Looking to St Cuthbert's
Three years of Park and Striding and only now am I bringing listeners onto the doorstep of a particular passion of mine, Hadrian's Wall. Mind you with daylight hours at a premium and conditions underfoot continuing the soggy pattern of the year past, I am keeping well away from sensitive archaeology, at least in the context of the main prescribed walk. The walk pays undivided attention to a secret gorge of the Irthing, snaking through resilient carboniferous rocks. The Comb Crag gorge is quite a well-kept secret, little visited though the paths are easy to follow and well served with path furniture and signs all securely maintained by the East Cumbria Countryside Project. In fact as the walk is so short, proving that size and length are not everything, many walkers will be interested to explore a little more in the area, hence I am recommending a visit to Willowford Roman bridge close to Gilsland, right on the border with Northumberland.
Walk east up the rising road only a matter of 30m to where a footpath sign directs left into the drive by a white cottage, pass The Barn a tidy conversion, to reach a metal hand-gate and descend the hollow-way into the valley pasture. Over to the right spot evidence of badger excavation on the sandy knoll while close at hand left glance at a lovely little waterfall in Chapel Burn. The footpath approaches the massive metal suspension bridge, apparently no expense was spared to ensure the walker could cross the River Irthing, though the flow of walkers must always have been sparse. There is a gate suggesting an ancient ford, but one can hardly imagine anyone wading through whether on horse-back or shank’s pony, the river is wide and boisterous. Stories of people quaking at the quivering on the London Millennium footbridge can be borne in mind as you get the shakes on this sturdy structure, there is surety in every step but a gentle rock with be noticed!
Once across turn left and go through the field-gate in the meadow-partitioning fence. Keep company with the river along the meadow’s edge with a high wooded bank on the far side. The river swings right creating a large stony shore, which is really worth beachcombing, the variety of pebbles is amazing, I spotted a water worn Kirkhouse brick and what appeared to be the remains of a geologically ancient giant fern stone. The river-name describes the rich dark earthy tone, it is a healthy river for all that, caused by the intensity of peat carried in suspension, the river-source being the massive peaty wastes of Paddaburn and Butterburn Flow amongst the dense conifers of Spadeadam. At this point I encountered the farmer from Lanerton, David Hall. A cheery guy willingly sharing a view on his world as shepherd, stockman and all round farming handyman for his 350-acre farm. I commented on the damp season and he affirmed that his continental crossbred sheep had suffered with this year’s lambs yet to fatten sufficient for market. Over the twenty years he has been at the farm his stocking has had to double and when he came there were three men working on the holding. The river tumbles over a three-foot step in the riverbed providing the first excitement as the gorge is entered.
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© Mark Richards 2008