Sunday July 5th – Ashes Quarry and Slitt Wood Weardale
7 members from Darlington set out on a morning of cloud and sun from Darlington for Stanhope where we joined 7 members of the Weardale Wildwatch Group.
We first looked at the fossilised tree stump outside the church and then made our way up the hillside. There was the pretty Fairy Flax and also spleenwort on the wall. We continued on up the hill until we reached the open moor. Here heathers were beginning to bloom and Heath Speedwell, Heath Bedstraw and Heath Milkwort were seen. The views across Weardale were magnificent.
We dropped down into Ashes Quarry. Limestone was quarried here in the past. On the way we saw a heron looking down into the lake at bottom of the cliff face. Oyster Catchers were seen and heard. Some members went down to the lake where Yellow Irises were growing. Royal Fern and a rare Stonecrop with yellow flowers and a red stem could be seen high on the cliff face. As we came down the path out of the quarry we saw a young adder which slid off into the undergrowth.
After lunch we drove 5 miles up the dale to Westgate. Here we walked the short distance into the valley of the Middlehope Burn. This is part of the North Pennines Geopark. The geology here is of particular interest with layers of Limestone, Sandstone and Shales which can be clearly seen in the bed of the burn. The Sandstone remains as blocks with the Shales beneath. The valley is densely wooded, shady and often wet. The trees have been coppiced in the past. There were old twisted trees and bushes beneath which were the leaves of Garlic, Bluebells and Wood Sorrel. Sanicle was in bloom and many ferns and sedges were identified. In the small area of grassland Wood Cranesbill and other lime loving plants were blooming. It was a treat to see the rare Birds Nest Orchid in bloom.
We came out into an open area where there were the remains of old mine workings. Lead and other minerals had been extracted from the hillside. Here we saw carpets of Mountain Pansies, Fairy Flax and the uncommon Spring Sandwort. We climbed up again to see the spot were the miners had cut a narrow shaft into the hillside. On the way down to Westgate we saw Northern Marsh Orchids and Common Spotted Orchids in bloom.
A very large number of flowering plants and ferns were identified particularly in Slitt Wood. Lichens, two reptiles evidence of mammals and some birds were also noted. A good day was had by all.