Ins and Outs

The first day of Spring today. In these unprecedented times it’s more vital than ever to get out and about, as and when we can, to be comforted and reconnected to open spaces nature and the countryside. On Sunday Kim & I took ourselves off the high ground of home into the wide dale where the two Tyne rivers meet. Started our gentle ramble outside the Victorian town Hall on the long wide main street of the village of Newbrough. It stands on the Stanegate (stone road) an east/west highway the Romans built to link the citadel ports at Newcastle and Carlisle. Where once one of their mile forts stood, just outside the borough, there is now the parish church. A holy well lies beside the old churchyard. Our path took us through a steep wooded gorge up to a lane. Here we stopped to admire the cattle crush (pictured). A simple hold and release mechanism at one end of a wood fenced race to pinion a bovine to be medicated or otherwise inspected. Loved its incidental artistic proportions and weathered rusted texture.

Following the clear stream to another moment of wonder. This is classic estate topography (Georgian grand house and home farm ahead). Simple, graceful arched bridge over a canalised course of stone walls and flagged course bearing the sparkling waters away at speed. Or rather, it would have done if it were not being effectively diverted, slalom like, by a series of split log ‘speed bumps’ which we concluded must be some sort of recent flood prevention work. Entranced by the play of sunlight off sinuous shallow rills.

Further downstream, another rivulet joined this one to run on down through mixed plantations of deciduous and conifer to eventually reach journey’s end in the big river. Just a hint on the nose of prolific shoals of ransoms, interspersed with splashes of yellow flowered, glossy leaved celandine. We stepped down, under the low bridge carrying the railway, and found ourselves on the wooded banks of the South Tyne River. Its speed a wonder, akin to a galloping horse, cresting and swooping in its rapid descent from the high pennines, gathering tributary force as it goes.

Library Image: Dog’s mercury, Mercurialis perennis, in June.

The narrow belt of woodland between cottage walls and river was thick with freshly sprung Dog’s Mercury working its way skyward. Named after the god who supposedly discovered its medicinal properties the dog appellation is a reference to the plant having no edible qualities. Dog’s Mercury is a sure indicator of ancient woodland. Eventually, by May, when full grown it can carpet whole forest floors. Surviving in this protected strip it was yet another poignant reminder of lost wildwood. Further on and our now sandy paths fingered their way through flood margins with combed stands of resilient alder and willow clinging on to tangled islets of earth and rock with their tenacious roots. At a turn of the pathway on the higher bank path two sycamores had grown together, merged, and grown apart again. On the opposite bank, where the deepest channels run, scouring flood waters had extended the river’s more recent reach across a long arc of bend, folding over field edge as easily as the plough would a furrow. At the end of this wide bend a whole swathe of mature trees lay wrecked and leafless, stark witnesses to the deluge’s awesome power. When we finally turned away from the flow, by a railway crossing and cottages, my eye was caught by a gleam as from new coins. Delighted to discover the treasure to be the first modest flowering of Coltsfoot emerging from lush grass. We crossed the railway and walked up a lane between floodplain fields littered with stones. At the foot of straggly gappy hedgerows, clusters of emergent primroses and clumps of fading snowdrops marked the seasonal handover.

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