Storm Arwen – and beyond …

We were warned it was going to be nasty – but I don’t think we’d really taken in exactly how nasty it was going to be. The XCW weather forecast pictured above shows extreme winds (for us), so, early in the day, we bolted down and removed everything we thought might fly around in the garden …

How naïve we were!

It was horribly wild and noisy from early afternoon – far too rumbustiously noisy to sleep upstairs where the bedrooms are just under the eves. And the cats were more edgy and nervous and unsettled than I have ever seen them before. So we unpacked the emergency bedding …And made ourselves comfortable, offering what security we could to the cats, as the storm raged around …The electric went off as I was starting to cook our evening meal at 7. So it was out with the candles, the torches and mobiles for entertainment. Cold cheese and crackers for supper … A very long, frightening and wild night with crashes and bangs as goodness knows what flew around about the house, hurtling into the conservatory and garden. Far far too dangerous to venture outside.

Despite the terrifying noise of the night, I don’t think we really expected the destruction that we woke up to in the morning. In the garden …And at the back of the house …And when we finally went outside and saw the size of the material that had flown off the roof – all those heavy ridge tiles!Fences down …And the conservatory roof dented, a panel missing …Later we discovered exactly how far the wind had carried our roof tiles …I can’t adequately convey the shock we all felt – immediate neighbours, and people living in nearby Berwick and further inland – many of whom had sustained substantial damage to their properties.

But my goodness, how lucky we have been since! Almost all our ridge tiles had come off, but our star roofer was out and up on the roof even in the cold, wet and very slippery dark …It was too big a job for that night, so he just patched up and we did have a week or so of leaks about the house …Until he and his mate were able to give the roof serious attention. Of course, part of the problem has been that everybody else needed roofers, builders, glaziers, woodmen …There were days and days without electricity, then without water, then without electricity again. But for some folk in the outlying parts of Northumberland it was much worse with fallen trees making reconnection very very tricky for the power people …

And through it all we had the fire – so many people nowadays don’t have any heating without electricity …It took us a long time to recover, and get back to our usual pattern of weekly walks. Partly the weather wasn’t kind, and partly we honestly were so shaken.

The other big problem we had was that so many of our walks are in wooded areas, and we knew that Storm Arwen had caused immense damage to trees.

So our first good walk wasn’t until the 9th December, and we settled for a walk along the coast to Cocklawburn beach …The beach to ourselves …Our faces say it all – how invigorated and cheered we felt!Emboldened by this walk, later in December we decided to drive inland to the village of Wark to walk the old Berwick-Kelso railway line to Sunilaws station – not exactly a wooded area, but with more trees than around us.

It was a bitterly cold frosted day …But so very beautiful in the sun …We saw nobody – just a couple of grazing deer up on the hill …We had to pass some fallen trees on parts of the track not used by local farmers … But mostly it was a pleasant walk in the sun, with little or no obstruction …Fantastic glimpses of colour …And an icy cold picnic. We didn’t linger …But walked quickly on to the old Sunilaws station (closed in March 1965). Those are the old railway platforms on the left of the picture … Here is the station manager’s house. The NER clock permanently set at 11.35 …Parts of the level crossing equipment are still standing … And in wonky fashion, this station still announces itself as Sunilaws …Four days later, we set out to climb up Chatton Hill, thinking again this would be a relatively tree-less spot. The weathermen said it would be still – and they promised sun!

There was no sun, admittedly there was no wind, but it was very very grey and very very cold too. However, it was clear enough to look over to the Cheviots …And we did find the rock art. It remains a message of mystery from the ancients – nobody knows its purpose, nor exactly when it was done. But it is very beautiful and extremely fascinating. I find it extremely moving to read this evidence that others left on the land many many years ago …Work had just started to take down a damaged tree, and we were struck by  the extraordinary orange of the inner wood …As we drove to Chatton, we saw real damage. Plantations of soft woods suffered particularly badly from Storm Arwen …Huge root balls casually chucked aside by the storm …Our next expedition was to Doddington Moor earlier this week. Travelling on the Wooler road, we saw much much more damage. Wooler was particularly hard hit by the storm, being without electricity for many days because fallen trees had brought down powerlines and blocked access.

We spoke to one resident in Doddington who told us he had been without electricity for eleven days! Luckily he had a generator – but many were not so lucky (or provident).

And how extremely lucky this tree just missed the nineteenth century Dod Well Cross!A fascinating start to our walk as we looked back to that low-lying mist hanging at the foot of the Cheviots …It got a bit sunnier as we set out to cross the moor …The heather and bracken glowing a deep reddish brown …We paid our respects to this rock art …And then the gloom descended …Parting dramatically as we started to walk down the hill …To reveal the lands of the Glendale Valley …More damage here. The storm had found the weak point of a rotten gateway …And – as we drove home – yet more damage.  This will all take much money and hard work to sort out. It is not only a matter of removing the fallen trees. All the other trees in these plantations will need checking to ensure their roots have not been disturbed …We long to revisit some of our favourite wooded walks such as those at Kyloe  and Hepburn. But it may be a while until it is safe to do so.

In the meantime, we are counting our blessings  (even though I had to put another bucket out this morning to catch drips from the damaged conservatory roof).  Our neighbours’ huge high roof still has plastic flapping round to cover the holes.

We are just hoping the locals are right to say it was a Once-in-a-Hundred-Years storm…

Northumbrian Rock Art

Northumberland is full of secrets!  We’d lived here awhile before somebody mentioned the rock art to us.  Apparently, there were some rock carvings, just off the road to Lowick, not far away from us.  We didn’t think very much of it, and then one day we sort of happened upon the spot.  There’s no sign on the road that something momentous is just off it – only evidence of a track, the indentations in the undergrowth left by people walking off the road, into the little wood.entrance to Roughting Linn gladeFollow the track then, and there you are, in the grove – a lump of sandstone, with heather. moss and foxgloves growing on the mound and about.  This is Roughting Linn.Roughting Linn stonesLook carefully, through the lichen, and you will see the carvings.Roughting Linn rock carvingsThese photos above were all taken when we revisited the site last week.  And they do not do justice to the carvings – a summery day is not the time to look for rock art!  You need the shadows of evening or autumn.

Our first visit was in October 2011 and the photographs we took then show the carvings much more clearly.Roughting Linn carvingsRoughting Linn carvings 2They are extraordinarily mysterious and fascinating.  What are they and why?  Who did them?  How were they made?  When were they made?

Lots of questions and there are no answers.

What puzzled me most about the Roughting Linn carvings after our first visit was why somebody had felt so strongly about this particular place that they had wanted to enhance the stone with these carvings.

Of course, we see the site quite differently from how our ancestors did.  These rhododendron bushes – modern imports – are a clear reminder that localities change.  The greenness adds to the mystery of the place for us, but the Ordnance Survey map shows there was a small hill fort here – something you’re quite unaware of now because of the trees and shrubs.undergrowth around Roughting LinnIt’s the small waterfall nearby that is thought to hold the answer as to why our ancestors wanted to record their art on this stone – a strange, mysterious and magical place.

Again, you step just off the track into a green world as the path steps down steeply to the stream.path to waterfallWet, muddy and very slippery – we both ended up on our bottoms several times as we went down.uprooted treeNot as old as the rock art perhaps, but people have wanted to record their presence here for many years.graffittied treeA small cave just off the path adds to the feeling of mystery here.small cave near waterfallFirst glimpse of the waterfall.First glimpse of waterfallYou cannot but approach with the feeling that you are in a special place.  Archaeologists and theologians speak of the liminal: where places are “thin”, where the “other” is more present than elsewhere.  Roughting Linn waterfallThe twisted corpse of a tree – it is as though the very trees are watching guardians of this place.twisted corpse of a treeBack to where we had parked the car nearby, and we found this on the wall.  An offering to the gods of the place?sheep's head watching usStan Beckensall was the man responsible for the serious recording of these rock art carvings.  A local teacher, he became fascinated with them, and has pushed for their appreciation and conservation over many years.  The Northumbrian Rock Art website, set up under the aegis of Newcastle University with an AHRC grant, consolidated his hard work.  You can read therein his assessment of the Roughting Linn rock art.

Roughting Linn is perhaps the best known and most easily accessed of the local rock art sites.  But we were lucky enough to enjoy a walk with Ron Shaw up Chatton Hill recently to find more rock art.  Ron is most knowledgeable about this area, having devised the St Cuthbert’s Way path when working as a tourism officer in Wooler.

We set out on a gentle trek up Chatton Hill through beautiful grasslands.  It is credit to the farmer that this site is accessible and well-managed (as recorded in this BBC article).Ron and Stephen climbing Chatton hillLooking back over the gentle incline to where we had parked the car (the small white speck on the road).Looking back to parked carWe’ve got a worried sheepy audience – you can sense them wondering why these people are in their fields and heading their way?sheep watching us warilyAah – we’re after the rock art on the brow of the hill.  It takes a while to find it – there’s plenty of sandstone slabs about, and it could be any one of them.   Sadly, it’s not unusual to find examples of modern graffiti.modern graffiti on Chatton HillBut find it we do, and here is my photograph of the find with the magnificence of Northumbrian skies and the Cheviots in the distance.Chatton hill rock carvingsThere’s time for photography and the recording of the triumph of finding the specific stone.Ron and Stephen taking photographsHowever, we encountered the same problems we’d had at Roughting Linn: the light of a summer’s day (even if overcast) is not conducive to good rock art photographs.  So Shirley, Ron’s wife, has most generously allowed me to reproduce her photos of the same site, (both taken in the early spring, but on different years – you can see the snow of the Cheviots in the lower photo).  These are great photos that do full justice to the site, and allow you to capture the sense of awe our ancestors may have felt on top of a glorious Northumberland hill.Chatton Park Hill 05Chatton Park Hill 08We continued Ron watching Stephen aheadWe’re now looking for Ketley Crag which Ron tells us is somewhere on this hillside, but since he was last there the bracken has completely taken over.  We spent quite a while ploughing  through the bracken from sandstone slab to sandstone slab, but no luck.  The Ketley Crag is not for viewing on this trip!View over bracken to the CheviotsLuckily, Shirley is able to help out again, and here are her photos of the Ketley Crag rock art, taken in the very early spring.Kettley Crag rock shelter 03Kettley Crag rock shelter 01It’s quite different from both the other rock art examples I’ve explored in this blog, sitting as it does under a protruding rock, on the side of a hill.  Undoubtedly a beautiful place, but liminal, awe….no, neither of those descriptions seem to match this spot.  But then, I haven’t actually seen it in person – perhaps if I did, I would “get it”.  Definitely a trip for another day – probably in the autumn when the bracken has died back and the light is softer.  For now I’ve got to settle for these fine photos and what the Northumberland Rock Art database has to say on Ketley Crag.Kettley Crag outlook westThese places leave you silent.  The mystery, the wondering, together with the magnificence of the Northumbrian landscape – what did these artists want to tell us?

(Many thanks to Shirley and Ron Shaw for the use of their photographs and a wonderful guided walk.)