Sunday, 31 January 2010

Housesteads s'il vous plaît

Beautiful clear day, cold and crisp but well wrapped up it was a joy to be out.
I'd taken myself off to Housesteads Fort.
As I said in an earlier blog it's one of the proposed visitor viewing areas for the 'Illuminating Hadrian's Wall' event and I wanted to see, well -  just how much you will see.
Housesteads stands proud on the hill, with trees to either side of it so the views are obstructed.

Housesteads Fort

I took it upon myself to clamber (not a pretty sight) around checking out viewpoints. Housesteads Fort is open all year, except two days at Christmas, and people were milling about the Fort. I came across one young man perched on a rock sketching.
His name is Dan, I think he was French and he's studying Architecture at Northumbria University.

Dan at Housesteads

The students were on a field trip and have a project in class to design a new museum for Housesteads. I'm not sure if this is an actual Housesteads Museum, or just something the tutor set but anyway that's what they were doing.
Looking across at Housesteads Fort, sitting there on a site that slopes away, built without the help of computer programmes or theodolites, not even sure about plans, yet is still hanging on there, all these years later.

To the west of Housesteads Fort

It makes me appreciate just what a tremendous achievement this mighty Wall and all it's milecastles, forts and turrets along the 84miles, was.
And that doesn't count the Cumbrian Sea-Wall that makes a left turn at Bowness and heads down to Maryport.
I've read that Hadrian's Wall was built over a ten year period, by 30,000 soldiers using in excess of 24 million stones and I've no idea how that number was arrived at but I'm quite willing to believe it's there or thereabouts.
Of course they didn't have Local Planning Departments or Building Regulations and certainly no Health and Safety they just got on and built it.
Let's hope the students come up with some great and inspiring designs.

The jury is out on the views from Housesteads, depends on where they let people stand, see what you think.
From Housesteads to Sewingshields

Catch you later.

Thursday, 28 January 2010

Hadrian's Wall Illuminations on the 13th of March 2010

 I've been looking through Google Analytics at the search questions that have brought people to my blog and thought I'd do a quick entry that covers some of those questions.

On the 13th of March 2010 Hadrian's Wall will be lit by gas beacons, a once in a lifetime event that will never be repeated.
From Wallsend on the east coast to Bowness on the West, approximately 500 beacons spaced every 250metres will cover the 84 miles of the Hadrian's Wall.
The first beacon will be lit at Wallsend at approx 5.35pm and lighting will progress in sequence east to west with a six second delay between each beacon firing up so, 50 minutes later the last beacon will be lit.
Beacons when lit will be about 10ft high.
They will burn for approximately 75 minutes. 
There is a plan to extinguish all of the lights at the same time to mark the anniversary of the end of Roman Occupation in 410AD

You can apply to be one of the team who light the beacons and will receive a certificate to say you were an 'Illuminator', to date there have been 1500 applications, Sign up here.

Audience  participation events are planned in Wallsend/Newcastle and in Carlisle Celebrations in Carlisle
Organizers are hoping the main visitor focus will be at these two events.
(But when you think about Hadrian's wall Newcastle or Carlisle don't immediately spring to mind do they?)

A lot of the Hadrian's Wall Path is relatively flat and, in the dark, not terribly interesting but it's not hard to see that the high crags part of Hadrian's Wall from Sewingshields to Birdoswald is going to look spectacular.

Steel Rigg

On Hadrian's Wall itself there will be three main viewing areas at Steel Rigg (NY750676) (NE47 7AN)

 at Housesteads (NY790687)

and Birdoswald(NY618663)(CA8 7DD)

You must apply for a ticket to park at these points. Apply here for free tickets organizers anticipate 500-800 people at each viewing point.
Disability parking will be available at Brocolitia (not exactly an exciting view point!)

It is possible that all other car parks on Hadrian's Wall will be locked and laybys will be cordoned off. (They cite health and safety reasons)
The roads are very, very narrow and the grass verges are boggy with hidden ditches so parking is going to be a problem if you haven't got a ticket for the official parking sites.
Park and Ride may be available depending on demand.

The highest point on Hadrian's Wall is Winshields Crag and that can be accessed from Steel Rigg, there is normally a parking fee but on the 13th tickets will be free.

The view from Winshields Crag

There is no additional entertainment planned for any of the viewing areas at this point in time, for me it will be enough to be able to say 'I was there when Hadrian's Wall was illuminated', but maybe you should think of taking a flask of coffee and extra warm clothing as there'll be a lot of standing around.
At Steel Rigg you're near to the Twice Brewed pub and there are toilets in the Once Brewed Visitor Centre. Housesteads has toilets and the cafe/toilets at Birdoswald may be open during the event.

Take a torch, the ground is uneven and the rocks are slippery.
Remember you are walking on farm land and as it's lambing time, keep dogs on a lead and do close gates, please respect the countryside don't leave litter.

Hadrian's Wall itself is an ancient monument - don't climb up on it for a better view.

Posted at the request of HW Trails officer

Photographers - my website has a grid reference on each of the photographs that should show you, on the centre of the relevant multimap, where I was standing when I took the shot. Please plan well in advance how you are going to get to your chosen spot.
If I learn anything more I will blog it here for you.

Vindolanda will be open that weekend and in my opinion it's the most interesting site on Hadrian's Wall and well worth a visit.
NB The Vindolanda Museum is currently being upgraded and won't be open to visitors.

For accomodation in this area try here. B and B's are already filling up so don't dither.

Monday, 25 January 2010

Light up the Wall

There are plans afoot to light up the length of Hadrian's Wall on the 13th of March 2010, a spectacular sight that I doubt will ever be repeated.
You can vounteer to be one of the illuminators, lighting the gas powered beacons,  and will get a certificate to say you took part.

I'd love to do that but I'll be out there with my camera hoping to get a good shot of the lights crawling across the undulating landscape of the high crags, no doubt rushing backwards and forwards in my usual way.

I've heard from my friends at Willowford Farm that bookings for the weekend of March the 13th are brisk so if you're thinking about coming up (or down) for the event please be quick.

It will also be wise to do a recce of the site beforehand.
The Military Road is very narrow, by modern day standards, with marshy verges so  you really can't just pull over to watch the event.
Car parks along the Wall will be busy and you will need to allow time for climbing up and down to viewpoints.
On my website I have a grid reference on each of the photographs, this should give you an idea of the best places to view from.
You'll need warm clothes ( it's always a couple of degrees colder up on the high bits and there's always a wind) and remember a torch, the ground is uneven and the rocks can be slippery if it's wet.

Please be aware that you will be crossing farm land and it will be lambing time so dogs should be kept on a lead at all times.

The view from Walltown Crags east, if it's clear you can see right the way to Winshields Crag and as the lights will be lit from east to west will see them coming towards you.
No doubt Alison will be opening the Cafe at Walltown Quarry so hot drinks will be available there, and there are toilets.

The view west from Sewingshields Crag, a much longer walk from Housesteads Fort car park but you have a view right along the line of Hadrian's Wall to Winshields Crag in the far distance.

Friday, 22 January 2010

Sea Air

Our anniversary today, can't think why we chose January to get married but there you are, we did, and now we're stuck with finding somewhere to go when the weather is, inevitably, grey and cold.
Years ago we were keen birdwatchers so we decided on a trip down memory lane and headed for the Northumberland coast. Not so long ago a Glossy Ibis was spotted at Cresswell Ponds [NZ283944 (OS 50 000 Sheet 81)] so we made that our first stopping point.
Much has changed in the years since we last visited, especially the road system so we got horribly lost, with a detour past an unattractive bit of Ashington, the Alcan works.

Eventually we did get to Cresswell and it's ponds.

Cresswell Pond, bird hide to the left

Loads of birds there, we counted in excess of 20 species in the 45 minutes we sat there. Probably there were many we missed, birdwatching is an art, you sort of get your eye in and recognise the jizz (the way different birds move) we're a bit rusty. No Glossy Ibis or anything that would bring out the twitchers.

It wasn't very warm in the hide so we headed down to the beach for a brisk walk to warm up.

abandoned ball on Cresswell Beach

Here in Northumberland we're spoilt with miles of golden sand; even on a warm sunny day it never gets crowded, fishermen and dog walkers seemed to be the only people out today, oh and three very brave surfers.

January Surfers

Lunch at the Widdrington Inn, it was packed and once the food came we understood why, delicious and to be recommended.

Next stop was Druridge, last time I was there I was taking photographs of the opencast site at East Chevington, for a planning appeal, now that whole area has been turned into a lake with a walk and wildlife hides. Map of Druridge Bay

The lake is big and birds know to stay away from the hides but with a good pair of binoculars you can see plenty.

Once again we were drawn to the beach, I love the sea air and it's the only thing I miss about living on Tyneside. Sandling were dashing along the incoming waves, as it was such a grey day I'd only brought a small camera with me and they were moving to fast for me to get a good shot of them.

northumberland coast birdwatching will give you more ideas on what's available on our beautiful coastline.

Now I know this is supposed to be a Hadrian's Wall blog but our journey today took us just over an hour from Gilsland and if you're coming to Northumberland for a holiday then  you might fancy a day off from walking on our Hadrian's Wall Trail.
Northumberland and all our treasures, is Englands best kept secret:)

Catch you later.

Monday, 18 January 2010

Been a while.

Sorry to neglect you, I got very frustrated not being able to get out of Gilsland while we had the snow.
A Ford Focus does not do well on ungritted, hilly roads.
Then when things did improve I was otherwise engaged on a bird photography course at Caerlaverock. I wasn't very good at bird photography, they move about a lot more than a landscape does, but I enjoyed it.
I'm just going to post you some pictures of snowy Gilsland with a couple of Caerlaverock shots and hopefully I'll be back to normal shortly.
Catch you later.

Wardrew Hill

Wardrew Hill to Gilsland

Roe Deer

Sheep in the snow

The footpath to Gilsland

River Irthing

Gilsland from the Spa

Geese on the Solway

Whooper swans

Flying swans


Friday, 1 January 2010

1st of January and it's more snow

Yet again we can't go anywhere in the car, no sign of the gritting wagons though I suppose they have their hands full keeping the main trunk roads open, our rural roads will be a long way down on the list.

We are lucky that we have a variety of walks from our doorstep so today we went off up Wardrew hill again.
This time I took the precaution of strapping on Snow Spikes to help me cope with the ice underneath the soft snow.

Footpath to Gilsland through Irthing House Farm

We were passed by Chris, the farmer from Irthing House in a digger, towing a car to the main road. They'd been staying in his holiday cottage but were heading home today. Even the heavy digger was having trouble getting purchase in the ice.
The snow spikes were working a treat, and I got up Wardrew Hill without mishap.
The black sheep were grazing hay put out for them, they're a breed called Zwartbles and real characters (useful name to remember if you like scrabble!)


We headed down the footpath to the Irthing Gorge woods, Kay and Malcolm were sledging with their young daughter, lots of laughter and squeals. Two of the people staying at West Nichold Cottage came through the woods, they're leaving at the weekend and are hoping they'll be able to get back down the hill. I can think of worse places to be marooned, West Nichold is a 5* cottage.
Heading  into the wood, lots of tracks again, foxes, deer, rabbits and pheasants but no squirrell tracks which is a shame. Snow was pilled high on the branches and kept dropping on our heads.

Spa Bridge

River Irthing

Over the Spa Bridge and up the hill to Gilsland Spa itself, the views over Gilsland from the Hotel are wonderful, although with the falling snow today it wasn't particularly clear. 


Nice views to Temple Mount, showing the hill we'd climbed up before reaching the woods.

Temple Mount

Past the church and a dither over whether or not to risk the path down to the stepping stones. Several of the 'steps' were washed away in the heavy rain before Christmas so we decided to stick to the road.

Jacobs Sheep

Jacobs sheep on the way down and a very happy little mule ewe posed for pictures.

Mule ewe

Down into the village and back home.
Gilsland is a funny place, it doesn't matter which way you go it's uphill both ways, we soon warmed up and a bowl of broth hit the spot.
Wonder if we'll be able to get the car out tomorrow?
Catch you later.

2010 is here

And it's brought more snow so I'm unable to get far today.
Have a very happy new year may 2010 turn out to be an extra special year for you in many ways.

Take care