A beautiful day in Thornley Woods, following the 'Red Kite Trail'. We were very lucky to see quite a few Red Kites, including a couple of mating pairs, as well as some buzzards. The photo above shows views over to the Gibside Estate, taken from the Nine Arches Viaduct. The viaduct stood out in stark contrast within this environment, and was one of the main features of interest for me on this walk.
As well as the viaduct, water was an important feature on this walk - much of the walk followed the path of the river Derwent, which we crossed on bridges numerous times. We also skirted a lake, which looked stunning in the early Spring sunshine. The recent heavy rain meant that we also encountered water on the paths in places it wouldn't usually be, much of which seemed to be providing a tempting breeding ground for frogs.
Took my parents to Bolam Lake. We followed the route suggested in a leaflet sold at the visitor centre, which was longer than my previous walk there, and went the opposite way around. I found the first half of the walk quite uninspiring - it was flat, and mostly through fields with few interesting landmarks, and the landscape wasn't dramatic or wild.
The walk became more interesting after a few miles, as we headed uphill towards the Piper's Chair. The landscape changes quickly and dramatically here. We took a detour off the main path in order to see the Piper's Chair up close. It was extremely windy, to the extent that it was difficult to remain upright. My impression of that place is of extremes: of noise; (from the wind); of temperature; of weather; and of emotion. In mom, it created feelings of fear and anxiety, especially if either Dad or I got too close to the edge, where there was a steep drop; in dad, it seemed to create excitement, and he spent a while standing on top of the stone, in the full force of the wind. For me, it was an exhilarating experience that contributed to the more general sense of place of 'Northumberland' that I am starting to acquire. It has particularly got me thinking about the effect that weather has on our sense of place, because the Piper's Chair isn't one, stable, unchanging place. My experience of it on this walk was totally different to last time, when the weather was much calmer. The affect of the place can change radically in short periods of time, depending on weather conditions. There is also evidence at this site of much slower, long-term processes of weather that influence place. The two ends of the Piper's Chair have fallen off, and lie on the ground at either end, the exposed edges smoothed over by the wind and rain; and the top of the rock protrudes over the underside, as softer rock beneath has gradually been eroded away.
Moving on from the Piper's Chair, we passed Shaftoe Crags, and saw a group of people bouldering there. These people were taking advantage of the affordances of the landscape, which remains fairly dramatic and bleak here. The landscape quickly changed again though as we passed through a sort of tunnel, with crags on each side, into a field full of cows.
Entering the field and leaving the crags behind felt almost like passing through a portal into a different world; the two landscapes somehow didn't seem connected. In my memory, the walk is divided into distinct parts: the lake; the fields; and the crags. The three seem so different from each other that they don't really relate in my memory.
A walk around Bolam Lake constituted the final part of the walk, where I lingered to take photographs. I was able to get some beautiful shots of swans, capturing the reflections in the surface of the lake, and water droplets falling from the swan's beak. I was also captivated by the snowdrops, signalling the onset of spring. The calm stillness of the lake and the dainty flowers contrasted completely with the harsh, windy conditions we experienced at the Piper's Chair - it really could have been a different day, a different time, in a different world. It's amazing how much difference a mile can make!
A wet, murky and grey walk today, which we cut short because of how boggy & muddy it was - progress was very slow. The walk started from the National Trust visitor centre, and took the well-trodden path up to the Roman Fort. Entrance to the fort requires payment to the National Trust, and although I am a member and therefore could have gone in, as my two walking companions aren't and time was short, we didn't go in and instead skirted the outside.
The walk took us along the Roman Wall and up into a wood, largely made up of Larch Trees, where we stopped for lunch. The entire walk required much greater levels of concentration than usual, as each step was treacherous. As we walked alongside the wall we couldn't help but think about the harsh reality that the Roman settlers must have experienced, living in the fort with little protection from the powerful elements, toiling day after day to build the wall. The landscape here felt unwelcoming, intimidating and very bleak.
The drive to and from Housesteads was for me as interesting as the walk itself, as we passed numerous surviving parts of the wall, as well as being able to see the remains of defensive ditches running along the sides of the road. The landscape we drove through was very dramatic in places, with numerous interesting geological features that Robin pointed out to me.
We've now categorised this walk as a summer walk - or at least, a walk not to be attempted after significant rainfall - and I hope to return there over the summer, as I imagine that in better weather the place will feel totally different.
‘Community is a coalition of interests: and we find these coalitions online, or at work, or in a sports stadium, but not necessarily at home… I have become confirmed in the belief that community is not so much the place where you live, but it’s the ideas around which you rally.’ Giles Fraser, ‘Whatever Happened to Community’, Radio 4, Episode 3: Reconstructing Community.
This programme was broadcast on BBC Radio 2 on Wednesday 12th February, and there are a few points that are particularly pertinent to my research that grabbed my attention.
Attenborough points out that folk music recordings were initially made by the BBC in order to build an archive; and that at the same time, a wildlife sound archive was being formed. He also draws attention to the similarities between the technical requirements of recording wildlife and recording folk music, both of which involved taking recording equipment out into the environment, rather than bringing the producer of sound into the studio. The same people were therefore involved with folk music recording as wildlife recording. Of course, it was more practical to bring folk musicians into the studio than wildlife, however it was recognised by certain collectors, notably Peter Kennedy, that it was preferable to record folk musicians in their own setting where they felt comfortable than in the studio.
A particularly compelling story was told about the folk singer Lily Cooke, who was recorded in her home by. He tells of a 'tame-ish Robin' who lived in her garden, and who would sit on the windowsill and sing along with Lily. He tells of the lengths he went to in order to try to capture this unusual duet, and the amusing way in which he was thwarted. Aside from the humour, this anecdote highlights the link between folk music and 'natural' or environmental sound, and shows that this link was recognised and appreciated as important and integral to the practice of folk music very early on in the recording of folk music.
The Dawn Chorus
Chris Watson draws the connection between recording music 'on location' and recording the sounds of wildlife. A particularly nice quotation:
'Something you can't ignore, actually, when you're out on location, is that quite often in places where you go to record wildlife sounds, there's musical, human musical sounds in there as well, because people react to the sounds of their environment. To my ear, the sounds of human music in those places, and whether it's the English countryside or the forests of the Congo, it embodies that spirit and sense of place, and that's what's important to me.'
He suggests that the practice of folk music, similarly to wildlife recording 'celebrates.. going out on a May Morning, going a-roving, listening to and enjoying the spirit and sounds of the natural world.'
Another place that necessitates a few more visits, as this is a place bursting with features of geographical, geological and historical interest. We started the walk with a steep uphill climb, to be rewarded with the above view of the Cheviots topped with soft, fluffy clouds. There is snow just visible on the highest of the hills, Hedgehope. From here we walked across to a well-positioned hill fort, from which you could see for miles in all directions, and explored a WW2 pillbox, which again afforded fantastic views, but is somewhat inexplicable, as it's hard to imagine why anybody would have targeted this area in the war!
As we proceeded into the next valley, we came across some stones bearing cup and ring marks - a form of prehistoric rock art whose purpose is unknown. Apparently there is a prehistoric burial site not far from here where much more rock art can be seen, which I definitely want to go back and visit. I've also read that artefacts found at the site can now be seen in the Great North Museum, so it looks like I'm due a visit there fairly soon!
Walking through the valley, Robin told me that he thought of this area as a hidden valley or hidden landscape, as it's completely hidden from any roads, and therefore only accessible on foot. We had the area completely to ourselves - other than the odd sheep - and it did feel as though we were miles from modern civilisation. There is a strange juxtaposition between the desolate nature of this place today, and the signs of ancient civilisations that have been found here. Clearly, this place has not always been hidden.
My research on Blawearie so far has thrown up a couple of interesting findings for future work: first, a recording of a tune named Blawearie by the group Ushna on their album 'Twice Brewed', and a song about Blawearie, sung by Scocha - (somewhat incomprehensible) lyrics below:
The Hill Abin Blawearie
A'd bide a day bit niver stay,
Ower mony times tae mention.
And maybees A’ neglecteed you,
Which wasnae ma intention.
Though oo've been apairt a while again,
Though oo'r gei tei’rd n' teary,
What's ne'er been lost can aye be fund,
On the hill abin Blawearie.
Now a'm no yin for floory talk,
Or prone ti airs n' graces.
A'll no pretend ti suffer fools,
A’ say it ti their faces.
But when it comes ti lovin' you,
There's ne’er a soul mair cheery.
Words dinna maiter ony mair
On the hill abin Blawearie.
Oo’ve traivelled fer in mony wei’s,
Hed oor saiprait journies.
N’ though they seemed the wei ti gaun,
Whiles a’ hink they wurnae.
For a’ the roads thit oo’ve been doon,
A’ hev anither theory –
However long they aw lead tae,
The hill abin Blawearie.
So take us ti the higher grund
On the hill abin Blawearie.
It's heaven's gate wi' heather crooned,
The hill abin Blawearie.
In a' the wurld there's ne'er a place,
For mei ti feel sae near ee.
Ever mair ti yow a’m bound,
On the hill abin Blawearie.