Monthly Archives: September 2012

Alnwick is served by a mainline station, but it doesn’t stop in the town, but at a stop called ‘Alnmouth for Alnwick’. In fact the station isn’t in Alnmouth either, but in Hipsburn, a little shopless cluster of small estates on the edge of Lesbury, a one-pub old village between Alnmouth and Alnwick. Which is to say, if you didn’t know the place you’d probably say it was in the middle of nowhere.

Look at a map of the area and you’ll see the telltale white flourish of a disused railway line – the branch line which connected Alnwick with the mainline stop until its closure in the 1960s. There’s a permissive path (permitted by the Northumberland Estate, of course) along much of the course of the line. It can’t get into the town because of the A1 bypass; when it hits that it turns hard right and runs alongside, past a couple of ponies, and exits on to the Alnmouth Road. Today I start the walk at this point. This stretch is pretty difficult at this time of year – nettles and brambles and gorse spread across the path so that I have to wade through, and the nesh dogs hop and scurry between the thorns.

Once we get on to the path of the line itself it gets easier. It’s not a proper ‘trail’ really, though there’s work afoot to improve it. Half way along, walking with fields of yellow stubble on either side, we meet a gang of two or three men and some plant, doing something or other to maintain the bridge which the path suddenly shoots out across. In the long term there’s a plan to reinstate the line as a railway, and/or in the meantime a cycle path to the station.

It’s odd. Current access to the path is difficult, though I like the quietness, which would surely be reduced if a new cycle path was trumpeted. And a cycle path would help me get to the station for work – a new rail link wold be even more useful. It’s the kind of local infrastructure whose loss via Beeching is widely considered a tragedy. And yet if trains ran along here, I’d lose one of my dog-walking routes. Indeed, our nostalgia about the railways must be sustained partly by the walks we can take along flat, straight, tree-overhung paths. Plonk new lines and cables and access points etc on those paths to bring back rail as a reality, and perhaps the nostalgia might diminish.

After a while the path goes under a little bridge. We leave the line, cross the bridge and drop down a farm track towards the river. In theory you can cross the river via some stepping stones, but I’ve never seen the river low enough to cross. The track turns right to a farm, but we head off left along the bottom of the stubble fields, with the river on our right, then after a while climb through a field of cows to the Alnmouth Road.


When you go down Sewage Lane, instead of turning off right and heading under the A1 you can follow the road round to the left, past the sewage works, and head across two or three fields of usually empty pasture towards a the housing estate that forms one edge of the town. (There’s one herd of lovely, placid Lincoln Red cattle, including calves and bull, which rotates round the fields; even when they’re in the one you want to go through, they’re no trouble, even for a cowophobe like me.) Sometimes for a shorter walk we head up through the estate and then walk back out along Alnmouth Road. But today we struck out right through more fields, roughly parallel to the river, till we reached the road which heads up to Denwick. On the other side of the road is the wall which marks the edge of Alnwick Castle & Garden:


Then over the bridge, with posh balustrade only on the side facing the Castle:


On the other side of the bridge we head back along the other riverbank, through a little stand of woods and then  some big, flat fields which are used as sheep pasture but presumably began their lives as floodplains. After a while we go under the A1 and swing back to arrive at the springy footbridge over the Aln, and from there we head home.

This glimpse of medieval Alnwick is not irrelevant: the Duke of Northumberland remains an amazingly noticable presence in the local landscape. The Estate owns much of the farmland I walk through, and it’s still a big employer in the area. Many people speak of ‘the Duke’ with a special kind of awe/fear/respect. I wouldn’t want to paint the Estate as either a good or a bad thing, but it’s certainly a major force in shaping the land and the way we live in it.

This has been my most usual dog-walk over the last year or so.

We live on Alnmouth Road in Alnwick. Almost all our walks start by nipping along to a little unnamed minor road that leads towards the sewage works:

We turn right, and pass under the A1…

…and then go over the River Aln on a wooden footbridge that bounces in the middle:

From here, we have three choices: to turn either left or right and follow the river, or to go up through the woods on to the ridge that you can see in this photo:

Over the summer this path gets more and more overgrown with nettles and brambles (one of the benefits of living and walking in Northumberland is that it’s so e m p t y, but that does mean there’s fewer people tramping the paths down and getting hoity-toity when they aren’t maintained). We’ve been going at a fair old rate (Cap off his lead since we passed the little gaggle of houses at the top of Sewage Lane), but here we slow to a delicate, high-kneed, dancing crawl. Maybe wearing crocs wasn’t such a good idea, but it’s hot today. We hear buzzards crying somewhere around us, then see one flying off towards the coast.

Eventually the undergrowth thins and we zip through the woods…

… and emerge just shy of the hamlet of Denwick on a rough track which is technically a public highway but certainly lives up to its billing as unsuitable for motors (the bit here isn’t too bad, but the middle section is murder):

The track takes us back at an acute angle, parallel-ish to the top of the ridge we’ve just travelled, dropping down between a wheatfield and a sheep pasture, and through a big open hay meadow which was cut a couple of weeks ago and is looking neat and green. All this time there are more buzzards, calling incessantly, and we see two more in succession soaring above the trees to either side. The path brings us back in a loop to the bridge – here we meet four lads taking a football out to kick in the meadow, the first people we’ve met in an hour’s walking, and then a family sitting on the bank, and playing in the river. We go back over the bridge – Cap lies down and takes a refreshing slurp – and make our way home.

Up on the wall by the stairs we’ve got an OS map of Alnwick & Amble, with our house on the right-hand side, halfway up. On it we’ve started drawing the walks we do in red (inspired by Alastair, Katherine’s octogenarian co-volunteer at the museum). The idea is that we’ll gradually cover more and more of the map with red as we get to walk and know the area.

What the map won’t show is when routes get walked more than once. In fact, this writing and walking project isn’t about discovery, walking new routes and having new sensory experiences. It’s about the walks that take places over the same few routes, day after day. ‘New’ walks, the ones which enable us to put a new red loop on the map, are the exception. Much more often I’ll grab the lead and call the dog and we’ll go over one of four or five very familiar routes which we’ve done many times before. What I’m particularly interested in researching is how this everyday walk, the chore in which the route is repeated and chosen for convenience rather than spectacle or inspirational power, might contribute to my writing practice.

So what are the habitual routes? I’ll describe them as I walk each one for the first time (first time from now, not ever), and add a link in below.

Walk: Denwick I


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