Earlier in the week I had been mooching about some of the smaller hills to the north of Biddlestone on a rather lacklustre day. Now, with my wife for company, I was on my way for a Saturday wander across the sandstone ridge overlooking the coniferous-dominated Thrunton Woods and the distant Cheviot Hills.
We parked just off the main Wooler road close to the intriguingly-named cottage of Rough Castles, knowing that this would give us the perfect start to our walk along a clear and firm forest track. It was warm for the time of year as we set off through the eastern edge of Coe Crags Wood with the mid-morning sun playing a tantalizing game of hide and seek.
We had barely got up a head of steam when we noticed that the forest floor on either side of the track was awash with an exquisite array of bizarre-looking fungi. The closer we looked the more we could see as armies of different species marched deep into the darker recesses of the forest. A number, with their eye-catching caps, particularly caught our attention with the colourful fly agaric especially noteworthy. This quintessential and highly toxic fungus of fairy stories begins life sporting a bright red cap with white spots which then starts to fade to an orange or orange-yellowish colour. It has, understandably, long been a favourite with children’s book illustrators, not to mention witches, sorcerers and magicians.
Having spent time examining every conceivable fungus at close quarters, we now needed to make some progress. So, on we went past Wandy Marsh following the fine gravel track and then a rough and narrow path. The extensive views to the south began to open up behind us, dominated by the dark and distinctive form of the Simonside Hills. After we passed the last trees and reached the flatter ground of the broad ridge, the vast panorama northwards appeared in front of us. From the green and brown patchwork of Thrunton Woods to the verdant Vale of Whittingham to the rounded tops of the Cheviot Hills, the Northumberland countryside stretched itself out in seductive splendour.
We paused and enjoyed the moment next to an old boundary stone, which also marked the junction of our path with the path across the sandstone ridge. Presently, we headed westwards towards the highest point of our walk, Long Crags, and the ideal place for a spot of lunch. At a height of 319 metres above sea level the summit-topping triangulation pillar made a perfect backrest and wind-break as we tucked into our filling-packed sandwiches. We were in no hurry to leave.
But leave we must so off we went to neighbouring Coe Crags, a mere 12 metres lower in height than Long Crags but none the worse for that. Sporting a total of 26 climbing routes of varying degrees of severity, these exposed north-facing crags are indeed impressive and made a fine vantage point for a series of photographs. They are also a good place to pick wild bilberries when in season. Once again we lingered.
By the time we decided to leave Coe Crags the sun had all but disappeared and, as we made our way through the fungi-festooned forest, we reflected on how each of the four seasons brings its own unique form of beauty. That, we agreed, could be guaranteed.
by Geoff Holland © 2014
Geoff Holland is the author of four books of self-guided walks, ‘The Cheviot Hills’, ‘Walks from Wooler’, ‘The Hills of Upper Coquetdale’ and ‘Walks on the Wild Side The Cheviot Hills’ , is a regular contributor to ‘TGO (The Great Outdoors)’, ‘Country Walking’ and ‘The Northumbrian’ magazines and is the operator of the highly acclaimed website www.cheviotwalks.co.uk. His books are available online from www.trailguides.co.uk or from all good bookshops and he can be heard reading a selection of his poems on www.listenupnorth.com. He has lived in Monkseaton for almost 40 years.