Discovering two nature gems on the doorstep

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From a little north of Cresswell, almost to Amble, Druridge Bay is lined with lakes and pools. Not all of them have the same origin.

At Blakemore Farm, just north of Cresswell, the Cresswell Ponds are due to subsidence following underground mining, and consequently are quite shallow. All the others are due to opencasting and the subsequent landscaping.

Most of them are owned and managed by the Northumberland Wildlife Trust. The amenities typically include well-made paths and one or more hides for the use of bird-watchers.

Two that I visited recently are different.

The first, Ladyburn Lake, is the centrepiece of Druridge Bay Country Park. Not its least attraction is the fact that if you’re following the foot and cycle path, it’s the first place of refreshment that you come to after leaving the Drift Cafe at Cresswell, some four miles to the south.

The visitor centre is beside the Lake and I had lunch there on the final leg of my walk round the Bay. It was chicken and leek pie, salad, and a pot of tea, followed by flapjack for pudding.

Druridge Bay Country Park stands in the tradition of the great landscaped gardens of Belsay and Wallington. There never used to be anything like that in this area, except at Cresswell Hall to the south and the smaller grounds at Hauxley Hall to the north.

Unlike those, however, Druridge Bay Country Park was not created for the private enjoyment of the few, but for the many.

Nor is it primarily a place for birdwatchers. The visitors you see here are families, rather than amateur naturalists.

There is no garden as such, but instead meadows, woodland, walking, cycling, the visitor centre, and plenty of space to park the car.

Work began on the park in the early 1980s, following the end of opencasting. It’s amazing to think that 40 years ago this beautiful landscape was a quarry.

The other place that I visited, Hauxley Nature Reserve, was originally part of Radcliffe opencast mine.

It was bought by Northumberland Wildlife Trust in 1983 and turned into a haven for wildlife and visitors.

I first went there in 2015. It was closed then, following the destruction of the visitor centre by fire, but I could see some cars so I leaned on the gate.

After a time, somebody came to see what I wanted. What I wanted was to get a photo of the reconstructed Bronze Age cairn for a Morpathia article on The Ceremonies of the Dead.

This gentleman went away and came back with the Manager Alex Lister. I put my case to him. Once he’d got the gist of it, Alex not only let me in, but invited me to join the volunteers for a barbecue lunch. It was an act of kindness.

In our picture of the barbecue, the hut on the left was the temporary office and workshop accommodation, and the white caravan was for the resident architect who would shortly be supervising the building of the new visitor centre.

The scene was very different this time. Instead of the sorry remains of the old visitor centre, we now have the new one, made of compacted bales of straw. This material has no air spaces, and consequently does not easily burn.

The outer skin of the building is a three-inch thick layer of lime mortar, painted in pastel colours. The effect is very pleasing.

Some of the external walls are of whinstone contained in wire gabions. Inside, it has timber pillars to support the roof.

Despite being environmentally friendly, the interior is completely modern. The amenities are the same as they would be in any other well-run visitor facility.

This was where I took afternoon tea: scones, jam, cream, home-made cake and a pot of tea.

The new building is described on the website as: “A labour of love, being constructed by an army of dedicated volunteers.”

Even in the relatively short time since it was built, it has already been doubled in size to provide office space.

The nature reserve is a great place for wild flowers. I like to see them, even though I don’t generally know what they are, but again quoting the website, they include viper’s bugloss, bloody cranesbill and northern marsh orchid.

You also get butterflies, dragonflies and damselflies on the ponds, and red squirrels on the dry land, though red squirrels are shy and not easy to spot.

Hauxley combines the family-friendly character of Ladyburn Lake with the more strictly scientific interest of the other pools. It is now called Hauxley Wildlife Discovery Centre.

There is circular path round the lake, part of which, including two of the six hides, is accessible for people using wheelchairs, etc.

The birds include grey herons, tree sparrows, turnstones and shelducks.

I have to say, I didn’t see any of them, even though I was sitting right in front of the great viewing window in the cafe.

You really need your binoculars for this job, and in any case, I was there for tea.