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!
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?
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
by Jennifer Care, Revitalising Redesdale Farming and Wildlife Officer.
This global pandemic has changed the way we do things. Our world seems smaller. For many of us life has slowed down. However, it’s a good opportunity to re-engage with our local area and learn about the wildlife on our doorstep.
I have always had a fascination with nature. I feel better with it around me and I love having a job where I can protect and champion our amazing natural world. However, it was not until last year that I took part in The Wildlife Trust’s 30 Days Wild challenge for the first time. This annual challenge to spend time closer to nature every day in June made me aware of how much I already do, reminding me to live in the moment and to appreciate the everyday miracles of nature. It’s started again this week and there’s still time to get involved http://wildlifetrusts.org/30DaysWild.
I get lots of wonderful wildlife with my job, but I still try to sneak in some extras. So, here are just a few of the marvellous moments of nature I’ve snuck into busy days of events, practical conservation, meetings and more in Redesdale over the past couple of years and ideas for how you can easily add something similar to what you do:
1. Take a nature photograph.
Last year I took part in a training day to learn how to do Modular River Physical Surveys (if you’re feeling nosy you can find out more about this citizen science project here). It’s a fairly technical and time-consuming technique to survey the geomorphology of the river, which we hope will be useful in providing a baseline and monitoring the success of our river restoration work. We spent time practising the survey methods at the river. It was a glorious sunny day and clouds of banded demoiselles were flying around. I took a few minutes out to try to catch them on my phone camera…They were tricky to photograph, spotting me and moving away, but this male was perhaps distracted enough for me to get close, having caught a mayfly!
You don’t need to be a professional to use a photograph to get a closer look at something interesting or beautiful and perhaps you, unlike me, can even photograph your subject without a blade of grass in the way!
2. Learn something new.
One of the amazing things about the natural world is that it’s so large, diverse and continually changing that there’s always something new to learn! I frequently puzzle why, how, or what about things I see, but much less frequently remember to research the answers later. However, after my second sighting of this strange fungus on a sheep skull I took a photo and tried to find out what it is.
Sometimes these things get very complicated, with lots of similar species, but luckily this one was pretty distinctive. It’s called Onygena equina, commonly known as the horn stalkball. Apparently it is not often recorded due to its unusual habitat requirements: Its spores germinate better having first been through the gut of a herbivore; they then need to be excreted near a suitable carcass, as this fungus digests keratin and grows on putrefying horns and hooves of cattle and sheep. It’s amazing the way everywhere is home to something!
The trick is to be curious. Wonder. Then go and find out.
3. Eat outside
This one is a bit of a cheat really – when on a practical conservation task, removing non-native Sitka spruce regeneration from a peat bog, where else were we going to eat but outside?! However, that’s the thing about meals, it’s a pause, so where better to spend that time than outside on a beautiful day. With the mosses and heathers as a cushion, a soundtrack of skylarks and expansive views (and of course a hard-earned lunch), I remember it as a perfect setting to immerse in nature.
You can do it at home. Take a sandwich outside. Perhaps go barefoot if you have a lawn. Listen, look, feel.
4. Become a citizen scientist
Those who know me will know I’m a huge wildlife enthusiast, constrained by too little time and too many interests. I dip into a few different surveys and submit sightings to the local records centre. However, for the last few years, much of my spare-time wildlife activity has been focused on birds, participating in the BTO bird ringing scheme and, more recently, their nest record scheme.
Last year I found this nest of swallows at one of the Redesdale community sites I was working at and monitored it. There were two chicks and both successfully fledged.
You can become a citizen scientist too just by seeing some wildlife and letting your local records centre know (in Redesdale that’s ERIC North East, but if you’re outside the North East then look up your local centre here). You just need to know what you saw, when and where! Remember that all wildlife sightings are important, even those of species considered common.
Alternatively, you can get involved in a particular study. There are many citizen science projects going on covering all sorts of different wildlife; find one to suit you here.
5. Change your perspective
All this is very well, you say, but how do I actually find any interesting nature? My tip is to look at more than just what is immediately in front of you – change your perspective! Look up – watch clouds, see how tree branches can frame the sky, watch a buzzard or a skylark soar.
Look down and spot vole tunnels and latrines in tussocks of grass or beauties like this adder – he was basking on a road verge as I was doing a botany survey.
Look big, at hills, rivers, sunrise and sunset, and look small, at miniature landscapes of lichens and mosses, like this lawn of devil’s matchstick lichen with trees of heather at Benshaw Moor.
Test your imagination and think what it might be like to be one of our wild neighbours. What would the world look like (it’s not just about physical perspective – did you know bees see a different range of colours to us?!)? Where would you shelter or drink? How would you communicate? How would your offspring disperse?
Perhaps the more we can see things from a wildlife perspective the more we can see ways to help. If you’re feeling inspired, then a good place to start is The Wildlife Trusts’ host of ideas of simple things to help wildlife.
Finally, please share your wildlife experiences with others and help them connect with nature too (live wildlife webcam anyone?). Our natural world is facing a plethora of challenges and it needs all of us to help! For people to take action for nature, they first need to care. For people to care, they first need to know about the natural world and its wonders!
Perhaps learning to steal a moment with nature within our busy lives, marvelling at something different each day, is a good step to keep when normality (whatever it will be) resumes.
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.
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
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.
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.
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).
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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
This week for My Revitalising Redesdale, we are taking a break from our team’s stories to bring you quite a different view of Redesdale and its neighbouring valleys through the beautiful and characterful art of Sam Douglas. Many Redesdale residents will recognise the location of our featured painting: The Three Kings, near Byrness.
Sam Douglas has spent ten months living and working at Highgreen, Tarset. He has been exploring the area and the wider Northumberland and Borders remote locations; much of this on foot or by bike. Sam has been fascinated by the ancient and more recent man-made structures that scatter the remote parts of the area and county – erected stones, cup and ring marks and remnants of industrial workings.
The Three Kings is a rare example of a Bronze Age ‘four poster’ stone circle. Although common in Perthshire and elsewhere in Scotland, only 22 have been recorded in England (Historic England), two of them in Redesdale and North Tynedale, hinting at a possible strong connection with communities north of the border. We contacted Sam to find out what his thoughts were about his charismatic corner of Redesdale:
“I visited the three kings fairly soon after arriving at VARC [Visual Arts in Rural Communities]; I always like to get hold of a detailed map when I go somewhere new and try and find any ancient sites marked upon it – especially standing stones [and] stone circles.
There is a forestry track close by to VARC which also doubles as part of the Pennine way that I cycled along to reach the Three Kings. It runs parallel to the busy A68 and offers nice views to the Cheviots. This became a fairly regular route for my evening cycles to get out into the landscape after a day painting in the studio.
I found the artificial landscape of Kielder with its cycles of timber harvesting to provide an interesting contrast with the permanence of the Three Kings set within it – the stones themselves have some amazing Lichens growing on them, and now that the forest has been cleared around them, there are wide views across the valley and up onto the Cheviots.
I sat and drew the stones a fair few times as well as photographing them for reference material, there were often plenty of swallows flying around and also a good few midges – it was a good way to spend an hour or two.
I have since painted four different versions of the stones- in various conditions, before and after the site was cleared of trees. These are a part of a group of paintings which attempt to map out my explorations in northern Northumberland – with the Cheviots being a particular focus in this series.”
Sam has worked up drawings and photographs into paintings that focus on these remarkable features and prompt reflection on the nature and culture of our long relationship with the land. Sam commented:
“I really like the rural location and being able to walk or cycle straight out into a very interesting moorland landscape on my doorstep. The daily cumulative effect of this is important for me and my paintings and sketches have benefitted from the ease with which I can find inspiration and a sense of immersion in my work. The remnants of mining, archaeological sites and various other old structures that can be readily found or stumbled upon in the landscape have also provided me with much material to work with.
As I have followed various threads and interests, I have found local people (especially farmers) to be a good source of first-hand information on the history and remains within the area. There is also a quite distinct feel to the landscape in Northumberland which has been a welcome contrast from my last years of living in the South East – the low intensity land use of sheep farming, sparse population, dark skies and expansive views provide a quite distinct range of reference material to draw on as a landscape painter.”
Sam will soon complete the first residency in the multi-partner programme ENTWINED: Rural. Land. Lives. Art. Initiated by Visual Arts in Rural Communities, this programme explores, through artists’ practices, different aspects of what makes a ‘place’ and reveals the interconnectedness of rural land and lives. See www.varc.org.uk/entwined for more about the programme.
For more about Sam and to download his end of residency booklet as a pdf with a full essay by Alexander Marr visit varc.org.uk/entwined/sam-douglas/
You can see more of Sam’s work below, on Instagram @samdouglasstudio and on his website samdouglas.co.uk
Once we can get out on site again, we will be working with our partners in Forestry England to improve footpaths to the Three Kings. Watch this space!
Hello! It’s Nick Lightfoot, Revitalising Redesdale’s Programme Officer, here for our latest instalment of the My Revitalising Redesdale blog.
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!
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!
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.
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.
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.
“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!
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.
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!
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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.