Walk and sit on the dismantled Alnwick-Cornhill Railway
On an incredibly hot day in July my partner and I were looking for somewhere to stroll in the shade with our toddler. The access land here about mostly upland and has no cover (and is mainly for grouse shooting), whereas the old railway line is a beautiful tree lined flat walk between fields. We asked ourselves why we wouldn’t walk along it, what harm could we do? And also by what process land that was once used for a piece of public infrastructure became private land?
I did feel nervous opening the ‘no access’ gate and reflected on the social conditioning and experiences that has led me to feel like that. The dismantled railway line here now is on land which is part of L G Tate Farms. The gate was about 300m from the farm house.
We discussed what we thought the limits should be on campaigned for freedoms to access and agreed that we wouldn’t feel comfortable trespassing on the farms front lawn, or even the little wood just beyond it, which looks somehow domesticated. But the no access sign seems so incongruous on this old green thoroughfare. Neither of us think the right to roam should mean you can do what you want where you please but there seems only benefits to be had from letting people walk (and camp) respectfully on large private estate and farm land.
My partner had walked the land before as a child when the previous owner did not have a sign on the gate, though the lands status was probably the same.
Our brief research suggests that this area was part of the Barony of Wooler, awarded by the Normans to Robert Muschamp in 1107. The land was probably part of Coupland, which was one of the manors of the Barony. There is a still a manor house at Coupland, but the land where the line is has been passed through multiple ownerships. We don’t know how the land went into use by the railways. It was a private railway company to start with, but did they buy or lease the land? Just before closure the railway was run by British Rail(ways). Does that mean the state effectively owned the land? Or did they lease it too? If so, how did it get back into private possession?
Whether or not it’s ever been public owned land, it now seems like an obvious place for public access. The old railway line connects up Berwick to Alnwick via Cornhill and Wooler passing through the Tweed Valley and skirting the eastern edge of the Cheviots. Near where we walked it passes Ad Gefrin, a 7th century palace of King Edwin of Northumbria. We fantasise about it being a long distance cycle route, or with less work, just a footpath where the public are free to tread without my anxiety of being ‘found’.
We’ve trespassed here twice so far, both times for the toddler to nap in her buggy. It’s felt very peaceful and I haven’t been able to think of anything we’ve actually done wrong. We’ve had an amazing close-up view of a greater spotted woodpecker pecking insects off an oak tree. There are brilliant views of Yeavering Bell, site of Northumbria’s largest iron age hillfort. We’ve sheltered from the heat of the sun. We reflected on how increasingly important woodland places like this are going to be with rising temperatures, and how access to land is important in tackling the climate emergency. We need more access to wild green spaces, to learn to love the life that is under threat and to feel that it’s collectively owes (not a private landowners) to care about.