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Walking the Nature Line

Kingfisher1_JoshuaCopping (1)

I’m walking the line, the line connecting the Northumberland hills to the estuary, along the bank of the Tyne. I’m just near Stocksfield, it’s early morning and a cold bright day. The sun is glancing off the ripples across the water and the willows and the occasional alder buckthorn have burst into blossom, like white and yellow candyfloss. For once there is no wind and it’s calm and still. You can smell the start of Spring all along the bankside here, hear an early first chiffchaff calling from one of the blossom trees, perhaps one of those that increasingly overwinters in this country as things warm up.

I can see the signs of wildlife and nature waking up all around me hereabouts. More plants of course, mostly just shoots, but a lot of cow parsley and dog’s mercury, also first primroses and even the tips of ramsons and bluebells’ fleshy greenness, ground ivy and white dead nettle.

Some of the tubers have been dug up and there, on one part of the bank, it looks like a miniature wild boar has been hoovering up anything tasty it can find. It’s actually badgers foraging and some of their territorial dung pits.

I’ve watched otters from here before, turning and twisting in the waters and running on the shingle islands. But there are none so far today, though I do see what could be one of their slides into the river, a steep and smoothed runway into the Tyne between two alders, partial footprints or spoor look distinctively ‘ottery’.

This is what it’s all about to me, the Tyne in its middle stretches. I’ve not had time to walk miles but even between work meetings or as on this occasion, before a meeting in Hexham with the National Park, an hour’s wander in the old woods around Stocksfield takes me into a different world of natural history.

It’s also quite meditative, quietly and slowly walking this watery wooded line, a wildlife corridor which reveals things of interest at every turn. Like all great rivers and, despite its industrial southern reaches, here it is at least semi natural and rather beautiful, full of wild surprises.

The Tyne itself is a major waterway of course, a main artery in the watery circulatory system of the Valley’s watershed. If I had more time, I would veer off where paths allow and explore the smaller side streams and tributaries. I would dive into thick wooded hedges and along old field edges, lose myself in the mosaic of micro habitats between the A695 and the river, where more natural delights no doubt await me.

It’s in these more protected even less disturbed areas you find warmer corners where the first violets reside, where the odd roe deer may betray its presence, where I know one or two places where it’s just good to sit and see what unfolds. ‘Still hunting’ some Native Americans call it, just waiting quietly and noticing the patterns of nature and the movements of  animals in the landscape, a way of deeply connecting with everything around us.

It can be quite revealing, this art of immersion in nature. For example, the woods here hold several pairs of buzzards and there are red kites to be seen occasionally. Both these raptors hold special memories for me. I vividly recall my first encounter at the age of 12 with a red kite in a remote part of Wales on holiday with my parents. I gazed excitedly through my ‘Prinzlux Extralite’ binoculars as it flew overhead, revealing it’s characteristic V indented tail. It was a very local and quite rare bird then.

Buzzards too have always excited me, like ‘mini eagles’ with their variable plumage from very dark to light phases they can hover like giant kestrels over their rabbit prey. Their mewing call cuts the air as the true call of the wild.

That is what I hear now as I continue on my way and I imagine it, unseen above, circling on an updraft, taking in the whole view of the valley.

There is before I leave the line, a tick of a passing dipper and the flash of halcyon, the kingfisher, a goosander flighting off as I open the car door. That’s not a bad start to a day of office meetings ahead, all focussed on bringing more wildlife back to this and other parts of Northumberland.

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