A cool, cloudy morning greeted four Footloose fellas as they drove the short distance up the A696 to Kirkharle, birthplace of that great lanscape architect, Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown. It was still a little too early for a pre-ramble coffee, so we togged up and headed off up the road, following the country lane as it climbed past Kidlaw Farm. The stone-wall bounded route levelled off until the cross roads, when it dipped down to cross the young River Blyth.
There was a great view of the White House Farm limekilns over to our right as we walked towards Kirkheaton ( http://www.brocross.com/industrial%20history/limekilns.htm ). The weather was closing in as we approached the village, past the former Methodist chapel, but it was merely a drizzly shower, so we waited in the lea of the tall garden wall of the old manor house, possibly originally a bastle, until it had abated.
http://www.visitoruk.com/Hexham/kirkheaton-C592-V28389.html We popped into the church http://www.achurchnearyou.com/kirkheaton-st-bartholomew/ and admired the simplicity of the interior and the interesting tryptich behind the communion table, before moving on across a series of slightly muddy fields towards a lonely semi derelict barn at Blackhill, now bathed in a watery winter sun.
This two roomed structure was to provide us with a sheltered lunch stop, and, on entering the more tumbledown half, we unfortunately disturbed a barn owl from its slumbers, and it flew off languidly over the field. The other half of the barn was slightly drier and we ate our sandwiches in relative comfort.
After lunch we continued over the (very) rough pasture, crossing the area of ground that the map showed as the source of the River Blyth. We trudged through this very boggy area, making for a large barn adjacent to a pasture with planted Christmas trees, some already cut and wrapped for despatch ! We eventually made the hard standing around the barn, and followed the track leading to Cocklaw Walls and the interesting three storey building, with blanked off windows.
From this point, the road was metalled, and continued northwards around a small wood (where we continued on the road, rather than cut across another wet field) and then joined the B6342. Although the going underfoot was now much easier, the fact of the proximity of several quarries in the area meant that we were occasionally forced off the road onto the verge as bulk waggons sped past. We walked past several farms on this stretch – Steel Rigg, Bavington Hill Head, Ladywell and Merry Shiels, being encouraged by one farmer with “It’s all downhill now !” A horse gallop to our right puzzled us – it seemed a strange place for such an enterprise, but a later internet search revealed Pauline Robson Livery at Kidlaw Farm – just at the top of the hill in a south eastely direction – well I never !
We thankfully turned off the road shortly afterwards, to follow a zigzag path alongside a small stream by a wood. We emerged at a group of houses at the corner of the wood, turned left down a track and then right again alongside a newly planted shelter belt, to emerge onto the car park at Kirkharle Courtyard, to complete our circuit.
There was just time for coffee and cake in the café before boarding the car for home, a little weary after more than 9 miles, but content to have had a bit of exercise and some fresh air.