Walk in the Woods

But most where trees are sending / Their breezy boughs on high / Or stooping low are lending / A shelter from the sky.

(From: ‘Moonlight, Summer Moonlight’ by Emily Bronte)

A favourite local walk threads through a mile and a half of mixed woodlands and riverside where Kielder Forest intersects with the rough upland pasture that surrounds it. I think of this as the Forestry Commission’s factory shop window. With nearly nine trees in ten being either a Sitka or Norway spruce, the vast bulk of the country’s biggest made forest does not invite entry for rest and recreation, but this delightful spot they’ve created always does, whatever the season. This week, during a rare spell of prolonged warm dry weather, it made for a fine cooling stroll with visiting family.

Youngest son Patrick is a chef at a Lake District gastro pub and pointed out as we passed a bank of it that Meadowsweet is as good a bet as elderflower to make a seasonal cordial from. Took the man at his word and the creamy blossoms picked were prepared immediately by him on returning home…And yes, it does indeed.

Shocked to find the normally fast flowing burn so perilously low and sluggish. We watched inch long salmon or brown trout fry (I’m not sure which species) as they darted through the stony shallows seeking shelter and food. The Tyne, of which this stream is a tributary, is currently the only English river in a stable state to support healthy salmon numbers.

This is partly due to major environmental improvements cleaning up the post-industrial river estuary and partly due to the well established salmon breeding centre by the north Tyne river headwaters in Kielder village. (A tourist attraction in itself). The centre releases many thousands of fry into the North and South Tyne river systems every year. Survival rates for game fish in the wild are low; only around 1 in 20 salmon and trout fry survive their first year of life.

Flocks of goldfinches flicking through the lodge pole pines while the cool woods and wide rides at this point are alive with butterflies. Most of them were reluctant to settle, so unable to take a decent photo with my phone. However daughter Grace and I managed to ID a male Meadow Brown. This common butterfly feeds on grasses and loves this sort of environment. There were even greater numbers of ringlets on the wing. Giveaway dark velvety appearance with the halo fringe of white and the palest of dots on the wing in the one I eventually got a shot of when it finally alighted.

Both butterfly species love nectar rich brambles, of which there were a good supply here on the wooded slopes below the pines. I admire the subtle mauve colouring of the flowers and forget about the plant’s wounding barbs.

The forest is estimated to be home to half of England’s endangered red squirrel population and (as noted in ‘Red Alert’) it was here I last saw some in early January last year. No sightings now but always glad to see something striking, like this fungi working its way through a fallen tree trunk or a toppled shallow rooted conifer re-configuring the forest floor.

The winter storms brought down whole swathes of mature trees, causing a path diversion and the foresters have been gradually cutting and clearing masses of windblow timber on this site. Most is now stacked and ready to be loaded and driven off to be turned into chipboard, used as fuel for biomass or sliced up in saw mills.

Across the narrow tarmacked lane a whole hillside was clear felled last year. Today we heard then saw a harvester on caterpillar tracks lifting and stashing a stout wall of brash and brushwood left in the wake of that clearance. They’ll be replanting soon and I’ll be interested to see whether it’ll be all spruce or a mix with deciduous and/or pine.

At one point the path crosses over, or rather through, a shallow bank and ditch, even less noticeable when filled with the flush of tall summer grasses. This is a section of what was once an ancient south to north earthwork known as the Black Dyke, which predates Hadrian’s Wall (where the dyke disappears as the Roman wall runs east to west across it). The earthwork is traceable from the junction of the Allen and South Tyne River to above the North Tyne between Bellingham and Tarset; a distance of approximately 13 miles. The planting of Kielder forest in the 20th century obliterated more, but here the course is clear, while elsewhere the dyke and bank have been incorporated into field boundaries or used as farm tracks and footpaths. It’s generally assumed – though cannot be proved for lack of evidence – the earthwork was originally intended as a boundary between neighbouring Iron Age tribes.

I was reminded of another ancient earthwork, the Giant’s Hedge in Cornwall, a section of which I ‘d walked last month. (see ‘Rail and Trail’ entry)

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