Without doing the full Meg Ryan, I did exclaim ‘Yes … yes … yes!!!’ as I started my walk. Curlews were calling.
They’re back! After wintering at the coast they come to the North Pennines to breed and are always the most welcome of all signs of Spring. I had chosen a route through an area that has been popular with waders in previous years, but there are no guarantees in bird watching and I was so relieved to hear the curlews announcing their return.
I had parked beside the River East Allen, at the ford south-west of Sinderhope, and started walking up the Black Way. Isaac’s Tea Trail joins this bridleway to head over the moors towards Coalcleugh and it’s a steady ascent through prime curlew country.
Some flew above me, gliding on boomerang wings, while others stood tall among the grasses. In one sequence of song, one bird started to call, then another nearby a few seconds later, and then a third curlew joined in. It was almost as if they were singing a round, and led me to re-write London’s Burning for them (the nursery rhyme, not the song by The Clash).
“Season’s turning, season’s turning. Find a nest site, find a nest site. I’m here! I’m here! I’m the best bird, I’m the best bird.” Hmmm. Maybe not.
Anyway, it amused me as I continued up, even walking through a lingering patch of snow, to reach the point where I deviated from Isaac’s Tea Trail and started descending towards Swinhope.
Now I had a skylark singing above me, sounding exquisitely delicate after the more guttural lapwings, curlews and red grouse. I also had great views, with the Cheviot Hills visible to the north, piebald with relic snow drifts. Ahead of me, due south, there were also reminders of the recent blizzards.
There were fewer curlews and lapwings as I carried on towards Swinhope, but I think I saw a pair of golden plovers. They were standing with bright sunlight behind them so I couldn’t see all details.
Leaving the moor, I joined a narrow tarmac lane and was hugely entertained by a group of oystercatchers flying over while conducting a very loud and very agitated conversation. The road took me down towards the banks of the River East Allen, where pussy willow was joining the waders in welcoming Spring.
After the tarmac lanes it was lovely to join a grassy path on the riverbank, crossing the river by a footbridge and walking up the other side of the valley towards Sipton. Passing the remains of Sipton lead mine and its large water wheel there was evidence of a botanical changing of the guard as spent snowdrops gave way to daffodils.
From Sipton there were a couple of steep fields to traverse before a ladder stile took me into a patch of woodland with the river glinting down in the valley to my left. Soon I was beside the river and walking on the softest, mossiest, grassiest, sunniest path back to my car.
For more information about Isaac’s Tea Trail: