Upstream from the pretty hamlet of Bothal lies a small car parking area (here 55.169805, -1.632587) beside an old abandoned building on the banks of the River Wansbeck, the start of a gorgeous riverside walk from here to Whorral Bank on the outskirts of the historic market town of Morpeth. Walk a little bit further over the Whorral Bank road and into the woods and, in late April and May, you'll find yourself in a woodland blanketed with bluebells, the best I've seen yet in Northumberland (thank you to Dawn and Jane of Alnwick Camera Club for recommending the Whorral Bank Bluebell Wood - there's a video at the end of this blog, which features this wood and the woods at Bothal too, which are also filled with bluebells in late Spring, coordinates are provided later too).
The Bothal Sawmill to Whorral Bank riverside walk is just lovely, lined with mature woodland and steep banks and crags on one side, and traced by the dancing waters of the River Wansbeck on the other. There's an excellent information board about the walk at the far end next to where the walk starts (or ends) at Whorral Bank. I'd been walking there for the riverside walk, trees, wildlife and wild flowers, but turns out this area is rich in history too - and there are plenty of signs of that along the route - the information board tells you all about this rich history, and about the flora and fauna too. This is reported to be Morpeth's oldest industrial area, a place of coal mines, quarries and sand extraction pits. There are plague pits here (and in the nearby Whorral Bank Bluebell Woods!), old wells, the handsome Stephenson viaduct (across which the North East mainline train route runs) and the remains of Lady Chapel.
While the area is rich in industrial heritage, this is a quiet stretch of river now. The river is shallow in places and runs energetically over rapids, and then deep and slow moving in other stretches, with broad bends overhung by a tangle of trees and ivy giving it a wild feel, especially in misty conditions. The river is rich in wildlife, with resident herons, dippers, ducks, songbirds and buzzards circling overhead, their distinctive call giving this place an even more pre-historic feel at times. There are deer and no doubt badgers in the woods, and there are squirrels, both red and grey, here too. And there are fish, eels and freshwater mussels in the river - and otters are here too, although I've yet to see them along this stretch myself (I have seen them further downstream, though).
The woods are mixed, with pine, oaks, larch, birch, willow, holly, hazel and beech trees to name but a few. The woodland floor is blanketed with ferns, anemones and wild garlic, and dotted here and there with bluebells and very occasionally primroses. The variety of species makes this a wonderful place to walk and photograph at any time of year, but it is especially lovely in Autumn in foggy or misty conditions. And there are small ravines with miniature waterfalls too - it's just lovely!
Here are a collection of photographs taken along this walk, starting off with the abandoned old building at the start of the walk at Bothal Sawmill and some footage filmed in early Spring.
A short video from walks along this stretch of the River Wansbeck in early spring. Music licensed from Green Man Acoustic via Audio Jungle.
Whilst we're here it would be remiss not to mention the beautiful bluebell woods within just a short walk of this riverside path - here's a video of clips from two of the best in the area. The first clip is from the large area of bluebell wood just off Whorral Bank on the outskirts of Morpeth - you can park in the layby near the recycling bins towards the bottom of Whorral Bank (here 55.171871, -1.682222), and then follow the footpath signpost into the woods and back up the hill to where the woodland floor is covered in a dense blanket of bluebells (here 55.175405, -1.674497). The rest of the clips are from the woods near to the pretty hamlet of Bothal (here 55.176541, -1.629181).
The dawn chorus, from Bothal Woods and the River Wansbeck on 2nd May, International Dawn Chorus Day.