In the footsteps of Kathleen Barratt: Bolam Bog to Bolam Lake

North East Nature Archive Volunteer, Sue Vaughan, follows in the footsteps of ornithologist, Kathleen Barratt with a wildlife-filled trip near Bolam, Northumberland

Kathleen Barratt was a member of the NHSN from 1953 until her death in December 2003. She was an avid amateur ornithologist keeping detailed descriptive handwritten diaries of her travels and bird sightings around Northumberland.

In 1816 the land around Bolam was owned by Reverend John Beresford, Lord Decies. To help the nearby rural population gain employment he devised a plan to turn a wetland known as Bolam Bog or Bolam Splashes into a lake. John Dobson the architect was commissioned to create the lake starting in 1816 being completed by 1819.  Over time the area became neglected and in 1972 the Trustees of the Bolam Estate decided to sell the lake and woodland to Northumberland County Council.

Kathleen Barratt walked in the area in 1972, taking the bus from Newcastle to Belsay as no buses stopped at Bolam. On her walk, she refers to “much activity at Bolam Lake which Northumberland County Council has acquired to turn into a park with a full-time ranger in charge”.

By 1973 Kathleen returned to Bolam and in her diary, she refers to the changes  “many new paths and parking areas by the lake, but hardly anybody about”. This may have been due to the weather on the day being “smart showers with a fairly strong NW wind” with this in mind she had arrived prepared as she describes she “was glad she had taken her umbrella however eccentric I might appear”.

She met the new Warden” a friendly young man who seemed struck with amazement that I had walked from Belsay”.

Bolam Lake Country Park now has a bus service during the summer months. The X75 leaves from Newcastle Haymarket bus station on Saturdays from April -September travelling to Wallington Hall via Belsay and Bolam Lake.

Following in Kathleen’s footsteps I spent a morning in early May wandering around Bolam Lake Country Park. On a mid-week morning, the area was being well used by dog walkers, parents with young children, wheelchair users and cyclists heading for the cafe.

The upper car park now has a café, toilets, interpretation boards, an electric car charging point, accessible walkways, a bike shed, and a bird hide can be found partway around the lake.

My Sightings:

En route to Bolam Lake: swallows, swifts, kestrel, yellow hammer.

At Bolam: Chaffinches, Mute Swans, Canada Geese and chicks, a pair of Tufted Ducks nesting, Coots, Robin, Blackbirds and many Blue Tits.

After my walk I sat outside the cafe in the sunshine with a coffee and cake, I wondered what Kathleen, who had been a lecturer in education, would think about Bolam Lake Country Park and how it has developed. It is well used, allowing people access to connect with and explore nature. There have been many changes since 1972 at Bolam but the birds are still on the lake.

Kathleen Barratt’s birdwatching diaries are part of NHSN’s North East Nature Archive – a rich and unique collection of papers, images and artwork that document the natural environment of the North East of England, and people’s connections to it, over the last 200 years. Held at Great North Museum: Hancock, the North East Nature Archive is a testament to the joy, meaning and reflection that people have found in the natural environment of the region.

Nature’s Cure in Times of Need aims to grow this incredible archive by collecting and preserving the connections that people and communities across the North East have with nature today. We’re working to build a new collection of stories, pictures and recordings, that can help us explore the meaning, memory and feeling we attach to the natural world around us.

Whatever your story of your connection with nature and however you want to tell it, share it with us here. Your story will be preserved for future generations and could inspire others to connect with and help protect nature in the North East.

Sue Vaughan
North East Nature Archive Volunteer

Sue is a volunteer with NHSN, an outdoor enthusiast. She previously worked in the voluntary sector supporting health, physical activity and the environmental projects.