“They can’t hear because of the river,” explained the Joint Master of Foxhounds
A hunting horn could be heard clearly in the woods above the North Tyne but the hounds searching out a non-existent scent along the riverbank were oblivious to its call, their ears full of the North Tyne’s voice. The walkie talkie on her shoulder crackled into life and she paused to listen.
“How many are there?” I asked
“About thirty,” she replied. “We just have to wait now until my other half, him that’s blowing the horn, finally gets them all rounded up, into the trailers and back over here.”
“Is that where the trail is meant to be then,” Linda queried.
“Yes,” the Joint Master nodded. “they’re not meant to be over there at all. Looks like they swam the river, lost the scent and now we just have to wait and restart the trail hunt when we get them back.”
She looked resignedly at her daughter who, like her, was wrapped head to toe in multiple layers of thick warm clothing against an icy cold afternoon.
“At least we don’t have to move for a bit,” her daughter added, “in this kit, it’s easier to sit down than walk like an Egyptian mummy.”
They weren’t the only ones having to wait whilst a squadron of quad bikes herded the errant hounds into their awaiting transport. Half of the mounted section of the hunt were also on the river bank, waiting and watching. Horses and riders were immaculately turned out with poppies on lapels and manes plaited to perfection. Even in the stillness of patience there was an energy and expectation amongst the small group; riders sat quietly as equine ears radared towards the hounds’ howls and the horn’s beckoning call. The readiness was subtle but palpable.
With the sun heading to 2pm and the temperature falling we left them all at the Duke of Northumberland’s Hansel and Gretel fishing lodge and headed on along the remainder of Countess Wood to find the next section of the North Tyne Trail.
We had resumed our walking relationship with the river just west of Bellingham at Cuddy’s Loup. The name is linked to that of St Cuthbert who, back in the day, wandered around the NE area after leaving Holy Island, and left a trail of wells, springs and churches in his wake. Loup means ‘leap’ so one can only assume St Cuthbert took a jump into the river here for some reason. St Cuthbert’s church in Bellingham sits alongside a well he discovered that is meant to have miraculous healing powers. The water is still used today for christenings. We didn’t spot the well this time but we did find the Rocky Road café in Bellingham whose coffee and cake offered similar restorative powers.
The café had come at just the right time in the walk as our first mile or so had been a surprisingly sharp start and it was taking a while to get warm. The fields were frost white with grass seed heads and trees rimed in sparkling diamante. The low sun brought a beautiful light but little warmth and we marched with purpose to our first coffee of the day, in triple layered thermals, hats, buffs and gloves sealing final gaps against winter’s ice. It was a shock after the cosseted air-conditioned warmth of the long drive and we were glad of the café’s radiators whilst we refuelled and reappraised our walking wardrobes. Thankfully, despite the marginally warmer autumn temperatures of late, we had all packed for winter and, minor adjustments made, we headed off along the riverbank.
The route offered quite a bit of variety with disused railways, lanes and fields added to the mix. Every section had one thing in common; a substantial supply of mud and wet paths. We hopped, skipped and slid our way alongside a river which also had us pondering as we noticed the changes in its flow rate. We have got used to a North Tyne that chatters and babbles and flows with purpose. Today the river showed us its silence and stillness sections where the underlying gradient all but flattens out and the water is deep, quiet and deceptively immobile. In places it is lake-like. But, despite the midstream tranquillity, the riverbank told the real story. Against the static edge, the flow was still moving keenly seaward.
In those hushed zones, the leaves at our feet rustled into the sound vacuum, the rhythmical crackle and swish of boot through beech, sycamore, alder and oak as mustard larches lifted their branches in salute. Woodland offered glimpses of light shattered mirrored water through the serried trunks and sunlight beckoned us along tree tunnels into views across the valley. It was perfect walking.
We had chatted our way along the 10 mile route to Wark (rhymes with dark), generally putting the world to rights alongside a running commentary on navigation clues and things of interest enroute. Gates and stiles provide discussion points and farms and farmland are inevitably assessed too. It’s always absorbing and interesting.
However, Christine hit the final nail on the head as we reached the subject of alcohol and grape varieties. Clambering up a steep bank to a double gate, she stopped and said,
“There’s not much better than this, is there? Walking on a crisp winter’s day in sunshine in a lovely place, talking about wine.”
I have to agree with her.