A Winter Walk in Northumberland

I love a winter walk, particularly between Christmas and New Year when there is a real need to blow away the cobwebs. When the sun finally came out this “twixmas” we happily set off armed with the OS Explorer Map of the area (great Christmas present, thanks Matthew) and a flask.

A couple of weeks back we explored the River Till downstream from Twizel Bridge to Tillmouth, this time we decided to head upstream as this looked an interesting route on the map with a number of options for a circular route.

We parked in the pull-in by the Twizel Bridge and crossed the busy Berwick Road to follow the public footpath signposted to Etal. The start was along a good drive alongside the river, as we expected there was plenty of tree damage in the wake of last month’s storm, so sad to see so many mature trees blown over. There has been plenty of rain lately and the river was running fast, so not many birds to be seen – although we did surprise a heron.

I thought this was going to be an easy circular route along the River Till towards Etal, but as soon as the drive reached Twizel Mill the footpath headed uphill along a farm track and then a single muddy track through the woods. The rain coupled with the amount of leaves on the ground meant that it was muddy and slippery underfoot and it was a good idea to use some of the trees to help you along the way.

Walking in winter

There are two things I particularly love about walking in winter – one is the low light and the other is the chance to see the natural architecture of the area. With no leaves on the trees you can see the beautiful skeletons of the trees, you can see the meanders of the river through the twigs and appreciate the rocks that provide the permanent structures.

We skirted the mill, dropped down by the river again and then climbed back up to what may have been a quarry, all along a muddy path, which became easier past the rocks. Plenty of chances to see how the river moves through the valley and how the trees have adapted to the environment.

Another advantage of walking in winter is that it is so much easier to see the birds when there are no leaves on the trees. I heard bullfinches calling to one another and eventually saw a female in the tree tops. There were also blue tits, great tits, blackbirds and wrens going about their business of surviving the winter. The height we had gained wasn’t much, but it was sufficient to provide some lovely views upstream and a tantalizing glimpse of a footbridge.

The waymarkers soon pointed us down towards this bridge and we delighted to find a Hobbit-like fisherman’s hut with a bench outside. As it wasn’t in use, we sat down at the bench and had a cuppa with Christmas cake and cheese (Wensleydale of course).

Pleasant place for a brew

The unseasonal warmth made this a particularly pleasant place for a stop with the setting sun illuminating the River Till and the hut. This meant we had quite a lengthy stop and we made the decision to make it a short circular route. We therefore headed upstream only as far as the woodland where we followed the fisherman’s access track away from the river and parallel to the stream which we had crossed earlier on the footbridge.

At the top of this track we turned left over the stream again and followed the farm road round to Shellacres. This had an extensive old stable block, coach house and dovecote, which seemed much larger than you would expect for the size of the farm.

We turned left here onto the minor road, heading back to the A698. Our map marked a footpath through the plantation which would reduce the amount of time we would need to walk along the side of the main road, but it was difficult to find. The turn off was just after the bridge over Shellacres Burn through a stone gateway, however finding a route after that was tricky. I suspect that this path is not used often; add to that a number of trees blown over and the dead leaves we just had to find a route as best as possible, eventually coming out beside the main road, where there was no obvious exit. It didn’t reduce the amount we had to walk along the main road, but it did mean that I saw some rather splendid jelly fungi: the brown jelly ears and the yellow brain fungus. These are apparently only obvious after rain where they take on the water to expand. Without rain they are just small, desiccated crusts and very difficult to spot.

Once on the main road we turned left back to the car – although it is a fast road, there is plenty of verge, so it was fine to walk along for the 200m or so.

We are looking forward to returning to this area and taking the longer circular route upstream as well as a better route to Tillmouth (our previous attempt involved a very steep climb down the bank from the viaduct to the stream) – now I have a map of the area I can see that this route can certainly be improved upon!

River Till in winter
Upstream view of River Till above Twizel Mill
Fisherman's hut - River Till
Fisherman's Hut
river Till
View from the fisherman's hut
Sheelacres farm
Coach House and Dovecot at Shellacres farm
brown jelly ear fungus
Brown jelly ear fungus


Distance:          2.5 miles

Difficulty:         Medium

Terrain             Off road - muddy

Walking boots recommended


  • heron
  • bullfinch
  • wren
  • yellow brain fungus
  • brown jelly ear fungus

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