Field Notes - Walk day 1
Natural Historians - Matthew Hawking and Keith Bowey.
The group met at 9.00am at the Juan Munoz sculpture on the coast at South Shields, taking a look at the flora and fauna around the mouth of the Tyne before walking to the Customs House for a refreshment break. From here, we took a route around the Jarrow Slake to Bede’s World where we stopped for a picnic. We then followed a tarmac road running parallel to the river to St. Andrews Church. From here on the walking was mostly off-road, with the final part of the day’s walk running through the Riverside Park and along the Keelman’s Way paved cycle path. This walk was approximately 8 miles long. It would normally take around 4 hours to complete without stopping, but our 'meander' took just under 8 hours.
Day 1: 21st May -South Shields to Bill Quay: Natural Historians - Matthew Hawking and Keith Bowey.
Matt is the Conservation Officer for South Tyneside and Keith was born and raised in South Shields. He currently runs GLEAD and before that was project manager for the successful reintroduction of the Red Kites to the Derwent Valley.
We will met at 9.00am at the Juan Munoz sculpture on the coast at South Shields, taking a look at the flora and fauna around the mouth of the Tyne before walking to the Customs House for a refreshment break. It was suggested that participants might want to obtain a copy of ‘Walking the Tyne; Twenty-five Walks from mouth to source’ by J. B. Jonas who says that the first half of this walk is the only part ‘which involves a substantial amount of pavement besides busy roads, but not only is there always something to see in the many glimpses of the river, but you also go back in time a couple of centuries at Mill Dam and into the First Millennium at Bede’s Jarrow’. From the Customs House, the walk took a route around the Jarrow Slake to Bede’s World where we stopped for a picnic. We then followed a tarmac road running parallel to the river to St. Andrews Church. From here on there was much more ‘attractive’ walking. The names of the pubs along this part of the walk ‘evoke memories of old industries (Rolling Mill, for example)’.
The final part of the day’s walk is described by Jonas as ‘attractive walking through the Riverside Park and along Keelman’s Way paved cycle path … there are reminders of the ‘old’ river-staiths, buoys, machinery – and the delightful Bill Quay Community Farm’ where there is a café and where our fist walk ended. This walk was approximately 7.3 miles long and was the longest of the nine walks we completed. It would normally take around 3 - 4 hours to complete without stopping, but we allowed around 8 hours for our meander.
We were surprised by the variety of flora and fauna there is to see on this walk, and it was interesting to compare our sightings along this built-up part of the walk with those seen as we travelled into Northumberland later in May and June. It is worth remembering that the landscapes of both South Shields and Northumberland are ‘industrial’ – they are both highly managed landscapes. Indeed, there is an argument that during this walk we actually encountered some of the ‘wildest’ parts of our walk (what the poet Paul Farlery and Michael Symmons Roberts call ‘Edgelands’ - the places on the margins of our supposedly civilised world that most of us hurry past or overlook or deliberately turn our backs on; places were the normal rules do not apply – where sometimes there are no rules at all).
Some of the birds, flowers and mammals we encountered included Sea Aster; Sea Club Rush and other salt water plants; Marram Grass and Lyme Grass; Cormorants, Terns, Herring Gull and Lesser Black-backed Gull; and we were lucky enough to see signs of the elusive Otter. We had hoped to see a number of butterflies, such as Orange Tips and Common Blue may but sightings of butterflies were sparce as we had little sun. As we moved through Jarrow and Hebburn to Bill Quay, we found Birdsfoot Trefoil and Self Heal around ponds and meadows as well as Storksbill, Dingy Skippers and Tiger Beetles. Around Bill Quay we heard Goldfinch, Greenfinch, Willow Warbler, Chiffchaff and Whitethroat. This ‘list’ indicates just a few of the many flora and fauna we saw and heard – indeed, it is quite possible that (probably against expectation) we actually discovered more variety on this walk than on any of the others!