NATURE’S SPECIAL OFFER

At this time of year wildlife operates a ‘buy one get one free’ policy. Most creatures are in pairs, staying close together as they feed, house-hunt or snooze. Sadly, even with two animals in the frame, my camera isn’t much good for wild animal close-ups so you’re getting scenery instead.

My walk was at Allen Banks, a wooded valley near Bardon Mill in Northumberland. It’s north of Isaac’s Tea Trail, just downstream from where the Rivers West Allen and East Allen meet to to form the River Allen.

Soon after leaving the car park and heading uphill on the western valley side I saw my first wildlife pair – a couple of roe deer grazing in a field. Also, my first bluebells of the year.

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There used to be a riverside path but it was destroyed by serious landslips in the winter 2015/2016, and the river took out a footbridge, so the high level path is now the only route available for a circular walk up one side of the valley and back down the other.

Allen Banks is owned by the National Trust, and part of the management has been to restore features created in Victorian times when the area was a private pleasure garden for the local landed gentry. One of these features, a rustic summerhouse, is positioned for a perfect view of the tree canopy with the river glinting in the valley below.

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Nearby a pair of treecreepers had his ‘n hers trees and were perfectly mirroring each other as they clockworked up their two trunks.

Eventually the path descended to the river bank, passing some fine conifers and holly trees, still the only foliage colour in the wood. They seemed extra rich in hue as if they knew there will be forty shades of green around them very, very soon. The holly was super shiny, causing me to squint at the dazzle of sun bouncing off its leaves.

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I crossed the river on a very sturdy footbridge,  sturdier than the original suspension bridge destroyed by floods in the winter 2005/2006. This can be a very violent river.

Today though it was calm and burbly, the water not even threatening the faecal rock art on boulders protruding above the water. I guessed these were from dippers, but my disappointment at not seeing any was erased by a pair of curlews flirting above my head. How could she resist such a melting, musical, mind-intoxicating, spirit-lifting entreaty?

A little further downstream and the ‘buy one get one free’ offer was doubled. Two pairs of goosanders were cruising mid-stream. They seemed more timid than mallards and flew off very fast when I moved nearer to try for a photograph, the stark white of the males’ plumage leaving a residual streak in the air as vivid as the dippers’ stain upstream.

At the next bend in the river silt and pebbles have created a beach on either side, the water slows and pools. People swim here and dogs cool their bellies.

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The path northwards alongside the river climbed into woodland, passing dramatic piles of tumbled boulders from the high crags on my right. Some rocks looked fresh-crashed, others had moss cover and exquisite miniature gardens of wood anemones, wood sorrel and furled ferns.

The walk ended by crossing a field of sheep, and at last I was able to get a picture of a ‘buy one get one free’ pairing.

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