CRAGSIDE : A Summer Stroll exploring THE GUN WALK
Updated: Sep 8
The Gun walk is one of the longest waymarked paths on the Cragside Estate. It covers a huge area, and it is meant to follow in the footsteps of the estate’s gamekeepers. Naturally Bruno and I were very keen to explore.
Julie parked the car in the main carpark, and we headed towards the house. In the summertime, the gardens around the house are a riot of colour with bright yellow deeply scented azalea and a wonderful mixture of brightly coloured rhododendrons.
Of course, the main over-riding colour is that of the beautiful purple rhododendron ponticum.
We walked under the archway of the house and along a short distance of the carriage drive before diving off on to the Gun Walk.
As soon as we began the walk, we knew that it would be fantastic. The path was paved in rough square stone slabs and was closed in on both sides by tall walls of rhododendron. The walls were so high that it felt like we were walking through a maze. Small animals scuttled off into the thicket for cover as we trotted along.
As we walked further away from the house, the walls opened out and below us we could see a rich mosaic of shrubs and tall pine trees sloping down towards the road. In the near distance, we could just make out the river Coquet snaking its way along the valley.
To our left, sheer cliffs loomed above us and within every single fissure and crack small trees, shrubs and ferns had sprouted. In addition, any horizontal surfaces were clothed in miniature forests of pale creamy lichen. In places the trail twisted and turned beneath magnificent stone arches where the rocks had fallen against each other. It felt as if we were walking through a magical place, so it seemed strange to hear the hum of traffic below us.
Soon the surface of the path beneath our paws changed and we found ourselves walking on carpets of leaf mulch and conifer needles. The air was heavy with the scent of the pine trees that were growing all around – below us, above us, some holding fast on to enormous boulders and rock faces. How on earth these huge trees had ever managed to root themselves in the scant soil I don’t know.
Eventually the path turned away from the road and started to climb up higher onto the estate. There were small stony steps, rocks and roots which led us away from the road below. We could no longer hear the cars. Instead, we heard the twitter of birds in the trees above our heads. It was hard work climbing up the slope and so we were panting a little harder when we reached the top – and so were our humans!
The soil seemed damper and there was a tangle of tree roots to negotiate. A large pine tree seemed to be guarding a small cave-like cleft in the rock.
We trotted down a small slope and descended in to Cragend carpark. Once again, we found ourselves overlooked by vertical cliff faces. This car park is probably one of the less used car parks on the estate and it was very peaceful. It is hard to believe that over one hundred and fifty years ago, the stone for the house was blasted out of this rock. If you look carefully, you can still see the remains of the quarry workings and also blast marks on the quarry walls.
As elsewhere on the estate, there are loads and loads of rhododendrons and azalea growing here. Every one of them was put in by hand, and there are millions of them!
Azaleas are actually, themselves, rhododendrons, but they differ in the shape, and arrangement of their flowers and also in the number of pollen-bearing stamen that they possess. Whereas azaleas have small funnel shaped flowers, typical rhododendrons sport clusters of larger bell-shaped blooms, and rhododendrons have twice as many stamens as azalea.
Another interesting fact about rhododendrons is that all of their tissues, even the pollen – contain a poison which stops any animal from eating them. As a result, there are rhododendrons everywhere and the rangers have had to start controlling them by digging some out. Guess what they found discarded in the roots – empty ginger beer bottles!
It must have been such thirsty work planting all those bushes!
We left Cragend carpark and here the Gun walk joined the start of the Wetland Walk and we had to walk up a steep boulder strewn hill criss crossed with substantial roots.
We climbed higher and higher up the slope until the path levelled out between a copse of pine. Their needles formed a soft carpet under our paws. It felt cool and damp to the touch.
Zigzagging down between huge boulders we found a bench with more far-reaching views.
But my humans didn’t want to stop for a rest – so on we trotted. We hadn’t met anyone else at all on our walk so far, so we were actually quite surprised to see another dog and its humans plodding along towards us. His tummy seemed to be fringed in mud, but he was quite happy and wagging his tail as he saw us. As usual I let Bruno do the ‘meet and greet’.
As for his humans, their trousers were caked in mud and their boots were certainly not the same colour that they had started out with.
“You might want to watch your step” they said, ‘it’s a tad muddy”.
And indeed, it was. We didn’t mind – after all, mud washes off!
But it wasn’t much fun holding onto our humans. They insisted on teetering on the rocks and roots at the edge of each and every muddy puddle. Why couldn’t they just walk through them?!
Eventually we found our way through the mud and back on to the Carriage Drive.
We followed the Carriage Drive around the end of Nelly’s Moss Lake. The geese were sitting on the bank, but they were unusually quiet – it was quite a lazy summer afternoon so why would any goose waste energy?
Ahead of us we could hear the excited chatter of the children having great fun on the playground at Crozier. We trotted past the little café. There were clusters of humans big and small poring over the ice cream - just what flavour would they choose? We didn’t hang around to find out!
Leaving the hubbub of Crozier behind us we continued on our walk and joined the Inspiration Walk for a time.
By this time, we were getting a bit tired, and we were looking forward to getting back to the car. We trotted past the trim trail and walked along a wide forestry track lined with conifer trees and long reaching views once again.
And then, we took a long flight of stone steps down between crags and boulders festooned in rhododendrons and coral berries. We found a small seating area nestled in a small cleft in the rock before crossing a short wooden bridge with a scary drop below us. We didn’t look down! The path swung around on itself and followed even more stone steps and then Slipper lake loomed into view . It looked so still and tranquil, but we resisted the temptation to stop.
The track was quite warm and stony to our paws but there were tall trees and lots of shrubs either side of us. We could hear the birds twittering above our heads and dragonflies on patrol raced back and forth in front of us.
Eventually we found the track down to the house. We could see the multitude of chimneys below us as we trundled down the hill – we were so tired.
The car was in sight, and we hurried to climb in – Home James – and don’t spare the horses!