Lockdown on Kilhope Fell

Local botanist, Lizzie Maddison, shares lockdown notes from the rolling hills above Allenheads, Northumberland.

The silence is the thing that strikes me most on my wanders around the fells above Allenheads. Never a busy place, the lack of vehicles is noticeable and has made the local wildlife quite brave. Many more Red Squirrels are about, they come down the track from the wood above our house and drop in for breakfast in the garden. The Great Spotted Woodpeckers have a penchant for the fat balls and a pair of them have been about a lot so I am hoping they will take up residence in the Spring with a new family.

Being forced to stay around the local area has not been difficult for me and it has certainly encouraged more careful exploration of the local flora. The moors are so vast I have always thought that there were still species to discover. Earlier in the year, as I wandered off the track near Kilhope, looking for interesting boggy patches, I found a mass of Saxifraga hypnoides, Mossy Saxifrage, spread across the moss and rushes just beside shooting butt number 7!

A new record for VC67. I have passed close by to that spot so many times but you need to be literally on top of it before you see it.

In fact, what you need to be a botanist in the North Pennines is willingness to get down close and friendly with the vegetation and to spend more time on your hands and knees than is normal for human beings!

The fell tops are improving now although they can still look quite dry in the Summer. I recall about 40 years ago, strolling up to the top of Kilhope and encountering our local contractor digging out ditches to drain the fell. Thankfully he was back up 20 years later bemoaning the fact that he was filling them all back again! As you might expect, this has helped to raise the water levels and support the lovely flushes which flow down off the top. Mosses dominate with Starry Saxifrage and Alternate and Opposite-leaved Saxifrage growing out of a mass of grass.

On the last slope up onto Kilhope Law, grows the Cloudberry, a tiny plant with white flowers. In the Autumn, clusters of bright red berries are produced. According to the knowledgeable old gentleman who used to live next door to me, there is nothing like a good ‘cloodberry’ pie. I have to say I haven’t tried it! The berries are a bit gritty but they look lovely on the fell. Best place for them I would suggest.

Opposite-leaved Golden Saxifrage © John Dalrymple

Finally a plant which you can readily spot growing high up on the fells without having to walk up. The cotton grass has been particularly lovely this year and formed spectacular drifts of white across the moors.

At a time when perhaps we have felt that our world has shrunk I hope that soon we can all have the opportunity to experience this vast expanse. As David Bellamy described the North Pennines, England’s Last Wilderness.

Lizzie Maddison
Local naturalist

Lizzie is a keen botanist and member of NHSN’s Mid-week Botany Group, living in the North Pennines.