High above the jostling treetops, a buzzard gains lift with the wind. It’s yet another buffeting day in a winter of many gales. I’m glad to have left the open fields for the shelter of this wood. The footpath that led up from Corbridge follows its namesake, the Cor Burn, a twisting stream that gathers water from the north side of the Tyne valley.
This path must have been here for centuries. Sunk between root-encrusted banks, it’s a hollow way, dappled brown with fallen oak leaves. A simple bridge crosses the burn where sound is patterned by shallow waterfalls over flat slabs of rock. Thrashed branches lie everywhere and there are a few fallen trees; one lies across the way, its burden of ivy hanging limp.
As we climb, it’s clear why this was a defensive site, at least to the south and east. The blocky outline of masonry glimpsed through skyline trees is Aydon Castle, and the Cor Burn winds round the steep bluff on which it is built. Pillaged and burnt during the cross-border wars, changing hands several times, it was used as a farmhouse from the 17th century to the 1960s. Despite all this, it’s a largely unaltered 13th-century fortified manor house of beautiful architecture, and homely in the embrace of its high curtain walls.
Spring shows earlier here than in my upland home of Allendale. Wild garlic is spearing up through the leaf litter, its pungent scent released when clipped by my boots. Lesser celandine’s heart-shaped leaves gleam along the banks, arched over by unruly sprays of bramble. Rippling hart’s-tongue ferns cascade down a seep; in this moist soil there’s golden saxifrage, the new buds showing among fleshy foliage.
It’s the snowdrops I’ve come to see and, there they are, tumbling down the scarp, filling the whole wood between castle and burn. Single snowdrops, my favourites – not the frou-frou lampshades of double forms, but pure elegant droplets shivering among slender grey-green blades. They spread beneath coppiced hazel, ash, sycamore and beech, thrust up through moss, twigs and collapsed male ferns. Milk-white, lichen green, the snowdrops bob in the wind, their fluid movements contrasting with the sturdy castle walls.
Susie White www.theguardian.com