In Temperley’s Tread – the Birdlife of Durham’s Moor and Vale

A Walk,  exhibition and series of ‘Heritage Evenings’

In Temperley’s Tread – the Birdlife of Durham’s Moor and Vale comprised a series of five guided walks over four weekends along a 45-mile route through one of the north east’s most beautiful but least appreciated and understood landscapes. The walks attempted to create an interface between the North Pennines’ outstanding birdlife, its wider natural heritage and aspects of art, culture and history, as experienced through the embodied process of walking through an ‘interpreted’ landscape.  The inspiration for the walks was renowned naturalist and author of The History of the Birds of Durham (1951), George W. Temperley (1875-1967). He suggested that to experience the true majesty of the Durham uplands, one should walk ‘from Edmundbyers on the Derwent through Stanhope in Weardale to Middleton in Teesdale, returning by Langdon Beck, St. John’s Chapel, Boltsburn, Hunstanworth and Blanchland, a circuit of some 45 miles.” The wildlife and landscapes experienced along Temperley’s Tread, along with comments and poems created by participants, were used to inspire artwork created by Dr. Mike Collier which, along with photographs, poems and notes from the participants,  formed a central element of an exhibition and a series of ‘heritage evenings’ events, that toured local communities along the route of the walks between December 2012 and March 2013. The project involved over 100 participants, and the walks were led by Collier and natural historian Keith Bowey, with a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund and with the support of the North Pennines AONB Partnership.

The project linked science and art, intuition and cognition, to local issues, and explored new ways of engaging with, and creating a sharper understanding of the need to consider and respond to the impact of change on the fragile eco-systems of the Durham Uplands. It aimed to help us re-think our approaches to the environment in the 21st Century in ways that address the “engagement-versus-detachment question’… which … ‘with its stress on appreciation, conceives of an observer interpreting and valuing what she is looking at, or perhaps, cognitively and emotionally engaged with” and that same observer’s “creative, multisensory embodied being-in-the-world” * Sheldman, G (ed) (2012) ‘A Painter’s Eye is just a Way of Looking at the World’, in Aarnason, A et al. (2012) Landscapes Beyond land. Oxford, Bergahn Books, p. 35

During this walk, over 120 wildlife records were uploaded to the WildWatch North Pennine’s database and over 40 images of species to The Open University’s iSpot system. Along the route, 84 bird species and over 210 species of plant were recorded, many being upland heath or bog specialties. Please click here for further information about the project.

Collier presented the findings of this project in a paper (jointly with Prof. Kevin Hannam), at the International Conference, Active Countryside Tourism, ​23-25 January 2013, Leeds Metropolitan University.

The Walks

These were led by natural historian Keith Bowey (with whom I have undertaken a number of previous walks) and Mike Collier acting as guides and route interpreters.  The wildlife seen and experienced on the guided walks, along with information shared by the perceptions and knowledge of the participants, informed the making of artwork. The guided walks also inspired the staging of a series of ‘heritage evenings’ for local communities along the route in Stanhope, Middleton-in-Teesdale and St. John’s Chapel.  Each of these ‘heritage evenings’ related the story and themes of the walks and the history of the life of George Temperley. The over-arching purpose of the project was to take all of those who participated in the walks and related heritage events on a learning journey towards a deeper understanding of, and ultimately a more active involvement in, the conservation of the Durham uplands, from both a cultural landscape and biodiversity perspective. This project was supported with a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund.

June and early July saw unprecedented falls of rain and unseasonably chilly weather. However, on the day of our first walk, from Edmunbyers to Stanhope, the weather broke and we had sunshine and gentle, warm winds for most of an excellent day’s walking. The highlights included: Cuckoo, Oystercatcher, Common Sandpiper, Short-eared Owl, Curlew, a couple of families of Wheatear, Redshank, Lapwing, Snipe (including the extraordinary sound of four Snipe ‘drumming’ around us on top of the moors), Ring Ouzel, Golden Plover, Buzzard, Red Kite and Kestrel (and, of course, many Red Grouse and Meadow Pipits).

On walk two, from Stanhope to Middleton-on-Tees, the weather was showery with broken spells of blustery sunshine. We walked high across largely trackless, heather moors – an invigorating experience, ‘though tough walking! We saw most of the birds seen on walk one (Oystercatcher, Curlew, Redshank, Lapwing, Snipe, four Ring Ouzel, Golden Plover, Wheatear, Buzzard, and Kestrel) although in smaller numbers in the case of the waders; clearly, having bred successfully (hopefully), they have now begun to leave the high moorlands. We also saw a family of Stonechat and, the highlight of the day, two Merlin and a Hobby – at the same time. Although we have not yet seen any live Black Grouse, we did encounter a dead one!

On walk three, from Middleton-on-Tees to St John’s Chapel our route took us, initially, along the banks of Tees as far as the Wynch Bridge. This stretch of the river is internationally renowned for its wealth of flora and we saw an abundance of wildflowers in the uncut hay meadows and on the valley floor, including Wild Pansy, Hay Rattle, Globe Flower, Lady’s Mantle, Pignut and Oxeye Daisy as well as Heath Milkwort on the riverbank at Low Force. We left the Tees at Newbiggin, climbing steadily along an unclassified road until we reached the highest point on our walk, Swinhope Head (at just over 600 metres). As the afternoon progressed and we made our way over Green Fell and Pike Law, the wind grew in strength, keeping many of the birds down. We had a fleeting view of a Merlin as it flew along the flanks of Black Hill, but by the time we reached journey’s end at St. John’s Chapel, the wind had reached gale-force. However, we did manage to see a total of six different bedstraws on this walk – Heath Bedstraw; Marsh Bedstraw; Northern Bedstraw; Cleavers; Crosswort and Lady’s Bedstraw.

Walk four (a much shorter walk of around seven miles) began at St. John’s Chapel from where we traced the River Wear through Westgate catching fleeting glimpses of Dipper and Yellow Wagtail, before joining the Weardale Way just south of Warden Hill. From here, we climbed Cuthbert’s Heights where we saw a Black Grouse on Northgate Fell and caught site of a Peregrine in the distance over the North Durham FellsPerhaps the highlight of this walk was seeing juvenile Redstart and Crossbill at the edge of a small conifer plantation on Hangingwells Common. Our route then took us across Smailsburn Common and, as we made our way into Rookhope, we encountered many Common Spotted Orchids, Ragged Robin, Teasel, Wild Thyme and a range of grasses.

Walk five took us from Rookhope to Balnchland via Bolt’s Law – a terrific view point. From its summit (540m), we could see over to the Cheviots, Simonside, The Pennines as well as Newcastle and SunderlandMany of the waders had now left the uplands – there were small numbers of Golden Plover, Lapwing and Curlew, but the really exciting sighting was of a Raven. Ravens no longer breed in Co. Durham and are rare, having been persecuted to near extinction. The Walk ended at the White Monk’s Tea Room at Blanchland where we all enjoyed tea, coffee and cake!

Click here for a PDF of the project report