Walkers step out on ancient river route

AN ancient riverside walkway has been opened up once more, marking the end of a multi-million regeneration scheme.

The picturesque route along the River Wansbeck from Morpeth to Bothal has been cleared and resurfaced to enable walkers to enjoy its wildlife, flora and fauna and visit several heritage sites along the way.

The work is the final phase of the seven-year Castles, Woods and Water project that was begun by the former Castle Morpeth Council when it received £2.6million through the Government’s Liveability programme to improve access along a six-mile stretch of the riverbank between Mitford and Bothal.

When the council neared closure in 2008 the project was passed on to the Greater Morpeth Development Trust (GMDT).

And with the help of further grant funding from Northumberland County Council and Groundwork Community Spaces, work began last year to restore what had been a popular walk for generations.

GMDT Project Manager Gemma Gadomski said: “All the work has been done in a way sympathetic to the surroundings and the heritage sites.

“The result is that once again this beautiful riverside walk through a thousand-year-old woodland can be enjoyed by local people in the way their ancestors before them have done for generations.”

Before the initiative began, the 2.5km route was largely overgrown, muddy and impassable, with erosion and flooding making it unsafe. Now the worst sections have been resurfaced, footbridges and steps have been repaired and seats and picnic benches installed.

Walkers can see a railway viaduct built by Robert Stephenson and Thomas E Harrison in 1847 as one of 110 bridges along the newly-opened line from Newcastle to Berwick, the carved entrance to Lady Well, believed to date from the 1830s, and the remains of Lady Chapel, which is thought to have been used for meditation as far back as 1480. The chapel was abandoned and fell into disrepair in the 16th Century, but was restored by the Victorians before falling to ruin again.

Other projects carried out by GMDT include improvements along Lady’s Walk footpath from High Stanners to Mitford, past Tommy’s Field and now from Whorral Bank to Bothal Woods, as well as the installation of signage panels in Morpeth Town Centre, High Stanners, Tommy’s Field, Mafeking Park, Whorral Bank and Bothal Woods.