It was a cold, windy Sunday, two weeks before Christmas, when I pulled on to the Lordenshaws car park, sitting below one of my all time favourite walks in Northumberland - Simonside. When I moved up to Northumberland fourteen years ago it had been my first walk there, so all those years later is was quite moving that I was hopefully going to make a decision that would benefit this special place.
The day before I had spent at Hexham Farmers Market selling the Shepherds Walks National Park Walks, which came out early in 2005. It had been a long tiring day and I must have said over 100 times that £1.00 from each pack sold was going to be put into the ‘Visitor Payback Scheme’, which is for environmental projects in the National Park. What exactly does this mean? Very few people had questioned the statement, but at last I was going to find out.
Back on the car park below Simonside I pulled on my walking boots, gaiters, fleece and threw my rucksack on my back. I walked over to the Northumberland National Park Landrover, where Russell Tait, the senior ranger for the northern area of the park was waiting. After a bit of friendly banter, a few minutes passed and the group had swollen to half a dozen, with many of the faces being familiar to me, being from both the National Park, National Trust and other interested parties.
I was not here just for the walk, but to look at the excellent work that Northumberland National Park had done and were planning to do in partnership with Northumberland Estates and the Forestry Commission. This is being done to help repair some of the wear and tear that has happened to the path that runs up from the Lordenshaws car park and along the ridge, over Dove Crag and on to the famous Simonside Crags. Could Shepherds Walks, or more precisely the ‘Visitor Payback Scheme’, help with the project?
We started off climbing slowly and stopping periodically to discuss issues such as the effect of walkers taking short cuts away from the way-marked route and how issues like this can be rectified in the future.
Just before we reached the summit of Dove Crag we stopped, so that we could shelter from the wind. Here we were told about what has been done with regard to the laying down of flagstones along a new ridge route that now runs just slightly south of the old permissive path. This will allow some future repair works to be carried out on the old route by Northumberland National Park Authority in partnership with English Nature.
It was great to see some positive action being taken, but sadly all this was coming at a cost. The flag stones, which incidentally had to be airlifted up on to the ridge, had been recycled from old mill floors and fitted perfectly into this wonderful rugged Northumberland landscape.
With 670 metres of flag stones already laid and many metres still remaining on the first phase of the work more money is needed and hopefully this is where Shepherds Walks, or rather the visitor payback money comes in.
As we approach the end of the first year of retailing the guides we have raised just over £1,300. As this is by far the greatest amount that has ever been raised through visitor payback we have managed to obtain ‘match funding’ for this amount. Therefore it has doubled the amount to £2,600.
So when standing on the top of Simonside this question was running through my mind - is this how we should be spending the money? This must be truly unique and something of which we should all be proud. The fact that I write and you buy these walking guides can make a real difference not only for ourselves but for fellow walkers.
We walked along a paved stretch of the new path, before turning back and looking at the old tired, eroded path that has served people so well over many years. Upon reaching the Simonside Crags we dropped steeply down to the forest track.
We continued on through the forest, dropping through it, and then a short Landrover drive back to the car park.
The sun had gone down and a distinct chill was in the air as I took off my boots and said my goodbyes. So what do you all think? Is this how we should be spending the money?
I would very much appreciate your views and comments before we make any decisions in March, which will be one year since I sold the first of these guides.
You can find out more and purchase the walking guides that helped to raise all this money at www.shepherdswalks.info
For more information contact Jon firstname.lastname@example.org
Thanks Jon !
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