Weekend walks: In the land of forests

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“DID you really climb that tree grandad?” the young lad asked.

“I certainly did,” his grandfather replied. “I was 11, about your age.

“Me and my mates used to come here on Saturday mornings and we’d climb all the way to the top.”

The tree in question was a great old oak in Dukeshouse Wood near Hexham.

I looked on as the family gathered around the tree. There was mum and dad and their young son and the grandparents, who had left Hexham for London 60 years ago when they got married.

For grandad the moment was clearly a poignant one. Childhood memories must have come flooding back as he gazed fondly up at the giant old oak.

He patted the tree trunk and his wife smiled and laid her hand on his. Then the family wandered down towards Hexham, exchanging a “good morning” with me as they walked past.

Dukeshouse Wood is one of several forests spreading south towards Slaley. They offer numerous walking trails, and a sunny morning like this made for glorious trekking.

This is also a popular venue for mountain bikers, and there are plenty of places for picnics!

Following the track to Coalpits Flat, I was in no hurry.

All around me greenery shimmered under bright sunshine, the forest a mixture of young and mature trees, evergreens and coniferous.

On coming to the B6306, I turned and made my way back to the main forest path.

This passes Duke’s House, a grand old building that is more like a castle. Also known as the house of 1,000 chimneys, it is an outdoor activity centre, enjoying a superb setting among such beautiful forestation.

“Can’t see 1,000 chimneys though,” I thought to myself, studying the big country mansion.

After another few minutes of walking, I noted that the trees on my right had begun to thin out and the sight that met my eyes stopped me in my tracks.

“Wow,” I thought, pushing the sunhat back on my head.

There had been a real pea-soup of a mist as I set off on my day’s journey from Hexham railway station.

That mist was now rising in great plumes, like phantoms, and through it all could be glimpsed a tidal wave.

But this was a tidal wave of trees, thousands upon thousands of them disappearing into the distance.

South of me lay Swallowship Wood, Sunnyside Plantation and Birchside Wood. These are sizeable forests, but dwarfed by Dipton Wood, a huge grey green shadow beyond them.

The wildlife here includes deer, badgers and foxes.

Gazing across this wild, but beautiful landscape, I wondered about the possibilities of other animals such as a rumoured big black cat - ‘big’ as in the size of a panther!

I headed east along a footpath that led through Park Wood and then across Dilston Park.

The change in terrain was dramatic. As the track broke free of the trees, open fields came into hazy view. It made for an idyllic scene, with sheep grazing and spring lambs gambolling across the grass.

The morning was getting even warmer, so I removed my jumper and, wearing T-shirt and shorts, strode along the gently undulating path.

I was enjoying the sun and loving every minute of my walk!

A burst of movement on the right drew my attention. A young deer was running along the edge of the field. He didn’t look entirely steady on his spindly legs!

The sheep didn’t budge. They were probably used to seeing wild deer.

The path descended and skirted a ravine through which flows Devil’s Water. The memorably-named river glided serenely under the bridge at Dilston and then crossed Dilston Haughs before joining the River Tyne.

At Dilston, I took to the B6321 and after a short distance was able to follow a Defra conservation walking trail north over the fields to the Tyne.

I had noted several such paths that morning. Not noted on the map, they must be a recent development.

They are a very welcome addition to the tracks and bridleways that can be followed through this beautiful part of Northumberland!

“Blimey,” I thought, “it really is getting hot now.”

Clouds of dust rose from the ground as I tramped along. On my left lay Corbridge, partially obscured by a heat haze.

The Tyne itself was like a silvery thread under the sun.

The town was packed with tourists and day-trippers and the ice-cream man was doing a roaring trade.

Great idea, I decided, and bought a lollipop to enjoy while having a wander through Corbridge.

After some sight-seeing, I made for the Golden Lion public house, enjoyed a pint and was pleased to make acquaintances with the pub’s cats, Mittens and Socks.

The friendly felines are obviously used to people because they were wandering about and generally being spoiled by the patrons.

One of the bar staff confided in me that the cats actually ran the place!

Mittens jumped on to the seat next to me and we enjoyed the sunshine in a companionable silence.

The second half of my walk took me out of the historic town of Corbridge and along Corchester Lane.

This passes the Roman fort of Corstopitum and then heads along the bottom of the Tyne Valley to Hexham.

Corstopitum isn’t the only historic site along this route. On my right, Sandhoe Hall came into view as I tramped along.

The imposing building seems to grow out of the valley side and enjoys commanding views over Hexham.

Sandhoe Hall is the work of one of the North East’s most famous sons, John Dobson.

He was commissioned by Sir Rowland Errington in 1850 to rebuild an older structure that was on the site of the present building.

“He certainly did a grand job,” I thought, gazing up the valley at the hall.

The day just got hotter and hotter and I took a couple of breaks, to take shelter in the shadows afforded by woodland.

South of Hexham could be glimpsed Dukeshouse Wood, still hazy in lingering mist.

This is a land of forests, I thought, munching a well-earned digestive biscuit.

Just when you’ve seen one big forest and an even bigger one comes into view!

The final part of the walk, which was about eight miles, returned me to the railway station in Hexham.

My mind was full of images from the day: the family gazing up at the oak tree that granddad used to climb in his childhood; the young deer on its spindly legs; Devil’s Water gliding majestically through a ravine; Mittens and Socks and the sun bathing the Tyne Valley.

In fact, it had been a scorcher of a day!