Country diary: green shoots amid the retreating snow

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I’ve often driven past this gated lane, or paused to photograph the cotton grass that covers the heather moorland with snow in June. Now, though, the snow is real, caught in the dyke-backs and the sunless hollows. Today I’ve stopped here for the first time on the search for new local places to walk.

A wide lane, bounded by stone walls on either side, it descends in undulations through the upland fields. Maybe it was once a drove road leading down to the Tyne Valley from the long spine of the “Paise Dyke“, as the road to Allendale is known. It’s a relief to see fields greening up after weeks of frost or mud.

From up here on this sunny day, the sky feels vast and I can see the far-off snowy curves of the Cheviots. Linear strips of Scots pine woodland bristle like hairy caterpillars, sheltering the sheep, adding texture and character to the landscape. The track with its parallel walls seems to pull me along as it swoops towards the land below and the hamlet of Elrington.

Here was once the least-used station on a branch line that ran between Hexham and Allendale. Opened in 1867 and 12 miles long, the railway carried smelted lead out of the Allen Valley – though the route never reached Allenheads as planned because of a slump in the price of lead.

Always struggling to be viable, the railway closed to passengers in 1930. Today, below a stone bridge, the sheep-cropped turf of the track bed stretches away, sunk between grassy banks.

Stublick chimney

I look back up to the skyline where the Stublick chimney acts like an eye-catcher in an 18th-century landscape. It’s a long walk uphill again. By the time I reach the chimney, the day has changed and brisk showers trail sleet across the fells.

Built from stone and brick, the 300-foot chimney was the outlet for a round-arched flue carrying lead fumes from the Langley smelt mill. The flue can still be seen as a low mound zig-zagging up from the valley.

I take shelter inside the chimney, the sky a pale circle seen high up through the dark, waiting as the winter storm passes overhead.

o Country Diary is on Twitter at @gdncountrydiary

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