One of Northern England’s most alluring watery places; Linhope Spout in the bucolic Breamish Valley, was top of my list for a waterfall walk on sunny Easter Sunday in Northumberland.
While high winds and heavy rain battered the rest of the UK, we strolled beneath iridescent blue skies through a rusty farm gate onto a long road under the shadow of the Cheviot Hills, accompanied by the cry of upland birds and the resonant hum of hidden bees’ nests in the peaceful April sunshine. Actually a part of the Breamish Valley Sound Trail, the route begins at Hartside; a lonely farmstead where a colourful information board promises glimpses of all sorts of creatures; including emperor moths, curlews, and the not so common, common lizard. And if all this weren’t enough, a talking wooden post tells of all the mountains and peaks visible on a day as clear as this.
Having never seen a lizard ‘up north’, I eagerly scanned all the nearby rocks for sunbathing reptiles, and sure enough from a hole on the verge of a field of newborn lambs came a tinny squeak like a dolls’ house door in need of oiling, and poking its little ears and eyes into the sun wasn’t a lizard but a tiny dormouse; who my girlfriend flatly refused to meet and promptly dragged me back to the path.
Following a weathered chain of lichen-encrusted signposts, we found Linhope; a tiny remote hamlet seven miles from the main road, where cars are banned. A rutted track climbs steeply from the village by a dark forest, where tall pines rocked and swayed a gentle lullaby to the elusive red squirrels, hiding up high in the spiky canopy. At the top of the hill the scenery broadens into open windy moorland with sheep and lambs and the telltale rushing sound of water deep in the gulley below. After slipping, tripping and scrambling over sinuous tree roots and leaping off boulders we stood before the waterfall, where surrounded beneath a glade of silver birch is a small black pool, steep sides padded with wet green moss and filled by a velvety groove of bubbling whitewater. Myth and legend say the Spout is bottomless, and as I stared down into the gloom all I could see were pearlescent beads of spray skating over the black depths, below a grey cliff face where a splashing dipper darted for its hole, shaking teardrops of moorland water into a smaller pool of some two feet deep, ideal for a spot of paddling on a warm summer’s day.
Swarms of tame chaffinches, orange as the withered brackens they forage among; circled around, hopping ever nearer to my outstretched finger before flitting away into the trees. The whole scene would have been absolutely idyllic-but for a deep mire of weekend rubbish, Converse trainers and burnt sausages. Who can possibly guess at the motivations of people prepared to drag two crates of strong lager and a disposable barbecue halfway up the highest hill this side of Gateshead and then abandon the whole sorry mess, not to mention their responsibilities; onto ‘somebody else’?
More than a little annoyed with this mindless assault on the countryside, I crossed a set of rough stepping stones and hauled myself up the boggy banks, squelching and scratching alone through thickets of wintered branches adorned with the woollen trophies of wayward sheep, disappearing deeper into a jungled tangle of twigs as tons of water plummeted from the rocks above.
At last fording the burn above the fall, a little water lapping over the tongue of my Goretex boots, I emerged onto the moor to hear my name cascading in a resounding scream across the valley. Reunited at last with my concerned companion, we walked back in the gathering cloud to Hartside, glad to have made the most of such glorious Easter weather, as fresh hoards of walkers and picnickers trekked by in search of their own slice of Northumbrian beauty.
Let’s hope they took their litter home!