After last week’s post about Wallington, I’m in another National Trust location, but one that underlines the points I made about conservation and land management above and beyond the “Big House”. At Allen Banks there is no architectural treat; simply miles of walks through a hundred-acre wood.
Actually there is a hall but Ridley Hall is not part of the Trust’s estate, though it was a former resident who was responsible for this woodland. Beyond the 65 flower beds in her formal gardens, Susan Davidson spent decades creating a series of pathways and bridges through the adjoining natural landscape in the mid 19th Century. Her work was a fore-runner to the Trust as she managed some of the most ancient woodland in Northumberland. Rhododendrons were introduced at some point, though luckily they have not become invasive and much of the area remains a Site of Special Scientific Interest for both the flora and fauna.
The River Allen is a tributary of the Tyne, and with a decent pair of wellingtons easily waded on a nice day like this. but in December 2015 Storm Desmond struck the area. There were rockfalls from the crags above the river, landslips, fallen trees and a Victorian suspension bridge that had been restored only a couple of years previously was washed away. Many of the miles of pathways were rendered unstable and unsafe. The Trust had no choice but to close the site to the public. (Click here to see a very different side of the River Allen.)
In the intervening months they have worked tirelessly to assess the safety of the area, erect barriers to close some routes, create new signposts for others. With all of this as background to my visit I wasn’t sure what to expect and so travelled with far too much equipment, the consequence of which I’ll explain in my next post. At the very least I hoped to get some interesting shots of water movement.
The power of that water was soon apparent to me, as the diverted route immediately over a Bailey Bridge, presumably installed some years back when the road bridge failed. There was certainly evidence of an earlier structure to be found beneath it, where a block of concrete mid-stream was topped by twists of red rusted steel.
The real twisted debris I wanted to see was the remains of the suspension bridge, but as the footpath to it was also victim to the floods I was denied the opportunity and instead veered uphill towards Morralee Tarn, where I hoped I might encounter waterfalls, hopes that were quickly dashed. The waters of the tarn were so covered in foliage as to be of limited use to a photographer looking for reflections or long exposures.
And so I continued along the length of the gorge until I came to Plankey Mill picnic area where the remains of another long-lost bridge stood as reminder to the capricious nature of the environment here. Though a new wooden bridge has been provided it was no use to me as the path back on the opposite bank was another of the losses.
So, no waterfalls, missing bridges and disappointing results from shooting the rapids (photographically speaking), and yet it was a day full of discovery. What I found you must wait until my next post to discover.
I did smile on my return to the car when I saw this group of sheep, well above the pasture below which had been fed by the river’s floodwaters. Sheep may safely graze!