February 28, 2009

Bellingham reminiscences - trip to Cairnglastenhope

By Archie Mason

Reprinted from the Bellingham Heritage Centre Newsletter, Autumn 2009.
See the contacts for the Heritage Centre on the blog for more information.

We left the village by the road over the Tyne bridge then up to the cemetery at the Croft, where we turned right to go as far as Dunterley farm. There we made a left turn to the road to that goes over Dunterley fell into Warksburn, and headed for the remote farm of Pundershaw.

It was there that we had to leave our transport - usually it was a bicycle but sometimes we had the luxury of the a family car, or a bumpy ride on one of the cattle wagons of a local contractor - but there the road ended and all the vehicles had to be parked at Pundershaw. The thought of walking didn't discourage us as we were all full of energy and raring to go - of course this was still early in the day.

From the farm we went walking over the moorland going west and following the course of the Pundershaw burn or the Blackburn stream (different maps have used different names) for a distance of about two miles, where we arrive at the objective of our trek this day, which was, (again depending on which map was in use) Cairnglastenhope or Blackburn Lough.

The Lough was a mysterious and remote little lake, maybe a bit bigger than a couple of football pitches, that suddenly appeared for no reason at all in the middle of the moor. I can't recall being able to see signs of habitation in any direction so it was a lonely place to be.

I said 'suddenly appeared' because it did just that - for as we were climbing a slight slope towards the lake we could not see the water until we were about ten or twelve yards from it when it appeared at eye level. Of course anyone who was not deaf or blind would know something odd was near because of the raucous screaming of the gulls being disturbed, as the little lake was a nesting place and breeding area for seabirds.

I don't know how the birds found this place, as you couldn't get much further away from the sea than this part of the country; but find it they did. There were many different species of seas birds, some small and others were quite large, but all of them were very aggressive - and who could blame them when their breeding grounds were being invaded.

There were hundreds of them, all very possessive of their nests and in the reeds and rushes all round the lake, and we all had to be wary of the mock attacks from any direction. Most nests were near the water but some eggs were just laid in the moorland grass, yards away from the side of the lake - it was getting a bit crowed near the waters edge.

Near the lower end of the lake, there was an area where the reeds and rushes had grown then died, and had formed a thick mat of rotting material that floated on the surface of the water. It was so thick that it was possible to walk on it which was an eerie sensation feeling it bouncing up and down as we walked across it to get out towards the edge. We did this to reach the furthest nests, because part of our reason for our visit to the lake was to collect gull eggs.

We must have had some unconscious sense of preservation of the environment even in those days , as the rule was to take only one egg per nest from the usual four that hand been laid. There was a little test to check its condition - dropped in water the good egg sank, but if it floated it was not a 'good egg'. We had all brought sandwiches and a drink to sustain us throughout the day, so the collected eggs were carefully packed in handfuls of grass ain the now empty haversacks we had brought with us, and taken back home where they were fried and eaten.

The strange part was that from what I remember, the eggs were not very palatable at all. The yholks wer a brilliant orange, almost red, and when cooked, the white of the egg just turned into milky- 'see-through' consistency and all had a very unpleasant taste of fish. So it was hardly with the trouble of collecting the eggs but the main reason for the whole trip was the adventure of going to the little hidden lake - the eggs were not a very welcome bonus and excuse.

The return journey home would be more subdued, We would be tired and hungry and possibly uncomfortable with wet feet - if you visited a little lake in the wilds then you were expected to end up with wet feet - that was part of the exercise. However on the plus side, we would all be glowing with health and the satisfaction of spending a day out in the open air and already planning our next adventure.

I have used the past tense all along because its seventy years since I visited the lake and, if it is still there, it will be a different place.

Archie was brought up in Bellingham and on leaving school he joined the Royal Navy in which he spent his career. He is now retired and lives in Portsmouth.

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