A walk through the West Wood at Harbottle, visiting the Drake Stone.
The walk starts in a forestry commision car park, climbs a very steep hill to a large stone on a ridge, goes over to a lake then through a forest, down a farm track then back to the car park. No facilities on route.
Postcode for Satnav - NE65 7AB. This is for Harbottle village
Head west out of Rothbury on the B6341 through Thropton, then turn left at Flotterton farm, signposted Sharperton, Harbottle. Follow this road through Sharperton and Harbottle villages, then just a short distance past the village you will see a wood on your left. Turn left at the start of the wood and into a forestry commission car park.
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Park under the trees, then head back towards the roadway and turn right uphill opposite the entrance. Follow this forestry path for a short distance until you see a small path on the left heading out the woods through a gate. Take this path uphill, which starts out as a broad path, but narrows to a very small pathway through the heather as you get further up. It is a steep climb and difficult in places, but you will see the Stone ahead and know you are on the right track. As you get near the top of the ridge, the path veers to the right so you approach the stone along the ridge top.
Climb along to the stone and check out the views. I opted out from climbing the stone as it's about 30 feet high with no obvious way up. I suspect an experienced rock climber would find it easy though. Now back track a little until you reach the pathway that heads off to the lake behind the Stone ridge. Walk over to Harbottle Lake and round the northern edge, until you come to a fence that warns you that the land on the other side is an MOD firing range. Take the pathway inside the fence, and another steep scramble back up to the West Wood.
Now follow the path that runs straight as a die through the West Wood. alongside some old concrete boundary markers. This path is boggy in places, overgrown with roots in places, and at times makes steep descents, but it eventually leads you out of the wood, through a gateway, and to a farm track.
Turn right at the fam track and follow it round the side of the wood, right down to the Harbottle - Alwinton road. You will see Alwinton village and Church in the distance. From this height, it is obvious that the church is surrounded by an oval enclosure, evidence that it was built on an older, pagan site. When you reach the road, turn right again, and follow it back to your car. This road can be surprisingly busy for such an out of the way place, so dogs should be on a leash.
The Drake Stone is an obvious landmark as you drive along the road to Harbottle village. It is said to be the biggest boulder in Northumberland and weigh about 2,000 tons. It is an 'erratic rock'; it was carried to its present position by a glacier, then dumped on top of the ridge.
'Drake' might be a corruption of 'Draag' or Dragon stone, though no-one seems to know how it got its name. It is supposed to have magical healing powers; in the past children were passed over the stone to heal them of various illnesses. People who spend the night on the stone are supposedly unable to leave it in the morning.
There is one tale about a young visitor to the Star Inn in Harbottle many years ago who, having downed a few pints, decided to climb up the ridge and ontop of the stone. He made the top OK, but was unable to get down again and had to spend the night stuck on top of the stone. His cries alerted the villages the next morning, who went up and helped him down.
No facilities on route, but the Star Inn in Harbottle is dog friendly.
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