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Self guided walks in Northumberland - Rothbury
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Thrum Mill

imageThe mill at Thrum was once a busy flour mill along the main road to Rothbury. The mill used the concentrated water power of the Coquet at this point to mill grain. The mill was first recorded in 1693 when it belonged to the Earl of Northumberland. The water in the river is pushed through a channel only 2 m wide but almost 5 m deep.

Thrum Mill is shown as no.12 on this map

Physic Lane

imageLegend has it that the Knights Hospitallers of St. John of Jerusalem had a hospital at the bottom of Physic Lane during the 13th and 14th centuries. They probably gathered wild flowers, herbs and rose hips which are a very good source of vitamin C, calcium, phosphorous and iron. The Knights may have gathered the rose hips here to make a tonic to fend off coughs, and treat sore throats and bleeding gums. The leaves of elder, which also grows here were used in an ointment to ease swellings and bruises.

Physic Lane is shown as no.4 on this map

Heather Moors

imageHeather moorland appears to be one of the most natural landscapes in Britain. However, without management by farmers and game keepers many of the moorlands would become woodland.

It is quite surprising to find that one of Northumberland's more typical landscapes depends on human intervention for its survival.

Managing heather moorland

Since the early part of the 19th century moors have been used for shooting grouse. Grouse need heather of different ages to eat and to nest. The game keepers are experts at managing the extensive areas of heather. They burn small patches of old heather during the winter. On the burnt areas heather seeds germinate and grow. The regular burning creates a mosaic of heather of different ages.

Birds on heather

Grouse are not the only birds to benefit from this management. Curlew and golden plover nest on heather moors. If you're lucky you may also see birds of prey hunting over the heather. In the past birds of prey were often seen as pests and shot or trapped but thanks to better protection their persecution has reduced.

A Stone Age Inheritance

The first farmers in this area cleared the forest in the early Stone Age (or Neolithic) and ploughed the land. On these sandstone hills the soils are very light and they did not stay fertile for very long. Consequently the crops became less successful and the land was abandoned. The plants which have grown on these poor soils ever since are heather and bilberry. The early farmers later used the area for grazing their stock. The sheep grazed tree seedlings and kept the moor open.

In recent years the number of sheep on the moors has increased. The sheep prefer to eat young heather shoots and more sheep mean fewer young heather plants. The result is that the heather on moorlands is gradually replaced by coarse grass which does not provide such good habitat for birds and other moorland wildlife.


In areas where fire and sheep don't reach, trees have found a foothold and woodlands have become established.

The main trees are pine and birch, species which can cope with the poor soil conditions, but there is also some rhododendron. Rhododendron was introduced from the Himalayas in the 19th century. It looks pretty when it flowers in early summer, but is often regarded as a pest. It casts deep shade and smothers other plants so nothing will grow underneath.

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This Northumberland Life website was last updated on 21/02/2020 13:54:01
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