week we are taking you on a (virtual) guided walk around West Woodburn, East Woodburn and Ridsdale, taking in the astounding array of history on offer in this part of the Rede, Broomhope, and Lisles valleys. Sue describes ten historical sites you will see along the walk, encompassing over 2000 years of human heritage.

For downloadable route information and historical notes on this walk see the Corsenside Walks page and leaflets, which were produced by the Redesdale Ramblers with funding from our Community Heritage Fund.

The Corsenside History Walk is a perennial favourite with Redesdale Ramblers. It is a walk that we can do in all seasons although it can be very muddy in certain areas after rain. It is a walk that we change the route on every time we do it so we never really walk the same way twice! We have now added various detours and additions from the original published walk to take in certain historic view points. Anyone doing this walk should take care to follow the country code because the rights of way go through farm land with livestock at certain times of year. It is therefore not really suitable for dog walkers.” – Sue Thouret, Redesdale Ramblers

The ten key sites you will see along the route of the Corsenside Historical Walk. © Crown Copyright and database right 2019. Ordnance Survey 100022521

1. Habitancum

Habitancum was an ancient Roman fort located at Risingham near West Woodburn in Northumberland. The fort was one of a series built along Dere Street, a Roman road running from York via Corbridge to Melrose. The A68 in general follows the original path of this route. There was an active fort on this site spanning a period of approximately 200yrs.

Photo Credit: Pete Saunders, source here

The first fort of the Antonine period from about AD 139 was built for the second invasion of Scotland resulting in the building of the Antoinine Wall across Scotland between the Forth and Clyde rivers. The fort was destroyed in 197AD. It would have been a wooden stockade with earth works. A new Fort was built during the reign of the Emperor Severus on the same site in about 205/208 AD. The rebuilding would have been part of a major refurbishment of the Roman Wall and a far more substantial stone structure was built than previous. A little later the fort under went further reconstruction for unknown reasons. By 325 AD the fort was eventually abandoned.

The fort’s name is from Habitanci, an altar set up by Marcus Gavius Secundinus a consular beneficiary who served at the fort. Habitancum is well preserved and retains significant archaeological deposits. It is important as an example of a garrison fort which was in the frontier zone throughout much of the Roman occupation of Britain and for its role in various Scottish campaigns.

Annotated airial view of Habitancum, source here

The fort seen today is in the classic rectangle shape with rounded corners, measuring 135m (450ft) by 117m (400ft) It had a substantial rampart and wall. The visible remains at Habitancum are of the fort constructed in the early years of the third century AD. An inscribed slab, uncovered during excavation, records the construction of the fort by a 1000-strong mounted cohort (one of the ten units of a Roman legion).

The remains of the walls of the fort are a substantial feature of what can still be seen. They are up to 10m wide with a height of 0.5 to 1.2m above the interior of the fort. The original walls were constructed of large blocks of local sandstone infilled with rubble and earth. Most of the large facing stones have been removed leaving only the rubble infill. The fort has three gateways. The west and south gates are seen as breaks in the wall about 8m wide with raised causeways over ditches, which would have surrounded the Fort. A gap in the centre of the northern wall is thought to be the site of a northern gateway. It is a Scheduled Monument protected by law (Historic England) but is situated on private land so permission must be sought from the landowner before entry. Dere Street passes to the west of the fort and would have crossed the River Rede near to Little Ridsdale.

2. Cragg Quarry

Cragg Quarry is situated about a mile south west of West Woodburn. It was a sandstone quarry which ceased production in the 1920s, but re-opened in the early 1990s and closed again around 2001. In 2005 a 10-year licence was granted for further extraction of Sandstone. According to Northumberland County Council, extraction from the site is intermittent depending on demand, and the site is capable of producing 3,000 tonnes per year. More recently it has been filled in and planted with trees.

3. Bell Knowe – Bronze age burial site

Bell Knowe stands on the same hill overlooking the valley of the River Rede, very close to Cragg Quarry. It is 16m in diameter and stands 1.4m high. In the centre is a hollow where 19th century excavation took place. Round cairns are prehistoric funerary monuments dating to the Bronze Age (c.2000-700 BC).

Photo Credit: Pete Saunders, source here

They were constructed as stone mounds covering single or multiple burials. These burials may be placed within the mound in stone-lined compartments called cists. In some cases the cairn was surrounded by a ditch. They often occupy prominent locations and are a relatively common feature of uplands. They are the stone equivalent of the earthen round barrows of lowlands areas.

Burial mounds can vary in form considerably and as a monument type they can provide important information about different beliefs and social organisations amongst early prehistoric communities. They are particularly representative of their period and many are considered worthy of protection. Bell Knowe round cairn has survived well and is still believed to contain significant archaeological deposits to add to our knowledge and understanding of Bronze Age settlements and activities in the area. This is a Scheduled Monument protected by law (Historic England).

4. The Wannie Line

The ‘Wannie’ Line is the local name for the Wansbeck Railway. Opened in the mid1800s, this railway was used to carry goods, minerals and also people between Morpeth and Redesmouth. It was closed in 1952, although a small section leading to Redesmouth station stayed open until 1963.

The Wansbeck Valley Railway Company opened the first part of the line from Morpeth to Scotsgap in 1862 and was extended to Redesmouth three years later. It is still possible to trace the course of the line, but parts cross private property and farmland. Many former railway stations are now private residences.

Map showing the Wannie Line, source here

Leaving Morpeth, trains would stop at stations in Meldon, Angerton, Middleton North, Scotsgap, Knowegate, Woodburn and Reedsmouth. There were three passenger trains each way on the line, with separate goods trains. The sparse population did not encourage a more intensive train service.

5. Broomhope Valley

Spoil heaps along the Broomhope Valley.

The discovery of large iron deposits in the Broomhope Burn Valley led to extensive iron ore mining, leaving spoil heaps that can still be seen and led to the establishment of the Ridsdale Iron Works in 1836. By 1857, the iron works were in difficulty because of poor infrastructure and bought at a knockdown price together with the mines by the industrialist Lord William Armstrong. For him the real prize was the mines.

Mining continued and the iron ore was calcinated in kilns at Broomhope and Hindhaugh, At this time the Wansbeck Railway had reached Woodburn so Lord Armstrong had a branch line constructed into the Broomhope Valley to allow easy transportation of ore to his Elswick Works. Some of the iron was used in the construction of the High Level Bridge at Newcastle.

Site of the Elswick Works, on the River Tyne by I.T.W Bell, Newcastle, 1849. Source here

The mines at Broomhope closed in 1879 when cheap Spanish imports of iron ore made them uneconomic. The spoil heaps have never been levelled and are now thought to be the finest examples of 19th century spoil heaps remaining. There has been talk of making them into a grade 2 listed monument. Because of its remoteness Lord Armstrong later established the Ridsdale Gun Range in part of the Broomhope Valley Quarry to test his big guns. The Ridsdale Range still remains in use today by BAE systems as its remoteness means there is less likelihood of injury to the public should anything go wrong during weapons testing.

6. Ridsdale Iron Works

Many people passing through Ridsdale on the A68 mistake the remains of Ridsdale Iron Works engine house for the remains of a castle keep. They are surprised to discover this site used to house 3 furnaces, an engine house, coke ovens, kilns and reservoirs connected by tramways to the iron ore mines at Broomhope and nearby sources of limestone and coal.

Ridsdale Ironworks Engine House. Photo Credit: Revitalising Redesdale Landscape Partnership

During the early part of the 19th Century, everything from wars, bridge building, the development of railways, and other new industries, fuelled exploration for new mineral deposits. The discovery of substantial iron ore deposits in the Broomhope Burn Valley led to the establishment of the iron works and the building of workers cottages at Ridsdale in1836. Because of poor infrastructure the works were failing by 1857 as all pig iron had to be taken by cart to Hexham.

The works and mines were bought for a fraction of their worth by the industrialist Lord Armstrong, who asset-stripped the works as it was the mines he really wanted. Two of its furnaces were dismantled and taken to Armstrong’s Elswick Works in Newcastle. The closing of the Broomhope mines in 1879 marked the end of industrial activity in the area. A good amount of iron from the Broomhope Mines was used in the construction of the High Level Bridge in Newcastle, part of Robert Stephenson’s railways concept relying on T E Hudson’s detailed designs. The Ironworks is a Scheduled Monument (Historic England) and has been taken off the Heritage at Risk Register thanks to repair works carried out through Revitalising Redesdale Landscape Partnership.

7. Ridsdale Brickworks

Little can be discovered about the old brickworks in the Chesterhope Valley, other than it existed and it’s identified on old maps of the Ridsdale/West Woodburn area. It is known that the works were operational when the map was surveyed in 1863 but doubtful later when revised in 1896. Most industrial activity in the area had ceased with the closing of the mines by 1869, so it may be assumed that the brickworks suffered a similar fate.

Ridsdale branded brick, source here

8. Robin of Risingham

Robin of Risingham is a Roman monument consisting of the lower half of what is thought to be a Roman religious figure caved in relief on an outcrop of rock. The Roman religion was the wholesale adoption of the Greek gods of antiquity which they made their own by adapting them to Roman or Etruscan beliefs, usually associated with fertility and vegetation. In turn the Romans too adapted the religious beliefs of the people whose countries they occupied.

The carved figure was first recorded in the 18th C. by Horsley and other antiquarians when it was in a complete state. It is estimated it would have been four feet tall. The figure is important because it is the only known example in Northumberland of a Roman statue cut from solid rock. Only the lower half survives because the then landowner destroyed it to stop people coming onto his land to see it.

Photo credit: Pete Savin

The original figure held a bow in one hand and a small animal, possibly a rabbit the other hand. He is wearing a tunic and cloak and is probably standing next to an altar. The figure has been likened to the Roman god of woodland, called Silvanus, but in the guise of the Celtic god Cocidius who was mainly described as a god of hunting. Beside the Roman carving there now sits a half-sized replica of what was thought to be the original, put there in 1983 by the Redesdale Society. The original carving is on the right hand side behind the replica and is a Scheduled Monument protected by law (Historic England).

The Redesdale Society’s replica statue of Robin of Risingham. Photo credit: Anne Tate, source here

9. Woodburn Station

Woodburn Station is now a private residence like many of the stations that used to be on ‘The Wannie Line.’ Look over the right hand wall of the old railway bridge where the A68 crosses where the Wannie Line used to be.

10. The Grange of Hallyards and Medieval Fish Ponds

The Grange of Hallyards was the family seat of the ‘de Lisle’ family, situated near East Woodburn. All that can be recognized today are its fishponds. It may also have links to the parish church, dedicated to St Cuthbert which dates from the 12th century and stands on a hill overlooking Redesdale at Corsenside. The illustration below gives some idea what such early settlements may have first looked like.

Otwell de Lisle later built a stone tower. It was occupied continuously for some 450 years. The tower was said to have been built on top of a rocky knoll close to the road from West to East Woodburn, a few yards above the River Rede. It either fell down or was demolished when the de Lisle family vacated it. No one knows for certain, but the family name still lives on with the ‘Lisles Burn’ and Lisles Valley.

In 1827, the Rev Hodgson described ‘extensive masses of prostrate ruins’ on a site, but by the end of the 19th century a vicarage had been built near there, perhaps using the old towers stonework. Hallyards most likely position may have been where Townfoot Farm is today, though another site has been identified as the possible position for a Peel Tower in East Woodburn.

Example medieval fish ponds at Bishop Middleham Castle. Source here

The fishponds at Hallyards were created to have slow moving freshwater for the purpose of breeding and the containment of fish to provide a constant and sustainable supply of food. Fishponds were widely introduced by the Normans after the 1066 invasion. The fishponds near to Townfoot Farm are extremely well preserved and contain significant archaeological and organic deposits. There are few such well-preserved fishponds in Northumberland and this set is of future value for further investigation. It is a Scheduled Monument protected by law (Historic England).

We hope you have enjoyed this virtual tour and will try the real thing when it is safe to do so!

Thanks again to Sue Thouret for sharing her research with us. In more normal times, Redesdale Ramblers have an annual programme of walks around Redesdale and its neighbouring valleys. Follow them on Facebook for more information and updates: www.facebook.com/RedesdaleRamblers/.

Please remember to follow the UK Government’s guidance on enjoying time outdoors responsibly: www.gov.uk/coronavirus

To help commemorate VE Day 75, this week’s My Revitalising Redesdale highlights a piece of Redesdale’s hidden wartime history on Northumberland Wildlife Trust’s newest nature reserve. Thanks to Duncan Hutt at Northumberland Wildlife Trust for sharing this with us.

Benshaw Moor is Northumberland Wildlife Trust’s newest reserve. One of the aims of 2020 was to find out much more about the wildlife living on the site but it’s important not to forget the history and archaeology there too. Perhaps the most obvious remains are the World War II relics.

Rudolph Hess (Image: Wikipedia)

The Chain Home radar station at Ottercops lies, for the most part, on land next to Benshaw Moor but its outlying extras do extend onto the site. Chain Home was a series of early warning radar stations built before and during the Second World War for the purpose of detecting and tracking aircraft. The claim to fame of the Ottercops station was that it was the first to detect the light aircraft piloted by Rudolph Hess on his flight to Scotland in 1941. Hitler’s deputy’s mission is still shrouded in mystery but the tracking of his journey over British soil started here.

The radar station was defended by 4 light anti-aricraft sites in the local area as well as a set of pillboxes at strategic locations. One of those pillboxes sits at the highest point of the Trust’s site at the top of Benshaw Law. This is a standard type 22 pillbox with an added porch; a hexagonal concrete structure with views out over the site. Middle Hill, in the centre of the site seems to be the location of one of the anti-aircraft artillery sites although there is little left to show for this.

The blocked entrance to the old bunker

The other WWII relic is that of a small bunker, its entrance now largely bricked up. This was, most likely, an explosives store or magazine, situated away from the main installation and somewhat featureless inside, only the entrance way is visible.

There is much more to learn about the wartime history of Benshaw Moor, any additional information would be gratefully received. In particular we would like to get more evidence of the Middle Hill anti-aircraft position as all that now remains is a small cairn.

Information has come from:
The Pillbox Study Group
Keys to the Past

Reflections on meteorological conditions in Redesdale by Jennifer Care, Revitalising Redesdale Farming and Wildlife Officer.

From glorious sunny days, donning sun hat and sun cream, to cold days with sleet going sideways, attired in wellies, lots of layers and full waterproofs, leading practical conservation tasks in Redesdale has me out in almost all weathers. The challenge is to be prepared for the conditions on any given day.

This is not as easy as it sounds. The climate of the Rede Valley can be quite different from that in Newcastle when I set out. As confirmed by residents, weather also varies within the catchment and forecast predictions for Redesdale are not always reliable.

In late February 2019, I was working with volunteers helping restore an amazing peatland site near Elsdon, by removing self-seeded non-native Sitka spruce. In the space of only seven days we had magnificent sunshine (enough to bring out the sun cream), thick fog which reduced visibility to only a few metres and then snow!

I’ve learnt from experience that having options for extra layers is generally a good idea – and to make sure volunteers know to be well prepared too. Many of the volunteers are very experienced at this, bringing mats to sit on for eating lunch, waterproof bag coverings and even waterproof socks!

However, I was caught out last December. I was heading up a hill near Rochester with a group of volunteers for more peatland restoration work on a particularly wet site. It was late December, so cue plenty of layers, insulated wellies, fleece-lined trousers, full waterproofs, hat, welfare bag with spare warm gloves, hats etc. After a chilly start, the day became unseasonably warm and there is only so much it’s polite to take off or practical to carry. I ended up spending a day slightly uncomfortably hot!

Whatever the weather, I enjoy being out in Redesdale – if suitably prepared! In pleasant weather, it can be a relaxing and peaceful place, with big views, marvellous and unexpected wildlife encounters and amazing landscape. In inclement conditions, the wet, windy and wild weather can bring atmosphere and energy to the landscape, showing off the power of natural forces.

Jennifer and Northumberland Wildlife Trust volunteer Derek on an enjoyable, but particularly wet, day in Redesdale.

Then of course, after a cold, wet day out, there’s the heightened appreciation of being back in the warm and dry at the end of the day!

No practical conservation tasks are taking place at the moment, but if you fancy getting involved with this sort of volunteering later in the year then, after the restrictions imposed due to Covid-19 are lifted, please register as a Northumberland Wildlife Trust Conservation Volunteer at https://www.nwt.org.uk/get-involved/volunteer

In case you missed it, the Otterburn Training Area (OTA) featured twice in 2019’s Ministry of Defence Sustainability Magazine, Sanctuary. The two articles, Walking Underwater and Breeding Under Bridges (p.g. 40) and The Beauty of Bunkers (p.g. 68), highlight the unique natural and built heritage on the OTA, as well as the essential work to preserve and enhance it.

You can download 2019’s Sanctuary Magazine here.

Repaired bunker on Davyshiel Common

Through our Life on the Ranges project we are working with the Ministry of Defence to carry out a variety of other works on the OTA, from peatland restoration to archaeological excavations. See our Life on the Ranges project page for more details.

Previous issues of Sanctuary Magazine can be found and downloaded here.

Hello! It’s Nick Lightfoot, Revitalising Redesdale’s Programme Officer, here for our latest instalment of the My Revitalising Redesdale blog.

Discovering Redesdale

In December 2017, I was looking for a career change and came across a position with Natural England for a Revitalising Redesdale Programme Assistant. “Redesdale, I wonder where Redesdale is …” I thought to myself. Having grown up in Coquetdale, the next valley over from Redesdale, it may surprise you to hear that I genuinely had no idea. But this highlights what is so special about the Rede valley; it is one of Northumberland’s truly hidden gems!

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One of Redesdale’s many hidden gems!

As a keen rambler and cyclist, I took the first chance I had to spend a weekend exploring the valley’s byways. After a particularly hard ride on quiet roads, I found myself sitting in some late April sunshine outside the Bird in Bush, supping a local brew, and marvelling at my luck. How could somewhere like this have been on my doorstep without my knowing and where is everyone else!? Over the past two years, I’ve had numerous moments like that; they have given me a new perspective on the area I grew up so close to but have also highlighted the importance of the work we are doing through the Revitalising Redesdale Landscape Partnership Scheme. This is My Revitalising Redesdale.

More than just a walk in the countryside

You may be glad to learn that my day job doesn’t normally consist of walks in the countryside. Most of the time, I pore over spreadsheets and reports, and work to balance cash flows for the programme. However, every now and again, a walk in the countryside is exactly what is needed and I would like to let you know about one of the best in Redesdale! Our Walk and Cycle Redesdale project aims to improve a set of circular routes centred around community hubs in the valley. One of the first routes we focused on is the Byrness to Heart’s Toe and the Border Ridge loop, at the very top of Redesdale. My colleague Karen, who wrote last week’s blog post, needed to survey the route to determine what signage and path improvements were required. Fortunately for me, she needed someone to come along for health and safety reasons and because it is easier to take photos, record GPS coordinates, etc. with a second pair of hands. Not to mention a dramatic improvement in conversation, albeit from a low base. Even more fortunately it was late June 2018, smack bang in the middle of our warmest summer in recent memory!

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Catcleugh Reservoir from Byrness Hill

Leaving from St. Francis church, just south of Byrness, the route follows a steep section of the Pennine Way up Byrness Hill to a spectacular vantage point over Catcleugh Reservoir, Cottonshope valley, and Upper Redesdale. Most of the first half of the route is well sign posted and, barring a few incredibly muddy sections, didn’t need much in the way of improvement. In fact, the section from Byrness Hill to Ogre Hill is one of the most enjoyable ridge walks I’ve done in Northumberland; including, a south-facing perspective of the Cheviot and the grassed-over remains of Chew Green Roman Fortlet. Did you know the Romans built a fort next to the source of the Coquet? It was news to me, but that was becoming a familiar feeling working in Redesdale.

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Spectacular views of the Cheviot and Chew Green

Once off the Pennine Way, there are two options – one for wet and one for dry weather. Usually, one is almost dry and the other is very wet. This is walking in the British uplands, after all! However, due to the exceptionally dry conditions we took the higher path to The Heart’s Toe, which leads you over the top of a peat bog. It was a disconcerting feeling to be walking over a peat bog and not see any water, as well as a worrying indicator of the Climate Emergency. The dried sphagnum, reminiscent of bleached coral, really hit home the importance of our partnership’s work in repairing peatland. According to International Union for Conservation of Nature, peatlands are the “largest natural terrestrial carbon store… provide safe drinking water, [and] minimise flood risk”, so they are a big deal to put it lightly. Nevertheless, as it is important to find a silver lining to any situation, we took advantage of the fine picnic spot looking over into the Scottish Borders.

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An unusually dry peatbog picnic spot

The way down from The Heart’s Toe once followed a tributary to the Spithope Burn but had become impassable due to the mature conifer plantation. A section of the route along the south side of the burn was so overgrown and similarly difficult to navigate. However, a well-maintained forestry track handily avoided both. We noted GPS coordinates and cardinal directions for additional waymarking and decided that a diversion along the forestry track would make the upper Spithope valley much more enjoyable. The path connecting from Spithope Bothy to another section of forestry track and back to St Francis church looked straightforward on the map. A leisurely tea break in the well-kept bothy and a read of the guest book made for a restorative and entertaining break from the sun. We’ll be back in no time, we thought cheerfully.

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Karen’s expression says it all: we spoke too soon

 “Can you see a way across?” Karen asked, looking across a steep, overgrown gully. “You’ll have to toss me” I joked – Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter references cropped up rather frequently throughout the day. From scrambling through jungles of harvested conifer roots to fording streams, this relatively short section of the route ended up taking a disproportionally large amount of time to navigate. After much hilarity, as we took turns disappearing into ditches, we made it to the forestry track and the last leg of our route. Our list of improvements suddenly much longer and legs much more tired!

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Still no obvious path…

Once back to the car, we almost forgot look inside St Francis church, which would have been a real shame because it is home to a rare stained glass window. The window is a memorial to the men, women, and children who lost their lives in the building of Catcleugh dam in the early 1900s. It is one of the few examples of its kind to include no religious iconography; instead depicting the people who helped build the dam as well as a narrow-gauge railway, a potentially unique feature. This unassuming church feels like an analogy for Redesdale itself. It would be easy to drive straight past on the A68 but if you don’t stop to explore you’ll miss the best bits of this truly unique and inspiring landscape.

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Memorial window at St. Francis church, Byrness

Improvement works to the Byrness to Heart’s Toe and the Border Ridge loop were completed in 2018, with help from Forestry England. Thanks to these improvements the route is now easily naviagble and a delight to walk!

Thanks to Karen for a welcome out of office excursion and the excellent company, of course!

Nick

As we’re all stuck indoors for the foreseeable future, we have decided to bring Redesdale to you through your computer/phone screens.
Over the next few months we will be sharing some of our highlights from the Revitalising Redesdale scheme and giving an oversight of what we’ve been doing and what it is like to work here; we’ll be sharing a new story each week.

We’d also really love it if you could share some of your stories about Redesdale. Perhaps you are a regular volunteer on practical wildlife/environmental conservation tasks, maybe you have taken part on one of our archaeological digs; you might even have delivered a project funded by our Community Heritage Fund scheme. However you’ve been involved, please send in your stories (with photos if you have them) for us to share with everyone through our website and social media pages, Email info@revitalisingredesdale.org.uk or direct to Team members.

This week: Karen’s story

I have been working on the Revitalising Redesdale scheme since March 2018. Although I had a strong background in community engagement projects and working with volunteers, for quite some time I had been longing for a chance to indulge my inner history/archaeology geek and get more involved in heritage projects. I can honestly say that working for Northumberland National Park on the Revitalising Redesdale project has been a dream come true.

From the very beginning I have had so many ‘pinch me,’ moment where I simply could not believe my luck that I get to work here, doing a job that both interests and excites me, in a beautiful part of Northumberland.  I’ll be sharing some of my highlights with you over the next few months.

I’ll start with the obvious one…

Rattenraw: The Beads/Drenched in a Trench

I had been wanting to take part in an archaeological dig for a long time, so imagine my excitement when I got to organise one, together with the fantastic North of the Wall Tynedale Archaeology Group (NOWTAG), Richard Carlton from The Archaeological Practice, and the very lovely landowners, Dennis and Susan Salt. We knew that we had a potentially very interesting site at Rattenraw and we knew what we thought it was, although you can never be entirely certain what you will find once you start digging.

This was going to be my first archaeological dig; I was excited but also nervous. I had various archaeologists telling me, “You won’t find anything, you know,” which seems to be the standard sentiment of archaeologists when approaching a dig. But I didn’t mind, I was just happy to be out at beautiful Rattenraw with a fantastic bunch of people, taking part in a dig.

The weather threw everything at us. On one day we had to down tools early because, incredibly, it was 30 degrees, there was no wind, and we were all just too hot. A couple of days later we had torrential downpours, only the hardiest of us ventured out and our trench resembled a muddy swimming pool.

Enjoying the rain and mud

But we kept going in our quest for archaeological knowledge, despite knowing that we probably Weren’t Going To Find Anything. Even so, I kept spotting flashes of green, hopes soaring dramatically that I had made an astoundingly important discovery, only to realise that it was in fact a blade of grass.

Towards the end of the eighth day of the 10-day dig, I spotted a flash of red plastic between the gaps of some stones I was ‘cleaning.’ Then I realised that these stones hadn’t been uncovered for centuries, so it probably wasn’t plastic. I carefully removed it, saw it was a tiny little round, man-made object and at that point was pretty certain I had made an actual Discovery. One of the volunteers, probably Barry, squawked, “You’ve got a bead!” And so it was; a beautiful, tiny, red glass bead, most likely Iron Age in date. Single beads like this do quite often turn up on Iron Age sites.

Karen’s bead, beside a penny to give an idea of scale.

Sadly it was getting late, so the excitement ended there for the day. The next day, Day 9, I brought my colleague, Nick Lightfoot, along. He had never taken part in an archaeological dig either. I pointed out where I had found the bead and jokingly told him there was no pressure but he had to find one now too. A couple of minutes later he said, “I don’t mean to brag, but I’ve actually just found two of them.” And so he had – a blue and a yellow one. The jammy git had stolen my thunder.

One of Nick’s beads in the palm of his hand

Well, I couldn’t have that. I elbowed Nick out of the way and got back down on my hands and knees. Then, I remembered I should probably let other people have a go too, so a group of four of us painstakingly troweled the area. We found a few more, then a few more, then a few more again. Over the next hour or so, we pulled over 40 glass beads, of red, blue and yellow, from the soil. Marc Johnstone, an Archaeologist with The Archaeological Practice, was heard exclaiming, “This is a really, really significant find! This could even make Current Archaeology magazine!”

And the excitement didn’t stop there. Not to be outdone, one of the volunteers, James Pease, piped up with, “Is this gold?” And there, glinting up at us, was a glass bead that appeared to be covered in gold leaf. Nick and I had now both had our thunder well and truly stolen.

Some of the beads, including possible gold-leaf at the bottom right

Then Richard Carlton came over, brandishing a piece of stone and yelling, “Forget the beads, this is what you should be getting excited about!” It was a fragment of Quern stone for grinding grain, which was a firm indication of late Iron Age date and that this was a domestic settlement where food was being processed. I’ve never seen anyone look so happy at finding a piece of stone.

The all-important quern stone fragment

Those weren’t  the only discoveries we made: volunteers also found several pieces of pottery of Iron Age date, a cow horn and a Whet stone for sharpening tools, complete with both probable first century tool marks and 21st century trowel marks. On Day 10, volunteers found 12 more glass beads, including a single green one, bringing the total up to 58 complete beads, along with several broken fragments.

Not bad for my first dig. The moral of the story is: don’t believe archaeologists when they tell you that you aren’t going to find anything.

The Cleaned Beads

The Future…

I would like to thank each and every one of our colleagues, volunteers, community members, partners and contractors for making this such an amazingly fabulous experience – you are all brilliant. I can’t wait to get back out there with you all.

Karen

Did you know the beautiful landscape of Redesdale has inspired several poets? One of the most famous pieces, ‘The Lay of the Reedwater Minstrel’, was written by Robert Roxby in 1809.

Andy Curtis, a seasoned Revitalising Redesdale volunteer, has written a blog post about this poem and Robert Roxby. It is a fascinating insight into Redesdale’s colourful and turbulent past.

Read the post here: http://heddonhistory.weebly.com/blog/the-reedwater-minstrel

Please note: Due to the current COVID-19 restrictions, there may be delays to scheduling of interviews and appointment for this position.

We are looking to appoint a confident and enthusiastic person to join our team in an exciting development role as a Revitalising Redesdale Trainee Assistant with a particular work focus on Northumberland Wildlife Trust’s newest reserve, Benshaw Moor.

Closing date: Monday 30 March 2020

Salary: This is a trainee post and is based on £16,305 to £16,689

Contract type: Fixed term / Working hours: Full time

Location: Northumberland Wildlife Trust, Green House, St Nicholas Park, Jubilee Road, Gosforth, Newcastle upon Tyne, Tyne and Wear, NE3 3XT

Find out more and apply: https://www.nwt.org.uk/jobs/revitalising-redesdale-trainee-assistant

Our River Rede Improvements Project was featured in the Winter 2019 edition of Northumberland Wildlife Trust’s magazine, Roebuck.

Download the full story here. Or visit out River Rede project page.

2019 has been a really exciting year for Revitalising Redesdale. We want to thank all our partners, volunteers, and the fantastic communities of Redesdale for their support and enthusiasm! See below a poster showcasing our highlights from 2019. These are by no means the only achievements, if you would like to find out more about what we have been up to in 2019, see our News page.

We are already looking forward to 2020 and hope to see some of you at our upcoming events:

  • January 23, 2020 12:30: Corsenside Churchyard volunteers – Planning for 2020 season
  • January 31, 2020 10:00: Learn to Care for Your Own Stream with Tyne Rivers Trust
  • February 2, 2020 10:30: Guided Walk: Elsdon – from the Folly to the Gallows
  • March 27, 2020 19:00: Dark Skies and Creatures of the Night

See our What’s On page for further details on all of the above and look out on our website for more updates on all our projects in 2020, including Battle of Otterburn, Redesdale Revitalises and Life on the Ranges.

An Historic Crossing at Smoutel Ford is Reinstated

The Revitalising Redesdale Partnership has rebuilt the historic bridleway across the Rede valley, allowing walkers and riders to enjoy trails between Monkridge Hill and Otterburn for the first time in decades.  The ford access work is part of the River Improvement Project.  It is designed to mimic a naturally shallower part of the river in one of a series of cobbly riffle features.  These rocky features are built across the river where gravels have been dug out in the past.  They will help re-invigorate river flows, providing a healthier habitat for fish, river flies and our iconic Rede species, the endangered freshwater pearl mussel. The work will benefit river ecology beyond the 300m restored length, as well as improving access for people across the River.

The project has been made possible with funding from The National Lottery Heritage Fund, the Environment Agency and Northumberland County Council, through an active partnership led by Natural England and Northumberland Wildlife Trust.
 
Revitalising Redesdale will officially launch Smoutel Ford re-opening in March 2020. Find out more about this keystone part of our River Rede Improvement Project here.


Volunteers Trained in River Survey Techniques

In July, we worked with The Cartographer (with funding from The Water Hub) to train 8 local volunteers how to conduct Modular River Physical surveys, to monitor river habitat health.

Find out more about river surveys and volunteering: Tyne Rivers Trust


Farming and Water Event

In October, together with our partners we met Redesdale’s farmers and land managers to visit sites along the River Rede and discuss how they get involved with our River Rede Improvement Project.

Find out more about the event here 


We’re saying #ThanksToYou to National Lottery players with free entry to our Dark Skies and Dark Deeds event

It’s the 25th Birthday of The National Lottery and we’re excited to be a part of the celebrations by joining in the #ThanksToYou campaign, celebrating the contribution of National Lottery players in supporting good causes over the past 25 years!

We will be offering free entry to our Dark Skies and Dark Deeds event to National Lottery Players with a lottery ticket on 30th November 2019:
Join us for an evening of storytelling and stargazing* Be thrilled and terrified by tales of dark happenings in Redesdale, featuring local pieces from Elsdon Writers’ Group and storyteller Jim Grant.

* Find out all about what you can see in the Redesdale night sky in our stargazing workshop (all equipment and instruction provided)
 Present your National Lottery ticket to take up this special offer. Please check our full terms and conditions.


Another Successful Wildflower Planting Season

With the help of 28 volunteers from Northumberland Wildlife Trust and the Environment Agency, we completed wildflower planting at Rattenraw and Ravenscleugh farms for this year.  

So far, more than 80 people have volunteered a total of over 135 days of time on our Re-flowering Redesdale project! We are incredibly grateful to every one of them. If you would like to get involved with wildflower planting or other practical volunteering opportunities, find out more here.

Volunteer Thank You  Trip to Cocidius

We had a grand day out for our heritage volunteers’ thank-you event on the 2nd November. The sun shone on our trip to the Romano-Celtic Cocidius shrine and High Shaw bastle on the Otterburn Ranges. We followed this with a delicious lunch at Elsdon Village Hall, provided by the Elsdon Tea Set and there was so much food that everyone went home with a goody bag too! A big thank-you to Phil Abramson for his informative talk and our colleagues at the MOD for allowing access to the Ranges.

Get Involved

Lidar Landscapes – Interim Results Workshop – November 14, 19:00

Come along and find out the initial results so far from our Lidar (aerial archaeology) survey of Redesdale.

All welcome, but please let Karen know if you are planning on attending: 07741 194309, karen.collins@nnpa.org.uk

Address : Otterburn Memorial Hall, Main Street, Otterburn, Northumberland, NE19 1NP

Catcleugh Radio Play

We are delighted to announce an exciting opportunity for budding actors and anyone wanting to indulge their dramatic tendencies! We are currently working with Northumberland writer Rachel Cochrane to create a radio play centred on the lives of the workers who built Catcleugh reservoir.

We are now starting to look for actors to take part in the recording and a community performance of the play. The play features a host of local characters connected to the construction villages of ‘Gateshead’ and ‘Newcastle.’ If you would be interested in taking part, please get in touch with Karen: 07741 194309, karen.collins@nnpa.org.uk

Dark Skies and Dark Deeds! – November 30, 19:00

Join us for an evening of storytelling and stargazing.

We will be offering Free entry for National Lottery players to say thank you for their support. Present any National Lottery ticket on arrival to take up the offer. Booking essential. Please check our full terms and conditions.

Price : Adult – £8, Child – £5, National Lottery Ticket holder – Free (Buy Tickets)

Address : Rochester Village Hall, Rochester, NE19 1RH


Guided Walk: From the Folly to the Gallows – February 2, 10:30am

Enjoy a circular walk around Elsdon taking in views northwards to the Cheviots from Gallow Hill.

Date : February 2, 2020 10:30 am

Price : £5.00 (Buy Tickets)

Address : Elsdon Tearooms, NE19 1AA

Revitalising Redesdale’s Lost Redesdale community archaeology project worked with North of the Wall Tynedale Archaeology Group (NOWTAG) and volunteers to survey approximately 43 hectares of land at Chattlehope Farm, near Catcleugh Reservoir. The survey identified 27 sites of potential archaeological interest and trained volunteers in how to conduct a Level 1 Archaeological Survey.

The survey “indicates that the landscape around Chattlehope Farm contains a wide range of features evidencing human habitation and usage dating back into prehistoric times, as well as offering particular examples of continuity and change through medieval and post-medieval eras.”

Read the full report here

This year is the 25th Birthday of The National Lottery, and we’re excited to be a part of the celebrations by joining in the #ThanksToYou campaign, which celebrates the contribution of National Lottery players in supporting good causes over the past 25 years!

Since The National Lottery’s first draw took place on 19 November 1994, more than £40 billion has been raised for good causes in the areas of arts, sport, heritage and community – that’s £30 million a week making a difference to lives of people and communities throughout the whole of the UK.

To thank National Lottery players for their support, we will be offering free entry to our Dark Skies and Dark Deeds event on 30th November 2019. Anyone who presents any National Lottery ticket on these dates will be able to take up this special offer. Please check our full terms and conditions below.

As a recipient of National Lottery funding, Revitalising Redesdale Landscape Partnership has been able to reinstate an historic river crossing at Smoutel Ford, restored peatland at Whitelee Moor National Nature Reserve, save Ridsdale’s Ironworks from collapse, and award over £13,000 to local community projects . Find out more about the full programme on our Projects page. We are one of the hundreds of participating National Lottery-funded projects across the UK who are taking part in the #ThanksToYou campaign in this special Birthday year.

Terms & Conditions:

  1. One National Lottery ticket provides free entry for one person to the Dark Skies and Dark Deeds event.
  2. All National Lottery games qualify for free entry, including tickets from any National Lottery draw based game or National Lottery Scratchcard. Proof of ticket can be paper or digital.
  3. The offer is valid on 30th November 2019, 7pm-9pm, for the Dark Skies and Dark Deeds event only.
  4. Refer to our event page for further details.
  5. Pre-booking is required.
  6. We have the right to refuse entry in the unlikely event of venue reaching capacity, as well as unforeseen circumstances.
  7. Tickets to be shown at the entrance to Rochester Village Hall when visitors arrive with their National Lottery tickets to take up this offer.

We hope that this award marks the beginning of Redesdale becoming a safe haven for one of our greatest natural treasures, the native honey bee.” – Dr. Dorian Pritchard, Redesdale Beekeeping Group

We are delighted to announce the Redesdale Beekeeping Group have been awarded £2,000 through our Community Heritage Fund for their work conserving the native honey bee.

The award will contribute to the building of a conservation apiary near Byrness. The Group will also run a programme of research, lectures and practical workshops in hive building, general beekeeping, bee wing morphometry (as a check on native status) and queen rearing aimed at non-beekeepers as well as developing beekeepers.

Find out more information here.

9th October, 2019 – Otterburn

We thoroughly enjoyed meeting Redesdale’s farmers and land managers this week to visit sites along the River Rede. With the help of our partners – Natural England, The Environment Agency, Northumberland National Park Authority, Groundwork NE & Cumbria and participating farmers – we had a great discussion about how farmers and land managers can get involved with our River Rede Improvement Project in a wide variety of ways.

The group visited the completed river works at Yearhaugh and Dunn’s Houses, with thanks to the farmers who allowed us to access the land. We saw how a stream that had carried sediment and nutrients to the Rede has been worked into a series of ponds to form an ecologically-rich wetland. We then visited work to secure an eroding section of river bank, where high flood flows are now re-directed through a backwater channel, improving wetland habitat.

Our partners at The Environment Agency also took the opportunity to update farmers on how the Farming Rules for Water regulations may affect them and the new Fresh Water Pearl Mussel Specialist talked to farmers about their memories and local knowledge of mussels in the Rede.

Thank you to everyone who took part in the event, particularly the farmers who welcomed us onto their farms.

Latest News & Events

Battle of Otterburn Guided Walk & Talk

July 2, 2022 10:30 am

Talk & short guided walk about the Battle of Otterburn recent research findings led by the Battlefields Trust

Read more

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