A full complement for stage 4 of our pilgrimage with St. Oswald set off from Ponteland to rendezvous at Lordenshaws car park, a couple of miles south of Rothbury. We then drove to Harwood, parked up, donned boots and set off to enter Harwood Forest up a metalled road lined with a mixture of conifers and deciduous trees. The leaf buds on the larches were just showing a green tinge, and there were birds singing their hesitant songs – spring is just around the corner.
The hamlet of Harwood boasts a “Heath and Spa Woodland Retreat” http://harwoodhealthspa.com/ which was totally unknown to all of us. There were also several other properties nearby, but our path curved round them and we headed due north along a gravelled road. We continued thus for about half a mile before branching off right to leave the woodland behind. The vista opened up to reveal a far off farmhouse set amidst overgrown, marshy pasture, which we reached quite quickly, the gravel road making for easy walking.
The farmhouse (Redpath) was empty despite being well roofed with intact glass in the windows – a shooting lodge perhaps ? We missed the turn off to the right adjacent to a derelict sheepfold, but quickly regained the correct route after only a few short strides. This track led us into more woodland for a short distance before emerging to cross a bracken rich area above Fallowlees Burn where we stopped for a coffee break in the sunshine.
We walked back into woodland along a well-marked track bounded by rushes and masses of the Common Haircap moss (Polytrichum commune), before emerging close to the Fallowlees farm steading to the sound of lots of dogs. One particular foxy coloured canine was very satisfied to “see us off” his turf. Returning to the wooded walk, there was much evidence of old plantings having being felled and replanted, with some areas, especially near the confluence of Newbiggin and Blanch Burns, benefitting from native saplings. After a short while, the forest came to an end, and as we climbed the final stile, the gorgeous panorama of the Simonside Hills lay before us. We found a suitable spot to have our sandwiches in the lee of a drystone wall, overlooking the coastal plain and the North Sea beyond.
After lunch, we followed the footpath slightly north east towards Spylaw farm, crossed the Forest Burn and then zig-zagged across boggy pasture to the sound of lapwings performing their aerial displays, and the haunting cry of curlew. On this broken, heather and moor-grass clad heathland, we encountered many grouse, skimming over the ground emitting their familiar “go-back, go-back” cry as if to deny us the pleasure of the hills; … and what pleasure it was – wide skies, the call of the birds and wonderful scenery.
On the final mile of our walk, we crossed a huge expanse of heather moorland that showed signs of regular burning to encourage the new succulent shoots so loved by the grouse, and soon dropped down to cross a rocky ravine before climbing the final rise to be greeted by a stunning view of the Cheviot ridge off to the north west. Lordenshaws car park and our lift home awaited below, but first we diverted into Rothbury to meet up with the girls in Tomlinson’s café for coffee and cake to celebrate 5 glorious years of Footloose.