Upper Coquetdale

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Upper Coquetdale

Upper Coquetdale

The area of hill country known as Upper Coquetdale, lies on the north-western edge of Northumberland and forms the border at the Cheviot hills with Scotland.The Cheviots, although volcanic in origin, appear today as rounded in their outline and, other than the highest peaks which are heather covered, they are steep sided, grassy and are grazed by sheep and cattle.
This area lies within the Northumberland National Park, the river Coquet dividing the Otterburn training area into two halves.The southern section is used for live firing by the army and is closed to the public on at least 300 days of the year and only open on some bank holidays, over Christmas and during the lambing season.Arrangements for public access are explained in a leaflet available from tourist information centres or the National Park Authority.This area is probably the best for black grouse so bear this information in mind if this species is the one you would most like to see.
The northern section,bounded approximately by the route of the old drove road known as Clennel Street, has access at all times and it is here that most of the higher ground is found rising to over 619 metres on Windy Gyle, with several peaks over 500 metres, i.e. 'Beefstrand' 516 metres 'Blackbraes' 506 metres and 'Shillhope Law' 510 metres.

Upland plateau

Upland plateau

The upland plateau volcanic lavas of the old red sandstone period is gauged by several fast-flowing burns such as the Alwin and Usway, tributaries of the Coquet, which itself rise further west at 'Brownhart Law'. From here the Pennine Way meets with an un-classified road that criss-crosses the river, closely hemmed in by massive steep-side hills rising straight from the river bed.From Makedon to the spectacular gorge at Barrow scar, a distance of some 10 miles, the river twists and turns before emerging out into a broad flood plain at Alwinton.
To the south of the Cheviots the character of the Upper Coquet changes, rounded volcanic hills give way to the irregular topography of the cementstones and fell sandstone outcrops of 'Door Hill' 415 metres, 'Barrow Scar' 244 metres, Harbottle Craggs 335 metres and Yearning Crags 244 metres.These rocky outcrops punctuate the wet acid peaty soil with a predominant vegetation of heather, occasional birch and bilberry.

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The main exposed crags are found along the Alwin valley.Diversity of habitat exists with a number of relict woodlands, with Birch the commonest tree although Oak, Ash and Alder are all well-represented along with the many coniferous plantations.One delightful walk in this region takes in one of these coniferous forests ay Kidland (NT910120) and follows the route of 'Clennel Street' , probably the best known of all the border 'streets' or crossings between Scotland and England. It takes its name from the deserted village of Clennel and is a wonderful pathway used by walkers heading from Alwinton to the Cheviots and was once a prehistoric trade route linking the Northumbrian outposts of the Votadini with tribal territories in the north.Later it was to be used by medieval monks, border reivers, drovers and smugglers, indeed the remoteness of the area made it a popular place for ilicit whisky stills, one of them 'Rory's Still' was still in use in the 19th Century.Present day visitors can take refreshments in Alwinton's 'inn' The Rose and Thiste (Sir Walter Scott once stayed here) its name suggestive of an allegiance to both England and Scotland.

The Birds

Upland breeding cycles are short and dependent on weather conditions.For other than early nesting species such as Dipper, Mistle Thrush and Crossbill, most arrive and begin their display and breeding from April onwards, often after the last snows of winter have disappeared.At this time of the year Curlew and Lapwing return to the moors and are joined by the fore-runner of the summer visitors, the Ring Ouzel, which nests amongst the rocky screes and fell sandtone outcrops.On higher ground, the plaintive whistle of the Golden Plover can be heard together with the may Meadow pipits and musical Skylark.Late April early May, sees Dippers searching the sparkling fast flowing burns for the abundance of Stonefly and Mayfly to feed their young, which by now have often fledged just as Common Sandpiper, Oystercatcher and Redshank set up their breeding territories.On the heathery slopes,Red Grouse sound their 'go-back', 'go-back', 'go-back', call as they fly low over the moors. Spring and early Summer are without doubt the best times to visit Upper coquetdale with both migrant and resident birds at their most visible.
It is not necessary to walk miles to encounter the moorland specialities, as most can be seen from the car or by picking a good high vantage pointand scanning the moors with binoculars or better still a telescope.This method is more likely to produce any birds of prey or even Raven.Merlins are best looked for on the ground as they will often sit for hours on vantage points such as a boulder or tuft of heather.Other raptors such as sparrowhawk, kestrel or perhaps even a golden eagle will often rise hundreds of feet on warm thermals and this is where a telesope is a must.That dot several 'miles' up, will no doubt be a bird of prey!
At the small farmsteads with isolated shelter belts of mature trees, the visitor should be on the lookout for spotted flycatcher and tree pipit.Swallow, house martin and swift patrol the skies above the farm buildings and one should check telegraph wires for the 'banana shape' of a perching cuckoo especially watchful around areas of heather, braken and rough grassland, home to donor species such as meadow pipit and whinchat.
Another important area for birds in this sparse landscape, are dry stone walls, as they are a favourite breeding location for Wheatear and wagtails.By June-July the breeding cycle is coming to an end and identification skills can be stretched to the linit, with families of willow warbler, whinchat and other juvenile birds everywhere.Oystercatcher and Redshank start to move down-stream and by August the moors can seem deserted.For the visitor a trip to either Caistron or the coast may well be more rewarding, however, cooler weather usually means better walking conditions and for the more persistant birder, the onset of winter months may well produce a wandering hen harrier or even golden eagle as immature birds of this species have been seen on more than one occasion.

Timetable

Timetable

All Year; Heron, Mallard, Sparrowhawk, Buzzard, Goshawk, Kestrel, Red Grouse, Black Grouse, Grey Partridge, Pheasant, Snipe, Stock Dove, Collared Dove, Long-eared Owl,Goldcrest,Siskin, Coal tit, Redpoll, Reed Bunting.
Spring early Summer; Teal, Goosander, Merlin, Quail, Oystercatcher, Golden Plover, Lapwing, Curlew, Redshank, Common Sandpiper, Dipper, Sand Martin, Swallow, House Martin, Swift, Tree Pipit, Grey and Pied Wagtail, Whinchat, Cuckoo, Wheatear, Ring Ouzel, Spotted Flycatcher.June records for Turtle Dove and Golden Oriole.
Late Autumn - Winter; Hen Harrier, Fieldfare, Redwing, finch flocks which may include Brambling,possible Twite,Snow Bunting.

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