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Allen Valleys and Allen Banks woodland - A view from our expert author
Cupola Bridge was built in 1778 © Christine Westerback, Wikimedia Commons
In spring, the familiar tunes of woodland birds are occasionally interrupted by a more exotic song: the rhythmic notes of a pied flycatcher or the coin-spinning song of a wood warbler, both birds newly returned from Africa.
The rivers East and West Allen run off the central Pennine moors and flow north through farmland and woodland until they converge not far from Haydon Bridge, forming the River Allen. Cupola Bridge – a magnificent trio of arches built in 1778 – spans the confluence of the Allens and marks the head of Allen Banks (one of the region’s oldest and most enchanting woodlands).
Travelling upriver into the heart of the North Pennines – and the southern reaches of Northumberland – the scenery in both the east and west valleys takes on an increasingly wilder look where meadows become rough grasslands and ramshackle barns replace cottages. Snow markers line the sides of the highest roads and a ski-tow appears above Allenheads.
On high slopes, evidence of lead mining is glimpsed here and there, and many buildings associated with the industry are found in the now quiet settlements, particularly at Allenheads. You might well spot the odd bastle house and defensive tower, evidence that farmers and landowners in the late medieval period once feared the appearance of Border Reivers riding over the hills on horseback to steal their livestock – and worse.
In spring, the familiar tunes of woodland birds are occasionally interrupted by a more exotic song: the rhythmic notes of a pied flycatcher or the coin-spinning song of a wood warbler, both birds newly returned from Africa and infrequently heard elsewhere in Northumberland. In wood clearings look out for wild pansies – this area is well known for them – and, in the conifer trees, red squirrels.
Allen Banks is a precious broadleaved woodland – ancient in places – and utterly enchanting: visit on a balmy summer’s evening when swifts are gliding high above the canopy and the first bats have emerged to catch insects by the river, and you’ll see what I mean; glimpsing an otter on an evening like this would not be unheard of.