Bedburn: Autumn Colours and Wide Vistas
Nine hardy souls arrived at our meeting point whose whereabouts had proved a mystery to some prior to the walk. However this tiny village just east of Hamsterley Forest meant a convenient starting point whilst avoiding the tolls and parking charges of the forest park itself. So a short picturesque walk alongside Bedburn Beck soon took us into Hamsterley Forest itself where many mountain bikers were milling about preparedly to try out the forests numerous trails.
What a perfect time to be walking in this area. A sunny autumn day with the trees displaying a wonderful palette of yellows, oranges and reds. The walk took us for a while along the Forest Drive, then into and though the colourful woods to suddenly emerge onto open moorland above Potato Hill.
I had warned in the programme about “boggy bits” but felt that, after a dry few weeks, my warning would prove over-cautious. I had certainly managed the reccie dry shod without much difficulty. However, a short way along the path across Hamsterley Common I encountered an area of bog I must have by-passed on my reccie. Nevertheless I confidently lead the group onto what looked like a mossy area only to find myself sinking immediately with both feet first ankle, then knee-deep, with the unpleasant feeling of water flowing down the inside of my gaiters into my boots. Jeff was fortunately on hand to help pull me out, and we soon found our way, more cautiously, to a cairn on firm ground, where a slightly earlier than planned coffee break was taken whilst an embarrassed leader took his gaiters and boots off and wrung his saturated socks out.
From here on, a better track for a while to Ayhope Shield, at the junction of the North and South Grain Beck. All the time great views over large expanses of moorland. After an easy jump over South Grain Beck we passed through a short pretty area of upland pasture, where another short sock-wringing break was taken by yours truly, then a little used track though the heather on the flank of Pikestone Fell, to another stream crossing at the junction of North Grain and Steel becks. From here the path on the map doesn’t exist on the ground, meanly about a mile of heather bashing through mainly short heather on a NNW bearing to reach a 4WD track obviously upgraded for shooting parties. There was certainly plenty of sport to be had up here if you’re into that sort of thing with many coveys of grouse seen during the day. On the reccie I had seen several buzzards in this area, spoilt for choice, it seemed, between numerous grouse on the moorland and rabbits on the pasture below. Indeed, I had put one up from a grouse kill, but none were to be seen here today.
The shooters track now provided an easier alternative to more heather bashing, as we headed north to hit the Weardale Way path just east of the prominent little copse know as the Elephant Trees on the edge of the escarpment. Here we enjoyed great views up and down Weardale, made more special as it was an area new to several of the group. The sun continued to shine, but, due to a brisk cool breeze I delayed our lunch break until we had pressed on east for another mile or so along the exposed edge of Weardale to the shelter of a wall, by when the wind had dropped anyway, so a pleasant lunch was taken in warm sunshine with great views all round.
After lunch we continued east until we hit the road coming up out of Wolsingham, then turned south along a lane taking us down to Harthope Beck then a moorland track to Doctors Gate (origin of name unknown, though a nearby disused quarry shares the same name). From hear the trees of the edge of Hamsterley Forest were again visible, and we re-entered the forest by scaling a fence and taking a short cut to avoid a large zigzag. After another short drinks stop overlooking the trees, instead of taking the group down another boring forest road, I opted for a more interesting narrow mountain bike track which wound down through the trees to join one of the main forest rides a short distance from the forest information centre and teashop. We arrived at the teashop just in time for tea and cake before it closed to cap a very enjoyable walk. Certainly one I would do again, hopefully with dry feet next time.