Monday, 21 August 2017

Craster and Dunstanburgh Castle

Craster Harbour
Our summer holiday this year took us to a part of England that I hadn’t visited since I was a boy; the county of Northumberland.  I have cast longing eyes over the coast path there for some time and was pleased that we finally took the plunge.  Sadly for us though the weather wasn’t great during the week we stayed there.  In fact it was halfway through the week before it stopped raining.  This was most disappointing but eventually the weather relented enough for us to take the plunge on one of the shorter walks in volume 35 of the Pathfinder Guides Northumberland and the Scottish Borders.  This is walk number 6 from that book.

Dunstanburgh is possibly the most photographed castle in the county (although there are plenty to choose from in this county!).  It’s melancholy and desolate feel make it a favourite for photographers and artists alike and its relative remoteness means that it retains that air even though it has had so much attention.  This walk starts in the nearby fishing village of Craster and when we arrived in the middle of the afternoon the place was crawling with people.  In fact I struck lucky with the last car parking space.

We wandered down into the village, arranged around a small harbour.  Craster is apparently named after a family of the same name who have lived here for a good number of years.  The harbour is dedicated to one of the family, who was killed in active service in Tibet during late Victorian times.  We paused here for a few minutes to watch the lobster pots being loaded into the pier from one of the boats that operate out of here.  Herrings are still fished here although much in decline - the Craster kipper is a local delicacy.

Leaving Craster
The onward path out of the village was super busy.  In fact in walking terms I can only describe the next mile and a half as being like the M1, with so many walkers plying the mile and a bit between the village and the castle.  Yet such is the grandeur of the old place that it didn’t really detract from its appeal.  We managed scarcely half a mile when the girls wanted to crack open their arts gear and draw pictures of the old place.  I could well understand the appeal.  The resolutely overcast skies provided extra moodiness to the scene. The high tide also provided small waves that broke into spray as they hit the dark rocky coast.  The rock here is actually dolerite and is part of the Whin Sill, a geological feature that extends for much of the length of the North Pennines and as far as Lindisfarne to the north.  Hadrian’s Wall uses part of the Sill for its route.

Dunstanburgh Castle
We stopped for quite a while until the girls were satisfied with their output.  Regular readers of this blog may remember this feature of our walks - a good example was the trip to Great Cumbrae Island when we visited Scotland back in 2014.  I am pleased that they like to do this - taking in your surroundings is an important component of hiking in my opinion.  While they drew I looked in the rock pools, enjoyed the little piles of stones that had been stacked up by various visitors, enjoyed the constantly changing view of the castle ahead as the clouds billowed over and became amused by the increasingly silly antics of the sheep grazing the ground (and rocks!).

Wild Coast
It didn’t take much longer to get to the castle.  When we arrived we discovered that unusually it seemed to be run by English Heritage and the National Trust.  We use the membership card of the former to get in but I believe we could have used the latter too.  Inside and the castle was decidedly thin in terms of what could be seen.  I did take one of the audioguides and that helped considerably.  It would seem that this castle was built by one of the rebellious barons (Earl Thomas of Lancaster) to try and protect himself from the King.  Sadly it served no purpose to him as he was captured elsewhere and executed.  The castle was therefore forfeited to the King.  After that the castle passed into the hands of John of Gaunt who strengthened its defences against the Scots.  From the few remains still in place it is difficult to imagine the hubbub of activity that would once have been here.

Balancing Act
The greatest activity now at the castle is the rather astonishing seabird colony at the far edge of the site on the cliff that the castle rather precariously sits on.  The girls and I spent some time enjoying the antics of the birds.  For the most part the residents were kittiwakes and razorbills and they seemed quite happy living together on the little ledges formed in the cliff face.  The noise they all made was quite a din!

The other great thing about the castle was the view along the coast both to the north and south.  Southwards we could see the village of Craster and down towards Alnmouth beyond.  Northwards we could pick out Beadnell and the far off Farne Islands.  It certainly looked a very inviting coast to walk, especially as it was relatively flat.  Below us the golfers playing on Dunstanburgh Golf Course must have the most amazing views as they whack their ball around.  After satisfying ourselves that we had seen everything, including climbing to the top of the gatehouse (where the views were even better), we resumed our walk.  The official route had us doubling back quite a long way until we reached a path on the other side of the erstwhile moat.  We however decided to follow the sheep tracks to lose height and saved ourselves quite a dog leg.

Seabird Cliff
We walked around the base of the cliff and paused for another look at the seabird cliffs.  The noise from this angle was quite deafening - almost as if the cliffs themselves were helping with the acoustics.  It also gave us the opportunity to look more closely at the geology.  Some of the rocks were quite interesting as you could see how the dolerite had been injected into the surrounding strata during the igneous activity at the time of formation.  One in particular jutted out into sea - doing its best to resist the waves.

Our path took us alongside the golf course, which was surprisingly quiet given how scenic it looked.  Maybe the overcast and slightly windy conditions put some of the golfers off?  The path now took a route along the crest of sand dunes.  It made for easy underfoot walking as they had been stabilised by vegetation, but the bracken that dominated some sections was taller than the children!  We also passed a pillbox along here - it looked like it had been fashioned from a mould made out of corrugated iron.  I guess there was a good deal of worry about this part of the coast being used for an invasion for it is relatively flat and the beaches would have been fairly easy for landing craft to get ashore.

Field Patterns
A little further on and we left the coast along a tarmac road to the hamlet of Dunstan Steads.  There were some good looking houses here; a good many of them are holiday homes now.  Having reached the hamlet we turned once again to take a parallel route to our outward one but along an inland course.  Most of the early part of the route was along a concrete road that skirted the fields.  I’m not sure why it was here but some former quarrying activity on the left side perhaps provided a clue.  This section of the route was also notable for side on views of the castle across the now ripening wheat fields.  The hedgerows were also teeming with life and especially butterflies - speckled woods, large whites, red admirals, painted ladies and hedge browns were all in evidence.  We also passed another pillbox - this one looked as if it was hastily thrown up using sacks of cement as the building material.

Eventually we reached a farm at Dunstan Square and as we did so the sun made a brief but memorable appearance, lighting up the Northumberland Hills off in the distance.  We took a left hand turn here into a field of horses, which came galloping over to greet us.  The path took us over the Whin Sill, now a prominent ridge through the landscape.  The brief sunshine was immediately closed off as we ascended the ridge.  On the other side the castle came back into view once again.  We kept to the high ground and followed on the other side of the ridge just below the crest until we reached the village of Craster once again.  All the crowds that had been here when we arrived had now subsided and our car was one of the last in the car park.

Dunstan Steads
This walk is a great introduction to the Northumbrian Coast.  Although the walk is a modest length and is quite easy in terms of climbing and navigation, it is full of interest and the castle is the undoubted star of the show, being visible from the path for at least three quarters of its length.  I imagine this would make for a great early morning or evening walk to escape the crowds but obviously the castle would be closed then so you would have to make the most of viewing from outside only.

View Across the Fields

Thursday, 3 August 2017

Pulborough Brooks

Village Sign
A modest walk but  perfect for a Sunday afternoon is this one in Pulborough.  It is walk number 3 in vol. 66 of the Pathfinder Guides West Sussex and the South Downs. I've been waiting for the perfect day to do it and think I found it - dry everywhere; no mud (which would plague this walk in the winter), puffy clouds and plenty of sunshine.  I had youngest daughter for company and we headed out late afternoon after the heat of the day had passed. We parked in the car park by the library, which is free to use on a Sunday (pay and display on all the other days).

Outstanding tree
Much of this walk is familiar territory, having featured in other walks on this blog but it is worth doing in its own right principally because it packs so much into its short length.  We set off from the car park down the lane that takes you straight out on to the flood plain of the River Arun and past the old house at the end that looks so idyllic (see my walk from the Arun Valley).  

Idyllic Cottage
As soon as we left the built up area of Pulborough behind it was like we immediately entered a different world.  Now the skies were big, the atmosphere airy and the immediate surroundings full of life as the brooks were full of fluttering butterflies and buzzy bees and dragonflies.  It was certainly a good education for young daughter as we identified wild flowers and their visiting butterflies as we went.  

Morning Glory
We soon reached the river and this was in a serene mood.  It is surprisingly still tidal at this point and was quite full suggesting that the tide was in.  That probably helped the mood, in keeping with the lazy summer's day with clouds just bobbing along in a bright blue sky.  Our moment with the river was quite brief as we were soon heading across the floodplain to the RSPB Nature Reserve that flanks this part of the valley.  As we did so we passed by quite a large flush of thistles that were covered in ladybirds - I'm not sure I have ever seen so many in one place before!

As we entered the nature reserve we followed some of the butterflies that lived here and in particular the Commas that seemed to like the brambles that grew in profusion around the path.  The route across the nature reserve takes a different course than the walk that RSPB visitors take but apart from the visits to the hides I am not sure it is any less enjoyable.  Although I never have it looks like it would be quite possible to enter the RSPB reserve walk from this angle.  

New Growth
From a closed in track we headed through a gate and across a wide open field - the contrast was quite a surprise.  It looked like it should be full of grazing animals but there weren't any today, not even lurking in the shadowy corners out of the sun.  At the other end we resumed a course along a hemmed in path between fields and soon came across the delightful little church at Wiggonholt.  This is  church without a village it seems as there are few houses here and surely not enough for a congregation.  Yet the old place looks quite well kept and in good health so the few that do come for services here obviously have a lot of pride in the place.  Sadly the church was locked so we were denied a look inside.

Wiggonholt Church
We pushed on, avoiding the suggestion of a visit to the visitor centre this time as we have been many times before.  Instead we took a hard left and took a path between two large houses and headed back in the direction of Pulborough.  The path was flanked by the same thistles that we had seen down in the valley but this time they were covered in cardinal beetles rather than ladybirds.  I assume they vie for the same food?

Cardinal Beetles
Away from the Brooks the scenery was quite different, signifying the sandy soils that this area of the Weald has.  In fact this is the Greensand ridge of Sussex, a much smaller feature than the equivalent one in Surrey and almost unnoticeable in places.  The soil is a dead giveaway though as the dry conditions would contrast greatly with the pudding conditions of the alluvial plain in the winter.  On a dry summer's day there was little difference between them.

Holiday Cottages
We crossed a field with some friendly horses who all came over to have a nose at us.  Sadly for them we weren't carrying any tidbits or peppermints and as a result they soon lost interest.  We continued on a route that took us down to a footpath that tracked along the very edge of the floodplain.  It was a delightful path, flanked by wild flowers and with tantalising glimpses across the valley to the ridge of Bignor Hill beyond.  We also passed a holiday cottage that is in a very tempting location for birdwatchers.  I suspect that this one gets good residency rates even in the winter months when birdlife is a bit more obvious than it was today.

Eventually we got to the end of the path and crossed a small footbridge and entered the built up area of Pulborough by the White Horse pub.  I have long liked the look of this place although have yet to visit.  With a small child in tow I wasn't going to today either.  The remaining part of the walk suffers from being along the  main road back towards the car park where we had started.  The only saving grace were some of the fascinating houses along the way.  There were so many lovely ones but I'm not sure I would be tempted by any of them due to their proximity to the main road.
Pulborough View

Only an hour and a half or so after we had started and we were back to the beginning - both of us were well satisfied with this short outing.

Saturday, 15 July 2017

Cloughton and Hayburn Wyke

Cloughton Station
The last of our walks from the North Yorkshire Moors and another chance to explore some of the old Whitby to Scarborough railway line courtesy of this Pathfinder Guide walk from vol 28 North York Moors (walk number 4).  We decided that after an earlier trip to Scarborough we weren't quite ready to go home and so stopped off to complete this 4.5 mile walk on the way back.
Cinder Track
We did not park in the suggested place in the middle of Cloughton village but instead by the old railway station that has happily been preserved as a tea room and holiday accommodation.  One day I would like to stay here - it looks lovely!  Sadly the place doesn't  open for tea on a Friday so we couldn't try it out.  We did have a little look though - a more picturesque place it would be hard to imagine.

Cloughton Wyke
We headed north along the old railway line for a short distance before finding the bridge that took the official route over the old line.  We corkscrewed around to join the road and headed towards the sea, about half a mile further on.  There was a small car park at  the end of the road and it looked like this spot was a favourite haunt for dog walkers.  I am basing this on the fact that we saw one coming back from her walk with a very satisfied looking dog.  Actually if I owned a dog and lived locally I would probably come here a lot.

Heading Up Through the Woods
We reached the coast at Cloughton Wyke.  In this part of Yorkshire the name Wyke has a special meaning.  It refers to a beach where you can land a boat and access the interior by means of a path leading from the beach - I guess what I would normally call a cove.  It was a pretty little place almost devoid of people on this rather grey looking late afternoon.  I wonder of more come out when the sun is shining?  I guess most stick to Scarborough a few miles to the south...

Rodger Trod View
We turned left on to the Cleveland Way.  This has long been on my shopping list of walks that I want to complete so this would prove to be a nice taster.  As with all coastal walks there was quite a lot of ups and downs and to the annoyance of my children we had a bit of a workout to get to the top of Rodger Trod.  In truth though we only climbed about 200 feet - not exactly mountain climbing...

Painted Lady
All along teh route there was a profusion of wild flowers.  The last hardy bluebell was still in evidence but mostly we saw campion, buttercups and various types of hogweed/ cow parsley/ wild carrot that I can never quite distinguish.  There were also lots of butterflies, mostly Hedge and Meadow Browns but also Red Admirals and the rather more elusive Painted Ladys.  When we got to the top of the hill on the narrow path between high vegetation growth and then via some wooden steps in a wood we took a little breather.  Our view back now took in the bay to the north of Scarborough and the brooding castle that we had visited earlier in the day.  It was quite the view but better was soon to come as we headed slightly downhill to the north.

Red Admiral
Very soon Hayburn Wyke came into view and for my money this was the undoubted highlight of the walk.  We could see quite a way along the coast but it was down to the beach in the Wyke that it was particularly special.  Even the sun was trying its best to come out from behind the thick cloud now, raising hopes that we would finally see some after a steely grey day.  As we slowly descende into the Wyke the unmistakeable roar of a Spitfire came from some way away and before we knew it passed by just overhead.  I think there must have been an airshow nearby for we had heard it a couple of other times during the week without actually managing to see it.

Soon we reached aother wood and our gentle descent suddenly became quite a steep one as the path dropped almost down to sea level once again.  In fact I peeled off from the girls to take a little look at the beach itself.  The stream that had done its best to carve a valley down to the bottom finally gave up just before the beach and tumbled over a small waterfall to reach the sea.  I didn't hang around too long for fear of getting left behind but I needn't have worried for I caught them all up about halfway up the hill.  We had left the Cleveland Way at this point and headed back towards the old railway.

Hayburn Wyke
As we got to the top we could see the old station of Hayburn Wyke in the trees ahead.  I wonder how many people would use the station now if it were still functioning?  I imagine that the hotel that we passed nearby would welcome it for it would be another source of revenue.  It looked a lovely spot and had some activity about it; heartening to see for a fairly out of the way place.  We soon rejoined the railway line.  This would be our companion for the remaining part of the walk.  I reckon we followed it for nigh on 2 miles and it made for much easier walking than the path through the woods where we had come from.  Looking at the map it looked as if there were a lot of opportunities for these out and back walks using a combination of the Cleveland Way and the Cinder Track.  I think if I were to live locally I would be trying out all the permutations for this one was a delight.

The walk back along the railway line was quite relaxing although we did have a slightly scary moment when we found a car coming up the track.  I soon realised that it was an access road for a cottage that we soon passed.  It begged the question of how the residents got to it when the railway was functioning?  Eventually we got back to the station but before we did we took a moment to admire a fairy den that had been created under the roots of a fallen tree.  Now there is an awful lot of stuff there but it did make me wonder how it started?

View From the Cinder Track
This was rather modest walk but  packed a lot into the short distance.  A couple of stiff climbs, some expansive views of the coast, two of the old stations on the Cinder Track and plenty of nature in the form of flowers, butterflies and seabirds.  Not bad for an hour and a half walk!

Fairy Station

Sunday, 2 July 2017

The Cinder Track

Cinder Track
When we decided to go to Whitby for our Whitsun holiday I did think it would be fun to take the children cycling along an old railway for the first time and was pleased that we found a bike hire place at Hawsker so we didn't have to lug our own bikes there.  It wasn't particularly cheap though - probably the most I have ever paid for a day's bike hire.  The hire place is based at the old station at Hawsker.

Hawsker Station
The Whitby to Scarborough Railway was opened in 1885 towards the end of the railway building era and lasted until the Beeching cuts of the 1960s, eventually succumbing in 1965.  In truth it wasn't ever likely to survive due to the operational difficulties that the railway companies had.  It was built fairly cheaply and had some steep gradients along its length.  Perhaps the most difficult aspects though were the connections at each end of the line where trains had to be reversed to enter the stations at Scarborough and Whitby, disrupting other services considerably in the process.

Down Into Whitby
With this being the girls' first experience of riding such a route we decided to go towards Whitby to begin with as I thought that this would be a quieter prospect.  It would also give us the opportunity to take a look at one of the most impressive engineering features on the whole line, the 13 arch brick viaduct that spans the River Esk.  The route from Hawsker is largely downhill and this provided an opportunity for the girls to get used to the new bikes without too much difficulty.  What I hadn't banked on was the steepness of the descent.  One imagines that railway lines are largely flat but in my experience some of these closed lines actually have quite steep gradients, as in this case.  It was quite exhilarating riding down into Whitby and some of the views along the way were quite memorable.  This is not a railway largely confined to a tree lined tunnel.

Larpool Viaduct View East
At the bottom of the hill we stopped at Larpool Viaduct and admired the view across to Whitby Abbey.  Both structures are mentioned in Bram Stoker's famous novel Dracula and we had had that on in the car for the duration of the holiday.  The trail goes on a little way further towards the former station at Whitby West Cliff but we didn't venture further on.  By now the day was warming up considerably and the ride back to Hawsker was quite tiring.  When we met a very large rambling group three quarters of the way back we were happy to stop and wait for them to pass by so we could have a breather.

Larpool Viaduct View West
Hawsker station has been restored beautifully and hosts a couple of railway carriages that act as offices for the cycle hire business but also as rather novel places to stay.  Holiday accommodation of this nature used to be quite commonplace and it is good to see this tradition maintained here.

Whitby Abbey From Larpool
Any thoughts that Hawsker would be the top of the hill were soon dispelled however as the old line kept climbing.  It was also quite narrow in places, largely because the original track formation was only a single line and with encroachment from vegetation we sometimes only had the width of cycle + rider to work with.  Just beyond Hawsker we crossed the road via a pedestrian crossing.  When the railway was operational this would have been crossed underneath the road and frankly it would be very welcome if that style of crossing could be restored, for both drivers and cyclists.

Chugging Through Hawsker Station
The line continued to head uphill for a further half mile or so.  As we climbed the view back towards Whitby opened up and a mighty fine view it was.  At the top we crossed a smaller road the track widened considerably as we passed through a shallow cutting.  The surface though was not agreeable.  The line is now known as the cinder track due to the nature of the surface but here the cinder pieces were quite big and that led to rather a rough ride for a while.  Further on we turned away from Whitby for good and had a new perspective on the coast.  For railway passengers this must have been delightful to travel.  On a warm early summer's day by bike it was a pleasure too and soon the line began to descend again this time for quite a long way down into Robin Hood's Bay, the next station on the line.

As we rounded the coast the view across the bay was quite magnificent.  The gradient got a lot steeper too and it wasn't difficult to imagine the struggles of the trains coming along this route.  I don't remember a railway line with such steep gradients (with the possible exception of the High Peak Trail in Derbyshire - but that had inclines) and I certainly wasn't looking forward to the return journey.

Approaching Robin Hood's Bay
We got to Robin's Hood Bay in time for lunch.  The track ran out as the houses started; it plots a course through the housing and crossed the road although the bridge is now missing.  There is a large car park in the area that was once the station yard and we left our bikes there while we explored the town and the beach.  I hadn't been here since I was a boy but it was pleasing to see how little had changed from how I remembered it.  The only thing that was different was the amount of visitors - the place was rammed.  We spent a good deal of time on the beach as it was low tide and the children really enjoyed looking in all the rock pools.  I watched one in particular and was rewarded when I saw a very large crab wandering along trying to stay out of sight by hiding in the seaweed.

Robin Hood's Bay Station
After a lengthy  break we got back on our bikes at Robin Hood's Bay Station and headed on towards Ravenscar.  The station itself is intact and looking in splendid condition as a set of holiday accommodations.  I think it would be a great place to base ourselves if we came again.  The track proper recommenced further on after crossing a main road and we soon resumed the winding track.  Now the track was more wooded and there were only brief glimpses of the surrounding countryside.  We were noticeably going uphill too - this was something we had to contend with all the way to Ravenscar.  We passed by a farm and a caravan site and I wondered where it was that we camped when I was a boy - it was around here somewhere.  Too many years have passed though for me to remember.
Narrow Streets

As we got towards Fyling Hall Station a couple of the bridges had been removed and we had to cross roads.  I always find this slightly annoying on railway lines.  The short term gain of the scrap value of the bridges mean that we all have to pay decades later.  Fyling Hall Station is still just about intact although I had to pay attention for the erstwhile platforms are being absorbed back into nature.  The station masters house is in rude health though and it is that which you should look out for to give you a clue about the platforms.
Robin Hood's Bay From Beach

We crossed more roads and continued our plod uphill.  The line was becoming more rural than ever now and it is interesting that this is the only route that directly linked Robin Hood's Bay with Ravenscar.  All the roads head inland and it is quite a lot further between the two settlements by road than it ever was by rail.  The 13 minute rail journey has now been replaced by a bus journey requiring one change and taking more than an hour.  That's progress?

Robin Hood's Bay Beach
The route gradient increased markedly as we got closer to Ravenscar before the trackbed is left for a short stretch while the line heads through a tunnel (this is off limits).  Apparently trains used to often struggle when they got to the tunnel as the climb up here was 1 in 39 and engines would stall as they git inside the tunnel. We continued on to the station which is clearly visible although only the down platform remains.  What is more remarkable is the station approach.  This is a grandly laid out square, upon which there is a set of buildings that hint at something grander following their construction.

Sustrans Pointer
In fact Ravenscar is often billed as the town that never was.  Back at the turn of the 20th Century developers laid out plans for a much larger town and streets and infrastructure was laid out.  Much of the speculation did not materialise though as the trek down to the rocky beach deterred visitors who preferred other nearby places.  Developers never built the buildings that would have ensured the growth of the town and it was left as a backwater.  It is a most curious place to wander round now as a result.

Fyling Hall Station
At Ravenscar we headed back.  It is possible to continue on the Cinder Track all the way to Scarborough but none of us had the energy to proceed and in any event we were on a timescale with the hired bikes.  We also remembered that the way back was going to be quite a slog especially leaving Robin Hood's Bay.  We had slow progress going back but the girls had a thoroughly good time and I have no doubt that we will be doing something similar again in the near future.