Just go with the flow on this northern trail

Walk of the Month: Never mind Hadrian's Wall. Northumberland has other beautiful spots worth exploring, says Mark Rowe

Head west from Newcastle, go up a bit, and you'll find yourself in Hadrian's Wall country. The Roman fortification still casts a spell over us, as witnessed by the popularity of the exhibition on Emperor Hadrian at the British Museum, which runs until the end of the month.

All this means that the striking beauty of other elements of the Northumbrian landscape are often overlooked. One such spot is Allen Banks, which lies just to the south of the wall. Named after the River Allen, it is today managed by the National Trust but was largely the 19th-century creation of Susan Davidson, whose husband inherited nearby Ridley Hall and its grounds.

Davidson managed the estate for 35 years, creating a network of wood walks, damming burns and nurturing mixed woodlands of conifers, native trees and ornamental plantings. She also built summerhouses, and even a wigwam in the woodlands that flank the banks of the River Allen.

The Allen is a bewitching water current, running due north where it bolsters the River South Tyne on its journey eastwards to the North Sea. October is a superb time to visit, with the leaves now turning golden.

The walk starts at the National Trust car park at Allen Banks. From here, follow the trail as it exits the car park at its south end. After a couple of hundred yards, take the right fork uphill, climbing quickly above the river and with views of Northumberland National Park over your shoulder. At a second fork, again take the right-hand path uphill. Over the river you can see Morralee Wood, once the site of a small coal mine and lead and silver workings.

Before long you reach a reconstructed summerhouse, then continue ahead to drop sharply downhill, accompanied by a stream, and sprawling, exposed tree roots, to the riverbank. Here, turn right and follow the path through Briarwood Banks, an ancient woodland with some hazel coppicing still visible, towards Plankey Mill.

On the way you pass a rope bridge across the River Allen and shortly afterwards you cross the river on a suspension bridge to Plankey Mill. Here, turn immediately right, to go over a stile, and follow the field and river edge and then head half-left towards the bank of woods. There are two sets of stiles here – take the first ones, marked with green arrows, to enter Staward Gorge. The woodland is home to a range of species, including Britain's most northerly population of dormice, along with red squirrels, roe deer and otters.

The path climbs quickly above the river with exposed sandstone breaking through the woodland on the far bank. You cross a footbridge and take the right-hand path that keeps close to the river. After three-quarters of a mile, take the left-hand upper path at a fork, following the green waymarkers and, 100 yards further on, again take the left-hand upper path. The heavy rains in September mean this stretch of the walk is likely to remain boggy for some time.

At the top of the hill, the path flattens out and swings left in front of a gate. You are now walking north and soon thrilling glimpses of the river and farmland far below can be caught through the trees. The heather was hanging on here in the last week of September, so you may even still spot some purple.

Next, you reach the stone remnants of the entrance to Staward Pele tower, built as a 13th-century border stronghold. From the end of the 14th century it had a more peaceful purpose as a place of prayer for the hermits from nearby Hexham priory.

The footprint of the tower remains, overrun by nature but enjoying a breathtaking position above the gorge.

From here, there is a steep descent back to the footbridge you crossed earlier, and you retrace your steps to Plankey Mill. Instead of crossing the bridge, turn right along the paved road and bear left in front of the farm. As this climbs uphill, bear left down a path and walk alongside the river again. A real feature of this walk, at this time of year, is some extraordinary fungi, red and white toadstools straight out of fairy tales and others that resemble candelabra, or corals.

A little further on, the path divides – you can take either because they rejoin a little further on. You then come to a footbridge. At the time of writing, the bridge was closed because of flood damage. When it reopens, you cross it and simply turn right to reach the car park. If it is closed, continue ahead through two fields and pass through a gate on to a road, where you turn left over a bridge to reach the car park.

Compact facts

Distance: Six miles

Time: Three hours

OS Map: Explorer 43

How to get there: Mark Rowe stayed at Craster Towers, a Grade II-listed, 14th-century pele tower in Craster, Northumberland (01665 576674; crastertower.co.uk). Prices from £625 per week. Short breaks are also available.

Sport
Alexis Sanchez celebrates scoring a second for Arsenal against Reading
football
Life and Style
health
Voices
An easy-peel potato; Dave Hax has come up with an ingenious method in food preparation
voicesDave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
News
i100
News
Japan's population is projected to fall dramatically in the next 50 years (Wikimedia)
news
Life and Style
Buyers of secondhand cars are searching out shades last seen in cop show ‘The Sweeney’
motoringFlares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
News
Ben Little, right, is a Labour supporter while Jonathan Rogers supports the Green Party
general election 2015
News
The 91st Hakone Ekiden Qualifier at Showa Kinen Park, Tokyo, 2014
news
Life and Style
Former helicopter pilot Major Tim Peake will become the first UK astronaut in space for over 20 years
food + drinkNothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
News
Kim Wilde began gardening in the 1990s when she moved to the countryside
peopleThe singer is leading an appeal for the charity Thrive, which uses the therapy of horticulture
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Recruitment Genius: Bid / Tender Writing Executive

    £24000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: With offices in Manchester, Lon...

    Guru Careers: Marketing Executives / Marketing Communications Consultants

    Competitive (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a number of Marketi...

    Recruitment Genius: Marketing Executive

    £20000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This well established business ...

    Ashdown Group: Management Accountant - Manchester

    £25000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Management Accountant - Manchester...

    Day In a Page

    NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

    Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

    A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
    How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

    How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

    Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
    From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

    The wars that come back to haunt us

    David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
    Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
    Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

    UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

    Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
    John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

    ‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

    Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
    Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

    Let the propaganda wars begin - again

    'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

    Japan's incredible long-distance runners

    Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
    Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

    Tom Drury: The quiet American

    His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
    You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

    You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

    Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
    Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

    Beige to the future

    Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

    Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

    More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
    Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

    Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

    The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
    Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own