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There's plenty to be wild about on this glorious walk near Swalwell, as David Taylor discovered
In this age of austerity, when most news seems to be about cut-backs and closures, it can be heartening to come across pockets of regeneration
and creativity. This months walk takes us on a pleasant stroll along the Derwent Walk, where we discover lots of new life in the forest, and a special new facility for the fish in the river.
We begin at Thornley Woods car park. From the main information board in the car park, follow the sign marked Footpath to Derwent Walk, with a red marker.
The start of the path takes you through a pleasant area of mixed woodland. In summer, this is home to chiffchaffs and blackcaps, and wild garlic is in abundance.
The path leads to Paddock Hill Wood, where wildlife of a different nature awaits you, in the form of animals sculpted into felled trees. These are the work of local chainsaw sculptor Tommy Craggs, and are part of Gateshead Councils restoraCraggstion project to harvest non-native trees, and reintroduce native species into the woodland across the borough.
One of the first sculptures you will come across is an otter, which has been beautifully rendered and looks as though it is diving through the water. As you follow the path, other animals reveal themselves in the woodland, including an owl (to the right of the path), a red kite, and a frog and snake.
The path now comes to a set of wooden steps. Go down the steps and through the gate on the right. From here, it is possible to take a short detour from the walk, down into Lockhaugh Meadows, by following the sign on the other side of the path, and going down some more steps. The Meadows afford an impressive view of the viaduct, and a pleasant walk along the river.
If you do not wish to take this detour, turn left onto the viaduct, and walk across it. If you look to the right, you will be able to see the Column of Liberty, erected by George Bowes, owner of the Gibside Estate, between 1750 and 1757. The figure itself was carved in situ, over five weeks, by sculptor Christopher Richardson, and a wooden hut was erected to protect him from the elements!
The viaduct is the perfect location from which to spot red kites, with their unmistakable fingered wings and long forked tails. This sight is possible thanks to the Northern Kites Project, which ran from 2004 to 2009, and relocated 94 kites here, with the aim, ultimately, of re-establishing the red kite as a breeding bird in the North East.
Walk along the viaduct and follow the path, then turn right at the signpost for Hollinside Manor. Follow the boardwalk along the pleasant woodland margins, then uphill to the Manor. The earliest records of this house date back to 1317, when Thomas de Holinside granted the house to William de Boineton of Newcastle. The house became part of the Gibside estate in around 1700, but had become neglected by the early 19th century, so now only a dignified ruin remains.
Continue along the path which led you to Hollinside, with the farm buildings and field on your right, and follow it through an area of woodland. The path will eventually bring you out onto the Derwent Walk.
Turn right along this path and then, after a while, left at the signpost for the Swalwell Visitor Centre and car park. Turn left again and follow the path round a large pond. The pond is a rich haven for wildlife, and you might be lucky enough to spot reed bunting here.
The path comes to a set of steps. At the bottom, you may turn right, and cross the path to get to the visitor centre. There is an interesting display here about the woodland restoration project. From the visitor centre, turn right up the track signposted Derwenthaugh Park. (If you do not wish to go to the visitor centre, simply turn left at the bottom of the steps.)
The path eventually takes you past Swalwell Cricket Club. Continue until you reach a right turn across a river bridge. At the other side of the bridge, turn left along the Derwent Walk.
You will eventually come to a weir, known locally as Ladys Steps. This is the location of an exciting new project the Derwent Fish Pass. A joint-funded partnership between the Environment Agency and Gateshead Borough Council, the fish pass is designed to allow salmon, sea trout and eels to swim past the weir, which is otherwise impassable to them, and which has kept spawning fish out of the river since the industrial revolution. The pass has a channel with two resting pools, which will allow fish using the pass to regain their energy before completing their upstream journey.
From the weir, follow the path past the tennis club and along the river, until you come to a sign on the right for Thornley Woods. Go through the barrier and turn left at the top of the incline. Follow this path, looking out for a yellow waymarker on the right, and go through the gate. Follow the track to the top of the incline, along the edge of a field and then through an area of woodland. This brings you back to Thornley Woods car park and the end of this months walk.
Start Point: Thornley Woodlands Centre
Grid Reference: NZ 178 604
Ordnance Survey Map: OS Landranger Sheet 88 (Newcastle upon Tyne)
Length: 4.5 miles (7.25 km)
Difficulty: Good paths, mainly flat though some short but steep inclines
Time: Two and half hours
Nearest Pub: Skiff Inn, Swalwell
Nearest town: Swalwell