The Sill – the UK’s National Landscape Discovery Centre

On Friday, we were lucky enough to be invited, after taking part in a photo shoot for the new and improved Northumberland National Park website,  along for a behind the scenes tour of The Sill, near Hadrian’s Wall.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The architecture of the building has been carefully thought out, making it look like it gradually comes out of the ground, with the grass carpet running from top to bottom. We were treated to a tour of the building itself, and the carpeted roof, with both the architect and an ecologist from the Park.

The interactive exhibition inside is brilliant for all ages, and tells the story of the county of Northumberland.

This gives young and old the chance to learn everything they need to know about the Park and the surrounding area, from rock types to the best places to go for a walk.

There is also a new YHA on site, which can only be described as colourful, cosy and definitely family friendly. We were bowled over by the dining area and kitchen, as well as the wonderfully spacious rooms. We’ll certainly be staying here as soon as possible!

But don’t take our word for it, check it out for yourself!

Northumberland National Park Photoshoot

A couple of months ago, we were asked by Andrew at Northumberland National Park, if we would like to come along for a photo shoot in the Park, as part of the overhaul of their website. Of course, we jumped at the chance, and were highly flattered to be asked!

We met up at the Lordenshaws carpark, and spotted the rest of the group half way up Simonside. Johan had been asked to do some shots while running, and so trotted up to see what was going on. It was interesting for me to watch the photographer work, and be on the other side of the lens. Johan was in his element, flying up and down the track with the other 2 runners, taking direction and having a pose.

NNPA_CF1_0285NNPA_CF1_0340

Then it was my turn! We walked up to the first cup and ring stone on Lordenshaws, and were told to “Look excited about the rock!” and act natural.

NNPA_CF4_0035

I’m terrible when it comes to having my photo taken, all I can do is grin like a cheshire cat, and it shows in these photos! Even when we were asked to ‘act natural and just talk to each other’, I struggled to keep composed. But I guess it makes for enthusiastic photos!

After a stop off and break in Rothbury, we made our way to the next stop; a picnic on the banks of Harthope Burn. Here, we were joined by a couple of families, giving the afternoon a more family orientated feel. Even though it rained, it was such a beautiful spot, and it was only a matter of time before Johan took himself for a paddle in the burn. Here, he was swiftly joined by a couple of the children who had come along for the picnic, and spent a few hours splashing around and climbing rocks. The girls loved it and reveled in announcing that ‘that man’ was going to show them the best way up the river.

I sat on the bank, out of the way, and took some photos of my own. It was lovely to see Johan having such a good time in the water.

NNPA_CF6_1174

We thoroughly enjoyed the day, and still feel privilaged to have been asked to play such an integral part in the new website. It’s very strange, but so rewarding, to see ourselves.Picture1

The new National Park website is brilliant, and definitely worth checking out: https://www.northumberlandnationalpark.org.uk/

Northumberland Coast Part 2: Alnmouth

After our impromptu trip to Seahouses on Saturday, we were inspired to head up along the coast again on Sunday. As we were driving home, we passed by Alnmouth, somewhere that I think I might have been to as a child, but haven’t explored properly. Also, Johan has never been up there, so it was settled.

The weather was beautiful again on Sunday, so we had a lovely lazy breakfast of croissants and coffee, and pulled ourselves together. The drive up was pretty uneventful; we came off the A1 at a random junction and headed East in the direction of Alnmouth, thinking “well, we can see the sea, so we’ll just head for that” and ended up pootling along a super windy country road. Coming into Alnmouth, we wound through the town and made our way to the large car park, overlooking the beach, parked up and made a beeline for the icecream truck (of course).

Icecreams in hand, we toddled off for a walk along the beach – it’s beautiful up there! I made friends with a dog, who I think was more interested in my icecream, as we made our way up the beach and along to the harbour where a  collection of fishing boats waiting obligingly to have their photos taken.

By this point we were getting hungry, and so turned our plod into a mission to find fish and chips (now you want fish and chips, don’t you). Unfortunately, we forgot that it was Sunday and nowhere was open/serving (the horror). Even after abandoning our efforts in Alnmouth and heading further along the coast. We were desperate for a bag of chips, but there was nowhere open! I mean, haway Northern coast chippies, sort it out!

We won in the end though; mama Imber made us a dinner and greeted us with a cider upon arrival…marvellous!

Northumberland Coast Part 1: Seahouses

We are so lucky to live so close to the beautiful Northumberland coast, and so last weekend we took ourselves on a couple of mini adventures, to explore the dunes and beaches north of my home town of Cramlington.

Johan had been away the previous week, and arrived back in Newcastle on Saturday morning. We had a wonderfully lazy late morning/afternoon catching up with each other after a week apart, but eventually we realised that we’d have to feed ourselves at some point! Neither of us could be fussed with cooking (that and there was nothing in the house) so I tentatively suggested a chippy tea. This then led to “Shall we have a look up the coast?” and “You haven’t been to Seahouses before, have you?”. And so we (I) packed the customary accompaniment of cameras, grabbed a couple of layers and headed for the A1. We decided to go the quicker, less scenic route on the way there as we were both getting hungry!

We arrived in Seahouses, found a parking spot (didn’t have to pay as we’d gone past the charge time – score!) and made a beeline for Neptune’s chippy, just across the road. We had only intended on getting some fish bites, but ended up with a full fish for me, and a battered smokey for Johan. Each with chips. The reputation garnered by this particular chippy is certainly founded in truth, as we sat and demolished our food in silence, punctured by “How’s yours?” … “Amazing, yours?”…”…muffled sounds of satisfied delight”. There’s nothing quite like chowing down on fresh fish and chips, sat outside with the dulcet tones of seagulls circling overhead.

Once we’d finished, we took ourselves for a lovely little wander along the dunes towards Bamburgh Castle, and down on to the beach.

 

Thrunton Thriller – High Fell Events

The day after the Daffodil Run, I had another half marathon ish race – The Thrunton Thriller. For those of you in the know, good, you can probably stop reading in all honesty; for those of you not, I can sum up to whole experience in seven words:

Bloody hard work; well worth the effort.

However, I shall try to elucidate a little more about the experience.

As with most trail/fell runs (this definitely falls more toward the fell side of affairs in my opinion), it was an early start at about 9am, meaning we had to be out of the house and moving to get to deepest, darkest Northumberland at an unholy 7.30am (to allow for registration). I know that’s not really that bad, I just like to complain here and there about non issues, and who doesn’t? Even on the car journey up, and the wander to registration I could tell that my legs were feeling a little tired, and that more importantly, my left ankle was still suffering from the day before. Oh well, I kind of expected this, and mentally prepared myself for a grind rather than a race.

Eventually, everyone was registered and milling around at the start line, waiting for one of Barry’s almost enigmatic safety talks. Tension was building a little, I couldn’t really wait to be on the way, and eventually we were off!

The Thriller starts fairly innocuously at first; a gentle drag up the forest track lulls you into a false sense of security. Already though, my left ankle was complaining from the hammering the day before, but I elected to keep shifting in the hopes that it would loosen up as we kept moving.

Fairly shortly, you’re funnelled off down a smaller woodland trail. Here, I managed to pick up a few places, skipping around people and enjoying the softer ground, but still my leg and ankle felt wooden and pushing was not on the cards. We popped back out onto another section of forest drive, and I decided to give the uphill a bit of an attack.

Nope, no joy there. Legs feeling like sandbags, I made the difficult decision and decided to reel it back and just keep moving with the intention of finishing.

A couple of miles passed without much excitement, but as I was starting to settle into a rapid plod, the course dropped us over a calf-deep burn and then up one of the muddiest, slipperiest slopes I’ve ever had the “pleasure” of ascending. However, my familiarity with gopping moorsides started to produce an advantage, and I started to move faster than many folk around me.

You’d hope that this short slippery bank would be the end of it, but no. Of course, it was just the beginning, and the race now spent a good while ascending up the top of Thrunton Crags. However, the angle was way too steep to run, so my hill-stomping expertise started clawing back places, passing quite a number of lads who had overtaken me on the much more trail-y forest track.

The top of the crags presented the field with typical sandstone moorland peat – dark, sloppy, slippery, or heather bashing for a little more security. Great! Again, a few more spots clawed back. Passing Jim at one end of the crags I informed him

“my legs feel like flappy meat tubes”

They really did. Two hard half marathons back to back after pretty much nothing meant that I was suffering, but enjoying myself immensely as I did it! The sun was out as we crossed along the crags, and the ominous clouds hanging over the Cheviot hills refracted the sunlight from behind us, producing a stunning rainbow.

Incidentally, it is because of the need for total internal refraction of sunlight by rain droplets that you will only ever see a rainbow with the sun behind you, and clouds in front. Fun fact of the day…

Eventually, dropping off the end of the crags, we were subjected to a lovely steep descent into a small valley. Immediately climbing back out along the side of the woodland, another “enjoyable” section of heather/bog presented itself. And once again, my ankle kept my speed down – annoyingly I knew that I should be able to move much faster, but a continually collapsing left ankle left me treading gingerly and allowing people past whom I would usually spend the second half of the race reeling back in.

Arriving at the aid station, Lucy took some quick photos, and I downed a couple of cups of water. Mmm, hydration. All the volunteers at the aid station were excellent, and I would be remiss if I didn’t mention and thank them at this point – so thank you excellent volunteers, the events wouldn’t be the same/work without you.

From the aid station, the route funnels you down into another steeper, larger valley, and then snakes you around for a while. I don’t remember a whole lot about this section, apart from it was sunny, I kept playing leap-frog with one of the lads I’d been running with/passed/then passed by earlier on in the race. Eventually, another uphill kicked in, and confusingly lead us passed the aid station again? What the hell? Okydoky.

Lucy shouted something as I stumbled past again, not sure what, and away we were, back into the forest. We ran by a couple of guys presumably marshalling in the woods who asked how the course was.

“pretty hard really”

Followed by a short, sharp kick up onto a long shallow drag up more forest drive. At this point I’m ashamed to say I was reduced to a run/walk, and the lad from Heaton Harriers who I’d been to and froing with managed to pull away slightly. I was passed by a few more relatively fresh looking souls, but as we started turning off the main track again, I found the same lad again, stopped in his tracks.

“You alright mate?”

“Yeah, just cramping”

“I can offer you a shotblock, but’s that’s about it”

“No it’ll be alright, I’ve had a little drink”

Shifting on at what can only be described as a shuffle, I awaited the inevitable overtake. About five minutes later, it happened, but truth be told I wasn’t too fussed. It had been a good outing, and the craic had been excellent.

We dropped down a long steep woodland bank, back onto forest drive, and I thought “this must be it, home stretch”. However, we’d just passed Barry, and after commenting on how evil the course was, he had told us the best was yet to come. So at least in that way, the sting in the tail didn’t present as too much of surprise, but what the jiminy!

Back up into woodland, on what can only be described as one step worse than a trod, full of scratchy pine branches, along and back down to the real finish. I couldn’t entirely believe it was over, and I almost head-dived down the final bank (not intentionally) and flailed my way across the finishing line.

What an excellent outing!

Milling around at the finish, I had a little chat with various people, and it seemed that the general consensus was that it was a hard course. I’d agree with that.

Eventually, Lucy reappeared with the car keys, and I hobbled back to the car, goody bag in hand, to get changed and sit down. It was about 1pm, so we went back home and had a nice relaxed afternoon. Cracking.

After the sub 2hr race the day before, this came in at a somewhat slower 2h46mins. Not too bad really, all things considered, and we’ll be back again next year to improve on that badger!

And finally – thank you Barry for organising the event; it’s an excellent race, and well deserving of its fierce reputation.

If there’s one half marathon race to run in Northumberland, this is it! (Although it may be a little longer than 13 miles, as I heard some of the 10k runners mention that they’d done somewhere around 8 miles/13km).

**For more photos of the event, go to Lucy’s Flickr page here**