Waking up to a gloriously sunny day…
Fresh air was very much on the cards after a very busy week at work. Tasked with attempting to knock out 2 walks in one day, Rachael got to work with finding two short to mid range routes within close driving distance of each other.
The Drake Stone
4km (2 hours)
Map OS Explorer OL16
Either side of Harbottle,
Famed for its now ruined castle built in 1160 at the request of King Henry II (📑 Thanks Wikipedia!) we decided on the routes that tackled The Drake Stone and The Lady’s Well.
Arriving to an almost full woodland car park, we were initially hesitant that we may encounter too many people in order to socially distance effectively – but those fears were soon alleviated after seeing there was only space for around 15 to 20 cars.
After some pre-route hydration, we set off to orientate ourselves towards the Drake Stone, exiting the car park near its entrance.
This is where we encountered a rather steep climb towards the Drake Stone, one which I tried to march up, leaving the wife in my dust. In her bid to keep up with me her heart rate hit 130 beats per minute. I agreed to let her set the pace before we needed to call for an ambulance 🤣.
Atop the hill, The Drake Stone sits imposingly at 30 feet tall accompanied by a nearby pile of stones that appears to have been built over time by walkers.
We took a selfie before we became far too sweaty for the camera and Rachael carefully added our rock to the pile.
Reading the guide, it is said that ancient druids used to pass sick children around the structure, unlocking the stones healing powers. Rachael started frantically palming at the stone to ‘stop her from dying of exhaustion’ after scaling the hill at such a pace.
It was here we made two mistakes. First, Rachael and her guide sent me down the wrong path despite my protest that it was the wrong way to go.
She only admitted her mistake once I was at the bottom of the wrong route, meaning I had to fight my way back up the hill again…
After fighting my way back through the sharp and scrapey heather (not fun in shorts), we were greeted by Harbottle Lake in the distance.
It was here we made our second mistake, taking the wrong route to the lake through more heather and boggy marshland.
Halfway through the incorrect route, we spotted the more concrete, safer, correct route up ahead, mocking us and our incompetence.
As we got closer to the lake, the ground became more and more unsteady, making us regret our poor route choice more and more – so we made a beeline for the main path.
As we sped up to escape the increasingly boggy ground and merge with the correct path, Rachael was startled by a lizard running past which quickly escaped into the safety of nearby heather.
Moments later, she was startled even further as she nearly stood on a second lizard…
Not 10 seconds after the double lizard incident, the living daylights were scared out of both of us as a Pheasant erupted from the heather right next to us causing us both to scream expletives that echoed across the landscape.
With both our heart rates now over 130bpm, we jumped to the main path and took a moment to settle ourselves. All the while, the mama Pheasant holding our gaze with a look of utter disgust.
After a minute or so, the stupid humans a.k.a Rachael and I were ready to move on – with a final apology to the distraught pheasant and her chick we were ready to continue the route.
Just before we pressed on, we noticed a couple of dog walkers headed in our direction with looks of mild concern on their faces. We can only assume this was due to the recent three shrieks of terror caused by lizards and pheasants 😅.
Mildly embarassed, we picked up the pace as to not allow them to catch up to us and find out why we were screaming in a rural field.
Just before the halfway point, a yellow marked style confirmed we were back on the right track. Shortly after we were greeted by warning signs highlighting the route comes dangerously close to military land where exercises with live rounds take place.
The small fence pictured and a single warning sign is all that prevents you from accidentally wandering into potentially grenade ridden land – a little disconcerting.
The dog walkers now looked even more concerned with us and were gaining ground, so we picked up the pace once more and headed into the forest where the stone posts mentioned in the guide book gave us confidence we hadn’t veered off track.
This dense woodland section presented some quite steep declines – one of which I nearly rolled my ankle on.
Upon exiting, the dense shaded woodland simply ended – it was weird to be in large open spaces one moment, dense forest the next and then straight back out into open spaces.
The stark borders between forest and fields made me think back to open world terrain in video games from the 1990’s. Graphics were limited back then so straight, harsh dividing lines in terrain were necessary.
As we turned right to start making our way down the dirt road back in the direction of the car, we traversed huge cattle grids with metal grating much thicker than usual.
It was then we realized we were walking down the access road used for military vehicles to access the base. The thought of a tank casually headed past crossed my mind, but thankfully we encountered no vehicles along the route.
Looking like The Shire
For a moment, we allowed ourselves to pretend we were in The Shire from The Lord of the Rings. The almost artificial look of the terrain with arcing hills and sweeping valleys could easily serve as a set from the movie.
As we cleared the hill and exited out back onto the main road, we were greeted to a second warning sign of death and confirmation that we were indeed walking on along the access road to a military base.
After 5 minutes down the main road avoiding the swarm of flies we arrived back to the car park ready to each our packed lunch before heading out to Harbottle Castle and The Ladys Well in Holystone.
We needed a short walk for Rachael. It just so happens that Warkworth Castle is one of the shortest routes in our guidebook!
One of the shortest walks in the guide book was just over 2km at Plessey Woods – perfect for the heavily pregnant wife.
With what may just have been the final sunshine of 2020, a hike to the famed Sycamore Gap was in order.
Making the most of the emerging sunshine, we ventured an hour’s drive to Helmsley in North Yorkshire to visit its historic castle and medieval fortress.
On a bright but chilly day, we visited Tynemouth Priory and Castle, a historic site on England’s North East coast.
On a rare sunny but cold Autumn Sunday, we head to one on our hit list – Belsay Hall, Castle and Gardens in Northumberland.
After deciding to use Tesco clubcard vouchers to 3x value on an English Heritage membership – we headed out to Rievaulx Abbey.