Thursday, 8 January 2015

Walking around Harbottle

The Forestry Commission Car Park at West Wood just northwest of Harbottle is the start of the walk which is described in one of the National Park's leaflets as a Ranger's Favourite Walk. The track climbs moderately uphill onto the Harbottle Crags Nature Reserve. At first little can be seen of the village of Harbottle hidden amongst the trees but The Old Manse built in typical Northumberland style around 1850 and the ruins of the C12th castle sitting on its motte can be clearly seen.

Harbottle, a linear settlement of mostly late C18th and early C19th houses nestles in the beautiful Coquetdale, providing access to some very attractive countryside including the Cheviot Hills to the north and seen here the Simonside Hills to the south. In the village there is a good Church of England first school, a doctor's surgery, and a public house that also acts as a newsagents. 

Beautiful open moorland covered by upland heather and dwarf-shrub rises to a series of fell sandstone rock outcrops. One of these is the Drake Stone (right) a 9 metre tall erratic which has come to rest on the ridge above Coquetdale. Nearby rocks have also been scratched by the ice sheets and subsequent weathering has left scroll shaped swirls on their surfaces. Rumours of Druids and local folklore about healing children abound but it is probable that proximity of water, natural rock shelters and the excellent vantage point encouraged very early human attention. Interest in the site probably continued well into the C16th considering the activities of the Border Reivers. One might pass this way unobserved from Coquetdale to Redesdale across what are now the MoD Ranges.

Looking west over Harbottle Lough from Drake Stone to the Ranges beyond.

Drake Stone from Harbottle Lough. The lough is a landlocked body of water left behind when the last ice sheet melted. It is one of only three in Northumberland. 
Once much larger it is now reduced in size due to the growth of sphagnum moss covering the deep water to the east.

The short climb from the lough to the rather dense and spooky conifer plantation of West Wood passes over Millstone Edge Quarry. This is a shallow hillside quarry with broken millstone roughouts, remains of quarryman's huts, spoil tips and hollow ways.The quarry was known to have been in use from 1604 until about 1800.

The woodland path is rather dark with boggy patches and numerous tree routes to step over. It is a relief to emerge onto The Swire to look over Coquetdale once again. Below lies the tiny hamlet of Low Alwinton which comprises no more than the parish church, adjacent parsonage and a few cottages. The parish church of St. Michael and All Angels probably dates from the C12th but was largely rebuilt 1851-2.

After crossing the road bridge over the River Coquet the track broadly follows the left bank of the river and passes the Low Alwinton Lime Kiln.

Looking back across the River Coquet to Drake Stone and the Harbottle Hills

A short detour takes you to Harbottle Castle a ruined medieval castle situated at the west end of the village overlooking the River Coquet built about 1160 by the Umfraville family at the request of King Henry II as a defence against raids from the north.  In 1174, it was taken by the Scots and rebuilt more strongly. In the 1310s Robert the Bruce captured the castle, restored in 1336, but in ruins again by 1351. By 1436 the castle was rebuilt andowned by the Tailleboys. It was for a long time the residence of the Warden of the Middle Marches and used as a prison.
In 1515 Margaret Tudor, the widowed queen of James IV of Scotland and sister of Henry VIII, having been banished by the regent, the Duke of Albany, came to the castle with her second husband, the Earl of Angus. While there a daughter was born, Margaret who became the mother of Lord Darnley, the second husband of Mary Queen of Scots, and grandmother of James I.
In 1605 the king granted the castle and manor to George Home, Lord Treasurer of Scotland, but thereafter the castle fell into decay and much of its masonry was used in other buildings.

Looking north to the Alwin Valley between Lords Seat (left) and Clennel Hill.

At the end of the walk looking west to Drake Stone and the Harbottle Hills.

Saturday, 3 January 2015

Exploring the Coquet Valley

The Coquet Valley once formed an important route from Scotland down into England and in itself was an integral part of the Border Country. The whole area fascinates me. There are many
isolated farms, scattered hamlets and villages within what is otherwise an open and wild landscape. Its appearance today belies the past of a land which for centuries, was bitterly fought over and the signs of this violent period take shape in the defensible dwellings of powerful families and yeomen farmers such as castles, bastles and peel towers. My first exploratory walk in the valley took me to Harbottle.

Thursday, 1 January 2015

Exploring Northumberland

What a thrill it is to have discovered the wilds of Northumberland. Watch this space for reports from my explorations over the coming year. 

Sunday, 18 December 2011

Final Day

Final Day
The Inside Passage through SE Alaska is a maze of islands, channels, straits, sounds and narrows. We had left Ketchikan at 7.34pm the previous day and spent the whole of this day cruising southwards towards Vancouver. We were blessed with a gentle breeze, clear skies, slight seas and a noon temperature of 15 degrees C. Relaxing on deck, occasionally moving to sample food and drink in plenty, we lazed the day away watching the scenery pass by.
There was little evidence of work being done anywhere but I expect that this purse seiner had had a busy morning.
Later we stood at the stern rail watching the sun go down, not only on the day but on another wonderful experience in the American west.
At about 7.00am next morning we docked in Vancouver. We made the most of our final breakfast and left the ship at 9.00am for the trip to the airport and home. We had sailed nearly 2,000 miles from Seward which has to be added to our 400 miles overland trip from Fairbanks via Nenana, Denali and Anchorage.

Day 12 Ketchikan, Alaska

Day 12
We were safely docked at Ketchikan, port side at 12.31pm. 

Ketchikan is the 4th wettest place in the world. It can rain for a whole month, 31 days straight. We had arrived on a good day - it was not raining hard.
The city guards the Tongass Narrows and is neatly laid out as a strip along the coast, at the base of Deer Mountain 3,100ft on Revillagigedo Island. The first inhabitants were Tlingit tribes who set up a fishing camp at Ketchikan Creek. It grew to become the 'Salmon Capital of the World'. The shortage of land for building encouraged the creation of artficial flat surfaces by using stilts on the sloping hillside or piers and pilings out into the water.
We had opted to use our afternoon here to explore one of Alaska's least known but a most spectacular creations - Misty Fjords. Using a jet boat to reach this distant landscape we powered through the rain and cloud in relative comfort, firstly SE along the Revillagigedo Channel and then NE into the Behm Canal. We paused to view a bald eagle's nest and an indian pictograph, neither of which were readily distinguishable but one thing you could not miss was New Eddystone Rock.
Named by Cpt George Vancouver in 1793 this rock loomed up out of the fog. It consists of basalt that rose from a volcanic vent in the floor of the Behm Canal about 5m years ago. Glaciers have since scoured away most of the flow leaving behind this rock. Almost as if using the rock as a marker we turned right into Rudyerd Bay.

To our amazement we entered a fascinating and ethereal series of inlets and fjords.

The rain stopped and the wind became calm as we quietly glided across the water.

Whispy clouds draped the precipitous mountain sides providing an almost fairyland atmosphere.
The bay once belonged to the Nex'adi who would hike 5 days up the river flowing into the bay to set traps and deadfalls. The mountain called "Gweka'h" is one site where survivors of the Tlingit flood legend were saved.

Punchbowl wall in Punchbowl Cove between rain showers - above.
We paused for a while to await the arrival of a float plane joining us to exchange passengers.
But from this place where you experienced a halting feeling that could have persuaded one to linger longer for an inevitable Sirens embrace, we had to return to windy and rainswept Ketchikan.

Sunday, 11 December 2011

Day 11 Juneau, Alaska

Day 11
Cosmopolitan Juneau straddles the Gastineau Channel with the main part of the city along a narrow strip on the eastern shore and the western suburbs on Douglas Island. It is the capital of Alaska but is only reached by sea or plane. There are roads but they do not connect to any other settlement. Joe Juneau and Dick Harris' 1880 discovery of gold in Gold Creek established its importance on the route to the Klondike and it took over the role of capital from Sitka in 1900. We arrived at Juneau at 7.00am and were due to leave at 5.30pm.

In the morning we headed out to a Musher's Camp deep in the beautiful temperate rain forest of Douglas Island. Spruce and hemlock trees drapped in thick layers of moss dripping in the mists of the sunrise greeted us.

We learned about the life of sled dogs and their musher, getting very close up and personal.

At least one dog had different coloured eyes.
We enjoyed a trip along a wooded trail being whisked through the trees on a wheeled sled pulled by very enthusiastic huskies.

When the ride was over we had a presentation by an Iditarod veteran followed by a cuddle with some adorable puppies.

In the afternoon we embarked upon what promised to be an exciting trip but in the event turned out to be somewhat disappointing. The Whale Watching and Wildlife Quest took us out into the Favorite Channel a branch of the Lynn Canal. We did see whales but only at considerable distance like this humpback caught just after surfacing and before diving again.
 Then, of course there was the occsional Stellar Sea Lion draped rock but not much else.

Sunday, 27 November 2011

Day 10 Haines, Alaska

Day 10
We arrived at Haines at 6.30am and after our usual hearty breakfast made our way at 9.00am for an adventure to Skagway and then onto the White Pass & Yukon Route Railway. We had little time to appreciate the beautiful mining supply and fishing port associated with the Klondike Gold Rush before boarding a high-speed catamaran for a trip up the Lynn Canal to Skagway.
When gold was discovered in the Klondike in the late 1890s, steamboat captain William Moore founded Skagway as a gateway to the goldfields. Over 30,000 prospectors passed through in the first year, seeking supplies and entertainment. Now looking down Broadway towards a cruise ship at Broadway Dock the street is lined with shops dependent on the passing tourist trade.
The Red Onion Saloon on the left built in 1898 still has its bar from when it served as a saloon and brothel. You can have a  Brothel Tour guided by young ladies in dubious attire.

A somewhat more sober town today, Skagway works hard to extract gold from the pockets of cruise ship customers that consist to a large degree of wealthy pensioners.
Skagway's origins date to June 1887 when Captain William Moore and his Native Guide, Skookum Jim Mason, scouted the relatively unknown Tlingit route through the coastal mountains to what became known as White Pass. By 1888 the Moore's had built this log cabin, cleared 8 acres and began the construction of a dock and trail.

The Moore's maintained an early hold on the settlement they called Mooresville but it quickly grew beyond their ability to keep that control. Lawsuits followed that reduced the size of Moore's land claim as a proper grid plan was set out for the town which was now called Skagway. However by 1897 Ben Moore had completed the construction of a more suitable home. Although it included the original cabin this was later moved to its present site in 1900.
William Moore had always forecast that there would be a railway through to the lakes beyond White Pass. Some prospectors chose the shorter steeper route over the Chilkoot Trail via the famous "Golden Stairs", others the longer but less steep White Pass trail.
The White Pass & Yukon Railroad Company was a joint venture between Thomas Tancrede and Michael J Heney. They purchased the right of way on an old toll road and began construction in 1898 of a narrow gauge railway. Today the route runs from Skagway past vertical cliffs, over old trestle bridges and through tunnels for 20 miles to reach the summit of the pass. The railway runs for a further 20 miles to Lake Bennett where the lakes and rivers route to the Yukon begins.
This was WP&YR's first loco. Acquired in 1898 it operated as #2 within the Skagway Valley and later along the shore of Lake Bennett. Retired from service in 1936, damaged by a shed fire in 1969, it now rusts away awaiting finance for restoration.
 Many of the curves are very tight enabling photos like this showing the progress of our train as it ascends the mountainside into a blanket of cloud.
It was a great pity that the visibilty was so poor. There was little to see at the summit of White Pass, 2,865ft. After crossing the Canadian Border we descended to Fraser but even here we could see little of the beautiful alpine valley surroundings.
 At Fraser we transfered to a coach for the return along the Klondike Highway. On the other side of the Skagway River we could catch glimpses of a WP&YR train making its way down to Skagway.
After a high speed catamaran return our ship at Haines we found that our steward had been playing towel monkeys again. This time it was an elephant.