Kittiwake Tower

One thing I like about this little project I’ve set myself, to post a photo per day, is the unexpected. Those little gems that appear from nowhere. A trip back up to Gateshead was on the cards today, the second day of my son’s athletics meeting. A short wander down to the river before his race, through an industrial estate and I came across this tower specially built for nesting kittiwakes.

Kittiwakes are birds of the sea, rarely seen inland and nesting usually on high cliffs along the coast. But a colony has been attracted to Newcastle, nesting on ledges on the tall buildings along the quayside and on the Tyne bridge. They first appeared in the 1950s but soon each building they adopted was demolished. By the 1970s the Baltic Flour Mill had 300 breeding pairs.

But it’s not all good news. Their defecation habits and untidy nesting do not enamour them to the city council and building owners with buildings often being netted to prevent nesting. To persuade the Kittiwakes to nest away from the more tourist areas this hotel for Kittiwakes as been specially built which, as you can see, is working.

Kittiwakes generally mate for life which can last up to 28 years. When not nesting they roam the seas as far away as Canada and Greenland before returning to the same site. If anyone wants to watch a live webcam of the kittiwakes on the Baltic, half a mile up river, click here.

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Friar’s Goose Pumping Engine, Gateshead

Within a stone’s throw behind the Gateshead International Stadium stands this ruin, well away from the sight of visitors to the stadium. The remains housed a steam engine built by Robert Stephenson for pumping water from the many coal mines that operated below the ground in the 19th century.

Coal mining along the River Tyne first started in 1792 and by the early 19c there were many collieries operating, many digging coal from the same seam. In order to save money many pits did not fill the voids or supported the roofs left after the coal was extracted. This caused roof collapses and the resulting subsidence allowed the River Tyne to seep into the seams flooding many pits.

Even though it may not have been their fault Thomas Easton & Co., the operators of the Hebburn Colliery, commissioned Robert Stephenson to built a pumping station at Friars Goose to keep the workings free of floods. The design had three sets of pumping engines working constantly. Every pump stroke lifted about 195 galls so with one stroke every 10 seconds this removed over 1,500,000 gallons of water per day.

At first the other Mine owners willingly contributed towards this pumping operation as it also kept their mines free of flooding, but in 1850 a dispute arose and payments stopped. Thomas Easton & Co. retaliated by stopping the pumping resulting in the flooding of Wallsend and Hebburn Collieries. Hebburn stayed flooded until in 1863 a new company, The Tyne Coal Co., took over and pumping recommenced. The costs of pumping proved enormous and eventually the company was forced to close. Yet another new company took over, the Wallsend & Hebburn Coal Co., and by the 1890s 1300 men and boys were employed. Hebburn Colliery finally closed in 1932.

Comparing the photo with one I took in 2005, the rapid growth of the ivy is most noticeable. I fear this will be causing deterioration in the stonework. It’s a shame that our industrial heritage is suffering in these times of austerity.

Link to a map showing the location of the pump house.

Egglestone Abbey

Bit of a cheat today. This photo of Egglestone Abbey near Barnard Castle was taken just a couple of metres from the van on my way home. I did however run past it yesterday and had mentally logged the location. Knowing I would have to take the dog out up my local hill when I got home and where photo opportunities are becoming exhausted I hope I am forgiven.

Egglestone Abbey, on the south bank of the Tees, that’s the river in the foreground, was Premonstratensian. I understand this means it was occupied by Canons Regular or priests of the Roman Catholic faith rather than monks like at Reivaulx. Monks lived a secluded, contemplative life whereas Canons Regular carried out preaching and pastoral work in the local community. This could be the handing out of food to the needy for instance. They still followed a code of austerity and wore a habit but this was white so they became known as the White Canons.

The Abbey dates from the late 12th century and was never as rich as the Cistercian monasteries. It took a hammering from both the Scots and English armies two centuries later but the end finally came in 1540 when was King Henry VIII disbanded it in his Dissolution of the Monasteries.

The Devil’s Boulder of Great How

A spare few hours. Decided to explore Baldersdale to the north west of Barnard Castle in the Pennines. The valley contains three reservoirs which looked interesting. At the head stood a distinctive hill top, Shacklesborough. At 454m high not significant but its flat top begged for a visit. (It’s in the distance in the photo). But Shacklesborough is surrounded by pathless moorland, a variety of grasses and rushes with a sprinkling of sphagnum moss. No crags or boulders to break the monotony. But then crossing the small ring contour of Great How at 382m I came across this boulder. All on its own, no other rock outcrop in sight. And sometime in prehistory it’s been split neatly into two like the cloven hoof of a goat. I quoted Donkey to myself from the film Shrek “I like that boulder. That is a NICE boulder”.

A boulder of such distinction must have had a name so back at base I looked up the largest scale map I could find on the internet. Not even shown. It’s surely worthy of a name, so as a cloven hoof is associated with the devil I hereby name this boulder, The Devil’s Boulder.

Ramsons

I’ve already posted a photo of this plant earlier this Spring (March 25). Back then the lush green leaves that covered the woodland floor were a welcome sight after the dull colours of winter. The flowers of the ramsons are a delicate white that display a carpet of colour that is equal to that of the bluebells. Ransoms seem to prefer the damp low levels of the wood leaving the upper levels for the bluebells.

Another common name for ramsons is wild garlic and can be used as a substitute for for culinary garlic. A European delicacy is the milk or butter from cows fed on ramsons.

Chequers

A former inn on the Hambleton Street, an ancient drove road linking Scotland with the south of England. Ancient man generally stuck to high ridges where he could. Low level routes would have been boggy, wooded and less safe. Cattle would be driven from Scotland to markets at Malton and York. A various locations they would be rested and fattened up before proceeding on the next leg or to market. The Chequers Inn was one such point.

The advent of the railways brought about the decline of the Drovers. Cattle could be killed locally and transported by train to the demanding cities of England.

The Chequers Inn continued in use as a farm; at one time selling teas and cakes. It now seems to be just residential but the old inn sign is still outside; a chequer board with the inscription:

Be not in haste; Step in and taste;

Good ale for nothing – tomorrow.

Eston Bank

Eston Bank has been plagued by arsonists this Spring. In one report the fire service were trying to extinguish a fire in one area, at the same time the arsonists would be lighting another one elsewhere. Almost taunting the fire service.

But nature is quick to restore. Bracken rhizomes go too deep into the earth to be killed off. It’s a particularly invasive plant which dominates all other vegetation. In a few weeks the bracken could reach two metres high smothering all other plants. Although the leaf litter has been burnt which will help other plants establish themselves bracken produces toxins in the soil which inhibit their growth.

Apparently the young bracken fronds, called fiddleheads, can be eaten. But as bracken spores are also said to be carcinogenic I wouldn’t want to risk it.