In the first of a new Saturday series featuring free activities to enjoy throughout the Allen Valleys, based loosely around the activities described in the Allendale and Allen Valleys Pocket Directory, Joan Morgan writes about her love of Allendale’s River Path:
We have our own ‘Philosopher’s Walk’ here in Allendale, and it’s not crowded with tourists like the original in Kyoto: although we don’t have Koi carp swimming casually upstream, or ancient shrines over picturesque bridges, or crowds admiring cherry blossom for one week in the year, we do have sea trout as long as your arm negotiating their way up river to spawn, and an abundance of natural beauty in the most tranquil of settings.
The River Path starts from The Peth, just outside of town. It follows the River East Allen in a long, extended curve, with the cricket field and the smelt mill lands on the far bank, and on the right, steep banks of trees, then fields, finishing three-quarters of a mile away at Allen Mill Bridge. It is well used, mainly by intrepid dog walkers in all weather conditions, but also by walking groups, families with little ones, and often by people taking a stroll back to town after leaving their car at Station Garage for a service. Meeting someone head-on can be a chance to stop and catch up with local gossip for a few minutes and inevitably to discuss the weather. Often there is only the sound of the river and the amazing birdsong for company, which is perfect for contemplating the meaning of life and for quietly watching the wildlife, of which there is an abundance; dippers dipping for caddis-fly and mayfly larvae, goosanders and mallards with their ducklings in the spring, red and grey squirrels, roe deer watching and ready to bolt with a flash of white behind, and of course the ever present rabbits.
Wild flowers change with the seasons, from white wood anemones to yellow cowslips and buttercups – then BOOM, everything bursts forth in early June: Blue forget-me-nots, red campion, huge prehistoric ferns, and a myriad of grasses and greenery, all reach up to and merge with the many tree species to be found here, from larch and the majestic Scots Pine, to the insect-loving Bird Cherry. Wild garlic in the spring scents the air and makes a great soup. (Throw some dandelion leaves and nettles in too!) Spring is my favourite season, but winter can be spectacular too, with snow clothing the boughs and winter sun sparkling off the trees. In stormy weather, the path is sheltered, and in the searing sun of summer (ahem) the trees give shade. One of the great spectacles in the late autumn, apart from the beautiful colours, is the sea trout jumping up the weir at Allen Mill Bridge [see ‘Walking the Circuit’, 16th February]. A salmon run was installed a few years ago, but cheering on the fish trying to leap up the weir is a frustrating yet absorbing annual event.
Apart from the natural wonders of the River Path, there are human artistic wonders to be found. A fearsome troll, carved in stone and now covered in moss, peers up from under the bridge over Philip Burn. On a log under the bridge is the carving of a fish, which replaces a lost silver metal fish placed in the burn but now covered with silt and stones, to commemorate Zane Foster, well loved naturalist, activist and son of Allendale who died tragically too young. The Tree of Life can be found, carved in stone, set in the wall near the wooden seat. A dipper is carved in the stone seat looking towards the cricket field: Also near here is a poem, written by the children of the middle school some years ago and carved in stone, but this is almost hidden by moss growth. The children also designed a pebble mosaic which is set in the path near the kissing gates to the fields at the end.
A steep, stone stairway leads up from Philip Burn to the Deneholme woods. At the base of this, man has left his industrial mark – the Blackett Level. Started in 1859, the idea was to dig a tunnel to discover veins of lead ore, and to drain the deep mines up at Allenheads. The tunnel reached Sparty Lea 5 miles away before it was abandoned when the lead industry collapsed in the early twentieth century. The ruin used to be the tally house, where men would be monitored going in and out and where they would collect their pay. Records show that, in the late 1800’s, there used to be some poor dwellings on this stretch of the path, named Poverty Lane. Now, the main sewer runs underneath the path, the only evidence being the manhole covers. The positive to this is that the river, which in the past was inevitably polluted, is now clean and very much alive.
So what is special about the River Path? Apart from its obvious beauty, it is just the right length for a decent walk, with several options for a round trip back to town [turn left or right at the weir onto ‘The Circuit’ as described in the diary entry for 16th February, or retrace your steps on the River Path]. A well used stopping point is the ‘beach’, a diversion off the main path to a favourite pebbly area where dogs can swim and children can play safely in the shallows. Although the river is gradually eating away at parts of the path, and the going is less than easy in parts, this is part of its charm. We need places like this to be left largely alone to give wildlife a place to thrive, and for us to enjoy it. [Although, after the persistent rains of this season, some of the traverses near to the river may need careful repair.] We are very lucky to have the River Path on our doorstep: our own Philosopher’s Walk.