Location: Long Crag, Northumberland
Date: 11 November 2012
Weather: Cool and dry with a light breeze at the summit
Distance: 8.53 miles (13.73km)
Highest point: 319m (1,047ft)
Kit roundup: Same as Roseberry Topping but without the Source bladder
Nobody was free to go out for a wander this weekend so I decided to head up one of Northumberland’s Marilyn’s. Hills in this category stick up at least 150m (about 500ft) above everything around them and were first identified in this way by Alan Dawson in his book The Relative Hills of Britain. There are eight in Northumberland, of which I have climbed only The Cheviot so far.
Long Crag (NU062069) is accessed through Thrunton Wood, which has an ample car park, good signage and well maintained paths and tracks throughout.
It was a pleasant start to the day, ambling down smooth Forestry Commission roads as I slowly warmed up. A couple of mountain bike riders passed me spinning low gears on the gentle incline towards an area of felled woodland; they offered a nod and a good morning and left me alone.
Walking along the featureless track soon grew dull. Dense pine woodland on one side and a large bald patch on the other made for pretty uninteresting scenery, at least until Coe Crags appeared through the pine boughs. I got a bit hot walking in the softshell so I took a breather, hung my pack up on a tree and swapped the softshell out for my wind shirt again, just like on Roseberry Topping. Maybe next time I’ll just get the micro fleece out of the pack and leave the heavier North Face jacket at home.
After crossing a stream, the ascent began. Now it soon became apparent that these woods are either very popular with cyclists or receive a lot of rainfall since the paths up to Coe Crags were badly eroded with loose rocks, thick mud and exposed roots impeding every stride. The climb was short and the terrain made the going a bit difficult; my feet were slipping around and I needed to be careful to place each step on firm ground as not to turn an ankle.
Near the top the woods gave way to open, heather covered moorland but the paths didn’t get much better and my feet started to hurt a bit. I’ve got flat feet and tend to over-pronate if the ground is uneven; this leads to sore tendons on both arches as I unconsciously correct for collapsed arches during periods of intense activity. I had this diagnosed a few years ago but only suffer badly very occasionally so have never invested in any preventative or corrective measures.
Back to the task in hand: Coe Crags yielded some really nice views of the valley below, the North Sea towards Alnmouth and the Simonside Hills.
I admired the scenery for a few minutes then made progress towards Long Crag, a few hundred metres along the crest. The path was still quite rocky but despite this I was making good progress. By now, though, my feet were giving me quite a bit of grief and I was ready for a sit down and a brew.
I met a couple of people and a barking dog at the summit. We shared a few observations on the fine weather and interesting routes before they headed down the way I came up. Wandering over to a cairn I set up my Pocket Stove and lit an esbit tablet to get some water on to boil. Since solid fuel tablets are quite sensitive to wind I had to tuck it right into the stones of the cairn to get enough shelter from the barely noticeable breeze that was blowing from the north. Whilst waiting for the kettle I enjoyed some tuna sandwiches and a pack of Discos.
A party of older walkers passed by, closely followed by some fell runners with their inquisitive dog. I don’t know what it was today but I was having no luck with the canines – there was no chance I was giving my hot chocolate up to this mutt!
Reluctantly I got up and started back towards the car. I cut the walk a bit shorter than planned so I could rest my feet back at home. That said, the path down the other side was probably worse than the one I came up. I wasn’t hanging about though and needed to warm back up after my break so I got a move on. Down in the valley again I passed by a gatepost with somebody’s deflated birthday balloon hanging off it – a bit of a remote spot for a party if you ask me.
The meander back to the car park took me back onto the same path I came in on. The forest roads were no more exciting than when I saw them two hours before but there were more people out and about – and at least 20 more dogs. Great.
All in all it was a reasonable walk. The views from the top of Coe Crags and Long Crag were definitely worth the dull track walking but I’m not sure I’ll be coming back to Thrunton Wood in a hurry. My feet are still aching as I write this at 8.30pm on the day of the walk but I have taken steps (sorry) to alleviate the problem.
On the way back I stopped into the Newcastle branch of Go Outdoors and explained my problem to a top lad called Mark. He ran through some options for insoles to replace the stock ones that come with the Salomon Comet 3D GTX boots, clearly demonstrating that he really knew his stuff. One of the choices that he offered was a pair of Superfeet insoles. Mark went through the theory of how they work and got a few samples out for me to try for size, suggesting some simple exercises to do in store to make sure that I made an informed choice. I finally decided on the orange model which he kindly trimmed down to size and slipped into a pair of the store’s Comet boots so I could wander round in them before buying them. They feel firm and very different to the wafer-thin beds that came with my boots but definitely offer more support and cushioning. I’m sure they’ll take a little getting used to.
Normally I would have sought out a price match using Go Outdoors’ Price Guarantee but since Mark was so helpful I didn’t mind spending the extra few quid. Watch this space to see how they work out for me.