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Dates For Your Diaries, a number of events throughout the coming year.

Previous news items / working party updates can be viewed by clicking HERE


Working Party numbers were up this morning: nine volunteers, some of whom were back from holidays. The venue was the same as last Tuesday and the task was the same also: installing a flight of steps below Concorde House, Holywell.

The weather was quite pleasant – dull but mild – but there had been rain overnight which caused the ground to be muddy and slippery.

Now, have you ever installed a flight of steps on a steep slope surfaced with slippery mud? Well, the results were fairly predictable: (1) claggy mud on boots (and everything else in the end), (2) volunteers slithering about on the steep slope, and (3) several falls – I think about six (although nobody was seriously hurt, thankfully).

As for the task work, it was pretty well identical to last week, so please refer to that if you need details. Here are some pictures of today’s activities.

Photograph A. Installing steps

Photograph B. Dressing with aggregate

Photograph C. Result of a morning’s work

Please note that the materials for this work were provided by the Public Rights of Way (PROW) department of Northumberland County Council.

The wildlife scene was very quiet and the wildflowers were few in number, undoubtedly because of the poor weather in February.

While we were working we noticed quite a lot of litter in that part of the Dene, so, as ever, we picked it up, bagged it and disposed of it. It was a heavy bag-full by the end of the session!

(A) Post a message on Facebook.


A working party of nine volunteers turned out at Concorde House again on a drizzly morning to finish off the steps down to the footbridge.

The procedure was very much as per the last two weeks, so you can get an idea of what we were doing by viewing the previous two reports.

Photograph A. Installing steps

You will be pleased to know that the flight of steps is now complete and ready for use! (But we may be back with another bag of aggregate to finish off the surfacing.)

Photograph B. Finished job

For readers who are not familiar with the area where we have installed the steps (marked X on the photo) behind Concord House, here’s where the path takes you.

Photograph C. Map of the area

Cross the footbridge and continue on the path up the incline and this takes you along the side of the farmer’s field. About 100 metres along, you come to a three-way junction. ‘A’ takes you back to the path along the dene top coming out at a place locally known as the Ash Heap beside the Holywell Orchard.

‘B’ takes you towards Earsdon and Shiremoor, and if you go along path ‘C’ you end up eventually on the path on the other side of the burn behind the Fat Ox in Holywell beside the old stone bridge and the road bridge.

If you take the tunnel under the road bridge this path takes you past the Oxbow Lake towards the Waggon Way, and if you take the stone bridge path this takes you onto the main road beside the Milbourne Arms.

Hope this helps. Enjoy!


A working party of eight volunteers converged on the Hartley Lane carpark this morning to do some willow-weaving near the seat between the carpark and the estuary, on an unusually fine, bright, breezy day.

Before starting work on the willows, four of us did a bit of path repair work. There is a spot on the carpark-to-estuary path that has been flooded during this rainy period. Today it had partly dried up but was still more-or-less a quagmire.

Photograph A. Path being repaired

To fix the problem we cut a drainage slot in the edging board, then scraped the mud off the surface with spades to reveal the old aggregate path underneath, and finally dressed the surface with aggregate from one of our nearby piles. That having been accomplished, so we joined the others at the willows.

Photograph B. Path after repair

These are located on the other side of the footpath from the bench that is upstream of the footbridge at the head of the estuary. This line of willows was planted to block off a place where dogs were in the habit of rushing into the burn. Of course, we’ve got nothing against dogs, but they were eroding the bank and causing soil to get into the river and silt it up – and anyway, the water in the burn isn’t entirely pollution-free.

Well, these willows need a bit of maintenance every year to restore the integrity of the barrier and to stop the willows getting too tall. You would be amazed how much they grow in a year. The following photograph gives a rough idea.

Photograph C. Overgrown willows

The technique is to cut each willow stem, preferably close to the ground, with an axe or billhook, then bend it down (without breaking it) to a horizontal position, then tie it to other stems to keep it in place. Other stems were shortened with a pair of loppers and the resulting cut stems were pushed into the ground to hopefully take root and add to the barrier.

Photograph D. Weaving willows

Here is a photo of the completed work.

Photograph E. End result

There was a lot of birdsong today and we heard wrens, robins, a chiffchaff, a chaffinch, a great tit, a coal tit and a goldfinch. We also heard the calls of herons, crows, jackdaws, and a pheasant.


A morning of path repair (one way or another) was in store for the eight-person working party that turned out at the Hartley West Farm road out at nine o’clock today. The main project was installing a drainage pipe in the meadow, but there were a couple of side jobs first.

The short, sloping boardwalk at the side waterfall had a broken tread-board, so we replaced that with a new piece, screwed in place.

Photograph A. Repairing boardwalk

We also refurbished the stile that leads into the meadow from the farm road just after crossing the stone bridge: a new step was added, to make it easier to navigate, and some aggregate was placed on that and other surfaces.

Photograph B. Refurbished stile

The aforementioned drainage pipe was a follow-on from the anti-flooding session of the 20th of February. The pipe we dug in was of black corrugated plastic design with slit-holes at intervals to let water in. A trench was dug from the low-lying area in the meadow, where the water was ponding earlier in the winter, to the river.

A spirit level had to be used to ensure that the pipe sloped gradually downwards. Some pea gravel was put in around the pipe to allow water to percolate into the pipe via the slits. This had to be augmented with river pebbles when we ran out of gravel. Finally, the trench was topped up with soil and the path was dressed with gravel where the pipe ran underneath.

Photograph C. Digging out trench

Photograph D. Laying pipe

Photograph E. Fishing for pebbles

Wildlife. There were quite a few bird calls today, including some quirky ones. The rooks were calling from the treetops above the meadow, and one of them seemed to be imitating first a mallard then a herring gull! A song thrush was singing nearby, also a chiffchaff and a blackcap.

This was a wintry day – with some brightness but a chilly wind and a shower at around quarter past nine – so we were all happy enough to return to our homes around 12:30.

Incidentally, our musical evening on Saturday – a performance by the Backworth Male Voice Choir at St Pauls Church, Seaton Sluice plus poetry, a video and a talk on our Working Party’s activities – went off very well, attracting a large audience and bringing in a tidy sum to help with our finances.


Only six volunteers were available for work in the Dene this morning, but they got through quite a lot of it. The venue was the lane outside the gas pumping station near Concorde House, Holywell (or Seaton Delaval). The work consisted of three tasks as follows.

First, two of us went to Dale Top with a strimmer and strimmed the vegetation around the dene-top bench. One volunteer was strimming and the other clearing up the cuttings with a rake.

Meanwhile the other four were working on the second task, namely sorting out the tree trunk with roots attached that we had parked temporarily at the end of last week’s logjam-clearance session. Part of it was hauled out of the river with the hand winch, but the other part, the root-ball, was just pulled into a suitable place at the side of the river.

We used the tripod for a second time for this, and it proved very useful for suspending the snatch block (pulley) at a suitable height for pulling objects up the river bank.

Photograph A. Tripod and winch in use

Photograph B. Root ball being winched

After this, we all joined up to do some sycamore-bashing on the north side of the river between Concorde House and the pumping station. Sycamores are very common here, and are a somewhat invasive tree from abroad. So, we seek out saplings and pull them up or cut them off at the base.

We also trim the lower branches and twigs off existing mature sycamores. Small trees are cut down with a bowsaw. This part of the woods is still highly populated with sycamores, but we feel we have got them under control and in due proportion to other tree species.

At around 11:30, a bit of drizzle set in and soon it was properly raining. We thought we had been quite lucky because the weather forecast had been more pessimistic. So, we decided to call it a day at this point, having achieved quite a lot with a small squad.


A muster of seven working party members turned out at Wallridge Drive, Holywell, for another river clearance session this morning, on a day that felt unusually warm, and without either rain or wind!

The problem we were addressing is illustrated by the following photo.

Photograph A. Logjam

Some people think unblocking the river is a bad idea on grounds of flood control and biodiversity. Well, please note the following in the photo above: (1) litter, (2) scum. The sheer unsightliness of these logjams is one of the reasons that we get complaints from some residents if we don’t keep the Seaton Burn flowing freely.

What do you think? If there’s a better way to manage river blockages, we would genuinely like to know. Incidentally, there are no settlements downstream of where we were working that are in danger of flooding.

Anyway, the first step was for three of us to get into waders and then get into the river (which is deep at that point). It was then that one of us (your correspondent) realised that one of his waders had a puncture, so out he got!

Next the two remaining “amphibious volunteers” go to work disentangling the logjam and passing the branches and twigs (all of them waterlogged and heavy) out to the volunteers on the bank who piled them well away from the river.

Photograph B. Removing branches

Some branches needed to be cut up, but we are not allowed to use chainsaws at present, because of accidents by other groups in the Northumberland County Council’s bailiwick, so we deployed our chainsaw substitute – see below. “Good exercise but very time-consuming” was the verdict, I think it’s fair to say.

Photograph C. Two-man saw in use

Next the trusty hand-winch was brought into action to pull some of the larger logs out of the water. A problem we always have when doing this is that logs tend to get jammed against the river bank. When this happens we often rig up a snatch block (pulley) to direct the force of the winch cable upwards.

Today there was no suitable overhanging branch to hang the snatch block from, so we used our latest innovation: a tripod. The idea is to place this three-legged timber frame on the river bank and hang the snatch block from its apex, so as to be able to raise the winch cable to a higher angle. This worked very well, but probably needs adapting a bit to stop the back leg from embedding itself in the soft earth.

In fact two winches were now in use – one to pull the log and the other to lift it over the rim of the river bank.

All was going well until towards the end of proceedings we pulled on one of the remaining logs and it turned out to be attached to a huge root-ball. This was probably the riverside tree that by falling into the water caused the logjam in the first place. Well, this was too big to pull out of the river, so we had to rig one of the winches to pull it to one side and against another fallen tree to get it out of the way of the flow of the river.

All that was left to do now was to clear up and gather up the tools. We managed to get most of the plastic and other man-made litter out of the river and this filled a black bag. So, off home we went.

Photograph D. Pile of wood removed from river

Not much wildlife to report this week, but the usual-suspect small birds were singing away, a pheasant was calling from the undergrowth, many wildflowers were in bloom and most of the trees are now in full leaf.

Don’t forget that we have a Facebook page, where local people share their brilliant photos of the Dene and chat about it. Just put “Friends of Holywell Dene Facebook” into a search engine.


River clearance was the main task for the nine-volunteer working-party this morning, which witnessed three unusual meteorological phenomena: sunshine, warmth and absence of rain!

The first job, however, was freeing the cow gate of river litter. This is the gate on the downstream side of the stone bridge over which the Hartley West Farm access road passes. This is designed to stop stock from getting out of the field and into the Dene by passing under the bridge. Every winter, this gate gets congested with branches, large and small, that have floated downstream and got stuck against it. This raises the gate and allows cattle to get underneath.


So, on with the waders (three of us) and into the stream we went. The branches were removed and the gate restored to its correct position, with the assistance of other volunteers carrying the removed timber to high ground.

Photograph A. Freeing cow gate

While this was going on several of us worked on the basket-work barrier in the hedgerow on the right-hand side of the road descending to the stone bridge. This was in need of repair, so we wove some wands cut from the hazels in the meadow area onto the stakes already in place to reinforce the barrier.

All volunteers now came together for the main business of the morning: logjam clearance. For this we had four wheelbarrow loads of tools, including a hand-winch and cables. The first logjam to be addressed was the one that forms every winter under the riverside tree near the dipping pond. A lot of branches and twigs had accumulated there, along with the usual floating litter (tennis balls, plastic packets and bottles, etc). We hauled all the branches out and bagged the litter for removal.

Photograph B. Decluttering logjam

The next logjam was in the river upstream of the stone bridge and about halfway along the meadow area. Our three volunteers that had donned waders cleared as much of this as they could by hand but it became evident that there were several large waterlogged branches in the tangle, so the winch came into play. This was anchored to a post hammered into the ground at one end and to one of the branches at the other. Then some “elbow grease” was applied to the winch handle was to bring the branch slowly out of the water.

Again, the “landward” volunteers carried the river timber (which, being waterlogged, was heavy) to dry ground away from the river.

Photograph C. Second logjam

Another two lesser logjams were dealt with in similar fashion, at which point we gathered up our tools and took them back to the van before returning to our homes.

There was some wildlife interest today:

several peacock butterflies were seen

a robin, a wren, and a chiffchaff were heard

the rooks were making their usual racket in the tall trees above the meadow

swallows have been spotted in the area recently, by the way – despite the wintry weather


The wildlife seems to be just getting on with life despite the generally cold and wet weather.


Friends of Holywell Dene Charity Concert featuring Backworth Male Voice Choir

On Saturday 20th April the Friends of Holywell Dene held a fundraising concert at St. Paul’s Church Seaton Sluice, featuring the Backworth Male Voice Choir. The concert was a sell out, with tickets being eagerly snapped up well in advance of the event.

The Chair, Chris Wood, welcomed the capacity audience and introduced the 30+ strong choir. The programme for the evening was a combination of poetry and song, intermixed with a video walk through the Dene, and a powerpoint display showing the latest working party activities. A selection of FoHD’s awards were on display in the Church for visitors’ perusal.

The choirs performance was split into two halves, featuring music as diverse as the traditional ‘Bobby Shafto’, ‘ Anthem’ from Chess, ‘Dock of the Bay’ by Otis Redding and Queen’s epic ‘Bohemian Rapsody’. The choir also featured a novel rendition of ‘Greenland Whale Fisheries’ sung by Steve Dodds dressed in period clothing.

Two poems were featured during the concert, ‘Seaton Sluice and Holywell Dene’ by choir member Andy Rutherford, and ‘The Seaton Burn’ written by late FoHD member Hylton Weir.

The two halves of the performance were separated by an interval for refreshments (served in record time), and the drawing of the raffle, the first prize being a beautiful oil painting of Holywell Dene by Alison Christer.

On conclusion of the choir’s superb performance, their Musical Director Andrew Clarence remarked that new singers were always welcome to join the choir if any male members of the audience would like to give it a try.

Chris Wood then thanked all those who had helped make the evening run smoothly, and also thanked the audience for their enthusiastic support and generosity.

The Friends of Holywell Dene would like to give grateful thanks to the members of the Backworth Male Voice Choir, without whom this event would not have been possible.


The working party session this morning was the first full strimming session of the summer. Eight volunteers turned out at the Melton Constable end of the estuary on a dull, cool day – ideal conditions for doing this kind of work.

Four strimmers were in use, one large and the other three small. These were fresh from their annual service. However, the fuel which we had held over from last year had deteriorated in storage, and two of the strimmers were stuttering a bit; one so badly that it had to be changed for the spare.

The trimmers we use are, strictly-speaking, brush-cutters – heavy-duty and with a metal blade as the cutting head (see photo). A carrying harness is worn by the operator along with protective helmet, visor and ear mufflers. Each person strimming is accompanied by a person with a rake or pitchfork to clear up the cuttings.

Photograph A. Brush-cutter

Anyway, after assembling near Dene Cottage and having a bit of a chat followed by a safety talk, we proceeded up the west-side path along the Seaton Burn, bearing strimmers and rakes – also loppers, bowsaws and the hedge trimmer to sort out the overhead branches.

Photograph B. Strimming

After three hours, we had strimmed the verges of the path right along the path to the bench near the footbridge at the head of the estuary. At that point, we packed it in for the day. It always takes about half an hour to trek back to the van and put the tools away.

We will probably be doing this most sessions throughout the summer, and the simple reason for that is that the paths in Holywell Dene would probably be impassable otherwise. The grasses and weeds grow rapidly in the middle months of the year and, except where there is dense shade, get to above head height by July. They then tend to flop down onto the paths after rain.

If you encounter us on a Tuesday morning please take care and keep your dog on a lead while passing us. We are easy to spot! – we put warning signs on the path at either end of our working space and the strimmers betray their presence with their noise.