With a couple of week's leave booked off from my day job work over the Christmas holidays, and a letter permitting travel to work on a new Northumberland landscape photography commission, I headed back over to pick up The Pennine Way where I'd reached up to at Greenhead (here's my Part 1 post The northumberland stretch of The Pennine Way (plus a bit) - part 1, Alston to Greenhead)
Day 5 (Sunday 27th December 2020) - the forecast had been for sunshine but was very changeable so I packed full waterproofs, plenty of layers and head torches (I take two with one as a back up) just in case, which was just as well as I arrived to pouring rain, a running theme that I've grown used to on any Pennine Way journey - I'd love to hike it in sunshine one day but rain feels right and more fitting for this route, and with full wet weather gear on it wasn't so bad as thankfully it wasn't very windy or particularly cold.
By the time I'd trudged out of Greenhead and up the hill, though, the temperature had dropped and the rain had turned to sleet, but it had lessened and was no longer chucking it down, then the sleet hardened and turned to tiny hail stones that ping-ponged me gently making my cheeks tingle - this was fun, it felt like a good winter's day! And I'd reached a milestone on the walk, the point where The Pennine Way entered Northumberland National Park (a map of the Park's boundary can be found here on the National Park website) and joined Hadrian's Wall national trail at Walltown Crags.
I'd not been to Walltown Crags for many, many years. I first came here shortly after moving to the North East (where my Dad and his family are from) in 2007, when I lived in North Shields and decided to hike the Hadrian's Wall national trail * from my house, which was only a short-ish walk from the actual trail itself. One thing I remembered about the Walltown Crags section of Hadrian's Wall was that it was a particularly dramatic stretch of the wall, but also that there were loads of really characterful gnarly old trees there, big, moss-covered ones (I think predominantly oaks) and small, windswept ones (I think mostly hawthorn). I also remember legging it for the last stretch so I didn't miss the last bus as I was doing the trail by public transport as I didn't have a car back then - and I definitely remember it was chucking it down then too!
* "The Hadrian’s Wall Path is an 84 mile (135 km) long National Trail stretching coast to coast across northern England, from Wallsend, Newcastle upon Tyne in the east to Bowness-on-Solway in Cumbria on the west coast" - it's a superb route - more information can be found on the trail website here Hadrian's Wall national trail
It was great to be back to have a look around and take some photos before heading on in the hope of reaching Cawfields Quarry and then turning round to walk back on myself to get back to my car before it got dark. I didn't quite make it that far as I got distracted by some great light after the sleet, hail and rain stopped, so I'll go back and do that bit again another day - there's no rush.
Here are a couple of photos from that first day back up to The Pennine Way, from around and just beyond Walltown Crags.
On getting home I realised I'd not actually taken any photos of the wall, so a couple of days later I decided to pop back up for sunset and full-moonrise to get some wall images.
Day 6 (Monday 30th December 2020) - it was bright sunshine and blue skies as I drove along the A69 heading west, but as I approached the turn off for Greenhead I noticed some very interesting looking low cloud rolling in - fog! And that's when the adrenalin started kicking in - and there was ground frost too - oh lordy, lordy, I started praying for hoar frost and hill fog - saying "please oh please" out loud as I turned off for Greenhead and then drove up the hill to Walltown Crags car park.
Oh my word the fog was as thick as I've ever seen it and everything was coated in a fine layer of glistening frost and I went into panic mode as I only had about 45 minutes left until sunset! So I paid for my parking, put my boots on and carefully picked my way along the icy path, swearing all the way and trying (failing!) to calm down and think! The fog was so thick that I'd not get a photo of the wall - I could see where it was but if I looked along it it quickly disappeared into a bluey-white freezing fog haze - and there was no way that I'd see moonrise - ah well, I thought, there'll be other moonrises and the wall isn't going anywhere, so I decided to get some photos of some of the gorgeous hoar frost covered trees looking ethereal in the heavy fog.
Luckily I'd already spotted a pair of particularly beautiful trees on a small rise when I'd visited a few days before (one of the pictures above) so I made a beeline for those two trees and then spent some time photographing them and taking the conditions in - it was glorious!
By the time I'd done there I'd calmed down so took a few more photos as the sun set. I had my head torches again but wanted to get back onto the A69 before it got dark, so I reluctantly left even though I could see the fog was starting to drop a little, which might've meant parts of the wall might rise up above the fog - if it did it would have looked awesome, but I am a bit cautious and prefer to be on the safe side. And anyway, I'd been spoilt by the conditions already and was happy as a pig in muck - time to head home and make sure I hadn't messed up the focus or anything on my photos, and for a beer as it was new year's eve eve! Happily my pictures came out OK - I think that will go down as one of my favourite times out with a camera, it's not often I see hoar frost and hill fog like that, a wonderful night! I need to go back again to get some wall shots :-D.
Here are my pictures from that second visit to the Walltown Crags stretch of Hadrian's Wall and The Pennine Way.
Day 7 (Saturday 2nd January 2021) - Happy New Year! I'm thinking this Part 2 blog post should be re-titled to 'The Northumberland Stretch of The Pennine Way - Part 2, just Walltown Crags - it's that good!' - amazing location, my pictures are just scratching the surface!
Anyhoo, back to Walltown Crags I went, this time driving through snowy conditions around Hexham and then turning off the A69 for Greenhead to find bright blue skies, sunshine, a fine dusting of snow and barely a breeze - perfect conditions for a winter leg stretch and I'd definitely be able to see and get some descriptive photos of Hadrian's Wall - the light was very bright, so it was a bit contrasty with harsh light and deep shadows, but I just needed to get pictures that gave a sense of the place so that was fine - and it was just lovely to be out!
Without further ado here are a collection of my pictures from my third visit to this fabulous place over the holidays - a couple of things to note first though:
* The first image below of Turret 44B is a stunning viewpoint looking west towards the Solway Firth (where the Hadrian's Wall national trail ends) - from a photography perspective, this would make a superb sunset location. From a hiking perspective - Patrick from Footsteps Northumberland advises Turret 44B is known as 'Mucklebank Turret' - which is very fitting as the climb up to it is a big one, definitely a knee cruncher - thanks for the heads up Patrick - I love that name for it, much better than Turret 44B!
* I had a look around the two beautiful trees I'd photographed on my two previous visits, to try to find something to ID them - the fallen leaves and nut kernels beneath the trees quickly identified them as beech trees - and very beautiful big old beech trees they are too!
* The large pond beneath the quarry had frozen over and was covered with a fine dusting of snow - there were ducks and duck-footprints across the snow - this scene reminded me of a photo shared by the lovely and talented Steve Palmer Photography so, inspired by Steve, I took a snap - loved their webbed-footprints in the snow! Have had a chat with another photographer friend about what to feed and ideally not feed ducks so asked the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (I'm an RSPB member) who advised "We recommend things like peas, sweetcorn, oats and bird seed, all of which provide more healthy nutrition for birds!" - so I shall be sure to take some of these things along with me next time I visit.
Anyhoo, here are the pictures, and, as it's the last day of the holidays. I think I need to pop out to get some cake :-).