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  • Julie Muller

CRAGSIDE : A Summer Stroll around the WETLAND WALK

Two dogs - one sitting and one lying down. They have a luxuriant green reed bed behind them and behind that lush green trees and shrubs
Bruno and Shep rest besides Blackburn Lake - once the largest lake on the Cragside Estate

The Wetland walk, which is 1½ miles long, starts from Cragend, one of the less well-used car parks off the Cragside carriage drive.

It is a small car park at the end of a long gravel track and set between the vertical rock faces of the quarry from which the rocks were hewn to build the Cragside residence. If you look very carefully you can still see the blast marks on the surface of the rocks.

On this warm June afternoon, the car park was still and quiet. The many rhododendrons and azalea bushes were festooned in spent purple flowers which seemed to be clinging to the branches as if reluctant to let go and admit that the June rhododendron bonanza was at an end.

We looked for the markers for the Wetland walk. At this point it joins the Gun Walk for a short distance but then it diverts off towards the far reaches of the estate. Bruno and I were very excited!

At first, the track was quite stony under our paws and the shrubs formed a long corridor on either side of us. In places there were heaps of feather-like purple petals on the ground and here, some of the shrubs were still in their bright purple finery. They clearly hadn’t got the message! We trotted over boulders and skipped over thick roots which in places draped themselves over the boulders like long sinuous fingers.

We saw large stands of fresh green bracken all of which were unfurling their fronds towards the sky and around these there was a multitude of young finely foliaged birch trees with their stark white trunks. Above us, the wind rattled the fresh needled pine trees that swayed above our heads. We gazed into the boughs above us hoping to see something to chase – not that it was even possible - Julie had a very tight hold on us.

Soon we found our way onto the carriage drive, and we trotted along in pursuit of Blackburn car park from which we knew that Blackburn Lake could not be far away. My ears pricked up – could I hear water?

And indeed, hidden by vegetation and close to the path there was a small stream trickling enticingly over stones and boulders towards the bottom of the estate. We dragged Julie towards it and, as it was a hot day, neither Bruno nor I, could resist plunging in. The water was refreshingly cold, but its peaty contents painted my white fur bright orange as I paddled.

We clambered out and thanked Julie by shaking a shower of icy cold-water droplets over her bare legs – she wasn’t impressed.

At the top of the stream, we saw a large brick construction that looked as if it had once controlled the level of water in the lake.

Sure enough, as we climbed up the bank alongside it, we saw a vast reedbed in front of us – this is what remains of the Blackburn Lake.

At one time, this was the biggest of the artificial lakes that Lord Armstrong had created in order to supply hydroelectricity for his home. However, in 1927, the lake catastrophically burst its banks.

And now, nearly one hundred years later, the dried-up lake is a forest of reed and rush and this afternoon this reedbed was positively buzzing with insects and birds.

The edges of the lake seemed to be littered with tidied up storm damaged tree stumps and we had great fun playing doggy leapfrog, However, behind them, we saw a whole platoon of young beech, birch and oak trees all growing ever skywards in their efforts to create a brand-new canopy.

Wandering further around the lake, we discovered a small wooden boathouse complete with a resident boat and we trotted along the wall to take a closer look.

And then our walk took us back over the carriage drive to retrace our steps back towards Cragend Car Park.

At this point the walk joins the Gun Walk again to take another loop through the woods but today we decided to head for home - tired and happy.

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