Cancellation of Newton Stewart Walking Festival 2021

The decision has been taken to cancel this May’s Newton Stewart Walking Festival due to the continuing Covid crisis. The event had been scheduled to take place between 7th and 13th May 2021.
Chair of the group of volunteers who organise the event, Joan Mitchell, said:
“The committee has regretfully had to take the decision to cancel Newton Stewart Walking Festival for another year. The safety of our walkers and leaders, and protection of the wider community has to take priority. The festival would, of course, need to adhere to all Covid related guidelines and regulations which were in place at the time and this led us to the conclusion that the only prudent option was to cancel the festival for 2021.”
“We have been in touch with our supporters reassuring them that the walking festival will return in 2022, Covid permitting, as we are in a sound financial position and our enthusiasm is undimmed. It’s been gratifying to have had responses from friends from around the country expressing their support and regrets. In the meantime, local residents can continue to enjoy the many local walking routes which exist around Newton Stewart and elsewhere, in line with current regulations.”

The photo by R. Peace  shows  walkers enjoying  the spectacular views from Cairnsmore of Fleet during the  Newton Stewart Walking Festival 2019More information from Joan Mitchell, Chair, Newton Stewart Walking Festival Committee,  joan@bagbie.co.uk

Talgarth Walking Festival- cancelled

Talgarth WaW say “We regret that we have decided to cancel the 2021 Walking Festival because of the on-going Covid-19 pandemic, and the uncertainties about restrictions. We have decided to aim to organise the Festival on the first May Bank Holiday 2022, assuming that restrictions will have been lifted.
We are sorry to disappoint you, but hope that we may see you in 2022. In the meantime, stay safe.”

That Was A Year That Was

Heritage Trails and Remembrance Day Walk –

It was with frustration and sadness that the seventh annual Corsham Walking Festival scheduled for last June had to be cancelled and postponed, especially as the walks programme, the website and brochures were finalised before the first national lockdown. The Walking Festival was to be a highlight of several weeks of public events centred on Corsham which all were all sadly cancelled.

However, as more Corsham residents were required to look to the local paths and byways for their daily exercise, the completion of a local Heritage Trails project last April provided a welcome alternative to ‘lockdown’.

The Heritage trails proved extremely popular as gyms and sporting clubs were forced to close and walking became one of the few means of exercise readily and locally available for families to get involved with.

The Project was developed to encourage the local community and visitors to appreciate the historical environment and experience the natural beauty of the North West Wiltshire countryside.

The first part of the project involved improving the Public Rights of Way (PRoW) and path furniture: stiles, gates, waymarker posts and signs. In total 55.48 miles of PRoWs are included in the trails, resulting in a significant number of repairs and installations to make the trails accessible to all. Work included the installation of additional waymarker posts and the replacement of some of the stiles with kissing gates (See pictures).

The second part of the project saw the design of eight trail leaflets so that walkers can learn about local heritage and places of interest as they explore the trails ranging between four and ten miles. The improved paths, signage and the leaflets have inspired many more people to explore the area beyond the town, including nearby villages of Biddestone, Box and Colerne and live their cars in Corsham and use paths instead of roads.

The eight Heritage Trails can be viewed and downloaded from the Corsham Walking Festival website at: http://corshamwalkingfestival.org.uk/more/heritage-trails/

Remembrance Day November 2020 Commemorated by walkers –

Last November, the pandemic restrictions changed the way the town was able to mark Remembrance Day. The British Legion cancelled all parades at local war memorials and instead, a group of local ex-Service walkers walked 17 miles between the Town and Village War Memorials and Commonwealth War Graves sites around Corsham, laying British Legion Remembrance Crosses to commemorate the fallen.

Another eleven walkers from the St Bart’s Walking Group laid crosses on a ten-mile walk at two Commonwealth War Grave locations on the graves of the fallen of the two World Wars.

In all, crosses were laid at 5 War Memorials, 55 Commonwealth War Graves and 30 Service graves: a poignant and fitting way to combine walking with respect for those who fell in combat. It is now planned that this will become an annual event.

Report from Barry Cox and Jane Dezonie, Corsham Walking Festival Committee

Offa’s Dyke Path National Trail 1971-2021

The Offa’s Dyke Path National Trail, truly a cross border National Treasure, celebrates its 50th Anniversary this year. On its journey from sea to sea, the Trail passes through three Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) and a National Park:  

The Wye Valley AONB, with stunning views of the River Wye and the iconic view of Tintern Abbey from Devils Pulpit. 

The Shropshire Hills AONB, where you are in the true heartland of the Trail following the ‘Switchbacks’ and never far from Offa’s Dyke itself and one of the hardest day sections of the route. 

The Clwydian Range and Dee Valley AONB, this section takes you from Chirk Castle to the sea over numerous heather-clad hills and stunning views of the Vale of Clywd.

The Brecon Beacons National Park, and the 10-mile traverse of Hatterrall Ridge, encountering the highest point on the Trail and at a consistent height of around 1700ft, with yet more breath-taking views into England and Wales.

And for good measure, a brief detour off the Trail, on an alternative route, will let you experience the miracle of engineering by Thomas Telford, that is Pontcysyllte Aqueduct AKA the ‘waterway in the sky’.

The Trail is a spectacular path that winds itself through the ‘Breath-taking Borderlands’ of England and Wales for 177 miles between Chepstow on the River Severn to Prestatyn on the North Wales coast. The two ends both being Walkers are Welcome towns, and in between, on or near the Trail, we have Montgomery, Bishops Castle, Clun, Knighton, and Kington which are also Walkers are Welcome towns.

As well as Offa’s Dyke itself, after which the Trail gets its name, the route passes through or by countless other historical sites, such as Chepstow Castle, Tintern Abbey, Monnow Bridge, White Castle, Beacon Ring, Dinas Bran and numerous hillforts in the Clwydian Range the largest being Penycloddiau.

The path was officially opened in Knighton by Lord Hunt (of Everest fame) on July 10th, 1971. Back in the late 1960s and early 1970s, the work of creating and completing the route involved a pioneering partnership effort by government agencies, local authorities  and the volunteers of the then newly formed Offa’s Dyke Association

Over the last 50 years, the Offa’s Dyke Path has become one of Britain’s best-loved walking routes, and an important mainstay of the local tourism economy. During that time, hundreds of thousands of visitors have discovered a unique walking experience which combines spectacular landscapes and wildlife, the extraordinary history of the Welsh Marches (most obviously represented by the ancient bank and ditch of Offa’s Dyke itself built by Offa, King of Mercia 757-796), and the warm welcome to be found in the market towns, villages and rural communities along the route.

Today, the care of the path is jointly funded and strategically managed by Natural Resources Wales (NRW) and Natural England (NE) and their local authority and national park partners. Practical management and repair are undertaken by the relevant local authorities (Denbighshire (Flintshire), Wrexham, Powys, Shropshire, Herefordshire, Brecon Beacons National Park, Monmouthshire and Gloucestershire Councils).

The whole route is undertaken in about 12 days, as set out in the official guide-book, but it can also be enjoyed in short sections or day walks, or incorporated into many circular walks.

You can experience many sections of it by joining in one of the numerous Walking Festivals along the route, many hosted by the Walkers are Welcome Towns. See our What’s on.

To find out what’s happening during our 50th Anniversary Year visit the website https://www.nationaltrail.co.uk/offas-dyke-path/

Photo shows The Kymin

Brecon Beacons Geopark

What attracts walkers to the Brecon Beacons? Is it the same thing that attracts much of the weather – the mountains? The National Park is very much the three-dimensional landscape; wide open breathable spaces sure, but beyond that, it’s got depth too. Lofty peaks above and deep caves below. What’s not to like?

When we set foot, map in hand, to follow the trails from the Walkers are Welcome towns of Crickhowell, Talgarth, or Llandovery we’re undertaking our own explorations of this protected space. No matter that many have trodden these trails before – we each come with our own knowledge and interests; we stride out on different days in different conditions in different seasons, in varying lights. That means we can encounter things that nobody has seen previously – a view revealed through the mist, a fiery sunrise, a flashing wing of plovers, a fresh tumble of stone.

But even beyond this, there is something more we can do to enhance our appreciation of what we enjoy on the day. It’s reaching out for the stories behind the landscape and its day-to-day dramas.

What the Fforest Fawr Geopark has done these last few years is emphasise the importance of the fourth dimension in this landscape. That of time, something which hangs thickly around these hills. But how do we reach out to claim it as part of our experience?

We might start by remembering that behind every hump and every hollow, there’s a story to be told. It may be one for the geologist to tell – of moraines and sinkholes (we have both aplenty here), or it may be for the archaeologist to relate – of Norman mottes or of borrow pits or perhaps for the ecologist to explain – anthill-bedecked grassland, undisturbed for centuries or maybe those unassuming bee holes.

Not so far from Llandovery in one of the lesser-visited parts of the Geopark is a tract of moorland over which history has been drawn and re-drawn. Around 1800 years ago Roman soldiers made an overnight stop at Y Pigwn. The legacy of several hours’ work on their part remains with us nearly two millennia later as the giant playing card imprint of their ‘marching camp’. Much later, just two centuries ago, in fact, quarry workers followed the geology and extracted myriad ‘tilestones’ from this same ground to roof local farmhouses. Their linear legacy cuts across the Roman one.

You need not venture far from Talgarth to journey some 400 million years in time. Within the Old Red Sandstone of the Black Mountains are fossilised lime-rich soils from that distant time; they are now hard bands of rock over which falls like Pwll-y-wrach now plunge.

And if you should find yourself in Crickhowell, look south to the great limestone cliffs of Craig-y-cilau – if this place had not been beneath an equatorial sea 330 million years ago, they would not be there. And if they had not been there, then south Wales may not have been one of the cradles of the Industrial Revolution.

So time is key amongst these hills. Brush up beforehand or tag along with an expert; every mile walked through this landscape can brim with meaning if you have an eye to look and a curious mind to ponder on what it holds and where it has come from.

    Alan Bowering, Fforest Fawr Geopark Development Officer

Introducing Whitchurch, Hampshire

the ‘Town on the Test’ and gateway to the walking trails of the glorious North Wessex Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

Over a hundred years ago the Star newspaper reported: “Whitchurch is in Hampshire. People who live in it call it a town. People who live out of it call it a village. It is about as big as a good-sized pocket handkerchief”. Well, small it may be, but in 1890 Whitchurch wrote its name into the history books when eighty citizens won a famous ‘Victory for Liberty’ at the High Court of Justice, a victory that set down laws granting the legal right of all citizens to demonstrate peaceably.
Whitchurch is still Hampshire’s smallest town and we venture to say there are few towns that can boast a river as picture-perfect as the world-famous River Test chalk stream that flows through the centre of Whitchurch. Paper for the first Bank of England notes was produced here, paper washed in the crystal-clear waters of the Test, and Whitchurch also boasts Britain’s only working Silk Mill, still operating in its original building. The Mill continues to weave commercially on Victorian looms and is now a popular visitor attraction; it is just one of the five mill buildings representing their industrial past that you will see on the waymarked ‘Mill Trail’, see the video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RHLqv2ZtrcU
This part of North Hampshire is a tale of two halves. The Whitchurch Mill Trail and the attractive thatched villages to the SW nestle in a landscape of species-rich water meadows and chalk streams offering a gentle walking experience for all age groups and many of the villages have excellent traditional pubs, so lunch is well catered for. From the square, the land rises steeply meeting the North Wessex Downs on the northern edge of town. This Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, where the Downs are the Ups, is a landscape of ancient flinty tracks along open chalk ridges and steep valleys cut through by chalk streams and winterbournes. This is Hampshire walking country without the crowds…

Take a step back in time and follow the Wayfarers Trail along the ‘rooftop’ of Hampshire where burial mounds, hill forts and ancient field systems provide evidence of early human occupation. Be sure to listen out for the call of the skylarks as you pass over Watership Down, made famous in Richard Adam’s book of the same name; Richard Adams was a resident of Whitchurch until his death in 2016 and look out for Highclere Castle or Downton Abbey as it has become known. The Wayfarers ends on ‘Gallows Hill’ (complete with gibbet) and here you can pick up the Test Way, where it is downhill all the way to Southampton Water. A short ten-minute bus ride from Whitchurch links with the Test Way at Harewood Forest, home to a large native deer population.

It is possible to explore the area using public transport. Andover bus station has connecting rural services to a number of the villages and trails. King Alfred’s Winchester – 30 minutes by bus; Salisbury – 40 minutes by train (onward buses to Stonehenge) and Whitchurch is just an hour by train from London.
Walk new paths in 2021; discover somewhere new https://whitchurch.org.uk/

River Test, Whitchurch Mill Trail courtesy of Chris Watts

North Pennines AONB

The oft-repeated phrase “It’s grim up north”, could not be further from the truth. Yes, the stunning landscapes and heather-glad moorland can be desolate walking in winter driving rain, but they are exhilarating, dramatic, tranquil, and peaceful with exceptional wildlife habitats, offering some of the most unspoilt countryside in England. This is home to the North Pennines AONB designated in 1988 and the second largest AONB. Reflecting the geological significance, it is also a UNESCO Global Geopark with a legacy of mining and quarrying for minerals and stone which allows for picturesque timeless cottages.

This is the northernmost section of the Pennine range and the AONB lies between Carlisle to the west and Darlington to the east. Bounded to the north by the Tyne Valley and to the south by Stainmore Gap. There are four accredited Walkers are Welcome towns in this area. Alston Moor and Middleton-in-Teesdale which lie towards the centre of the park with Brampton on the north-west edge and Kirkby Stephen teetering on the southern edge.
WaW Northern England towns https://walkersarewelcome.org.uk/waw-towns-n-england/

The lack of light pollution and wide-open vistas makes for amazing night skies. Here you will find some of the best places for stargazing with 16 Dark Sky Discovery sites within easy reach of WaW towns. This is the perfect family evening activity for autumn and winter months with the added predictable meteor showers, northern lights and moon phases. Anywhere within the AONB is suitable away from streetlights. For added information see
https://www.northpennines.org.uk/what_we_do/dark-skies/ and the individual towns.

The higher you go around Kirkby Stephen, Cumbria and the Upper Eden Valley away from the centre on a clear night you will see have a great dark skies experience. They have just produced a new booklet Upper Eden Dark Skies available in the Upper Eden Visitor Centre and other outlets. This includes local recommended sites just out of town, identifying constellations and what else to look for and how, even the local bat population has a mention. Easy family evening walks are included. Near this small town is Tan Hill known for the remote highest pub in Britain and the exceptional displays of the Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights).

Middleton-in-Teesdale, Durham, offers magical experiences for walkers coupled with the beauty of the universe. There is a new major observatory at Grassholme Reservoir https://www.grassholmeobservatory.com/ just outside the town. Businesses offer Dark Skies Friendly venues including special Stargazing packages with walks featured on Middleton’s website. Along the road towards Alston and High Force waterfall (pictured above), you will find the AONBs Bowlees Visitor Centre where they hold exhibitions and participation events for all the family.

Alston Moor, Cumbria is a quieter part of the county, off the beaten track, so different to the nearby Lake District with stunning scenery and lots of Open Access Land of England’s last wilderness. There are usually seasonal special events to book. Just imagine watching shooting stars over Epiacum Roman Fort (Whitley Castle), considered to be the best-preserved fort ramparts in the entire Roman Empire.
Brampton, Cumbria consider their most stunning countryside is up above Castle Carrock and Talkin villages, at the start of the Geltsdale Trail, Jockey Shield and Low Hynam. There are hopes that Talkin Tarn Country Park will be given designated dark skies status being such a special place for viewing. A little further is RSPB Geltsdale a Dark Sky Discovery Site, well known for their birdlife and walks as well as stars, “it has a really wild feel to it” say Brampton. You might think of an evening stroll along with the wonder of Hadrian’s Wall.
Not to be outdone, there is lots of Dark Skies activity in and around other WaW towns including in the Mynyddoedd Cambrian Mountains of Wales with members Devils Bridge, Lam-peter Llanbedr Pont Steffan, Llandysul & Pont Tyweli and Bro Tregaron See https://www.thecambrianmountains.co.uk/discover-dark-skies

Photo: Orion Constellation by Gary Lintern Photography

Fugitives by Simon Armitage

This poem was commissioned by the National Association of Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty and published as part of a national celebration of Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty in 2019. There are 46 Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty in the UK, we are celebrating a few in this newsletter.
“I was delighted to be asked to work with the NAAONB on this auspicious occasion. They are an institution that safeguards and celebrates all that is good about the world we live in, and an organization whose values I share and trust. The relationship between poetry and the land in this country goes back to the very origins of poetic utterance and I’m proud to be making a contribution to that ongoing dialogue. There is no greater challenge for a contemporary laureate and geography graduate than to contribute artistically to a conversation about the natural world and the state of our planet, and to praise those things that are wonderful and of wonder.”

Then we woke and were hurtling headlong
for wealds and wolds,
blood coursing, the Dee and the Nidd in full spate
through the spinning waterwheels in the wrists
and over the heart’s weir,
the nightingale hip-hopping ten to the dozen under the morning’s fringe.

It was no easy leap, to exit the engine house of the head
and vault the electric fence
of commonplace things,
to open the door of the century’s driverless hearse,
roll from the long cortège
then dust down and follow
the twisting ribbon of polecats wriggling free from extinction
or slipstream the red kite’s triumphant flypast out of oblivion
or trail the catnip of spraint and scat tingeing the morning breeze

On we journeyed at full tilt,
through traffic-light orchards.
The brain’s compass dialling for fell moor, escarpment and shore, the skull’s sextant plotting for free states coloured green on the map,
using hedgerows as handrails,
barrows and crags as trig points and cats’ eyes.

We stuck to the switchbacks and scenic routes,
Steered by the earth’s contours and natural lines of desire, feet firm on solid
footings of bedrock and soil
fracked only by moles.
We skimmed across mudflat and saltmarsh,
Clambered to stony pulpits on high hills
Inhaling gallons of pure sky
Into the moors of our lungs,
bartered bitcoins of glittering single and shale.

Then arrived in safe havens, entered the zones,
Stood in the grandstands of bluffs and ghylls, spectators
To flying pointes grazing wild grass to carpeted lawns,
Oaks flaunting turtle dove on their ring-fingers,
Ospreys fishing the lakes from invisible pulleys and hoists,
The falcon back on its see-through pivot, lured from it gyre.

Here was nature as future,
The satellite dishes of blue convolvulus
tuned to the cosmos, tracking the chatter of stars,
the micro-gadgets of complex insects
working the fields, heaths tractored by beetles,
rainbowed hay meadows tipsy with list and light,
golden gravel hoarded in eskers and streams.

And we vowed not to slumber again but claimed sanctuary
under the kittiwake’s siren
and corncrake’s alarm,
in realms patrolled by sleepwalking becks and creeks
where beauty employs its own border police.

And witnessed ancient trees
affirming their citizenship of the land,
and hunkered and swore oaths, made laws in hidden parliaments of bays and coves, then gathered on commons and capes
waving passports of open palms medalled by dog rose and teasel
and raising the lag of air.

By Simon Armitage, Poet Laureate

Photo: River Nidd just west of Pateley Bridge, Nidderdale AONB
https://walkersarewelcome.org.uk/waw-towns-o-z/waw/56/

Countryside Code

Whilst it was amazing to see so many new walkers taking to the countryside during the lockdown periods for their exercise, many of our towns and villages have remarked on the behaviour of some unaccustomed walkers that are not familiar with the expected traditions. It was therefore particularly useful to be able to publicise the Covid short version Countryside Code. In November 2020, the Countryside Code department at Natural England announced that they are now having a refresh consultation. ‘There are essentially three levels of information: short and long versions for the public plus additional information for land managers and owners for areas of open country (currently incorporated into the long leaflet). The recently refreshed short version was produced this summer to respond to Covid and is easily reproducible at A4, A5, and A6 and can be laminated for use on-site. The full version, whilst not incorrect, has for some time needed reviewing at least in terms of presentation and potential use of social media.’ Looking at the existing material, Natural England invited feedback and we asked our members for their thoughts which we incorporated into one document ( here ) now forwarded to Natural England as part of the initial consultation. Whilst we have not been able to incorporate every individual comment, we are grateful to all members for the wonderful response and the thoughtful comments provided. For further  information please contact the Membership Secretary at membership@walkersarewelcome.org.uk  

There is now a survey that you could complete at https://defragroup.eu.qualtrics.com/jfe/form/SV_9sosQ0YlnPyfv3T

 

Jubilee Park – Kirkby Stephen

To celebrate National Tree Week, Kirkby Stephen took their walk group to the town’s Jubilee Park. The park today is a mature woodland but in the 19th century, it was the future vision of some Kirkby Stephen residents.
When developing the railway yard in 1856, land was enclosed and because this was once common land, it was decided to set aside areas for residents’ recreation. The allotments were provided but the park had no initial purpose. It was decided eventually to develop the area to mark the occasion of Queen Victoria’s Jubilee in 1887. A bandstand and boating lake were added with a rockery and steps up to the higher level.
We have Andrew MacKereth, the well-respected Warden of the Workhouse, to thank for laying out the planting and his “labour of love”, so many years ago as he planted the trees. See the illustration above with the original entrance and planting.
Today, there is a tranquil mature wood of beech and other varieties of trees as chosen by Mr. MacKereth and other self-seeded trees and saplings with a meadow of wildflowers including orchids. The clay bottom pond no longer holds much water but has become a haven for wildlife and for damp loving wildflowers. A recent survey has recorded some rare plants.
The award-winning summerhouse designed by Elaine Rigby and built by G. Middleton Ltd. has replaced the ruinous octagonal bandstand. This unusual design, built of stone and oak, is a beautiful restful place to sit admiring the spectacular views over Wild Boar Fell and Mallerstang Edge.
There is a clearing in front of the summerhouse, towards the pond, that has been left to view dark skies which has become a popular activity in the winter months when the nights are longer. Kirkby Stephen Walkers are Welcome have just produced a dark skies leaflet to guide you.
The wood always feels secluded but in autumn after the trees have given their colourful display, there is a clear view of Kirkby Stephen below over the railway bridge. Look out for conkers and beech nuts on the woodland floor.
Just as the trustees envisaged this park over 100 years ago, 500 native trees were planted at Edensyde, the other end of the town in 2010 for future residents to enjoy. These trees are thriving with a few losses to Ash Dieback. How many will be inspired to create new woodlands this year?

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