Eight volunteers assembled on a cool morning with a light drizzle in the wind. Another day of strimming was on the cards, both path vegetation and area bracken cutting.

The area selected was from Old Hartley car park along the path going north towards Seaton Sluice. FoHD cut the path from near the car park to the metal bridge and its surrounding area, this included some hedge trimming, while NCC staff cut the remainder of the path vegetation from the bridge to the harbour, including the path down to the river from Millfield.

The first photograph shows the start of the day – cutting path vegetation.

Roughly half way through the morning the path strimming was over and everyone turned their hands to cutting the wide areas of bracken that cover the hillsides.

The second photograph shows the volunteers spread out over the widespread bracken.

The sheer quantity of cut vegetation made it impossible to remove it, so it was gathered into roughly parallel lines and left to rot.

The third photograph gives an idea of how the hillside looked at the end of the day.

By the end of August it is expected the hillside will be ready for a second cut, when the new bracken is likely to be around 60cm tall. As has been stated in earlier reports, the aim of this work is to gradually weaken the bracken so that its spread can be kept under control.


As the time arrived to trudge home soaked to the skin with sweat, one volunteer was heard to say ‘that was hell on earth’

Seven volunteers assembled at 08.30 with the temperature already in excess of 20 degrees and with virtually no wind. Donning harnesses and helmets, within minutes the sweat was running and that is how it continued all morning. Frequent stops were incorporated to ensure a plentiful intake of liquid and our lone female volunteer today, helped by supplying delicious homemade biscuits, which were enjoyed by everyone.

The work was basically strimming with associated hedge cutting where the path went between hedgerows. The path vegetation cut, which was head high in places, was the northern bridleway, starting at Hartley West farm road, passing the farm itself and going west as far as the bench seat next to the wooden gate. The only plus thing today was that the vegetation was tinder dry and so was as light as possible when raking and stacking.

This is a very popular path and so it was today, with many runners, dog walkers, walking parties and cyclists, all causing short cessations of activities as they passed. All were appreciative of the work being carried out in the extreme conditions except for one middle-aged cyclist who, when asked to slow down, replied ‘you should get out of the bl…. way’ It takes all types!!

I think it can be said that no one actually enjoyed today but a wonderful job was completed along a path that was near to being impassable in places. Thanks to all who turned out.


With the return of the volunteers who have been absent on holiday over the past weeks, the number arriving for today’s work shot up to 10, the first time we have ever had that number for a strimming session. With that number it was possible to deploy all our 5 strimmers and consequently the work output was considerable.

The drawback with using 5 strimmers is that they cannot be used in a close group so the various parties were working some distance apart and only met up together at the end of the session. However it was another very hot day and, from last week’s experience, it was obviously important that each individual took liquid as they required it and didn’t wait for a specified mid-morning break.

The 10 volunteers were divided into one group of 2 and two groups of 4. The two larger groups worked on the Holywell end of the northern bridleway, one going west and the other starting at the pumping station and going east.

The pumping station group had a particularly heavy task in that not only had the path vegetation to be cut, but the 200 metres or so of hedge trimming had to follow. The remaining two volunteers then had to gather all the cuttings and put them over the fence or under the hedge away from the path.

The photograph shows the hedge cutter and strimming operator in action

Meanwhile the smaller group worked on the entrances to the Dene from Hartley Lane and other short stretches of path. Normally these entrance paths are the responsibility of North Tyneside Council and, although we had received confirmation that they would be cut, their state was such that access was almost impossible due to the height and density of the vegetation and so we acted today, a week before the start of the school holidays.

We have now cut the whole of the northern bridleway from Holywell Pumping Station through to Seaton Sluice Harbour. The longer this hot dry weather continues the better the chance that none of it will require a second cut; fingers crossed.


A violent thunderstorm with torrential rain in the early hours of the morning had everyone wondering what conditions would be like for the nine volunteers who assembled at the usual time of 08.30. It actually turned out similar to the last few Tuesdays, hot and humid with little or no breeze – very unpleasant conditions for manual work.

Just a month ago, we cut the area of bracken in the meadow and since then, with virtually no rain, vegetation growth has been minimal, except for the bracken.

The first photograph illustrates the phenomenal growth rate of bracken.

A volunteer’s first task was to cut all the bracken stalks with a strimmer, thereby hopefully weakening the plants for future years.

Meanwhile the other four teams were cutting the vegetation along the footpath immediately east of the downstream wooden bridge. The heavy overnight rain had battered the tall vegetation leaving it leaning across the path, thus reducing the path’s useable width.

The second photograph shows what rain does to high vegetation – reduces path width.

The work on the path completed, all hands turned to cutting the vegetation in amongst the trees at the west end of the meadow, an area that cannot be cut by the contracted farmer’s large machinery, which will cut the rest of the meadow in a month or so. The cut vegetation was stacked along the riverbank where it will gradually rot down to compost.

The third photograph shows the head high vegetation being cut and stacked

Finally the path through the meadow from the trees to the farm road was cut making it far easier for pedestrians.

On the previous day, Monday 22nd July, the footpath on the south side of the river, which is the responsibility of North Tyneside Council, was cut by their own staff after requests by FoHD. As was reported last week, a FoHD volunteer had already cut the vegetation at the two entrances to the Dene from Hartley Lane.


The day after the area had been subject to a series of tropical type showers and with the forecast threatening more rain, 12 volunteers assembled outside the two cottages on the west side of the estuary at Seaton Sluice, for another session of vegetation cutting.

The aim was to cut back the vegetation along the path from the cottages to the metal bridge, where the pipe crosses the Dene.

The surface of this path has been rapidly deteriorating over a number of years. It all started with a trickle of water issuing from the centre of the original path. The volume of this trickle increased dramatically, such that it became necessary to divert the path by means of a boardwalk, which was part constructed by the Working Party. Today the outflow is a gushing torrent on the line of the original path. It is coming from an underground source and its colour indicates flooded old mine workings,

The first photograph shows the main outflow of water, the colour indicating mine workings.

Unfortunately, other smaller outlets are now appearing along the whole path, even in the driest weather and are severely affecting the surface of the footpath.

The second photograph illustrates the state of the path in a number of places.

One major consequence of the ground being permanently saturated is that great chunks of the bank side are developing cracks, allowing it to be washed away by the river, which is tidal in this area, and thereby making what is left of the path creep ever closer to the river.

The third photograph shows the bank side cracking away.

Together with the difficulties underfoot, the path vegetation was rampant and, due to the previous day’s heavy rain, much of it had become flattened: in places this virtually covered the path and made strimming extremely difficult.

The fourth photograph shows the line of the footpath under the flattened vegetation.

The fifth photograph shows a strimming team tackling the flattened vegetation.

In other places with the vegetation both tall and dense, more normal cutting was required.

The sixth photograph shows the Working Party’s only female strimming volunteer attacking the vegetation.

While all this was going on, another team of two volunteers, using a variety of machines and tools, was hedge cutting, cutting overhanging shrubs and trees, clearing around seats and generally doing jobs that could not be done with a strimmer over the whole length of the path.

After four hours of strenuous work in unpleasant conditions, the path had been cleared without incident except for the volunteer who accidentally strimmed a wasp’s nest and suffered a number of stings as a result. His wounds were treated with our anti-wasp spray and he continued with typical stiff upper lip and little delay.

We were lucky weather wise, as we had encountered only a few light showers during the session until we were on our way back to where we had started, when a heavy shower caused us to seek shelter under mature trees for a few minutes.


Another session devoted to path vegetation strimming. This session took place along the little used public footpath along the river, from Holywell Bridge to the Old Railway Line, a truly lovely stretch of the Dene.

Access is not easy with the rendezvous being Crowhall Farm, which meant a half-mile walk from the car parking area, on Hartley Lane, to the farm itself where the kit and tools awaited the group.

The first photograph shows the ten volunteers preparing for work.

This path is an easy cut compared with the vegetation encountered on the past few weeks and doesn’t need cutting each year: it is two years since the group last strimmed this path. As well as strimming, a two-man team used the hedge-cutter, loppers and hand pruning saw to cut back bushes and tree branches, which were too high for the strimming teams.

The great weather, with the sun making it the perfect temperature for manual work, the work itself less strenuous than normal and the beautiful surroundings, meant that the mid-morning break was longer than normal, a very relaxed affair, during which the problems of the world were put to right!

The second photograph shows the volunteers having their mid-morning break.

Despite the extended break, the work was finished in good time and all that was left was the mile or so walk back to the cars. Reality will return next week!  


In years gone by August was the month when vegetation growth paused and everything became tinder dry. This year was nothing like that, with warm temperatures and regular rainfall, growth, rather than pausing, seemed to put on a spurt.

So it was that six volunteers assembled for what might be called a tidying loose ends morning. The northern riverside path going west from the stepping-stones was one that had not been cut due to the lovely display of Meadow Cranesbill in flower when we were cutting the rest of the northern path. However, the flowering now over it was safe to cut back the plants, as well as the rest of the vegetation, and that was the first task of the day.

The small band of volunteers then moved to the meadow and completed the cutting of the vegetation between the trees on the north side of the meadow path. The open grass area of the meadow is usually cut in September by haymaking machines but they are too big to cut between the trees, hence today’s work by the volunteers.

Keeping this area cut on an annual basis helps any wild flowers to survive and the wild daffodils in the area that give a lovely display in the spring.


Numbers of volunteers returned to a more normal level for another day of area strimming.

So it was that nine gentlemen and ladies gathered in the area immediately to the east of the stepping-stones to clear the vegetation from the area, which was once the garden of Hartley Mill house: the famous residence that sold the homemade lemonade, so well remembered by older Dene visitors.

Some ten years ago trees and shrubs were planted throughout the area with the aim of giving autumn colour as well as providing berries for birds. The Guelder Rose that FoHD planted has, in past years, provided a memorable spectacle and clearing the area of vegetation allows good viewing from the main path as well as allowing people to have a closer look at the leaves and berries.

The first photograph shows the view of the area from the path before work started.

The second photograph, taken from the same place, shows the area cleared and ready for viewing.

The final photograph shows the weary volunteers packing up at the end of the morning.


Friends Hit the Trail (12-Jul-13)

The Friends of Holywell Dene held a very successful members only trail walk and social event on the evening of Friday 12th July at The Delaval Arms, Old Hartley. Over forty members came along on a very warm and sunny evening, some to tackle the two and a quarter mile circular route around Holywell Dene, following a trail sheet prepared by Alison Christer, whilst those that felt they were not up to the challenge of the walk relaxed and chatted over a refreshing drink outside the pub.

As the last of the walkers returned, everyone moved indoors to enjoy a well deserved meal or snack, and another drink (or two). It was a great opportunity for members to get to know each other, and a lot of new friendships were struck up during the walk and afterwards over a beer. In fact the general consensus was that the evening was so enjoyable that ’FoHD’ are considering organising another event of this nature in the future. So if you would like to take part in a future walk, remember it is members only, so you will need to download the membership application form from this web site.


The first strimming session carried out this year on the 4 June was the paths and open areas to the east and west of Old Hartley car park. Today saw us back in the same area ready to give it its second haircut of the year.

Was it necessary?

The first photograph shows the amount the vegetation has grown since 4 June.

The first task was to clear the ground vegetation in the car park itself and along the paths and at the stiles and, at the same time, cutting back higher vegetation from overhanging trees and shrubs.

The second photograph shows the two tasks being carried out with volunteers using a hedge trimmer and strimmer.

The rest of the morning was taken up in cutting back the nettles and bracken between the river and the pond.

The third photograph shows the volunteers clearing this open area.

So we come towards the end of the school holidays, which as usual, coincides with the exodus of volunteers on holiday. So for the next four weeks or so, numbers will be considerably reduced and the smaller tasks tackled. However, it is nice to report at this stage that the “person hours” put in by the volunteers since the beginning of the year has today, passed the 1000-hour mark.



As we enter September, the major task that has kept us busy since early June comes to an end. Vegetation cutting along the pathways through the Dene reaches the tidying up stage and this session was expected to be the penultimate one of strimming. Unfortunately, with both warmth and rain in August it has meant vegetation has continued to grow and so the major paths need a further cut before we put away the strimmers for another year.

It was on 18 June that we cut the Dale Top path in Holywell and, not surprisingly, after 11 weeks growth it needed doing again and that was today’s task.

The number of volunteers was lower today than recent sessions due to holidays but we were delighted to welcome a young man who is in his Gap Year before going to University in 2014. He has joined us for a few weeks to see what volunteering is all about. He has certainly reduced the average age of the Group!

With three strimmers operating, the river path and steps at either end have been left in a good state and the unofficial path from the gas station to the river is now passable to people, even those wearing unsuitable footwear. Encroaching brambles and bushes were cut back and litter was collected and it is encouraging to note that the amount of litter was less than normal along these paths. Sadly, there were indicators of drug usage in a couple of places.

It is not farewell to Dale Top for this year because there are two more jobs planned for this area, one later in September and one for the winter.


On a cool, windy, overcast morning eight volunteers assembled for the last morning of strimming for 2013. The Dene was approached from the footpath across the field of Crow Hall Farm and the photograph shows their happy faces?

The first photograph “off to work we go”

We had four strimmers operating, cutting vegetation along the northern riverside path from a point west of the upstream wooden bridge to west of the downstream bridge. This was light strimming mainly to make sure nettles, brambles and small branches were not significantly narrowing this very popular path. This continued until the

10 o’clock break at which point the party split into three groups.

Two strimming teams continued the path strimming and, when that was completed, they moved to the southern river path and cleared that and the growth around the three bench seats adjacent to the path.

A third strimming team moved to the area of young Oak trees and carefully cleared around each tree and, by lifting the rabbit guard, cleared by hand the weeds around the tree’s roots. In addition they replaced the missing plastic guard on one of the trees.

The second photograph shows a volunteer clearing the weeds around a young Oak tree.

Meanwhile, the fourth team moved to the south side of the river and cleared the tangle of brambles and other vegetation around the Alder trees. In addition they cut down a number of small Sycamore trees in the area, which if left to develop, would eventually deprive the Alders of light.

As far as is known, these six trees are the only Alders in the Dene. The original seeds were a present to family members of FoHD on the birth of their daughter. With loving care and each with its own name, the seeds were geminated, grown in pots for two years and then carefully planted out along the riverbank in March 2011. At that stage the saplings were between 60 and 90cms tall.

The third photograph shows the planting of the saplings.

Two of the trees have shown exceptional growth in the two and a half years they have been in the ground while the other four are growing well and look extremely healthy. The next photograph should be compared to the previous one showing its growth in just two and a half years.

The fourth photograph illustrates the saplings growth between March 2011 and September 2013.


The ‘Friends of Holywell Dene’ were voted winners in the prestigious ‘Best Coast or Countryside Project’ category of the Love Northumberland awards held at the Alnwick Garden on Wednesday 10th July.

Four members of ‘FoHD’ attended the uplifting awards ceremony which was hosted by BBC TV Look North’s Carol Malia, with the awards being presented by the Duchess of Northumberland.

The awards have been developed by Northumberland County Council through it’s LOVE Northumberland campaign, with the aim of promoting the work of the council and it’s many partner organisations and community groups of volunteers who all work towards preserving and enhancing the environment in the county.

The ‘FoHD’ entry had previously been short-listed along with three others for the award. The other finalists were Lowick in Bloom, who took the runners up prize, Morpeth and District red squirrels and the Remembering Flodden Project, who were both Highly Commended.

After scooping the top award, one of our volunteers was interviewed by the Newcastle Journal and remarked that he felt honoured and privileged to accept the award on behalf of the ‘Friends’, and also to be given the opportunity to meet the Duchess and Carol Malia.

The award also carries a cash prize of £250 which will be put to good use to help replace some of our ageing tool collection!

This is what our treasurer had to say about the awards:

We arrived at Alnwick Castle gardens on a beautiful summers evening and were welcomed with a long cool drink and a badge bearing our name and Friend of Holywell Dene logo. We mingled and chatted to other
contenders for half an hour then proceeded to the presentation area overlooking the fabulous waterfall where we sat discretely on the back row. Carol Malia (BBC Look North) hosted the event and as she read out the submissions of the entries to the eight categories we were amazed at the variety of work done by the volunteers and also the age ranges (5 to 85 was mentioned in one case).
Our category had been whittled down to four finalists so we braced ourselves. as first timers, to receive one of the two specially commended prizes, however they came and went and we held our breath assuming we were runners up. I think we were the most surprised people in the garden when we were announced as winners. We rose very hesitantly and made our way to the front of the assembly where the Duchess of Northumberland presented our certificate and prize. Photographs were taken and we made our way back to our seats still questioning whether Carol had read the names in the right order.
After the final presentation and speeches by the Duchess and sponsors we first made our way over to the fountain for some less formal photos and happy snaps then on to the bar for soft drinks and nibbles. Whilst
there Bryan was asked if he would answer a few questions over the phone for a reporter from the Newcastle Journal which he did with great pride and his night was then made perfect by the Duchess coming over to talk
to us. The evening will stay in our memories for many years to come and we would like to thank everyone, members of the working party, members of FoHD, Michael Sharp the local nature reserves officer, who was instrumental in us entering the competion and everyone who has been of help to us in what we do, for making the winning of the award possible. Special mention should go to Russell Pannell without whose organisational skills and love of Holywell Dene none of this would have been possible.


The total of six volunteers assembling for the morning session equalled the lowest number for the current year. The reasons were numerous, from holidays to employment to decorating and even to a gas leak at home!

At this time of year it is important to prepare for winter and today we started that job. The Dene, being a valley with a river, attracts all the water from the surrounding hills, cultivated land and Hartley Lane. Water has to find its way to the river and this is achieved by a series of gullies and pipes under footpaths, most of which have been created or at least improved by FoHD

These small waterways can usually cope with average rainfall but really short sharp downpours can overwhelm them, especially if they are not maintained. Maintenance was the name for today’s work.

The gully that takes the most water is that coming from Hartley Lane, which not only consists of road water but also the water from the stream coming down the hill on the south side of the Dene. There is a major collector drain on the edge of the road, which takes the water under the road into the Dene through a very old, beautifully built, stone-lined gully. Sadly the road drain is rarely cleared and it is this that has caused the flooding of the road and resulted in water flowing like a river down Hartley West Farm road. Major damage to the stiles on either side of the stone bridge has been plain to see.

Once the water has gone under the road and is in the Dene it has to go through two pipes under footpaths before it reaches the river.

The first photograph shows the hunt for and clearance of the first pipe under a path.

Having gone through the second pipe the water then has a clear run to the river.

The second photograph shows the final stretch having been cleared of vegetation and rubbish.

The next task was in connection with Old Hartley Pond. The water in the pond has no obvious inlet and, until FoHD created one, it had no exit, simply flooding the surrounding area.

The third photograph shows the created outlet and associated pipe under the path being cleared.

Once again the stretch from the path to the river had to be cleared and initially the volunteers had to find the line of the gully in amongst the undergrowth.

The fourth photograph shows volunteers hunting the gully!

The final part of the morning was taken up with clearing the path soakaways along the stretch of path from the farm road to the stepping-stones. Created by FoHD these have been a great success in avoiding too much standing water after heavy rain on one of the most used paths in the Dene.


A misty, humid and mild day found nine volunteers ready for work but at different places in the Dene. Today was a continuation of last week’s gully checking and clearing but in order to complete the task today, two volunteers, who normally walk in from Holywell, agreed to check and clear the drainage gullies and pipes along the Holywell Bridge path and some just to the east side of the old railway line, as they walked in.

Meanwhile the others started on the more difficult steep hillside gullies between the stepping-stones and the downstream wooden bridge. The first two photographs illustrate some of the difficulties checking and clearing water gullies on steep slopes.

The first photograph shows volunteers high on the hillside clearing and checking.

The second photograph shows what happens when you take a step without looking.

Most of the gullies coming down the north hillside have been created or altered by FoHD so that they arrive at the lower path at the spot we want and not, in all cases, where the water wants. As the hillside is steep the water arrives at the lower path at a considerable rate.

The third photograph shows the volunteers doing preparatory work where the gully reaches the path.

The water has to be collected in a sump and as the water level increases so it will start flowing through the pipe laid under the path.

The fourth photograph shows where the water arrives and is collected in the sump.

The stones used to build the low walls around the sump were gathered from the adjacent riverbed by human hands and wheelbarrow. Needless to say soil and stones will build up in the sump but a considerable depth will be possible before it affects the flow of water through the pipe. The most likely cause of early overflow will be deliberate blocking by human hands.

The fifth photograph gives a better view of the sump and protective wall

The morning finished with a team of volunteers operating on the south side of the river checking and clearing the odd level ground gullies to be found along that side of the river.

We are left with the estuary gullies still to be checked and two pipes that are semi-blocked and need clearing out through their full length: all that for another day.