Rothley Circular Walk

This winter walk took a route along part of the the Wanney line, Rothley Lake, Crag and Mill.


Without leaves it was difficult to identify this tree from it’s shining berries but the fallen leaves looked like cotoneaster so probably it was Hedge cotoneaster (Cotoneaster lucidus.)  A flock of Fieldfare were seen nearby so the berries might be as attractive to them as to us.


The path took us along the Wanney or Wannie line named after the river Wansbeck. Originally thirteen miles long, starting from Morpeth, it reached Rothbury in 1870 after seven years in construction. It was used to carry coal, stone, livestock, lime and passengers before its closure to passengers in 1952 and freight in 1963. Sir Walter Trevelyan, owner of Wallington (1846-1879) was the driving force behind the building of the railway. The revenue that came to the estate was spent on his house and improving the estate.


On the way we sought out this  venerable hollowed ancient ash tree. Ash trees can live for 400 years or more if they have been coppiced or pollarded. The hollow structure actually helps them survive longer.


Evidence  of ridge and furrow cultivation in the photo above, typical of the open field system in the middle ages when non reversible ploughs were used. It survives on higher ground where arable fields were converted to sheep walk in the 15th Century and not ploughed since.


The characteristic S shaped pattern of ridges ploughed by oxen is shown in comparison to the straight rig and furrow. Oxen were yoked in larger teams than horses and since they ploughed in a clockwise direction needed more turning room. In the background, Rothley Crags shows its windy exposures by the lack of vegetation unlike the plantation below.


These interestingly shaped leaves belong to Intermediate wintergreen (Pyrola media).



The lake forms part of the deer-park created by Sir William Calverley-Blackett (2nd Baronet) the owner of Wallington Estate who built Rothley Castle as a folly and the Codger Fort to prove loyalty to King George II during the Jacobite rebellion. The lake was landscaped by Capability Brown. The bird feeders by the lake hide were thronged by tits: Blue, Great, Coal and a pair of delightful Marsh tits. Nuthatch and chaffinch also visited while a Crossbill was heard in the trees.


The lake surroundings have been planted with Scots Pine, Sitka spruce and Beech but moss thrived among old stumps as did Caluna vulgaris and Bilberry. Given the red stems, this moss is Red-stemmed feather moss (Pleurosium schreberi) an inhabitant of open heathy woodland.

c portentosa.JPGLichens survive in exposed moorland conditions of Rothley Crag. The lichen above is Cladonia portentosa, perhaps not as widespread as it should be in these conditions. Parmelia omphalodes, below, commonly seen on exposed base-poor rocks such as the Rothley grits.


Sphaerophorus globosus is a bushy attractive lichen apparently fairly common in upland areas.


Sphaerophorus fragilis, however, forms more compact cushions, lacks the pinkish tinge and usually grows at greater altitude.


All we saw of Rothley mill was this attractive trough. The mill was a water-powered cornmill on the Hartburn, now a private dwelling, interesting in legend as the dwelling place of Queen Mab and her fairies. A dipper was seen on the Hartburn and a yellowhammer on the trees nearby.



Lichens – Frank S. Dobson

Collins Wild Flower Guide- David Streeter at al.




Bolam and St Andrews church


It was a cold day when the Botany group went for a winter walk at Bolam. The Lake is artificial, designed by John Dobson and constructed in 1816 for the Rev John Beresford, who became Lord Decies in 1819. Beresford wanted to help local people through the agricultural depression and upheaval after the Napoleonic Wars by providing employment. It was, however, a fashionable enterprise since his neighbours were busy making improvements to their estates. Sir Charles Monck was undertaking building and landscaping work on Belsay Hall and grounds, while Sir John Trevelyan created a grand estate at Wallington landscaped by Capability Brown.


In spite of the cold some fungi were flourishing, Velvet Shank (Flamulina velutipes) had colonised this tree trunk.


St Andrew’s Church has a square late Saxon Tower but the interior is largely Norman with the arcading dated to 1180-1200. The quatrefoil piers with their broad moulded capitals are unique to St Andrew’s.


These mysterious Saltire crosses inscribed on a pillar inside are presumably in honour of the martyrdom of St Andrew.


Medieval gravestones bearing skulls and crossbones were common. The name is obscured by lichen but the message of ‘memento mori’ is still visible. Lichens are long lived and thrive on old gravestones. The lichen with the black apothecia looks like Tephromela atra while its neighbour with the red/brown discs is Trapelia coarctata.


Ramalina farinacea, the bushy lichen and the bluish leafy Parmelia saxatilis are pictured on another stone below.


From the churchyard the view shows the stretched ovoid form of a drumlin and craters in the foreground, formed in 1942 when bombs fell from a German Dornier airplane.


Two roe deer can be seen running across the fields adding to a memorable winter scene.


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Although hardly discernable to the eye, a large flock of Brambling were feeding in this Beech tree. Members of the group observed Coal and Marsh tits, Redwing, Tree creeper, and Buzzard.  OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

In spite of the frost some plants were flowering, like this Daisy (Bellis perennis) growing among Parsley piert (Aphanes arvensis) on the bank of this ha-ha. A ha-ha is a recessed landscape design element that creates a vertical barrier while preserving an uninterrupted view of the landscape beyond.


Peltigera lichen was thriving on the mossy bank. Most Peltigera species have the cyanobacterium Nostoc as the dominant algal partner but some contain small gall-like growths of the chlorophyte Coccomyxa containing Nostoc. Because of their ability to fix nitrogen from the atmosphere, such lichens are influential in soil composition and generation.


An ornamental ivy, probably Canarian Ivy (Hedera canariensis) naturalised on a roadside verge added a seasonal interest.




Rothley Crags- Geology and Landscape

Rothley Crags form an imposing moorland area in Mid – Northumberland, managed by the  National Trust. The bedrock consists of Millstone Grit from the Pendleian upper Carboniferous period. Dating from 300 million years ago, a great river delta with a S-E flow laid down these resistant sandstone channel deposits. Underneath the grits, the limestones, Little and Oakwood exposures, have been deeply eroded and quarried for agricultural use.

Cross-bedded layering can be barely detected in the photograph. It is a layer set at an angle to the main bedding plane. The sedimentary structures which result are roughly horizontal units composed of inclined layers. These are formed by ripples, waves etc. in the depositional environment.


This Rowan Tree (Sorbus aucuparia) is growing in a cleft in the rock, gaining some shelter.

mountain ash

The Rothley Grits are very coarse-grained and pebbly sandstones containing substantial amounts of feldspar. The pebble bands can be seen in the picture below; garnets can sometimes be found in such rock.

millstone grit

The ‘Castle’ is a ‘gothick’ folly built in the 1760’s by Sir Walter Blackett the owner of Wallington Hall. Ironically, there was a genuine medieval tower on the site which was demolished to facilitate the novel ‘eyecatcher’. Sir Walter used the crags as a Deer Park.


The Stell is an ancient Iron Age/ Romano British Hillfort, part of the outer wall is pictured below. There is an inner enclosure and two outer stone banks. It was used in medieval or post-medieval times as a beacon to warn against attacks along the Border. It has suffered from some quarrying.


The area was still in agricultural use in the Middle ages. The ridges in the field below are probably a relict of a medieval open field system.

field system ridge and furrow

Herons (Ardea cinerea) were making the most of foraging in the wet field of winter wheat, probably for worms or rodents.


This hedge has recently been laid in the Northumberland style although barbed wire strung posts and netting are in support.


hedgerow support

Northumbrian style hedges are deeply cut with billhook or axe. Thorn trees such as Hawthorn and Blackthorn are used because they grow thickly enough to be effective both as a sheep barrier and shelter.

hedgerow lay

This hedge has hazel standards for coppicing but is laid in a single row, not a double, which would form a thicker barrier.

hazel coppice

While admiring the lichen covered rock we came across some Star Jelly. It was covered in ice but had a gelatinous feel. The blobs were stuck to the rock as in the picture below. Debate still rages as to what they are and how they form. Perhaps they are Nostoc commune?


Nostoc commune with ice.JPG

Another photo below, showing more specimens.


The following is a quote from:

‘Nostoc is a diverse genus of cyanobacteria. They are found in gelatinous colonies, composed of filaments called “trichomes” surrounded by a thin sheath. They are common in both aquatic and terrestrial habitats. These organisms are known for their unusual ability to lie dormant for long periods of time and abruptly recover metabolic activity when rehydrated with liquid water. The bacteria’s ability to withstand freezing and thawing cycles make them well-adapted to living in extreme environments, such as the Arctic and Antarctica. They can fix atmospheric nitrogen, making them good candidates for environments with low nitrogen rates. Nostoc, first discovered in the 19th century, is one of the most widespread phototrophic bacteria in the world. As a nitrogen fixer, these bacteria may provide plants with important nutrients and therefore can be used agriculturally. In 1988 a terrestrial species, Nostoc commune, was found to harbor a previously unidentified UV-A/B absorbing pigment. This protective pigment has enabled them to survive not only while under hydration-related stress, but in areas of extreme UV radiation as well.’

Then again, it could be unfertilized frogspawn, chytrid fungus, slime mould, or deer sperm, since Nostoc usually is greenish in colour.

We passed a few farms observing Texel sheep, a poultry yard with hens, ducks, a goose, and these cows in a shed. Probably heifers in calf, they might produce Simmental, Charolais crossed calves. They stopped eating hay to inspect us as we passed. I wonder what they think of their yellow ear tags. From my experience they prefer pink.


Among the glorious views this one of the Simonside Hills was outstanding.

view to Simonside





Wheat farming

Geology reference

Landscape reference

Star Jelly