Although it provides a direct walking route from Haltwhistle to Hadrian’s Wall at Cawfields, the Haltwhistle Burn Gorge is well kept secret that even some locals are unaware of.
From its peaty beginnings in the hinterland behind Hadrian’s Wall, the Haltwhistle Burn makes its way through the wild moorland high above Haltwhistle, crossing the Roman Military zone before cutting its way dramatically through the lovely, secluded sandstone gorge that provides its name. After the high meadowland, it dances its way through lush woodland before rushing into the South Tyne at the town foot.
The walk from the outskirts of town is worthwhile even if you have no intention of walking to Hadrian’s Wall. Re surfaced and with restored bridges and wicket gates, the footpath beside the Haltwhistle Burn is accessible by wheelchairs and buggies for most of its length. As the path is the course of an old railway line, the very gentle gradient is hardly noticeable so it makes the route ideal to push or toddle along making it a popular route for all ages. Along the way, there are a few seats provided for contemplation and several bridges to pause on and enjoy the tranquil setting. Tiny beaches, small pools and swirling eddies provide plenty to fascinate and the rich peaty water is alive with life. The gorge itself displays ancient rock formations, including glimpses of the quarry coal seam, down which creepers and honeysuckle coil seductively.
A walker can expect to spot herons stalking the banks for migrating salmon and brown trout or the charming darting and bobbing of the dippers that particularly delight overseas visitors and there are occasional sightings of shy otters and red squirrels to add anticipation to the walk.
The steep sided gully is wooded with tall growth that includes lichens and ferns clinging and flourishing on the long reaching boughs and trunks. The seasonal beauty of the canopy is endlessly satisfying, but the icicles in the depth of the gorge are one of the particular thrills of this site for all seasons. The well marked footpath is lined with herbs, flowers and grasses that change and develop over the weeks of summer into rich, colourful growth. Even on this popular route, wild raspberries, blackberries and sloes are abundant long into autumn.
But you can also wander away from the main path and discover even greater hidden treasures. Past quarries provide cathederal-like spaces where bluebells, campion and sparkling stitchwort carpet the dips and hollows. A red squirrel feeding station lies hidden beyond the main route and from there you can view, through the tree canopy, the tumbling burn as it rushes through the main gorge.
Nevertheless, this was not always a place of natural calm and silence. From the last of the old industries at the Old Brickworks site, whispers of another era are evident. The challenging, steep Cat Stairs link The Burn Gorge with the much less walker friendly Shield Hill and tell of a route to the vigorous industry of the 19th century. The rich rock formations of the gorge have been exploited for coal, clay and minerals since the Romans first harnessed the rushing water. Whilst the busy woollen mills, coal pits, quarries and lime kilns that lined the banks of the Burn and brought prosperity to Haltwhistle are long gone, some of their remains can still be spotted as low walls and mysterious brick structures. A picnic site is well placed by a small parking space where once the High Mill dominated the scene but which now provides tables in a tranquil spot.
The Burn Gorge is signposted from Fair Hill at The Old School House. Parking is available at the Burn Playing Field where notice boards explain three aspects of this gem of a walk. The road continues north as far as Lees Hall Farm, but it is not a through road and larger vehicles will find themselves struggling to turn. A small parking area also exists further on opposite Broomshaw Hill Farm and the footpath itself can be followed to reach The Milecastle Inn on the B6318 Cawfields crossroads.