The circular walk from Seaton Sluice around the estuary paths has always been popular but today only intrepid boot shod people can manage it due to the deteriorating state of the west path. The first photograph is just one example of how the path looks today.

Photograph one – illustrates the state of part of the west path.

It was in 2004 that the first small fountain of water appeared in the middle of the path. It was quickly identified as mine water and it has flowed ever since, in increasing quantity. Initially the flow was only at the north end of the path but now it extends virtually the whole length of the west path.

Today a full compliment of 13 volunteers assembled to try to halt the path’s decline. Water catchment trenches were dug parallel to the path in an effort to catch the water seeping out of the hillside.

Photograph 2 shows water catchment trenches being dug.

At the same time the original drainage pipes under the path were dug out and cleared with rods.

Photograph 3 shows drainage pipes being cleared with rods.

In the previous two photographs the path can be seen with the standing water that was, throughout the morning, draining into the freshly dug trenches.

There was no easy solution to the stretch of path shown in the first photograph other than creating stepping-stones through the mud and water. A small team of the volunteers started on the task of gathering suitable large stone blocks for this creation. The extremely heavy blocks were originally the foundations of the trestle bridge that once crossed the valley at this point, taking coal to the harbour.

These tasks will go on for a few more weeks before completion but at the end of the morning we had the clean river nearby in which to wash the barrows and spades. Unfortunately it did not remove the evil smell that came from the path’s mud and water, which still remained on the tools and on the skin and clothes of the volunteers.

Photograph 4 – washing up time.


On the 30 August a Friend, walking along the Dale Top path in Holywell, noticed and photographed a major branch shed by a mature tree, which was lying half on the bank and half in the river.

The first photograph was taken on 30 August.

Note the dramatic change in the second photograph, which was taken on 1 October, from the same position, when the FoHD Volunteers arrived to clear the fallen branch.

The second photograph was taken on 1 October.

The change was the result of the activities, of what we call the Holywell Chainsaw Gang, who cut and collect fallen timber along the river for, we assume, wood burning fires. In this case their actions meant that the largest part of branch was now in the river making our task even more difficult.

The volunteers set to work clearing the accumulated litter and removing the smaller branches and general debris.

The third photograph shows the litter and small branches being cleared.

The next stage involved our NCC contact, Michael Sharp, who comes along to sessions like this, wielding his chain saw.

The fourth photograph shows the main trunk being prepared for winching.

Then over to the volunteers again who, using a substantial tree as an anchor, connected the winch cable to the tree branch still in the river.

The fifth photograph shows the start of winching

The sixth photograph shows the winch taking the strain and the branch moving.

The volunteers took turns on the winch handle as the branch moved inch by inch taking everything with it that was in its way, including part of the bank.

The seventh photograph shows the branch over the bank - the worst is over!

The whole branch is then left to steadily rot, thereby providing a home to many small creatures for many years.

The next stage was to collect the litter removed from the river as the next photograph shows.

The eighth photograph shows examples of the litter collected

Then it was off to the next job with a rearward look at the cleared river.

The ninth photograph shows the river clear again.

The final job of the morning was to remove the tree trunk that was in the river under the footbridge just down from Concorde House. It was first cut into three pieces and then each piece was winched out of the river onto dry land.

All the considerable quantity of litter, from both sites, was then carried up to Michael Sharp’s truck, which was then driven to the landfill site for disposal.


Today’s work was a continuation of last week’s session, 8 October. The background behind this continuing work was contained in that earlier report.

Twelve volunteers assembled and arriving on site were delighted to see the fruits of last week’s labours. Despite the nights heavy rain the path cleared last week was now walkable in reasonable shoes whereas before we started work on it, it was a river. Water trickling from the hillside was flowing into and along the trenches, through the pipes under the path and into the river.

The first photograph shows the newly dug trench catching the water.

This week this trenching work was continued throughout the morning, not only parallel and close to the path but also from another pipe under the path to the river.

The second photograph shows the team extending the path trench.

Then work started, but was not finished, on a drainage trench parallel to the path but some distance away from it. The aim was not only to drain water from the path itself but also from the flooded area between the path and the trench. More work is needed on this trench, which will be continued in the next few weeks.

Meanwhile, the smaller team of four volunteers carried on last week’s task of gathering the large blocks of stone ready for use as stepping-stones across the worst flooded section of the path. This week they used the winch to move the blocks in position so that next week, hopefully, they can be manoeuvred into position.

The third photograph shows the size of one of these blocks.

After a heavy mornings work and splashed with evil smelling dark liquid the volunteers wended their way home on foot, bicycle or in immaculate cars!


With fingers crossed, hoping the weather forecast for rain would prove incorrect, eleven volunteers assembled at 08.30 to continue work on the rapidly deteriorating Seaton Sluice west estuary path. Luckily at the end of the session fingers could be uncrossed as the rain encountered was no more than a few spots mid-morning and it was a pleasantly mild day.

Today’s work was a continuation of that of the last two weeks and should be read in conjunction with the reports for the 8th and 15th October.

The larger group of volunteers started work on the horrendous stretch of path below Starlight Castle. Once again it was a case of digging trenches parallel with the path and at the lowest points directing water across the path or clearing an existing channel, which took water under the path. Accumulated excess mud was raked and removed from the path.

The worst aspect of this area is that at a number of locations water is bubbling up from underground, some in the middle of the path. There is nothing one can do to stop this and so it is just a case of trying to direct this water to where it will do least damage, away from where people walk.

 Photograph 1 shows trenching and mud removal in progress

Just a short distance away, an effort was made to improve the area at the junction of the Castle and riverside paths, using stone washed out during last year’s floods. Photographs 2 and 3 are a comparison of this stretch of path before and after today’s work.

 Photograph 2 shows the path at the start of today’s operations.

 Photograph 3 shows the result of stone edging and hole filling.

Meanwhile the stone party some distance away were making ready to winch the, already assembled, large stones into position to make stepping-stones across the flooded part of the path. A volunteer had made a ground anchor for the winch, as there was no tree in a suitable place to act as one.

 Photograph 4 shows this ground anchor being used by the winch-man to pull the second stone into place.

At the other end of the cable, volunteers were guiding, with crowbars, the third stone in the correct direction, as it was being slowly winched into position.

Photograph 5 shows the 3rd stone being guided into place.

The final two photographs, 6 and 7, are a comparison of this stretch of path before and after today’s work, with 6 showing the stones in their pre-positioned area at the beginning of the flooded path while 7 shows the stepping-stones finally in place.

Photograph 6 shows pre-positioned stones at the beginning of the flooded path.

Photograph 7 shows the stones in place creating stepping-stones.


On a decidedly cool morning with a strong wind blowing but with a clear sky, thirteen volunteers assembled for another session of work on the west side Estuary Path. Once in the Dene, well sheltered from the wind and with the sun shining non-stop, it was not long before layers of clothing were being discarded.

This was the fourth and final work session on this path and so it should be read in conjunction with reports for the 8th, 15th and 22nd October.

The group was divided into four parties, three working in the ‘pipe pond’ area and one on the path below Starlight Castle. Additional posts were put in, where necessary, to support the wooden path edging, especially where drainage channels had been reopened.

The remaining soft areas of path were dug out and filled with the available stone and a couple of new parallel hillside trenches were dug as a result of seeing where the water was still flowing onto the path. The photographs, taken on the morning after, illustrate the continuing problems in the area despite all the work that has been carried out.

Photograph 1 The path near the overhead pipe showing trenches dug to drain the lying water.

Photograph 2 The path below Starlight Castle looking north

Photograph 3 Channels dug to drain water bubbling up from underground, in the middle of the path

Photograph 4 Deep channel reopened, which was created to drain water from the channels dug parallel to path.

While this was being finished off, a team was removing vegetation and soil in the area of the earlier subsidence, thereby widening the path, running between Seaton Sluice and Old Hartley car park.

Photograph 5 Shows path widened opposite earlier subsidence.

There was just thirty minutes left of the morning session, when consideration was given to a possible trench to drain the water from the area where we had created the stepping-stones across the flood. (see Report for 22nd October).

Using a home made apparatus to try and guide us on levels in the area, it was clear that there was not a great fall on the path levels but it was decided to dig a test trench to see which way the water flowed. With great enthusiasm and considerable difficulty in getting the saturated sods out of the ground, everyone joined in and in no time a short trench was dug and, after watching for a short period, it was clear the water was flowing in the right direction.

At that point it was suggested we finished for the day but interest was so high that everyone set to extend the newly dug trench to link up with a shallow stretch of water a short distance away, which had a natural link to a further shallow pond area and then, via a pipe under the path, into the river.

Photograph 6 All together now –digging test trench just before home time

We finished the day with water flowing in the right direction and only time will tell where everything settles and how much water is drained away from the stepping-stone area.

Coffee Morning (12-Oct-13)

The ‘Friends’ held a very successful coffee morning at St Paul’s Church, Seaton Sluice on Saturday 12th October which was well attended by members and the general public despite the weather being rather grey, and also the fact that another event was being held at the local Community Centre on the same day.

Sales of raffle tickets were brisk, probably due to the lure of the star prize being a long weekend in a luxury cottage in the Lake District. Many members also took the opportunity to pay their membership subscription and to purchase the new 2014 calendar which was hot off the press.

A display board of photographs depicting the activities of the working party throughout the year was also very popular, with our volunteers answering questions from interested parties about our work in the Dene.

By midday the mouth watering selection of delicious homemade cakes, scones and biscuits had virtually disappeared as if by magic, and a crowd of contented visitors emerged back out into the grey afternoon drizzle once more.

The funds raised at the coffee morning enable us to continue our work in Holywell Dene into the future, and we would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who supported this event.  


These two Tuesday Working Party sessions were devoted to the annual control of Sycamore Trees growing in the Dene.

Sycamore (Acer pseudoplatanus) is a deciduous broadleaf native tree to central, eastern and southern Europe. It was introduced to the UK probably in the Middle Ages. It is a majestic fast growing tree, which can and has, completely taken over many woodlands and parks. To many people sycamores are seen as one of nature’s urban and country bad pennies  

It has a very dense canopy and this, together with its ability to grow layers of near horizontal branches almost to ground level, means it creates on the ground, deep shade where virtually nothing grows, except young sycamores that are shade tolerant when young.

In the autumn it produces masses of winged seed that spiral to earth and, if there is a wind blowing, can be distributed over a very wide area.

In past years a selected few of the mature sycamores in the Dene have been cut down in conjunction with NCC but the stump that is left does not die but very quickly sends out numerous shoots that only add to the gloom and, if left, can develop into sizeable trees again.

Over the past two weeks, eleven volunteers, on each day, have gone through the Dene pulling out literally hundreds of small sycamore saplings, cut down small trees of around 3/4 inch diameter, cleared the young shoots around the stumps of previously cut mature trees and cut out branches and shoots from around existing mature trees.


Often this work has been carried out on steep slippery hillsides or in areas of brambles, nettles, ivy and bracken.

The photograph is included to illustrate the difficult working terrain encountered.

So far the work this autumn has been carried out on both sides of the river from the upstream wooden bridge coming downstream to just before the stepping stones and on the south side of the river adjacent to Hartley West Farm road, an area almost overgrown with sycamores before today.


With the weather forecast for temperatures just above freezing but with wall to wall sunshine, eight volunteers assembled for the third weekly session on the maintenance of sycamore trees in Holywell Dene.  The background to this work can be found on the previous report for the 5th/12th November.

The party split into three groups working in different parts of the Dene but all carrying out the same activities.

Once again many year-old naturally regenerated saplings were pulled out, especially from areas adjacent to mature sycamores. Numbers ran into the hundreds but time will tell how many were missed.

In previous years some semi-mature trees have been cut down but they quickly grow again sending out numerous shoots. The more they are cut the more they lose their vigour.

The first photograph shows the volunteers cutting back these one-year old shoots, still covered in leaves.

A similar thing happens to very old trees that have not been cut down. All around the base of the tree shoots appear that quickly develop into the size of small trees. Clearing these opens up the area to more light and gives other vegetation the chance to grow.

The fourth task is to cut down small sycamore trees, of diameter around 3 to 4 inches.

The second photograph sows a volunteer cutting back one of these trees on a steep and slippery hillside.

There were still some lovely autumn colours in the woodland, which lifted the spirits before they came down again as the weather forecast proved to be inaccurate when a long-lasting snow shower made life in the woodland most unpleasant.

The third photograph shows a recently cut small sycamore in the foreground and the lovely autumn colours in the snow shower,  in the background.

So ends sycamore maintenance for another year. The one certain thing is that similar work will start all over again in the autumn of 2014.


On receiving a large voluntary donation from a member of FoHD, the Committee decided to put the money towards the purchase of 50 English Oak Trees, together with the necessary rabbit guards and stakes.

The bare-rooted trees, measuring 60 to 80 cms, arrived on 19 November and were immediately heeled into garden soil, to ensure the roots did not dry out, and were then planted into their final positions in the Dene during today’s working party session. Although there was a slight frost when we started, the soil was ideal, damp but not waterlogged.

Four planting areas were selected, stretching from the west end of the Holywell Bridge river path in the west, to Old Hartley pond area in the east. To ensure the trees were all planted in a morning, the ten volunteers were divided into two groups, with two being responsible for planting 10 of the trees at the Holywell end and the remainder planting the two centre sections each with 15 trees. Towards the end of the morning we all met up at the Old Hartley end to plant the final 10 trees.

In two of the areas planting positions had already been staked, so a prompt start was possible. In the two centre areas and the Old Hartley one, strimmers were used to cut back vegetation around each of the planting positions.

The first photograph shows the two-man strimming team cutting back the vegetation prior to digging and planting.

Then teams started the digging, first removing, and disposing of the surface vegetation from a 600x 600cm square and then removing and putting to one side, the top 300cms of soil. The next 300cm of soil was broken up and at that point the position was ready for planting.

The second and third photographs show the holes being prepared and a tree being planted.

After the tree was planted all that was left was to put on the rabbit guard and to secure it in place by two stakes. The doubling up of stakes resulted from our experience of previous plantings when only one stake was used for each tree, which led to a number of guards being bent over and damaging the young tree inside.

The fourth photograph shows the finished planted tree.

The planting areas were very variable, some needing little clearance whilst centre east, in particular, needed major clearance of tangled brambles. In addition the soil in centre east was somewhat stony while in the other areas it was ideal for planting trees.

Photographs 5 to 8 illustrate the differences in vegetation in the areas planted.

At the end of the session two further planting holes were prepared ready for the planting of two pot grown Oak trees the following day. Earlier in the year a local organisation told us they had won two Oak trees in a competition and asked if they could be planted in Holywell Dene. After ascertaining their origins (The Woodland Trust) we agreed, suggesting the best time being in the autumn.

A great surprise awaited us when the trees were unveiled; they appeared to be about ten years old and were in 19” pots!

Photographs 9 and 10 show one of the trees before and after planting.

The lesson learned, always ask how old the trees are and what size pot they are in.


On a fine and not too cold morning, nine volunteers assembled in Old Hartley car park and met up with Michael Sharp from NCC who brought materials and tools for today’s work.

The action sites were the two areas of path erosion near the metal bridge on the path from the car park to Seaton Sluice and the path below Starlight Castle on the west side of the estuary.

Two weeks ago NCC had taken delivery of 20 tonnes of path stone and this had already been transported to a site near the metal bridge.

Two volunteers, under the supervision of Michael Sharp, started putting wooden edging along the border of the subsidence area just to the south of the metal bridge. Meanwhile the other volunteers took barrow loads of stone on the long trek to the path below Starlight Castle to improve the surface of the path we had worked on in previous weeks. More stone will be required in this area in the coming weeks.

With the first edging task completed, the larger group turned their attention to back filling the wooden edging, clearing encroaching vegetation from the path and laying a top dressing of stone.

The first photograph shows the new edging, path clearance in progress and stone ready for laying.

The second timber edging was then installed at the path erosion site next to the seat.

The second photograph shows the edging in place to stop the path erosion

At that point everyone joined together to clear and widen the path adjacent to the edging and put down a top dressing of stone.

The third photograph shows the whole group together, path widening and laying the stone top dressing.


This report actually starts on the 4th December, the day and night when the severe gales and North Sea storm surge hit the area. In the following days members of the FoHD Working Party walked Holywell Dene removing many small branches and other debris from the paths and reporting trouble spots.

It quickly became clear that we had got off lightly with only one area where trees were down across a path, as the first picture shows.

The first picture is of the scene that greeted the volunteer

With a bow saw as part of his luggage, he set to work removing the smaller branches so that pedestrians could get through, albeit having to step over the trunk and larger branches.

The second picture shows the passageway cut for pedestrians.

It was sad because the first tree to fall was one of the few old Oaks left in the Dene and when it came down it hit an adjacent tree and pulled that one out of the ground, roots and all.

On 9 December a combined team of FoHD volunteers and our NCC contact person met and the tree was cut up and the path cleared.

The third photograph shows the chain sawing underway.

Meanwhile, the west side estuary path, which the volunteers had been working on over the past few weeks, had been completely covered with water when the storm surge coincided with high tide. However, as the water returned to its normal level, it became clear, much to our relief, that little or no damage had been done to the trenches and stoning that had already been carried out.

This gave us confidence to continue the work and so, on the usual Tuesday morning, eight volunteers assembled for further work on the path. The first hour was a non-stop train of stone-filled wheelbarrows being brought over a considerable distance to the point on the path where we had stopped the previous week.

The fourth photograph shows part of the stone train.

Then the team turned to extending the trenching along the hill side of the path. The new trench quickly filled with water coming from both the hillside and, in places, from underground. Once the low point had been established a small trench was cut at right angles across the path, thereby allowing this water to drain into the river.

The fifth photograph shows the trench-cutting group at work.

More work needs to be done along this path but clearly the number of favourable comments received and the fact that people are starting to use the path again, means our hard work has not been in vain.



On a beautiful morning, when it was hard to believe we were half way through December, with the sun shining from a clear sky and virtually no wind, nine volunteers assembled for a morning of small and various jobs in the centre part of the Dene.

The first task was to remove the wire from the water gate under the stone bridge on the road to Hartley West Farm. The history of this gate is interesting as it has only been in position since 2000 when the two Councils were granted a 99-year lease for this area of the Dene. At that point the local farmer lost the right to graze cattle in the Dene and the whole area was fenced to keep the cattle out. This included the installation of the water gate to stop the cattle walking up the river, under the bridge and so into the Dene.

All went well for a couple of years until the cows found a way to part the two halves of the gate and squeeze through. Since then wire has been attached each spring, before the cattle are let out to the adjoining fields, and then removed again when they are taken to their winter quarters towards the end of autumn. This means the suspended gates can operate correctly during the winter when the river is high and logs, branches and debris is being brought down on the rushing water.

A second group of volunteers worked on an area on the south side river path, which was being worn away by dogs being invited by their owners to enter the water and, by so doing, wearing away the bank and path. Stakes were inserted and the path edged and then back-filled.

The first photograph shows this operation underway

The next task was to cut back the high vegetation, including rampant brambles, which was totally smothering the young oak trees planted by FoHD some six years ago. As can be seen in the photograph the trees are doing extremely well despite the opposition.

The second photograph shows this task well underway and the revealed young oak trees.

Meanwhile two volunteers were repairing some relatively minor vandalism. The wired timber joining a stile to an adjoining tree had begun to rot, which invited some of our uncooperative cyclists to kick it clear so they had passage bypassing the stile. They also removed one of the ‘No Cycling’ signs on the stile itself, this being a footpath and not a bridleway.

The third photograph shows this repair work underway.

Two further vandalised ‘No Cycling’ signs were replaced further to the west while new timber was fixed and wired adjacent to the stile.

As usual time was running out and it was only possible to start the preparatory work on fencing repairs near Old Hartley car park and pond and begin the partial hazel coppicing in the meadow. This work will continue on Christmas Eve–we never stop!!



On a cold windy morning seven volunteers assembled for the last working party session in 2013. Although it remained dry, until about forty-five minutes after we finished for the day, the wind continued to strengthen and out of the sheltered Dene it became very unpleasant.

The group split into two sections, the first started by carrying out necessary repairs on the fence going east from the stone bridge and on the one in Old Hartley car park. Reclaimed fencing rails were used from areas where fencing is no longer required, however it is very much a temporary job as a number of the posts are past their best and need replacing. The cows pushing against the fence in order to get that last piece of succulent grass cause most of the fence damage along the stone bridge section, while in the car park the damage is caused by drivers not appreciating the length of their car when backing out.

The first photograph shows the broken rail being removed. Note also the colour and height of the water in the river after the rain of the previous day.

Meanwhile the second group planted two Holly trees that were self sown near the Dene, potted up by one of the volunteers and grown on until ready to plant out.

The second photograph shows one of the trees safely planted.

This group then went on to the Meadow where they finished the Hazel coppicing that had been started the previous week. This was not a full coppicing but simply to take out the larger diameter stems to ensure a proper looking Hazel over the next few years. The cut stems were stacked ready for some river revetment work next year.

The third photograph shows the stem cutting in progress by a volunteer showing the Christmas spirit.

After a break for refreshments the two groups again went their own way. One group travelled the footpaths clearing accumulations of soggy leaves at dangerous spots, clearing the paths of fallen branches and ensuring the gullies were all flowing freely on both sides of the river. Meanwhile the second group got among the trees planted 5/6 years ago (mainly Oak and Rowan) that had been rather neglected since then. Once again removing the brambles that were keen to use the young trees as climbing frames was the major task. Soon after the planting of these young trees, a large mature tree fell into one of the planted areas and it was assumed the young trees would have been flattened. Amazingly, the tangle of falling branches somehow managed to miss at least five of the young trees and all have done extremely well growing upward between the fallen tree’s branches.

The fourth photograph shows one of the six-year-old Oak trees doing extremely well, growing within 100cms of where the main trunk of the old tree fell. Good luck to it.

One thing we did notice over the whole planted area was that a few of the trees appear to have been nibbled by Deer, as the damage is above the rabbit guards that are still in place.

So farewell to 2013, which has seen a great deal of hard work put in on their Tuesday sessions by the volunteer team.  The entire group has contributed 1632 hours to the Dene this year, the most in any year since FoHD was formed thirteen years ago.