Take your chance to enjoy local natural beauty spots in the countryside of Morpeth

A bee orchid at flower head at Pegswood. Picture by Brian Harle.
A bee orchid at flower head at Pegswood. Picture by Brian Harle.

Around 2006, I produced a number of local walks that were published in the Morpeth Herald. It would seem to be a good time to write up another walk, giving readers the opportunity to see Morpeth before new and pending construction developments are complete, and encouraging them to get out and about, enjoying the local countryside.

This walk will show areas affected by the Northern Bypass route, the new ‘country park with no name’ at Pegswood Moor and the splendid work Groundwork and local residents are carrying out just outside Pegswood village.

l Path conditions: Mostly dry, but can be very wet in places.

l Time: Allow four hours. The walk can be shortened by using the Arriva No 35 bus back from various stops between Pegswood and Morpeth.

l Suggested clothing: Warm clothing (remember lots of thin layers are better than a few thick ones), together with a waterproof outer layer and good walking boots with ankle support and Vibram-type soles.

l Start point: Morpeth Bus Station.

l Finally, two notes of caution: There is no place to buy food or drink until you reach Pegswood, and beware of the traffic at the various road crossings, it is often moving faster than you think.

Set off in a northerly direction past the Wellway GP Practice and proceed up Cottingwood Lane. On reaching the top, passing the entrance to King Edward VI School, the road bears to the right, but we take the path through Cottingwood, where currently both bluebells and ramsons (wild garlic) are in full flower.

Keep to the edge of the wood and eventually the path leads down some steps and then turns a sharp right at a fence. The path here is very wet and slippery, and care is needed before reaching a gate. On passing through the gate, turn left and you are now on the track of the old Morpeth Racecourse, last used over 150 years ago.

Walking along the right-hand fence you will see a Second World War pill box beside a gate and a large tree on your left. Passing through the gate and following the footpath along the side of the hedge, walk until you reach the new fencing for the Morpeth Bypass. The footpath is temporarily closed at this point to allow for the road construction, but it is a good vantage point to view the route of the bypass westwards and gives an indication of the acreage of farmland and its accompanying trees and hedgerows being lost. Retracing our steps back to the gate, we now turn left, go through another gate, and follow the line of trees until we reach another gate, after which we bear off to the left at the fingerpost. This path cuts diagonally across a field of rough grassland. Passing through another couple of gates brings us to the path leading down the Howburn Valley. At the bottom, before the road is reached, look out again for more fine displays of ramsons and bluebells. Last year the wood anemone flowering was spectacular, this year it seems to be the turn of the ramsons to show off. Good numbers of small tortoiseshell butterflies were seen on this stretch of the walk, signalling their return to former populations.

Crossing the busy Pegswood Road, proceed up Whorral Bank to the roundabout at the top. It is worth standing a few moments on the footpath at the side of this road and having a listen to the volume of noise generated by the traffic, which will be replicated when the new bypass is open, an often neglected aspect when considering new roads.

At the roundabout, cross over the Pegswood Bypass and the old road to Pegswood, and walk up Longhirst Road as far as a new gate on your left side. Cross over the road and go through this gate and you will see before you the new country park, well laid out with paths, a lake and saplings. This park I understand is not officially open, but the public can use the footpaths, which will eventually be designated public rights of way.

Geese, cormorants and mallard all seem to be enjoying their new water facility and a new flora is already colonising the ground with a good show of cowslips at the moment. Skylarks, curlew and peewits were either seen or heard whilst exploring this new area. Unfortunately, the bypass is to run only yards from the southern boundary of this great new recreational area.

Walking the high path round the lake, you will come to another gate, which leads back on to the Longhirst Road, and after crossing it with care, enter into the Pegswood Community Woodland, which is becoming well established with its mix of wetlands, trees and open spaces. There are a number of footpaths in this area and walkers should make their own route heading for Pegswood Village to the east.

Henry Tegner, in A Border County published some 60 years ago, devotes a whole chapter to Pegswood Moor from which I give the following quotation: ‘Partridges shot on the farmlands in the immediate vicinity will give off a grey powder dust when shaken. The birds dust themselves along the fringes of the slag heaps and consequently a fine coal dust permeates their plumage. Everything appears to be tinted with this grey black deposit. It is a dreary place.’ He would probably be pleasantly surprised to view the same area today. Once in the village, follow the main road passing a garage and mini-roundabout, and when the road starts to bear to the right take the minor road off to the left, marked on the OS map as Butchers Lane, passing the school and the small industrial estate. At the end of the village, take a small road off to the right, which stops at a small car park, and after passing a small wet area on the right, the path leads up a slope to the old spoil heap, an area being developed by Groundwork with members of the local community, who have built new bridges and a network of footpaths and are managing the woodland, which together with a general tidy up has established a super facility on their doorstep.

Last year we were called to have a look at the site to identify what turned out to be hundreds of bee orchids that had suddenly appeared. There is a fine mix of plants (cowslips flowering at the moment) establishing themselves in this area. The bee orchid is very fickle, however, and numbers can vary greatly from one year to the next. We look forward to seeing how many, if any, appear in June this year. There is a four-way seat at the top of the hill, giving splendid vistas in all directions. It is worth the climb to the summit on a clear day.

We now start our return back to Morpeth. Heading south, using the road bridge under the railway line, the public footpath runs through the middle of some allotments, goes across a small footbridge over the Bothal Burn, and then bearing right to the west of Bothal Park Farm, comes out at the main Morpeth to Ashington road. Carefully cross over this road and through a small gate follow the footpath through the trees, with the Bothal Burn on your right. Eventually, you enter Bothal Village.

Going through the village, follow the minor road to Bothal Mill and take the public footpath, one of the finest walks in the Morpeth area, through Chapel Woods along the north bank of the River Wansbeck, back to Morpeth and the bus station.

As the new country park has no name at the moment, I would like to suggest the William Turner Country Park in recognition of ‘the Father of English botany’ who was a native of Morpeth in the 16th Century.