Forgive me for raising it, but as this is the last Off The Beaten Track of 2017, I can’t help mentioning New Year.
I’m not a great believer in resolutions – the experience of many years has taught me that mine, at least, don’t last into February. But for a long time now I’ve enjoyed the start of a new year. Not so much the actual event at midnight – these days I’m likely to be asleep by then – but the process of reflection, looking back on the year past and forward to the one to come.
In some small way, it feels like a new start on a clean calendar. I can make my plans and although I know that some will remain unaccomplished, some will be completed, and others may just be started, perhaps to be finished at some later date.
So, what do I see in prospect for 2018? We are certainly living in what you might call “uncertain times”, but recognising that there is little I can do to influence any of the global events that swirl around us, instead I intend to do what I do each year – to explore the area where I live, a part of the world that I love very much.
After all, here in Northumberland we have some of the best landscapes to explore. Where else in the country can we find the wide, open beaches and heather-clad hills so close, and hill forts, Roman remains, castles, and so many other layers of history? What more excuse do we need to get out and explore?
As well as the interesting places I find, it also does me good – both physically and mentally.
As humans, we were designed to live in the open spaces. We often read how being in the countryside has a measurable positive effect on our mental health and I can feel that the exertion of climbing a hill is doing me good.
As an escape from the modern world, the lack of mobile coverage in much of rural Northumberland means you can leave all that behind for a few hours.
And if not for us, how about for our children, who while having more opportunities to try new things, perhaps have fewer of the freedoms that were enjoyed in the past.
But all is not lost, for in the countryside we can let them run free and explore, to see nature – what can be more exciting than seeing birds and animals in their environment – and to use their imagination.
Sadly, however, one thing I am increasingly saddened by when I am out and about is the amount of dog dirt.
Many owners, I know, pick up after their pets and bin the bagged waste. But there are many who do not and leave the mess on the footpaths for us to tread in, or bag it and then either leave the bag by the path, or throw it into a nearby tree, where it will linger for years, preserved in its plastic wrapper.
There has been some encouragement for dog owners to ‘stick and flick’ the mess into the undergrowth, a habit which I find deplorable. This not only makes the undergrowth a no-go area for our kids, the stick itself becomes a hazard – doesn’t every child pick up a stick to use in their imaginary games?
So come on dog owners, do the right thing and ‘bag it and bin it’. Enjoy the countryside with your dog, but don’t spoil it for the rest of us.
But to get back on a more positive note, if I am tempting you towards thoughts of next year, here are some ideas which you might want to put on your list.
Climb to the highest point in the county, the summit of The Cheviot. Often shrouded in cloud, and always wet and muddy, it is a special place in the county and one, if possible, we should aspire to get to every now and then.
And if not The Cheviot, how about one of the other splendid summits, such as Hedgehope, Windy Gyle or The Schill.
Seek out a pre-historic relic from the past – a cup and ring marked rock, a stone circle, or a hill fort. Our landscape is full of enigmatic places, which all can excite the imagination. What prompted people to carve and to build these magnificent structures? We’ll probably never know the answer, but to see such places can be a humbling experience.
Walk the pilgrims’ route across the sands to Lindisfarne. While the traffic travels across the causeway in a continuous convoy, get away on your own, walking in the footsteps of saints, and see the nature in its undisturbed splendour.
Walk the walls at Berwick. From the ramparts you can get such a special view both of the town, which remains essentially unchanged, and of the coast and hills on the outside. Saturated in history, this is a magical place where your imagination can run wild.
And you’ll perhaps have noticed that, in common with most of the places I write about, there are no entrance fees. They say there is no such thing as a free lunch, but there are many free visits to be had!
Finally, as a blatant bit of self-promotion, if you are looking for a stocking filler for a loved one or for some ideas about exciting and interesting places to visit, you could do worse than to take a look at my website www.wildsofwanny.co.uk where you can see all of the local books that I have written.