(21st March 2014 – 18 miles)
I had a spring in my step as I left ‘The Queen’s Head,’ paused for a little window-shopping, picked up some lunch and crossed the bridge over the River Coquet.
On a warm, sunny morning, I had the fine prospect of several hours riverside walking. And at day’s end, I would see my partner and two friends. Phew. After twelve days away from home, I was looking forward to familiar, friendly faces. As much as I enjoy my own company, I was beginning to bore myself. But I would need to urgently practise my talking-to-anyone-else-but-myself skills. (Apparently, listening, not interrupting and appearing interested are quite important).
Soon after leaving Rothbury, the path joined the line of the old Northumberland Central Railway.
Passenger services on this spur-line were withdrawn in 1952 after a train derailed and crashed down an embankment killing a guard and three passengers. Which is something I felt I should share with you … if a bit unsure as to why. The line closed for good in 1963.
As the old track hooked away to the south, I left it behind and struck out eastwards along the river valley to the sea.
I had passed sad, derelict houses the day before amongst the gloomy trees of Harwood Forest.
This was the first of several I passed today but these sat in pretty, open countryside, not dank forestry plantation.
Curiously the last inhabitants left without their piano. Perhaps they were in a hurry or perhaps the piano was simply broken. Or perhaps they couldn’t bear their child’s interminable “Chopsticks.” Perhaps they left the child behind too.
I walked away, swivelling my head back and wondering once more why a house like this, especially in such a beautiful location and near to Rothbury, couldn’t be used.
I marched on through West Raw Farm
and immediately passed another abandoned cottage.
I suppose that mechanisation, the amalgamation of small farms and the resultant drop in the need for manpower have made these workers’ cottages redundant. But you’d think they would be viable – and valuable – if only as holiday lets.
The path dropped me down to the Coquet at the pretty bridge at Pauperhaugh – built in 1862.
The builders added two ‘dry’ arches to relieve flood pressure on the structure. Clever builders.
Another forlorn, stone cottage but I’ll shut up about them now
and soon I arrived above Brinkburn Priory. I wanted to explore this English Heritage site but there is no access from the south side, my side, of the river. I satisfied myself with a glimpse of the C12th church through the trees.
I crossed fields and woodland, farms and small country lanes but always with the Coquet chuckling nearby.
I recrossed the river at Weldon Bridge – built 60 years before Pauperhaugh. Here, large circular holes above the arches release excess flood water. The bridge must be an amazing sight when the river is in full, tumultuous spate and water roars through those arches and ‘windows’. And more importantly? Beyond the bridge? Why, a pub! And as it was 12.10pm – why, beer o’clock! I sat outside The Angler’s Arms, unloosed my boots, sipped a pint of lager, closed my eyes and relished being alive.
Back on the river, I ran after a pair of goosanders – who weren’t nearly as excited to see me as I was to see them. I managed a couple of quick shots before they left me far, far behind. Goosanders first bred in Scotland in 1871 and only spread into northern England after 1970. (That’s your interesting – and only – goosander fact of the day).
According to my guidebook red squirrels, kingfishers and otters can all be seen along this stretch of river. According to my guidebook.
The day’s walk was pretty, gently changing and fairly easy. But the path regularly climbed and fell, and it was still a long 18 miles.
By the time I reached the village of Felton at 2.30, I was weary.
The church of St Michael and All Angels dates from 1199 but with my feet throbbing, and with 6 or 7 miles still ahead of me, I didn’t linger. Besides, the more tired I become, the more my interest in ‘things’ slides away. I’m quite shallow like that.
I crossed a fourth handsome bridge – this one C15th and sagely only open now to foot traffic.
Beyond Felton, the miles felt endless, the sun hot, my provisions non-existent, my water low.
And even the slightest climb struck me as a personal and unnecessary affront.
(Got to like coltsfoot).
When I saw the remarkable 1960’s Morwick Water Tower on the outskirts of Warkworth my day’s trek was almost over. At 5pm and 8 hours since I had left Rothbury, I arrived at the very-good-indeed Westrigg B&B where my partner Jim, friend Tracy, a very welcome pot of tea and a slab of cake were waiting for me. The former two would accompany me on the rest of the path to Berwick. The latter two didn’t hang around.
In the evening, we strolled down into Warkworth to meet local lass, and old friend, Jonquil at The Hermitage Inn: she would join us for the following day’s walk to Embleton.
After eleven days of solo walking, it was good to be amongst friends, chatting (when I could get a word in edgeways) and relishing an end to the sometimes loneliness of the long-distance walker.