A perfect day on the Red Kite Trail

ECHOES OF THE PAST ... a long-disused railway bridge on the dismantled Winlaton Mill railway.
ECHOES OF THE PAST ... a long-disused railway bridge on the dismantled Winlaton Mill railway.

The Red Kite Trail is an 11-mile circular walk that takes in the beautiful lower Derwent Valley.

Joining the trail at the Derwenthaugh Coke Works car park in Winlaton Mill, I set off on a bright winter’s morning.

My route took me past Thornley Wood and then to Thornley Lane, and the kite trail provided very pleasant walking across a frost-jewelled valley.

The region through which I was trekking is steeped in industrial history. Evidence of that can be glimpsed in the dismantled railway that served the Derwenthaugh Coke Works between 1929 and the early 60s.

The undulating path also offered some interesting contrast in terrain and teasing views of hills to the west. Both walking route and scenery were to become rather spectacular later on!

In the southern tip of a wooded gorge there stood a half overgrown railway bridge.

The Red Kite Trail headed west from here, but my chosen route was north, under the bridge and into a beautiful wooded dene.

It was dramatic landscape, with steep banks overlooking a burn that flowed through snow-whitened ferns and bracken.

The landscape was, in fact, more like a series of dells than one ravine. The track led me along a narrow ledge of earth, and I wondered if the deep craters on my right had industrial origins. There was something regular, ordered about them, the way they formed a row.

It certainly made for a beautiful setting, with leaves drifting lazily in the breeze and steep banks bejewelled with frost.

“What an amazing place,” I thought, “and I didn’t even know it was here!”

The track descended an escarpment to the burn, and I treaded carefully, leaning into the hillside. It was tricky going in places, wading through thick, slippery leaves and there were plenty of fallen branches to trip me up if I wasn’t careful.

Just to make things more interesting, rocks rattled and bounced down the slope. I held firmly onto any that came within reach!

Finally, however, I made it to the bottom of the hill. The descent had proven to be quite demanding, one which had warmed me up nicely! I stood with hands on hips, getting my breath back and taking in the surroundings. From here, the ravine formed a deep crevice. It was filled with trees, evergreens and what looked like birch and beech that were bathed in russet-red foliage.

Occasionally there was the ghostly glimpse of birds as they glided through the forest.

There was a very interesting colony of birds to be encountered later in the day!

I stepped over the burn and followed the woodland trail to Thornley Lane. From there, a footpath led across country to Garesfield Lane. This dipped and then rose, twisting and turning on its way west.

There were splendid views to enjoy en-route, especially of the commanding heights that were the Derwent Valley glittering under frost and ice. The way the valley caught the sun, frostily shining with so many colours made it look like a huge, jewelled chalice in the earth.

At the junction with Ashtree Lane the Red Kite Trail can be rejoined, heading across country to the village of Barlow. Yet more panoramic views can be taken in from here, this time of Tyneside away to the east.

The trail emerges at South Farm and a bank on the left climbs to the Black Horse pub.

Before making inside for my pint I lingered, scanning the sky.

I was hoping to see a bird, a very particular type of bird and I wasn’t the only one. There were clusters of people everywhere, all wanting to see a red kite.

The first 94 were brought from the Chilterns in 2004/06 and several more batches arrived over the following years.

The colony soon started producing offspring and now the North East has a new generation of its own home-grown birds of prey! I was in the right spot to see a kite because Barlow Fell and Barlow Burn are popular wintering locations for them.

I didn’t have long to wait before seeing one of the kites.

It was hovering, quite low, maybe 50 feet above the ground. The first thing I noticed was just what a big bird it is, big and graceful. Its piercing, haunting cry echoed over the fields and the forests. The bird watchers pointed, and the whirring and clicking of their cameras was in itself quite a spectacle.

I trooped into the pub and met up with some walkers from London, and there were tourists there from abroad. The lad serving at the bar said that people came from far and wide to see the red kites.

After lunch, I headed along Barlow Lane for a short distance before joining the footpath that heads into Winlaton. On my left there lay a vale of forestation, which formed a soft orange and brown.

Beyond that could be seen Blaydon Burn and the Bewes Hills Nature Reserve and the grand sweep of the River Tyne could also be savoured from my vantage point.

Once home to heavy industry such as quarrying, both Blaydon Burn and Bewes Hills offer a variety of woodland, meadows and ponds for people to enjoy. The birdlife includes the skylark, grey partridge and meadow pipit.

However, walking down to Blaydon bus station, where my day’s journey ended, there was no doubt in my mind about what wildlife had been the star of the day.

At Barlow, there had been a ripple of excitement amongst the people when that bird of prey had appeared.

Everyone had gathered there to see the North East’s magnificent Red Kites!