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Thursday, 19 July 2012

Trying a Pathfinder Guide – Northumberland and the Scottish Borders

bruno can't decide which tent is ours

Some time ago, I had an email from Catriona at Crimson Publishing enquiring if I would review some new Pathfinder guidebooks. Mostly, I tend to ignore emails like this unless somebody wants to send me a tent or some boots or something, but, I thought, why not.? I was  generously allowed to choose some books from the range and I asked for Northumberland and the Scottish Borders, The Lake District and  The Yorkshire Dales. It immediately struck me that this was a duff choice – I know all these areas pretty well and if I was to review a guidebook, maybe I’d have been better off choosing one for somewhere I didn’t know.  But (being a great one at making my mind up), I then decided to stick with it and I was immediately struck by the fact that the Northumberland guide had a route for Dod Law. Whoa… justaminnit – this is on my list of things to bag. It’s a HuMP, one of only two HuMPs (Hundred Metre Prominence) left unbagged in Region 33 – that’s Northumberland by the way.  It was only a short walk, but I could combine it with a Northumbrian coastal walk – there’s one in the book at Craster and that would be a day out for me and the dawg. So this is what I did today.

doddington cross

Firstly, I should describe the guidebooks. Most walkers will recognise them. They’re green, and rectangular and they’ve been around for several years and published by Crimson Publishing.

Each guide has a standardised format and the copies I received each had 28 walks in  ranging from an easy 3 miles to a tough 15 miles.

Each one has a route description, a bit of local knowledge, an ordnance survey map with the route marked on it and a selection of 6 digit GPS waypoints for the main strategic points. Nobody should be getting lost with this belt-braces and extra underpants approach. There’s an area map showing the location of the start of each walk, colour coding for difficulty, an introduction to the area, route descriptions and some general useful information and  addresses/phone numbers etc. Its all very clear and the guides are attractive and the routes are on just two pages so that they’ll fit into a map case open so you can read them. All good stuff so far.

So, what happened?

cheviots from dod law

Firstly, I parked prettily in the Northumbrian hamlet of Doddington and set off on Walk 3 “Doddington Moor” which, according to the guide should take me 2 hours. The route started well and I found it easy to follow. My ticking target was Dod Law which is the summit of Doddington Moor , but, in the route description, I was encouraged to go and explore the summit area any way. I liked the idea of being encouraged to wander off….

diversion around a crop

But first, there was a field of oats, or was it barley..? The route said I should head just West of South to a corner. The farmer had cut a wide path around the edge of the crop, though, so, being a reasonable sort of chap and, taking a pragmatic approach to not getting lost in the middle of the crop, I followed that.  From the end of this short diversion, Northumbria County Council had helpfully sent the guide out of date by installing new stiles, a few yards off the described route but – nothing significant in terms of diversion – everything was fine so far.

standing stone pathetic votive offerings

spectral superdawg

I came to a standing stone. This is the one remaining stone standing from a stone circle and four other stones are recumbent. There was £1.20p in votive offerings in the creases in the top of the stone. As a sacrifice, dear Wooller Ramblers, this is pathetic. £1.20p? Are you deliberately trying to insult the gods? A proper sacrifice should be something a bit more valuable than this. Its not a wishing stone y’know… dhuhh..

Apparently, some people report seeing a spectral dog on one of the recumbent stones. I took a picture of it (above) , but, as you can see, there’s no dog there at all.Probably, only those with a fully functioning left brain would be able to see it.

there may be trouble ahead....

Anyway – Onwards – we followed the guide and turned where we should turn and then – where a waymarked path set off on a rising traverse of a hillside to a cottage “in the middle distance” – there was no waymark. There was no path either. There was, instead, a deep jungle of bracken.

dod law and craster 011

There’s a dog in this picture too, apparently. I can’t see this one either.

We searched around for an easy course. This was not to be had. the next 300 meres took forty minutes. Bruno disappeared several times. I found a groove underneath the bracken at one point, which I took to be the path, but lost it again. A stiff climb by a fence brought me to a well hidden stile. More bracken was enjoyed up to the cottage where I drifted off for an explore. This exploration mainly concerned eating a cheese and pickle butty, some cherries and some ginger cake and looking at the fine view of the Cheviots.

stile with no style

I returned to the cottage. More bracken. I got the impression that the writer had got fed up at this point and had abbreviated his description to say that the path soon descended to the village. It wasn’t all that soon. There was a path to be found, and a good one too, but it’s start was obscure and hard to find and the guide was no help, to be honest. The first stile was falling to bits. The second stile was new and part of a brand new fence system and probably wasn’t there when the guide was written in ?2010.

I guess that the route would be easier out of the bracken season. As it was, a section of it was hard work and would be a discouragement to anybody not bright enough to notice a really nice alternative up to the summit area which avoids all the brackeny unpleasantness. Otherwise, the walker has to dig in to any reserves of determination he might have, or else abandon the route for a descent through Wooller Golf Course, or a trespass through the sheep pastures below.

dunstanburgh castle. A trip to B&Q required...

Onwards to Craster!

This was better. The route goes along the coast past Dunstanburgh Castle and is both easy and impressive. I met Mick who was coming the other way. (readers with really good memories might remember that me and Dawn met Mick and Yvonne in the Cheviots in February. Bit you’re not really expected to remember these things.) We had a long chat.

peace camp (dhuhh)

Next was the Peace Camp. This consists of loads of white tents pitched outside the Castle. Apparently, at night, they light up in different colours and make soothing noises. Mick said it was part of the Olympics thing. I couldn’t see the relevance, really…

Somebody is getting paid for this idea, by the way….!

apparently there's a dog in this picture...?

I didn’t follow the route around the castle, but followed a good path which doesn’t seem to be in the description. The two must join up somewhere. For fun, I took to the beach and Bruno chased some sticks, ripped up bits of seaweed and frightened a child, so it was all positive.

The return to Craster was by a concrete road through arable fields and then along a low ridge, parallel to the coast. This was all very pleasant and easy to follow. I enjoyed the Craster walk. And it has a pub at the end. And kippers.

ww2 pillbox - fake concrete sandbags

Verdict so far? – The books are attractive and well designed and, given that there’s a description, a map and some GPS points, it would be difficult to see how anybody could possibly get lost. Guidebooks are written at a fixed point and can’t be updated once you’ve got your copy (unless you write notes in the book) and the Doddington Moor walk already has several new stiles, one stile that’s fallen apart and a section that’s almost impossible to follow due to bracken (Wooller ramblers need to go and walk this path to get it clear. there’s probably little point in reporting this to Northumberland County Council since they don’t seem to react to people telling them their paths are blocked. I tried this with the bridleway from Kielder to Byrness and they said it was difficult to follow because nobody used it. Actually, my view was that nobody used it because it was difficult to follow…  But then I’m not a qualified rights of way officer am I?

The guidebook does have a warning on the first page that the countryside is not static and that things might change. The Doddington Moor route is still easy to follow in terms of navigation, its just awkward underfoot in summer.

But I like the books and the two routes I used – and some of the others in the Northumberland/Borders book that I know, are good ones and well worth doing. Bracken responds to traffic. Eventually.

I’ll be doing similar things in the Yorkshire Dales and Lakes shortly….

Here’s a link to the relevant Amazon page:

There’s around sixty titles to choose from, apparently…


Eeek said...

that is so typical of the county council. glad you enjoyed craster. kippers and crab sandwichs at the sailor are good. the ship at newton by the sea does good ale and food.

Andy Howell said...

Somewhat spooky those tents. Part of the cultural Olympiad no doubt. I wonder if they all have spoons?

Mike Knipe said...

Eeek - Indeed, I did notice the seafood scoffing opportunities in Craster and, I expect I'll be back very shortly for a crab treat. Good info about eh Ship in Newton. I've filed that away in the brain cells for future reference..
Andy - From a distance, I thought these were a footpath repair project. Close up, they're like alien eggs from a Dr Who episode. There are many types of spoons, y'know...

Laura said...

Did you notice the two gossiping giraffes at Dunstanburgh Castle....

Dawn said...

Yuch,I have memories of struggling through a forest of bracken on Mull. Loathe the stuff. Those dome things look weird. Mind, maybe we try lighting the tents up at night with different colours??????

Mike Knipe said...

Laura What tablets are you on, pet lamb? You're having a girafe, surely..

Dawn - As you know, I'm already working on audio emanations from the pie tent. Lighting wouyld be good, though - I can do neon or red at the moment. I probably need something more pastel...

chrissiedixie said...

You know I could see a dog on that stone - mind you Geoff's always said that I'm a witch...