Thursday, 30 April 2009


Decided on a walk from home.
We headed off up Wardrew Hill, passing Irthing House Farm and onto the steep climb up the hill to Temple Mount.
I don't know the origins of the name but it would seem that there may have been a temple here at some point in history.
As we approached a cattle grid at the top one of Paul's ewes and her two lambs were wandering about, they're great escape artists. One of the lambs ran over the cattle grid, using the flat side strut and the ewe and remaining lamb went the other way. I opened the gate but the lamb wouldn't join it's family and ran off down the road. Eventually we took the turn down the drive to Wardrew House and the ewe called the lamb back to her.

A left turn takes you into Irthing Wood, it's an ancient woodland under various ownerships.

When I first came to Gilsland, six years ago I was struck by just how many wild flowers there were here. For anyone interested in flowers, grasses, lichen and mosses it's a lovely place to be. We also have red squirrels, returning to the woods after culling of the greys, roe deer and various small creatures who leave footprints in the mud but whom you never see.
At this time of the year the woods are alive with birdsong and your head swivels about trying to pinpoint the various songsters.

The bluebells are just starting to flower here, some patches fully out where they catch the sun others well into bud but not quite open yet. I imagine there should be quite a show for the May Bank Holiday.

After the rain on Wednesday night the waters were rushing down the River Irthing and under the Spa Bridge meaning we wouldn't be able to use the stepping stones path to get back into Gilsland. We went that way last week and one of the stepping stones had been washed away, someone had kindly made a temporary path using river boulders, but they wouldn't withstand a rushing river.

We took the route that leads towards the Popping Stone, made famous by Sir Walter Scott who allegedly proposed to his bride there. It's a lovely detour but it's always muddy. Masses of wild primrose on the banks here, this part of the walk is an SSSI and on a warm summers day it's alive with butterflies on the wild flowers.

Heading up the path past the old Iron Chelate Well, one of the Spa treatments the Victorians were fond of, I determined yet again to bring a spade with me and clear out the area around the well so it's more easily visible. On up towards Gilsland Spa we stopped to talk to one of the groundsmen, there's been felling of trees and he was telling us they're taking out non-native species so some quite large conifers have gone. Not the Scots Pine though, they're native and essential for the squirrels.
We walked down the road back to the village, Jonathon at Howard House Farm has moved his little flock of Jacob's sheep, I'd hoped to get some pictures of the lambs, they're so cute with little spotty coats.

Lunch at The House of Meg Tearoom in Gilsland, it's in Mump's Hall home of Meg Teasdale whom one of the characters in a Walter Scott book was based on. She's said to still haunt the house. The food is very good but you can't be in a hurry, the service is so slow. There were only a couple of people in the tearoom and they had already been served, so it wasn't that they were rushed but by the time our sandwiches came the coffee's had gone cold. Maybe asking for the coffee to be served at the same time as the sandwich would help but they need to speed up service a bit.
Catch you later.

Tuesday, 28 April 2009

28 04 09

Well it's coming to the end of April already, how quickly the time goes.

The weather has changed and we have rain here on Hadrian's Wall today, I didn't get out for any photographs, but the Scott Goodfellow, a traditional Blacksmith some more of his items to photograph. He makes some lovely things, I wish I had a nice heavy wooden door for one of his Ram's head knockers.

Last night I was out for my constitutional by Crag Lough, (NY770680) when I first moved here the boats were tethered in a very photogenic arrow formation but they used to knock together when it was stormy. The mooring blocks were moved and now they line up in an untidy way.

With a pair of wellies I could have waded out and 'arranged' them but I just can't walk far in wellies.

Alas Crag Lough is the only bit of water that is within 5 minutes reach of Hadrian's Wall, and there's nothing quite like light reflecting in water for a photographer.

The Lough is fished by a consortium of fishermen, but it's not often that they're out in the boats, unless they fish by moonlight when I'm not there to see them.

On the odd occasion when there has been a fisherman there they do catch some fish, it's not a deep lake, one said it was hardly more than 6 foot deep which seems remarkable.

I wonder what ancient remains lie buried under the water, and has it changed much since Roman times?

The end nearest Sycamore Gap is a nature reserve and the swans nest there most years, very rarely venturing to within range of my camera., a couple of geese did fly overhead but they didn't land on the water for me.

The forecast isn't good for the rest of the week, mind you it's not often the forecast is right so hopefully they will be wrong on this occasion and we shall have perfect photography weather.

Catch you later.

Monday, 27 April 2009

27 04 09

Most people seem to walk the Wall from east to west.

In most cases I think the best views are to be seen looking west to east but there are exceptions and, in my humble opinion, the view over Crag Lough from Hotbank Crag, is one of them.

Yesterday was a mixed day weather wise but there was a good build up of my type of clouds as evening approached. It's been a while since I climbed up Hotbank so that was my first destination for the evening. NNPA has been hard at work over the winter and they've much improved the path and gate just after you cross the entrance track to Hotbank Farm. Some very large, and I imagine unwieldy boulders now make a good sturdy set of steps, great if you're rushing to 'catch the light' like I usually am.

As with most of this section of Hadrian's Wall the climb up to Hotbank Crag gives you a good anaerobic workout, or that's what I tell myself.

Last night I got my timings all wrong and was way too early for the sunset. On a nice night I might be tempted to hang around and wait, but there was a chill wind up on the top. I scouted out a few new spots for a sunrise shot looking east along the Hadrian's Wall Path as it follows the contours over Hotbank Crag, laughed at the antics of some of the Bradley Farm lambs, then decided to head somewhere a bit warmer.
As I came back down to Crag Lough the sun came out and just caught the slopes of Winshields Crag, making a nice picture, with no time to set up the tripod I just did a point and shoot.
(NY772680 - the grid references I post should take you to a map and the centre spot of the map is where I stood to take the photo)
I sit here writing away each day never knowing if anyone actually read what I write, if you'd like to comment please feel free.

Catch you later.

Sunday, 26 April 2009

26 04 09

I think it's fairly obvious that I love this whole area of Hadrian's Wall from Birdoswald to Chollerford. Everywhere is steeped in history, you can touch stones laid in 122AD or thereabouts, how awesome is that?

If only those stones could talk to us. I've been reading about the Victorian's would you believe they took the Wall stones and used them as hardcore for their road building, and before the Victorians the builders of castles, bastles and farmhouses used the readily available good cut stone. Were it not for Mr John Clayton I doubt there would be much left at all today, his artifacts are displayed in the museum at Chesters.

On those gorgeous misty mornings that I so love I think about all this history and in the swirling mists convince myself there must be ghosts about. One of my favourite spots when there is mist is looking east towards Cawfields. NY706661
I was lucky that the sun was high enough to pick out the land form of the Cawfield and Winshields Crag and while I know not many visitors are up early enough to see it like this for me it's well worth the effort.

Catch you later.

Saturday, 25 April 2009

Up in the mornings

25 04 09
I really must get myself a new alarm clock, I'm not keen on electrical things in the bedroom so I have a battery clock, and the alarm pointer is tiny so it's a bit hit and miss. This morning it went off at 4.15 instead of 4.45 and it was too dark to see what the potential of the sunrise was like.

I went back to bed and woke with a start at 5.10, now the sunrise was 5.42am so I was cutting things a bit fine. I was up, out and my first shot at Steel Rigg was timed at 5.39am not bad going and, as it happens, I was there in plenty of time.

Often if there are clouds the best colours appear before the sun rises, (which is why photo magazines tell you to be in place an hour before sunrise) but this morning the sky was clear to the front of me with mist which is a bonus, and just the sort of conditions I like.

Steel Rigg (NY752676) is great, you can be taking photographs almost straight out of the car park, which is what I did this morning. The sun is moving to the north of the crags now so as it rises you get some light on the crag face and if you're lucky it colours up the water on Crag Lough.

At 6.45am the sun appeared behind Hotbank Crag, a lovely red ball and the mist diffused the light nicely so I didn't have problems with flare.

Sheep and lambs wandered around and for some reason a big flock of Black headed Gulls flew over, with my small shutter I have quite a long exposure time so anything moving is just a blur on the resulting photograph. The ewe and lamb did stand still for a while so I'm hoping they'll not need cloning out of my shot, I'm very fond of our local Black face sheep and try to include them in shots where I can. They're so much a part of this area and if you're walking the Hadrian's Wall Path you'll see lots of them.
Just after 6 o'clock I packed up at Steel Rigg and headed home, it was a glorious morning and as I passed the camp site at Winshields Farm I was tempted to sound the car horn so the campers wouldn't miss the best part of the day - I resisted but only just :)
A lovely morning and a joy to be out, and after a hot toast and honey breakfast ot's off to sort through the 70+ photographs I've taken.
Catch you later.

Tuesday, 21 April 2009

Cawfields Quarry

Did one of those things yesterday where a slight twist and your back goes, end up walking like an s-bend for a while, and I missed a nice misty sunrise this morning because it hurt too much.

Pain killers all day did the trick and by this evening I felt desperate for a walk in the fresh air.

Not sure how far I'd be able to walk or how I'd cope on uneven ground I headed out to Cawfields.

I'd checked the webcam there before I set out and it looked great, big fluffy clouds right over the peak of the crag.

By the time I got there they'd moved way over but at this time of the year I like the way the light hits the crag face so I took a few photographs. The waters are really deep so you get a nice blue colour in the waters. Masses of tadpoles again this year.

Then I went up the track towards Great Chesters Farm just to enjoy that view of the Hadrian's Wall as it climbs up over the crags and onto Winshields. As you come to the access track to the front of Great Chesters you pass the Roman Fort with a couple of altar stones. Lots of coins have been left there as offerings and I must admit if I'd taken some money with me I'd probably have left an offering too, just in case.
Down the track and across the fields, pausing to enjoy the lambs running and jumping in the evening sun - they seem to have so much fun!

It's suprising how many nice circular walks there are on the various parts of Hadrian's Wall, so many people seem to treat Walking the Wall like a time trial, just wanting to get from one end to the other, missing so much of what we have to offer.

We're having a day out in the Lake District tomorrow - that's just an hour's drive for us, so it's nice to have a change of scene now and again.

Catch you later.

Monday, 20 April 2009

19th April 2009

After a lovely day yesterday, the evening came in clear and bright, not enough clouds for a 'good' sunset just a lovely night to be out.
My walk out at the Temple of Mithras earlier in the day, hadn't been particularly taxing so after tea I went out to Steel Rigg.

Heading out of the carpark I went along the 'climbers path' at the foot of the Crags that carry Hadrian's Wall, at this time of the year the late light catches the face of the crags, bringing them alive.
John Pattinson of Hotbank Farm was out in his tractor checking his sheep and lambs so I was accompanied on my walk but nice 'rural' noises. At this time of the year the farming day is extremely long, no 9-5 for them.

I had plenty of time to fill before sunset so I decided to climb up at Sycamore Gap and go down to Crag Lough to see if the fishing boats were back, they get taken out of the Lough for winter storage.

I'd noticed someone following me and assumed it was someone from the farm, as I was climbing up to the Sycamore Tree I heard and almightly splash and turned around to see the man behind me had tried to cross the marsh, really an extension of the Lough, and had landed up to his knees in water. He had a backpack and was probably another photographer.

I've done exactly the same in the past, the grass lies flat on the surface of the water so it's not until you're in it that you know it's there. From the top of the crag you can see the light glint off the water but that's not much consolation. I use my tripod fully extended to test the ground whenever I cross that particular boggy ground, it's always wet!

I went on down to the edge of the Lough, the sun is just to the north of centre and was causing so much flare in the photographs that I gave up and climbed back up Highshields Crag, intending to get the sunset shot from the top. A man walking his dog stopped to chat about the swans nesting on the Lough, and by the time I was able to get away the sun was down and no shot for me.

I did pause as I passed the 'Sycamore Tree' and got a silhouette of the tree and a sheep ( so small you have to know it was there) no doubt I'll be able to add that to my Sycamore Gap gallery on my Smugmug site.

I took one last look over my shoulder as I left and noticed two large birds of prey circling over the tree, my first thought was they were buzzards, but it's not the right terrain and why circle after sunset? I wish I'd thought to take a picture of them. Something to look out for another time.

Catch you later :)

Sunday, 19 April 2009

Tea and temples

I had hoped for a sunrise morning but at 4.45am the sky was covered with cloud so I went back to bed.
Things did improve as the morning developed and by 10.30am it was a lovely spring day in Gilsland.

I had a quick look at the Hadrian's Wall webcams and, seeing a few patches of blue sky amongst the grey on the Winshields camera, I decided to head east.
It's some years since I've been to the Temple of Mithras so that was my destination today.

You'll find it between Sewingshields and Limestone Corner but there's a well signposted car park so you really can't miss it. I parked up and followed the track down to the Temple of Mithras.

It's in a lovely sheltered spot and larks were singing, lambs were gambolling and there were even a few tortoiseshell butterflies enjoying the yellow flowers of the dandelions.

While the temple seems to be in a strange place a look at the Google Earth map (NY858710) shows the outline of Brocolitia Roman Fort just above the Temple on the higher ground.
I had a good look around the mole hills, and there are lots of them, many have bits of Roman roof tile and bits of pottery but I suppose only an expert can date them and it's really not done to 'plunder' historic sites. Nice to find though even if you do leave it behind when you go.

A bonus here is the Coffee Cart, the owner tells me he's in the car park all through the year and on your behalf I did sample the coffee, it was excellent, just the thing to refresh the parts after a mole hill rummage.
There is a car parking fee but that ticket covers you for the other HW carparks ( machine doesn't give change so have some with you) or the AD122 bus service stops here.
There's information about Mithras on the University website
Catch you later.

Saturday, 18 April 2009

Bluebells and fairy dells

The Hadrian's Wall Path crosses the Poltross Burn (NY634662) and heads on up to the Roman Fort known as the King's Stables, and just out of sight as you cross the the Poltross Bridge is a pretty little waterfall, surrounded by lush green ferns just as you would imagine a fairy dell. It's not that easy to access, involving climbing over old fallen trees and mossy rocks but if you're agile then it's doable.

I'm getting on a bit, and as my husband is fond of saying in a voice dripping with sarcasm, 'I'm as agile as a mountain goat'. I got along to the waterfall but I had trouble getting back and ended up having to slide down a steep slope on my bottom, which resulted in a mud covered behind, and blessings being counted that there were no big rocks to impeed my progess down the slope!
My plan had been to head out today checking the status of the bluebells, on my calendar for the last couple of years Gilsland Bluebells have been at their best on the 12th of May. This year they're going to be about three weeks earlier, the buds are forming and in one or two very sheltered spots flowers are out already.
Coomb Crag Woods (NY593650) between Banks and Birdoswald is another good wood for Bluebells,normally flowering a week in advance of the Gilsland woods, it's a nice place to walk in any season. There are some inscriptions in the rocks and the Romans did quarry stone for Hadrian's Wall there so it has a bit of history.
Irthing Gorge, (NY634678) behind the Gilsland Spa hotel is probably the most easily accessed area of bluebells, park in the hotel car park head down into the wood, cross the Spa bridge and turn left into the area with the birch trees.

I'll keep checking and update you on the best time to visit. The Spa Hotel does a very good carvery on Sunday so maybe you can enjoy a bluebell walk and a meal.

Friday, 17 April 2009

It pays to advertise

Gilsland is one of the Hadrian's Wall Villages and some of the best bits of remaining Wall are at Willowford.
I had a wander down that way yesterday and what did I see before me, some mini advertising hoardings gambolling about in the Willowford Farm fields.

I'm a sucker for lambs, they really are so cute and play just like children everywhere, running and jumping in gangs until they tire themselves out, or the ewe calls them back to her.

When they're newly born the ewe's can be very protective, when a camera appears the ewe will put herself between the lambs and the photographer, but on this occasion I managed to get a couple of shots.

I was so taken by all of this that I didn't get much further in my walk.

Monday, 13 April 2009

Easter Monday

Well the weather didn't let us down - another nice day on Hadrian's Wall.

I took a walk from Gilsland to Greenhead, up over Temple Mount, down past Barron House Farm, Thirlwall Castle (there's a 'farmhouse tea' at the farm next to the Castle) and on to Greenhead.

The Old Forge Cafe is now fully open so it was the perfect excuse to stop for coffee and carrot cake. I know I mentioned diet yesterday but that carrot cake leapt out at me screaming 'eat me, eat me', so I did.

We walked back along the Hadrian's Wall Path, there are a number of stiles along the way and whoever set them up must have 6ft long legs because the bottom step on all of them is too high especially if like me you have knees that no longer bend very well!
Come this evening and it looked to be shaping up for a nice sunset so once again it was on with the walking boots and away we go.

Destination this evening was Steel Rigg, I wanted to go up onto Peel Crags so that if there was any good colour in the sky I would have the option to shoot looking east or west. They're repairing the dry stone walls on top of the Crags and I have to say they're making a first class job of it, hope they (The stones not the drystone wallers :)) can withstand those Galloway cows rubbing against them. One morning last year I was out for a sunrise when the cows were on top of the crag and it was a constant clattering of stones being loosened.

The footpaths alongside the Wall are really worn already this year, goodness knows how they'll look in a few months time. With walkers all year round the paths don't have a chance to recover and I know most of them were reseeded this last autumn.

Got to the bit of turf Wall (NY759677) and set up the camera, little bit of colour in the sky but there's not yet any real warmth in the sunset so I took a few shots and then packed up. Still the hard climb up and down Peel Crags will have helped burn off some of those calories I hope.
Catch you later.

Sunday, 12 April 2009

12th April 2009

Up in the mornings again, bright eyed and bushy tailed - I wish.

When the alarm goes off at 4.45am I have to drag myself from my bed and then after I've looked out of the window, I try to convince myself that going out at this ungodly hour is a good idea.

This morning when I looked out of the window there was a frost & some cloud on the horizon, it looked promising enough to get me up and after a cup of tea I felt quite enthusiastic.

I had hoped the frost (it was -1ยบ) would bring some early morning mist as the sun rose, with that in mind I headed off to Cuddy's Crag.

I normally park in the 'Red Box' layby and follow the Pennine Way path up but it's just as easy to park at Housesteads, walk up the hill and veer left.

Quite a few of the ewe's have lambs, so I tried not to disturb them as I passed on my way up the hill.

It's a fair old climb and I allow myself 20 minutes to get to the viewpoint, half way up I'm huffing and puffing like a steam train and promising that I'm going to loose weight but eventually with stops and starts I get to the top.

I love this viewpoint, from Cuddy's Crag to Housesteads Crag and beyond, (NY783686 ) I've spent many mornings standing hoping for an eye popping sunrise, on occasion I've climbed up only to have thick fog envelope me, certainly every morning is different.

I notice the white bag of stones still hasn't been moved, it looks like a dead sheep and has been in the same place for over a year, I do wish someone would at least take the bag away!

As I stand waiting for the sun the dawn chorus starts, curlew, skylarks, pippits and the pheasants join the rooks to welcome the dawn, then a rooster starts waking the lambs up.

The mist doesn't come but there's a little bit of colour in the sky, a bit more scattered cloud would have been nice as the sun is coming up directly ahead of me today and soon it's too bright for photographs.

By 7am I'm heading back down the hill, I had expected to meet a few other photographers, it's the easter weekend and there are lots of visitors around, some of them must be photographers.
Must all be at Steel Rigg.

It turned out to be a wonderful day - not at all what was forecast, hope it lasts for tomorrow while people are off work.

Enjoy the break and catch you later.

Thursday, 9 April 2009

Sycamore Gap

Ah, Sycamore Gap, I knew I'd get around to it eventually - it's one of my favourite spots on the Wall and when I first moved to Gilsland I couldn't wait to get out there and get my shot.

I've taken hundreds of pictures of the tree since that first one, and each time it looks different.

On Tuesday I passed there on my way to meet a friend in Simonburn, the clouds were wonderful, big and stormy but of course I couldn't stop, places to go and people to see.
Sometimes it's referred to as the 'Robin Hood Tree' because it was used in the Kevin Costner movie, Robin Hood Prince of Thieves. I've not actually seen the film but apparently Robin got off the boat at Dover and in minutes was here in front of the tree, someone mentioned he had a monkey with him but maybe they were kidding me.

I get asked for directions to the 'Robin Hood' tree more than any other spot on the Wall and, while the photographs normally show it from the south or the north so it's growing between the two hills, that's not the view you get when walking the Wall.

I've heard from some of the local B&B's that they've had to drive walkers back along the Military Road so they can confirm that they did in fact pass that spot.

It's halfway between Crag Lough and Steel Rigg ( grid Ref: NY761677)

Park at the NNPA car park at Steel Rigg and climb up onto Peel Crags, follow the path along until you come to a tree growing on the line of the Wall -it's a lovely place to stop for a picnic on a nice day.

Catch you later.

Tuesday, 7 April 2009


Missed a couple of days - sorry about that but my computer was out of commision, a trojan infection meant a wiped HD!

I was like a lost soul without a computer, sad I know, and I took to wandering around with my camera and a mournful look on my face.

Had a walk around Walltown Quarry and I must say things are looking very spik and span there, grass cut and edges beautifully trimmed, picnic benches in place and all ready to go for the new season.

The shop at Walltown is open again, so you can have a walk around the lake and then enjoy a hot drink and a chat to young Alison or Kath, her mum in the shop.

It's a great place to take children, masses of grass for them to run around and ducks to feed on the lake.

There's also a well maintained toilet block essential to old and young alike.

Some nice slopes for egg rolling with Easter coming up, do people still roll hard boiled eggs or is that one tradition that's faded in the mists of time?

If you're feeling energetic you can climb up to the Wall, some really good stretches remain at Walltown and the views are great on a clear day.

Soon the Hadrian's Wall bus will start running again, that travels from Bowness on Solway to Wallsend, goodness knows how long the whole trip would take but I bet you get some good views along the way.
Grid Ref: NY669659
There is a charge for the car park but it covers you for any of the NNPA car parks along the Wall.

Thursday, 2 April 2009


Sunrise and sunsets are my favourite sort of photographs, it's coming back to the time of year when the sun is in the 'right' place for Wall shots so I'm out and about whenever conditions look promising.
Headed out to Cawfields on the last day in March, the evening sun hits the Quarry face showing the strata lighting it up and making a nice bright photograph. On the little Cawfields Quarry Lake were two Canada Geese who seemed happy to pose for me, I spent some time there, trying different angles as they swam around as I left so did they. Then I wandered around for a while trying to get a good shot of the vallum, it runs parrallel to the Wall and is well defined at Cawfields, but I have to say it's a very beggar to photograph well.
As it got nearer to sunset I climbed up to the high point beyond Thorney Doors, not something to be done on a full stomach, it's quite an incline from the lower footpath especially for a wrinkly like me :)
But it's well worth the effort, you could be on top of the world there , just watching the sun go down over Walltown in the distance.

It wasn't a showy sunset, we don't seem to get those vast red and yellow skies anymore, I think those went with pollution in the atmosphere.

Guess a 'Bring back Pollution' drive wouldn't be too popular, but let's start a trend for 'gentle' sunsets with pastel tones.

The sun finally went down and it began to get chilly, I headed back to the car, I could hear a noise like scramble bikes and worried it was youngsters up to no good. We moved here from Washington on Tyneside and this was a throwback to those days, here the noise was from our local fire brigade, a band of retained fire fighters doing exercises that involved water.

Or at least that's what they told me - looked like they were having too much fun for it to be work!

There's a good car park with toilet at Cawfields, just a short walk alongside the quarry lake will bring you to Hadrian's Wall and milecastle 42. There's also the Milecastle Inn, just down the road, if you want some refreshements.

Catch you later.

Wednesday, 1 April 2009

Bowness on Solway

So, I've been meandering west to the end of the Hadrian's Wall Path, which means Bowness on Solway.

I have to report that I wasn't terribly impressed, the village has the potential to be quite pretty but they don't seem to want the attention the Hadrian's Wall Path brings. There's no tearoom and the pub is only open after 4pm during the summer season. Probably okay if you're starting from Bowness on Solway but a bit of a downer I would imagine if you finish an 84 mile walk there. They do have a little wooden arbour on the Banks promenade which marks the actual start/finish line but that's it.

There are no Roman remains to see.

There's no parking in the village, the road through is extremely narrow, but you can park on the outskirts at the edge of the Marsh.

Bowness is in the middle of the Campfield Marsh, a nature reserve, and if you're a birdwatcher the area is amazing especially in winter when the skies are full of geese. However you must check the tide tables because the tide goes out a long, long way and it's muddy.

Because it's a peat marsh it's very spongy so remember waterproof boots or a change of footware, there's also a lot of rubbish brought in on the tide I suppose.

There's an RSPB reserve there with viewing points although in the half dozen times I've been there I've not seen anything.

I do love the Solway but I'm afraid it's the Dumfries and Galloway side that I prefer.