HETTON-le-Hole on Wearside gets its unusual name from the Anglo-Saxon for Bramble Hill.
Standing in the town centre and studying my map, I could find no trace of that hill and wondered what had happened to it. It was a mystery!
Pondering this conundrum, I set off on my six-mile circular walk. The route took in a country park as well as one of the region’s walking trails and though I didn’t know it ... some truly wild weather!
The first part of the ramble led out of the town and onto the Hetton-Warden Law Trail. This walking and cycle path passes the Hetton Lyons Country Park before climbing into more rugged, hilly terrain around Great Eppleton.
The colours of the landscape noticeably changed the higher I climbed, from soft greens to harder, bony browns and greys. There was still plenty to see and enjoy, with gorse bushes covering the hillsides and horses grazing and birds sweeping gracefully over even higher copper-coloured slopes.
I stopped to look at the horses. They were gathered on a hillock and seemed oblivious to the falling snow.
This was despite their flanks being coated with it and their breath steaming in the cold.
There were obviously more horses on the other side of the hill because the sound of hooves could be heard … and they were getting closer and louder. In fact, the ground seemed to tremble and the noise was quite deafening.
‘Blimey,’ I thought, ‘I hope they stop before they reach me!’ Finally, two more horses appeared on the summit, tossing their heads proudly, their manes streaming. As the day’s journey progressed, I encountered several other horses out with their riders.
It occurred to me that on my various walks I’d come across innumerable riding schools and stables.
Sometimes I’d trekked across entire fields that were full of horses. And then something else occurred to me. This might be the age of the motor car but horse power continues to play its part in the life of the North East. I had left behind the gentle pastures around Hetton-le-Hole for rugged \hills and rocky ravines, with great boulders sticking through the earth like giant bones.
The track brought me finally to another bridleway and I paused here to look back at Hetton-le-Hole.
In the late 12th century it was recorded as being a hamlet with farmers working the fields with oxen, and it was easy to see why this area had originally been settled.
The gentle lower pastures must have offered fertile land for farming. Hetton-le-Hole really grew when a pit was opened in the early 1820s (it closed in 1950.) More than 200 houses were built for the pitmen and their families. It wasn’t long before the new industrial town bore little resemblance to the old village. The mine owners needed to get their coal to port and so employed George Stephenson to build a wagonway from Hetton Colliery to Sunderland. The line he built was the first not to use animal power.
Having devoured one of my beloved digestive biscuits, I got moving again, following the bridleway past Carr House Farm – and into the teeth of a blizzard!
The snow fell thicker and faster and after another few minutes I decided to seek shelter. Fortunately, a bridleway led through Carr House Plantations.
Once into the forest, I took breath, wiping the snow from my coat and shaking it off my hat and scarf. I went a little further into the trees and propped my rucksack against a rock and poured a cup of soup from my flask.
There is something magical, I think, about a forest when it is snowing. Sipping my drink, I watched with fascination as the pine trees gradually turned white, and studied exquisite patterns formed by frost on bracken.
My hopes however that the blizzard would ease off soon proved to be in vain and after a while I decided that there was nothing for it but to march on.
So I did! Heading back onto the Hetton-Warden Law Trail it wasn’t long before I was covered from head to foot in snow. This time there was also a gale force wind to battle against!
The footpath led up to Great Eppleton and it was quite a trek, leaning into the gale so as not to get blown over. Finally, I reached the cluster of buildings on the top of the hill and they offered some shelter from the wind, its wild baying replaced by a sudden silence.
I took breath, wiping snow from my face and hat, ears ringing after the battering they’d taken from the gale.
A group of other walkers came into view as they headed down North Lane. They were as covered with snow as me and on reaching Great Eppleton took the opportunity to brush themselves down. We talked about just what a surprise that sudden blizzard had been as we followed the minor road that descends to Hetton-le-Hole.
The green fields of Hetton Lyons Country Park were relatively untouched by the blizzard but the higher ground had been transformed. Everything glistened white with snow. To the west a blizzard could be seen moving majestically over distant hills.
As long as it didn’t come in my direction! The weather didn’t bother the horses, they were still trotting around on the hillside and there was, once again, the haunting sound of hooves pummelling the ground. It was like listening to a distant train.
Half an hour later, I arrived back in Hetton-le-Hole and enjoyed and a well-deserved pint – and a warm-up in front of a pub fire!