Down to the Waterline

Our latest walk took us back to Kielder village, where old friends who know the area well led a short walk full of variety, picking up on the themes of rail and river that dominated my last country diary entry.

The deliciously named Bakethin nature reserve was our start and finish point. Its immediate environs have taken a bit of a battering, post Storm Arwen, with lots of conifers down, blocking some public walks and rides. Perhaps the deciduous trees that have colonised the steep flanks of the former railway embankment here are more wind resistant and better anchored to avoid being dislodged. An avenue of them, their stark lengthy limbs encased with moss, flank the ruler straight old trackbed now reserved for pedestrians and cyclists.

The magnificent structure it leads to is the Kielder viaduct, that carried the former Border Counties Railway (completed 1862) over the north Tyne. By this point, some five miles from its source, the river has attained a wide girth as it merges seamlessly with its vast flooded valley, created in the 1970’s to become the country’s largest man made lake. The viaduct is stone built and graced with a battlemented top and arrow slits to match the architecture of nearby Kielder castle, a contemporary neo-gothic hunting lodge built for the duke of Northumberland which now serves as a visitor centre and café during the tourist season.

Because it crosses the river at an angle the viaduct was erected as a screw arch, which elevates its architectural status even more. Hard to think now that following the closure of the line in 1958 the Forestry Commission wanted to demolish it. A conservation battle ensued and the viaduct was eventually acquired by the Northumberland and Newcastle Society who repaired and renovated it. In recent times illustrative metal panels, inspired by wildlife and designed by local schoolchildren, have been fitted between the battlements, which in turn renders it more secure in the modern age for families to cross.

The way passes on through waterside pastureland. For the last fifteen years or so the commission have been utilising Exmoor ponies, those champion conservation grazers, to naturally manage their non-forested land hereabouts. The current two tenants of the field, out of curiosity or hunger, made their way up to us at the fence. With distinctive mealy coloured snouts and rugged chestnut coats these tenacious, well adapted animals live outdoors all year round in the most testing of conditions and can survive without supplementary feeding. That said, they are clearly used to garnishing titbits from passing pedestrians!

Binoculars reveal the nature reserve’s public bird hide half hidden in the trees on the opposite bank.

Further south are the concrete fixings of the massive movable weir that separates and regulates water flows between Bakethin reservoir and larger Kielder water beyond.

We’ve now reached the point where the descending trackbed slides gradually out of sight under the water’s surface. Like the river it parallels, the old line will not appear again for another ten miles or so, emerging in the shadow of the great dam down at Yarrowmoor. Drowned farms, cottages and the station at Plashetts lie somewhere out there under that grey expressionless expanse of water.

The return leg of our perambulation is made on a stretch of the round lake 26 mile long track constructed by the Forestry Commission in more recent times to give greater leisure options, from cycling to walking and running – the Kielder marathon being one of the most popular in the country. This rain bound hard core track has generous drainage ditches with numerous conduits and bridges to cope with the area’s high rainfall and subsequent run off – a quietly impressive modern day engineering achievement.

A short diversion on returning to our parking place was made to a nearby nature pond complete with wooden jetty and raised, touch friendly, metal markers that introduce visitors to the insect life living below. Children, bring your own dipping nets…who knows what you might discover here!

A short but revealing circular walk, mainly on level ground, with gradual inclines, perfect for families and just right for a dull January afternoon. Made us want to revisit another time, to witness seasonal contrasts. Hopefully those forest tracks will be cleared by then, to make a stroll to the reserve’s bird hide possible.

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