I went in search of snow and found slightly too much. It had melted pretty quickly at low levels in the Tyne Valley so I decided to head for higher levels. Not very high though, just along the East Allen valley four miles south of Allendale.
I’d planned to walk up Sipton Law, loop through Sinderhope then descend to the river and return along its bankside path. After parking in a lay-by, there was a short stretch of tarmac before I went through a small gate onto the moor, where there was about an inch of snow, sparkly and squeaky. By the looks of the tracks I was the first non-rabbit to walk along the path since the snow had fallen.
The sun was so bright that I could feel my winterised skin soaking it up too readily, so out came the sun cream.
As the path climbed I had great views across the valley to the section of Isaac’s Tea Trail which goes up the Black Way and over the fells to Nenthead. Directly across from me I could see the moors and meadows where curlews nested in great numbers last year, and that’s where I’ll be on World Curlew Day, April 21st. It’s part of a campaign to raise awareness of the declining populations of curlews – according to the RSPB curlews are in real trouble. Regional and possibly even country-level extinctions are now a possibility.
Across the North Pennines ears are peeled for the first call of a curlew returning from the coast to breed.
My path continued up hill, its course easily visible under the light covering of snow. But as I got higher the depth of snow increased from bootlace-high to ankle-high to shin-high, adding inches with every contour line. It was very beautiful, but it meant the moorland was by now a featureless expanse.
There were bridleway marker posts but unfortunately the direction arrows had weathered away, leaving just a plain disc. By now walking was hard work, especially where the snow lay on top of tall heather. As I couldn’t be sure of the exact route of my path I zigzagged between areas where the heather had been burned by grouse gamekeepers and was shorter.
The map showed a plateau at the summit (a mere 1,437 feet, or 438 metres) so once the land leveled out I knew where I was. I now had views to the north as far as the Simonside Ridge and the Cheviot Hills, but because of the broad plateau I couldn’t see nearby landmarks that would position me exactly.
I have a good sense of direction and knew where I should be aiming, but ploughing through the snow and heather was quite tiring. Occasionally I heard ice creaking loudly under my feet, so I was obviously crossing bog and puddles. Hardly the Khumbu Glacier, but mildly alarming to a middle-aged woman with dodgy joints making slow progress across a white empty land.
The distant scenery wasn’t completely white. In places it looked like an Alfred Wainwright drawing.
By walking north I knew I would get to the end of the plateau and then be able to see a few landmarks and locate myself more accurately. Easy peasy – a stone wall, a building and a lane came into view, my OS map was in agreement with the landscape, and I was found (not that I’d been lost, just not exactly on course). As I descended walking became much easier, following the tracks of a shepherd’s or gamekeeper’s vehicle down to a gate.
Back on dry tarmac I decided to shorten the planned route as all that upland wading through snow and heather had tired me out. So instead of heading down to the river I stayed on the road to return to my car. But I’ll be back when the magical upland waders are in residence. Curlews, golden plovers, lapwings …… and no snow obscuring the path.
For more information about Isaac’s Tea Trail got to:
This map is only intended as a rough guide to the location and route of the walk. You will of course have an OS map with you, on this occasion Explorer Map OL32 ‘Hadrian’s Wall, Haltwhistle & Hexham’