First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
The steam trains of the South Tyne Valley Railway were slow enough by all accounts. But travellers in the slowest of them could never have had the leisure to spot all the wild flowers that Jane and I saw as we walked the footpath that now runs along the old railway. All this under a blue Northumbrian sky where white cumulus clouds 30,000 feet tall rolled with soundless majesty.
Along the farm lane to Lynnshield, black and brown heifers tittuped and snorted in pastures where oystercatchers circled above their nests, crying their sharp pik! pik! alarm calls. Beyond the farm we headed south at the rim of Park Burn’s deep canyon, where the burn rushed over rocky falls. Sphagnum was using the clumps of sedge as foundations for building its big pink and green cushions of moss, deep and damp enough to wet a finger thrust in among them.
We picnicked under the footbridge, watching sand martins popping in and out of their nest holes in the banks. Then it was on south by way of dusty spoil-heaps of old coal pits, and a tangle of dubious paths around the stone-built steading of West Stonehouse. Here we paused for a superb view north over many miles of moor and upland. Out there the landscape lumped up into the characteristic breaking-wave skyline of the Whin Sill’s volcanic ledge, where Hadrian’s Wall rode right at the edge of sight.
Down again through sheep pastures into the wide green valley of the River South Tyne. It was hard to equate the sluggish dark tideway through Newcastle-upon-Tyne with this young river of clear water, running fast round islets of pebbles piled up in winter floods. We followed it north to where the great grey bulk of Featherstone Castle raised its battlements and window arches.
Just upstream stood an abandoned clutch of stark red brick buildings, black-windowed and sinister – the remnants of Camp 18. Here after the Second World War, German officers were put through a process of ‘de-Nazification’, before being repatriated to help rebuild their ruined country. A humane, far-sighted initiative, the first step in the process of Anglo-German reconciliation.
Start: Featherstone Park car park, Featherstone Rowfoot, near Haltwhistle NE49 0JF (OS ref NY 683607)
Getting there: Car park is 1 mile east of Featherstone Castle (signed from A689 at Lambley)
Walk (8 miles, moorland and farm tracks, OS Explorer OL43): From car park cross road and on along old railway (South Tyne Trail, ‘Haltwhistle 3’). In ½ mile fork left at Park Village (687615); right across railway, to road. Right; in 150m, left (fingerpost/FP, ‘Broomhouse Common’) along farm drive to Lynnshield (695612). Skirt to right round buildings (arrows); on to gate. Beyond, fork right at waymark post (697613, yellow arrows/YA). Follow fence on right to wall gate (700613, YA). Right along gorge edge; in 600m fork right at post (702608, YA) to cross Park Burn on footbridge (700605).
Ahead to gate; green lane to road (690600); ahead for ¼ mile to larger road (696595). Left; in ⅔ mile at top of hill, right into Pinewood Grove chalet park (699587, FP ‘Yont the Cleugh’). In 10m, left through gate (YA); ahead to pass site office and farmhouse (697586). Through gate, down path to cross Christowell Burn; right up to gate. Half left across field to gate at West Stonehouse (695586).
Right; in 50m, left round end of barn; pass cottage on right, then between farmhouse on left and barn with steps on right. Through gate on right (YA); on to ladder stile (LS); on to gate, and cross farm track by Birch Trees house (694586). Half left and through gate (YA). Up field with fence on right to LS (691584); on to LS by corner of Beaconhill Plantation (689583). Right (stile, YA, FP) through plantation (occasional YAs), down to stile (687585). Forward to cross road (686586, LS).
In 150m at waymark post (YA), ahead downhill for 700m with fence on left, then across fields to farm at Coanwood (681590). Ahead through gate (YA); immediately left (stile, YA) along field edge to stile (YA) into lane (678589). Right between houses, and down to road. Sharp left, down through gate (FP, ‘Lambley Bridge’). At cottage (676589), right on path heading north beside River South Tyne for 1¾ miles. Just past Featherstone Castle, right up road (673612) for ¾ mile to car park.
Conditions: NB – poor waymarking around West Stonehouse.
Refreshments: Wallace Arms PH, Featherstone Rowfoot (NB no food); Blenkinsopp Castle Inn, Castel Home Park, Brampton CA8 7JS (01697-747757)
Accommodation: Kellah Farm, near Greenhead, Haltwhistle NE49 0JL (01434-320816, kellah.co.uk) – proper friendly farm B&B