A new year, a new walk, but it was with the same eager anticipation that Footloose met on a clear but cold morning for their first walk of the year. We headed west along the main road to Carlisle, and turned off south just after Haydon Bridge to the small hamlet of Beltingham, where we parked next to the church adjacent to the tiny village green.
Unfortunately St. Cuthbert’s was locked, but we wandered around the churchyard and viewed the Bowes-Lyon graves in their separated plot on the perimeter, and were interested in the venerable yew trees and the local association of the Ridley family, especially Nicholas, the Bishop of London who was martyred in 1555 in Oxford.
We left the churchyard and headed north along a quiet country lane which ran parallel to the South Tyne river for a while, then past a small nature reserve, and finally to the impressive farm buildings of Willimoteswick, once the castle home of the Ridley family. The day had lost its early brightness, but the clouds were high and not threatening as we continued along a farm track, still heading west, contouring the edge of the river valley. Just before entering Haughstrother Wood, we stopped for a coffee break near a fallen tree, admiring the fungal fruiting bodies that had erupted from the dead trunk and the view across the valley towards the river.
We passed the time of day with another group of walkers before setting off along the woodland path. This did not prove as easy as it should, because logging machinery, which was active and noisy within the wood, had churned the rides into a quagmire, and this made our way tortuous and muddy. Eventually we emerged onto a farm road through fields and headed towards Shankfoot, where we turned away from the river and climbed past High Barns and lunch. The day was still fine, though with a westerly wind promising rain, we did not dally too long and were soon climbing again. Black Cleugh proved our next obstacle, but there was little water in it, and we crossed easily, finding the track to Allensgreen farm, an impressive stone built dwelling set amongst small copses of trees.
With the day hastening on, a decision was made at the next junction to walk back towards Willimoteswick Castle, leaving the minor road to Briarwood and the delights of Allen Banks woodlands until another time. The descent along the track was delightful, with super views over the South Tyne valley to the north.
After passing the farm buildings, with the massive castle gate house dominating the surrounding fields, we made our way between moss covered walls and winter hedgerows back towards Beltingham and St. Cuthbert’s. Once again we admired the wonderful lych gate, donated by the Hon Francis Bowes-Lyon in 1904, which was renovated in 2009. The Bowes-Lyon family lived, at one time, at nearby Ridley Hall, adjacent to Allen Banks and our next walk perhaps. We tarried a little while within the churchyard for our customary photograph, before heading home, via a coffee shop of course.
It was really good to be able to walk and talk once more as a group, and we all felt grateful for our health and strength, and we looked forward to many more happy times during the coming year.