The old railway track walk

I find one of the greatest ordinary pleasures in life is to be doing the same walk through the months, and over the years.  Many might find this boring, but the opportunity to see small changes in places you know very well is – to me – a great delight.

Last year I wrote about our local beach walk in just such a manner, and in this blog I’m going to explore another favourite local walk of ours that takes us in a circle from our home at Seaview up the hill, along the ridge, and down the old railway track, coming back along the sea and the modern eastcoast railway line.The most challenging part of the walk is the very first part as you walk up the long hill behind Seaview. But there’s always something of interest.  Some wet winters the old duckpond reappears behind the farm buildings  …Then there is nothing for it but you must turn your attention to the hill … up and up it goes, – a gentle incline, but a long one. It’s always me struggling just this distance behind Stephen …Even on lush summer days it is an effort …So before long you can allow yourself to look back to enjoy the view (and catch your breath) …The view is always different, depending on the time of the year …Finally – oh glorious moment – you reach the top, and can pass through the gate and out on to the ridge. There’s a better track here because it is used by all the farm traffic …Looking down from this height on Seaview with the sea behind is uplifting. The field is full of stubble here, glowing in the half-light of a late December afternoon … In February the winter-sown crops are small (and you can just make out that puddle) …By June the green is lush and has intensified …And by August it’s golden …Earlier this year, the walk along the ridgeway was quite different from how we have ever known it before.  The evil Beast from the East had blown straight off from the sea, creating the most curious drifting snow shapes.  Conditions were so unpleasant that we didn’t get out for several weeks, but when we finally did in mid-March, the remaining snow was sculpted and very dirty. Meringue-like, I thought …Thank goodness, it is more often like it was yesterday – blue and green …This part of the walk takes us past the old radar station . And yesterday we stopped off to investigate …This is one of a series of radar stations operating up the entire east coast during WW2 (known as Chain Home Radar). And what a fine view of the North Sea this position commanded!There are two buildings here …A smaller one at the back which Stephen thought might have been an old engine room …And the larger one at the front which consists of several rooms – clearly now a good place for the local young to party …Such a change in mindset over the generations!  How differently the men working here in the 1940s must have felt to the people who visit nowadays – and that includes us …

The same generational change applies to the stone wall along this part of the route. It’s crumbling badly. Sadly it seems modern farmers often don’t rebuild walls, they just chuck away – or if pushed replace with fencing …Back to the next part of our route, walking along the road. Here it is several weeks ago when it was wet and watery as well as snowy …What a miserable grey day for a walk! But fascinating too.  We never know what we will find as we turn into the old railway track.  Sometimes there are huge muddy puddles here …On other occasions, we’ve been amazed and delighted by the ice patterns …Apparently this lovely phenomenon is known as cat ice …But when the Beast from the East visited, it left muddy puddles and deep snowdrifts in its wake …Looked almost impassable …No! He’s made it – so can I!This old railway track (known as the Scremerston Incline) was laid down about 1815, and ran from the Scremerston colliery, carrying coal across the land down to the coast, where it met the public carriage way (as you can see in this 1844 plan by engineering surveyors, Martin Johnsons and Fox). From there coal was transported to the nearby river Tweed and could be shipped off to purchasers in Europe and the south. What exactly is the magic of walking down old railway tracks?The history of the place, I wonder?  Here you can still see – just! –  the old stone sleeper blocks where the rails rested …Or is it the pleasure of walking  old level paths that remain even when tractors have churned up the mud … This photograph taken on our warm walk yesterday shows just how inviting it can be, with that blue blue sea calling you down …There is so often something special to see here, from a small clump of determined snowdrops on a cold winter’s day …To vibrant gorse in the early spring …And fragile harebells in late summer …I think I love it best in the autumn …When we walk down here to pick blackberries …And enjoy other fruits abundant in the old hedgerows …The track ends abruptly with our way blocked by a pile of stones …At this point we turn to the left and walk along the edge of the field with the old trackway running parallel to us (clearly marked in March this year by the snow drifts) …But at other times, you find yourself looking down into deep wild secret places …Not far on from here, the old railway track was subsumed into the main eastcoast railway line, as you can see in this 1922 Ordinance Survey map (actually surveyed 1856-60 not that long after the opening of the Newcastle and Berwick Railway in 1847).Now our walk us takes along the main eastcoast railway line with the North Sea just beyond …And if you’re lucky, you’ll get a modern train blasting its way past you!Our walk passes very close indeed to the main eastcoast railway line …Nothing sparks up a cold January walk like a speeding train!But there are other pleasures to this part of the route: playing silly games in the wintry light of a November’s day …And at the end of summer, there’s the willowherb looking amazing …And there’s scrumpying too …This solitary apple tree sits so close to the railway line!  We think it must be the result of casual flick of a discarded apple core as perhaps the Flying Scotsman sped past …We always inspect with interest the area round this drain.  It passes under the main eastcoast line, and was installed the spring after we arrived …The field drainage here can be very bad in winter (even now), with the water funnelling down the hill and reviving ancient waterways …In the spring of 2011, after heavy snows, so much water collected here with the snow melt that it threatened to wash away the eastcoast mainline train track. So Network Rail arrived in force to construct a new drainage pipe under the railway line.So muddy was it, they constructed a roadway – with of course road traffic signs!All long gone now, of course, and on an ordinary wintry day, it looks like this as Berwick appears in the distance … We’re coming to the end of our walk now …At the end of this field, we’ll turn up the hill and are on our way home …This muddy patch was the site of the old rubbish tip, and sometimes we find interesting bits and pieces in the mud here. So on  good day we’ll come home with treasure …But it’s a good walk, even without treasure!

With grateful thanks to:

  • Northern Northumberland’s Minor Railways: Volume Two.  Colliery and Associated Lines by Roger Jermy
  • Relics of War. A Guide to the 20th Century Military Remains in the Northumberlan Landscape by Ian Hall

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18 thoughts on “The old railway track walk”

  1. J > As ever, an entertaining, informative, interesting, and sociable ramble through the landscape and through time. You have a wonderful way of gathering up photos and snippets of information and experience, and piecing them together to make a fascinating post. I suspect that the two of you are, like us, cartophiles. Those detailed OS plans from the late 19thC are full of fascinating detail!


    1. Thank you, Jonathan – and yes, I love a good map – tells you so much about the landscape doesn’t it? I am always struck by those old cartographic skills when they didn’t have our modern map-making equipment.


  2. It is a special thing to see the same walk through different seasons, roadworks, tunnels, plants and flowers…all appearing, changing and settling back into the land. I thoroughly enjoyed your walk…especially fascinating is the old apple tree…I wonder what variety it is…

    The weather looks sunny and bright over there and spring can now really get going….


    1. I wish we had the knowledge to identify the apples we pick – if we knew what variety it was, we might be further on with our theory that it grew from an apple core thrown from the train …


  3. Another lovely post. The changes wrought by time and weather are just lovely – you must have a well catalogued photo collection to be able to put together a photo essay like this. There are some towards the end where the clouds tower at the horizon. Rarely get those here – to me they look like illustrations from a 30s children’s book I might have read 40 years ago as a kid. I’m such also by your companionship with Steven – it’s an enviable thing you have.


    1. Thank you 🙂 I am struck by your comment that you don’t get clouds like that – not sure I can really imagine such an landscape. What a fascinating world we do live in. – and yes, Stephen and I are very lucky to have each other’s companionship on our walks. We had to work towards it! We didn’t use to walk together before we came here because he strides much faster than I, so I have had to persuade him to temper his stride … (and he still likes the opportunities to get out alone 🙂 )


  4. Fabulous! Nothing like a view to sea to enhance a walk and so many interesting things en route. I love the incremental changes that you notice on the same walk through the year and also the sudden bursting of blooms that can take me quite unawares.
    Quite honestly, your walk via the screen has been a lot better than the wet, cold and windy walk that I’ve just returned from 🙂


    1. I hope that by the time I reply you will be enjoying better weather, Anne – it has indeed been a miserable spring. But looking back over the photos as I did to put this blog together, I do really appreciate that even days we consider miserable always have interest.


    1. Thank you so much, Maggie – pics only taken with my old iPhone, but perhaps they have an immediacy because they are taken in the moment and without fuss ….


  5. It is with such joy that I note another of your wonderfully descriptive accounts of your life in Northumberland has dropped into my inbox, here in Brisbane, Australia (where it is currently a latish autumn day of 26C!). Your gifted way with words paints such a glorious ‘picture’ of life at your beloved ‘Seaview’ – even without your spectacular photos. I’m sure someone has already suggested it to you …. but isn’t it time you considered turning your blog into a book ?? (Along with any other thoughts and pictures that would guarantee a blissfully long read for your followers??)

    Kindest regards, Avie.


    1. Thank you, Avie – and what a contrast indeed our current weather must be to your Brisbane temperatures! I’m not sure that I could find the energy to put a book together, so just for the moment my blogs will have to remain courtesy of WordPress … 🙂


  6. Done your walk from Scremerston Rugby Club followed old railway track and turned left through the gate and walked back past the quarry pond to the road turned left on the road then right down lane back to Rugby Club. Great walk on a lovely day.

    Two over eighties plus twelve year old labrador!
    S 1


    1. So glad to hear you all enjoyed the walk – I hope I’m still doing it in my 80s! It’s still a walk we do regularly (perhaps we’ll meet one day?) and it still gladdens my heart. Though I cannot help but muse how lucky I am to be walking these tracks for pleasure when men some hundred years ago or so laboured in often miserable conditions in the mines and quarries here …


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