St Oswald’s Way: Day 2 – Kirkwhelpington to Rothbury

(20th March 2014 – 15 miles)

Today would be a sun-no-show.  There were only three sunless days on my 220 mile trail but, with a sorry lack of prescience, I worried when I awoke to one that the rest of my holiday would be overcast and rainy.  I needn’t have: after today, fine weather returned.  But at the time, I fretted and, with prescience aplenty, readied my waterproofs.  I had a quick, light breakfast (no grease, ta) and Lorna dropped me back in Kirkwhelpington at 9.15.

St Oswalds Way Day 2 (1)

The path from Kirkwhelpington isn’t well trod (compared to National Trails) but the instructions in my guidebook were clear enough.  After a short stretch, I diverted off path to a petrol-station shop at Knowesgate and stocked up with provisions (eye-liner, lip gloss, gin – that sort of thing).

St Oswalds Way Day 2 (2)

Returning to the path, I struck out across big country: big, sheep farming country.

St Oswalds Way Day 2 (3)

One of the very few people I saw this day (might’ve been the only person I saw actually) was a shepherd feeding his flock.  Is my disappointment that he wasn’t on foot, with a dog and crook curmudgeonly?  Probably.

St Oswalds Way Day 2 (4)

Catcherside Farm

As I said, the path was easy to follow using my Cicerone guide.

St Oswald's Way Cicerone Guide

I’m not a great fan of the Cicerone series (and took an active dislike to the Hadrian’s Wall Path edition) but Rudolf Abraham’s is a good ‘un.

St Oswalds Way Day 2 (5)

Catcherside Farm

I passed through the empty, spick and span yard of Catcherside Farm

St Oswalds Way Day 2 (6)

and gave their flock a moment of intense excitement.

St Oswalds Way Day 2 (7)

And then, I was thrust into miles of forestry plantation.  Despite this alert of imminent slow red squirrels, I didn’t see one.  Which was a sadness.

St Oswalds Way Day 2 (8)

Harwood Forest is big (3500ha in fact) and would take me over two hours to cross.  The Forestry Commission planted it in the 1950’s to address a timber shortage after the War.  There was little of interest to me and initially I pounded along straight, hard-packed ‘roads’ with impenetrable conifers to either side.  I gave up looking for signs of life (because there wasn’t any) and switched to thoughts of home and snacks and future walks.

St Oswalds Way Day 2 (9)

It was an eerie, quiet landscape.  Bizarrely, there was no birdsong – heck there were virtually no birds – and though I was sure I would see deer, I didn’t.

St Oswalds Way Day 2 (10)

Redpath Farmhouse

I thought it a shame that a handsome house sat abandoned and unloved.  Perhaps the FC bought up Redpath Farm and its owners moved away to an non-conifered, brighter future.

St Oswalds Way Day 2 (11)

But couldn’t someone make use of this fine, if very isolated, house?

St Oswalds Way Day 2 (12)

Thanks to post markers and paint splodges on tree trunks, I generally found the route though this conifer wonderland.

St Oswalds Way Day 2 (13)

A common frog, proudly cushioned on spawn, was about the only sign of life I encountered.

St Oswalds Way Day 2 (14)

Where trees were felled, someone had thoughtfully placed stones on the stumps to guide me.

St Oswalds Way Day 2 (15)

And as the way wasn’t always obvious, I thanked them.

DSM_1409

This was an almost monochrome landscape of grey and dark green, (I’ve fiddled the above photo to empathise the point),

St Oswalds Way Day 2 (16)

so even a vibrant moss bowl was a little startling.

St Oswalds Way Day 2 (17)

For several hundred yards at a time, I worried I’d gone astray … and I did lose the path once or twice.  But mostly, just when I had decided to retrace my steps, I’d see a splash of paint or a post to reassure me.

St Oswalds Way Day 2 (18)

At one o’clock, I finally emerged from ‘Mirkwood’ at the highest point on the SOW, Coquet Cairn, if only a measly 300m.  I collapsed on a handy stone for my surprisingly good petrol-station sandwich and a glug of water.

St Oswalds Way Day 2 (19)

Simonside Hills on the horizon

Directly ahead, on the horizon, lay Simonside.  It is off the path but reputedly one of the most beautiful spots in the Northumberland National Park.  As I mulled over whether to make the detour, the clouds grew darker and then thunderous.  A few spots of rain quickly became a heavy downpour as I hastily pulled on my waterproofs.  With my Goretex coat and over-trousers, I find walking in the rain, quite pleasant, cosy even.  But I did have to pack away my camera and, tucking in my chin, splashed on into the shower.  However lovely Simonside might be, he wouldn’t be getting a visit from me this day.  An extra hour and a half’s walk to the summit and back wasn’t an attractive prospect, however cosy I might feel in Goretex.

St Oswalds Way Day 2 (20)

After an hour’s moorland trudge, I saw signs of civilisation – an empty car park.  The rain gradually eased and my sweaty head emerged, tortoise-like, from my coat’s cowl.

St Oswalds Way Day 2 (21)

I passed some Neolithic rock art: cup and ring marks gouged into boulders.  Maybe I missed the best examples and I admit to being underwhelmed

St Oswalds Way Day 2 (22)

and hurried on toward Rothbury.

St Oswalds Way Day 2 (23)

The sun did appear after all and made a pitiful, lacklustre attempt to warm me

St Oswalds Way Day 2 (24)

and shortly afterwards,

St Oswalds Way Day 2 (25)

passing gardens trying their best under the gloom,

St Oswalds Way Day 2 (27)

I arrived in the charming town of Rothbury and ‘The Queen’s Head‘ – my weary feet’s rest for the night.

St Oswalds Way Day 2 (26)

I hadn’t needed my shades all day but fumbled for them when I entered my room.  Lime and pink?  Are you sure?  Gracious.   But it was warm, dry and comfortable.  And the bar was welcoming.  I sat through a pint or two that evening with a mighty fine steak for company.  This had been my worst weather day.  For the next four days the sun would shine down on my upturned, ruddy face.  I still had a little back pain but after ten days, I’d drifted into that long-distance-walking-state where mind, body and feet could continue walking for ever.  Or so it felt.

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6 thoughts on “St Oswald’s Way: Day 2 – Kirkwhelpington to Rothbury

  1. Very enjoyable as ever, but my those skies were heavy. I find it difficult to shake off feeling oppressed on such days. Chocolate might help. That house being empty is borderline criminal. Wow those arm chairs are something else. Cheerful doesn’t even approach it. Who decided that beds need to be piled with stupid cushions that just get thrown on the floor and clutter the room. If you find out I’d like to spit in their face.

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    • Well. Yes. The removal of cushions from the bed seems like a chore nowadays in many hotels and B&B’s. Perhaps it’s some sort of laid on entertainment? But I don’t feel quite as strongly about them as you obviously do, Charles. I think you ought to add your final two sentences as a standard footer to your booking emails. I saw loads of beautiful empty houses in Northumberland. I really ought to get on and write the rest of it up. One day. D

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  2. That does seem to have been a bleak day — except for the sheep and the steak. Goodness, those conifer plantations are dark. I must be way too western, because the dense growth mostly makes me worry about forest fires. Maybe that’s not as big an issue in Northumberland.

    The photo after the neolithic art, with that beautifully gnarled tree, looks like a place where one would stand in the rain moaning, “Willoughby,” if that weren’t a silly thing to do.

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    • I suspect, in anything but the driest summers, that no – forest fires aren’t such an issue in Northumberland. And yes, but isn’t that Kate clip uncanny? The dead spit of me as I gazed down on Rothbury, whose name I murmured rather than ‘Willoughby.’ And it was a little silly but I was tired. And hungry. Dave

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    • Hi Janna, the deserted farmhouse is a fair distance from anywhere but I happily admit to looking at Northumberland houses for sale on-line after my walk. Thinking of moving away from Sussex and Northumberland is on the list certainly. But yes, 36 hours is probably a little too far. D

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