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A rather depleted working party of six met today to carry out path repairs upstream  between the two bridges.  The weather was damp but mild for late October.  The path was covered in fallen sycamore leaves  and the atmosphere in the  Dene was calm and tranquil.

First we had to sweep the path to find our targeted area.   The wood was laid out to check the length - an almost perfect fit.   An old metal pipe was cut into lengths to support the edging  and these were hammered into place.  A trench was dug to take the timber and the job was finished off by using gravel to fill the trench and level the path.  Only twenty barrow loads.  Easy!

Very little wildlife was seen, a few crows flew overhead and there was an occasional chirp from a bird in  the undergrowth. The burn was crystal clear and the burbling of the water was a gentle background to all muscle power expended by the team.



A select squad of nine volunteers assembled at Hartley Lane carpark today for a morning of pond clearance, fence maintenance and the installation of a waymarker post and a new seat. The weather was bright and cold at first, but soon turned overcast and drizzly, albeit milder. It was wet underfoot.

The party divided into two groups. The first group started by installing a waymark post at a fork in the footpath to point out the route of the Heritage Way. The next job was the installation of a new bench for the use of weary visitors, close to the Seaton Burn between the carpark and the Hartley West Farm stone bridge. It was crafted by one of our number who has carpentry skills, and features a double-layer seat, the purpose of which is to ensure that there are no fixings on the upper surface – a piece of carpentry magic! The space around the seat was consolidated with aggregate.

Photograph A. New waymark post

Photograph B. Completed bench (note state of fence!)

The first group then their turned their attention to the fence that runs along the side of the burn in that area. Its purpose is to keep cattle from crossing the burn from the field on the far side and clomping about in the wild area on the south bank (the old Grove Farm area) which we maintain. Ideally, the fence should be replaced, because it is leaning over in several places and some of the uprights are rotten at the base. However, with our limited resources all we can realistically do is repair it. This we did, by reinforcing the uprights with new posts, hammered in and screwed on.

Photograph C. Repairing fence

The second group – the “lucky five” – spent the morning enjoying the marsh-gas smells and mud of pond maintenance work. The dipping pond (so called because of its pond-dipping platform) is close to Hartley Lane carpark, and supports a wide range of wildlife, from dragonflies to frogs, toads and newts, and from a wide variety of pond plants to moorhen and visiting mallards. It suffers from two encroaching pond species, however: (1) reedmace (bulrush, Typha latifolia), which is native but very spready, and (2) floating pennywort (Hydrocotyle ranunculoides) an invasive alien from the Americas which spreads over the surface of the water.

Photograph D. Reeds and pennywort

These were both removed from the open part of the pond by two hardy volunteers wearing waders. The other three helped with the disposal of the removed plant material, which was dumped nearby so that any pond creatures on them could crawl back into the water. Substantial beds of reedmace were left either side of the cleared space for the moorhens to nest in and as general habitat.

Photograph E. Pond maintenance

Photograph F. Pond after clearance work

Highlights of the day include: your correspondent being accidentally used as target practice by an over-enthusiastic reedmace-thrower (the roots tend to be clarted with pond silt); a plastic bottle adapted as a wildlife trap of some sort, that had been left in the pond (this was removed with other litter); various dogs accompanied by their owners who looked very puzzled to see their favourite pond being worked on – I think they may be in the habit of splashing about in the pond, which is not recommended.

Wildlife interest:

a pair of mallard ducks that flew overhead looking down at the pond and deciding that it was not a good day for landing there

rooks overhead, calling – it is their favourite part of the Dene

a large family of long-tailed tits came past the pond mid-morning, calling repeatedly to each other

I thought I heard the shrill call of a kingfisher on the river, but it was not seen

we had a report from a passer-by of a big male fox taking a moorhen (a near-black water-margins bird) from the pond area recently

Finally, you may be interested to know that there have been several sightings of red squirrels in gardens in Hartley this year, so we are all hoping that one will be spotted in the Dene itself soon.

We all trekked back to the cars at the end of the morning’s work feeling well worked-out – apart from yours truly, who was on light duties after a recent medical procedure.



AA nine-person work party assembled at Crow Hall Farm for a morning’s path maintenance. The weather was strange: still, overcast and mild; damp in the fields but dry in the Dene. The working conditions would have been ideal if it hadn’t been for the thousands of tiny midgies that came out as soon as we started work – getting in hair and everywhere else! It has evidently been rather dry of late, because there is little flow in the river.


The nature of the work meant we had lots of tools and timber to carry all the way from Crow Hall Farm to the tunnel area. The main part of the work was a major improvement to the sloping path from the disused railway line down to the Dene just below the tunnel mouth. However there was something to attend to first: somebody had tried to rip out the kissing gate that leads from the old railway line to the “moonscape” area just upstream of the tunnel – possibly to allow bikes to be got through more easily. The gate was still in place if somewhat damaged. We repaired it and re-cemented the bases of the gate posts, locking them in place with screws embedded in the cement. They (whoever it was) won’t find it so easy to remove now!

Photograph A. Mended kissing gate

The main work of the morning was improving the sloping path. This must have existed ever since the railway line was laid out in the nineteenth century, and it was already strengthened with hard core under the surface. To make it more level in cross-section, for the convenience of walkers, we did two things: added edging timbers on the downhill side, and dug out the slope on the uphill side, spreading the loosened material across the path more evenly. The path was finished off with aggregate, which actually consisted of road scrapings – material removed from a road as part of a resurfacing job – which had been standing in a pile at the top of the bank for several years.

In a bit more detail, the steps were: (1) set edge timbers in place and secure with metal spikes hammered into the ground; (2) dig out the uphill side of the path and spread the material evenly across the path surface; (3) install “stoppers” – timber cross-pieces designed to stop path material from running downhill – across the path in the steeper sections; (4) bring road-scrapings material down by wheelbarrow; (5) spread it on the path, and rake and compact it.

Photograph B. Installing edge-boards and levelling the path

Photograph C. Securing edge-boards with metal rods

Photograph D. Barrowing aggregate downhill

Photograph E. Spreading aggregate

This was completed neatly before 12 o'clock, which is our usual going-home time.

Photograph F. Completed job

Wildlife interest:

the “cathedral” of beeches at that end of the Dene still had some leaves, forming a beautiful mosaic of gold and green

the robin first appeared at 9:00 on the dot, curious to see if by disturbing the ground we were unearthing any tasty grubs or worms, and he (or she) kept darting down to the path throughout the session

a nuthatch (small acrobatic bird) was calling, and we heard some wild geese overhead

We had quite a few walkers coming and going while we worked. Most of them were appreciative of the work we were doing, even though we were causing them a bit of temporary inconvenience, although one person thought we were being paid and ought to be working harder! At the end of the morning we lugged the tools back to the Friends’ car, then plodded down the farm lane to our cars on Hartley Lane and returned to our various homes, another job satisfyingly completed



A “full house” work party of 12 volunteers descended on Crowhall Farm today to clear fallen trees from the river nearby. The conditions, it has to be said, were challenging: cold and clear to start off with, but the rain started at about 10 o'clock and came down in three sustained bursts. So: mud, rain, cold wind – what’s not to like?

Five of the volunteers took the chainsaw, winches and other tools upstream to the giant beech about halfway between the tunnel under the old railway line and the Holywell road bridge. This tree, which is just by the path, must be the oldest and biggest in the Dene. Several months ago, in a strong wind, it had cast a branch so huge that it looked like a tree itself. This had crashed right down into the burn.

Photograph A. Fallen branch (not tree!)

Some of this monster had already been cut up and taken away for firewood. The chainsaw was deployed to dismember it. Next, the two manual winches were attached to the trunks of suitably located trees and used to inch the logs up the bank and away from the river – good exercise on a cold day. I pile of huge logs was on view at the end of the task.

Photograph B. Cutting it up with chainsaw

Photograph C. Hauling logs using winch

Photograph D. Some of the logs hauled out

Meanwhile, the other seven volunteers set to work on a couple of fallen trees, also beeches, just upstream of the tunnel. These also were tending to block the flow of the river. Bowsaws and sheer muscle-power were the main ingredients here. We managed to clear large numbers of branches, large and small, out of the river. If you happen to pass that way, you will see the piles of timber resulting from this process.

Photograph E. One of the two fallen beeches

Photograph F. Clearing it away

Wildlife interest:

A dipper (a water bird that immerses itself in the river to forage for food) was seen, when we arrived, among the fallen branches just upstream of the tunnel. I’m afraid we disturbed its habitat quite a bit. They have bred in the Dene earlier this year.

Robins (yawn) again made their presence felt everywhere that we were working – looking for grubs and worms disturbed by us.

A jay was heard upstream of the tunnel.

The trees are nearly bare now, and beech leaves were tumbling down, one by one, while we were working.

Finally, I have a dunking incident to report – always a possibility when we are working in the burn. One of the volunteers (who shall be nameless) performed an excellent headlong dive into the water, eliciting a verdict of 7 out of 10 from the bystanders!

We trudged home through the rain looking forward to a change of clothing and a welcome rest in a warm dry house, another necessary task completed.


A work party of eleven met up at 8:30 on Millfield, Seaton Sluice, to sort out the wagonway steps above the Pipe Pond. The weather was fine, if cold. I think the sun went in while we were working, but we were too busy to notice. The ground underfoot was moist but not too wet.

If you don’t know where these steps are: imagine the metal footbridge at the head of the Seaton Sluice estuary; imagine the so-called Pipe Pond nearby; now imagine the flight of steps up from there to the old wagonway which is nowadays a footpath. At the top of the steps is a stile, and then some old concrete steps leading to the wagonway surface. Well, those concrete steps are no more! I don’t think that will cause any grief because they were rather steep and most people just went up the slope alongside. Here are “before” and “after” pictures of the steps.

Photograph A. Steps before

Photograph B. Steps after

The first move was to demolish the old steps with sledge hammers. This turned out to be easier than expected, although it has to be said that one of the sledgehammers got broken in the process! Under the concrete was a flight of sandstone blocks. Both the shattered concrete and the blocks were reused in the new steps.

Photograph C. Demolishing old steps

Next, a series of retaining timbers was set into the slope alongside the old steps, secured with screws to heavy wooden pegs hammered in, two per retainer. Meanwhile, the space behind the retaining pieces was filled in with sandstone blocks, concrete rubble and soil, then surfaced with aggregate. The soil was taken from a well-chosen spot where we found some soil with a high gravel content. The aggregate had to be – very laboriously – wheelbarrowed from a distant pile and carried up the steps from the Pipe Pond in buckets.

Photograph D. Installing new steps

Incidentally, one of the sandstone blocks had drill-holes, suggesting to me that a rail (as in railway) might have been attached to it in the past – so perhaps the old wagonway (or coal railway) had sandstone sleepers. Anyway, we found no railway ballast (heavy gravel) despite digging into the wagonway surface in several places. So maybe the Victorian solution to the problem of securing the rails was to lay sandstone blocks and fasten the rails to them – just a thought.

Photograph E. Block with fixing holes

While all this was going on, some of us cleaned the flight of steps up from the Pipe Pond. This was badly needed, as they were covered with wet, slippery dead leaves and other detritus.

Not much wildlife to report today, but:

A large flock of wild geese was in the air as we arrived, and making quite a noise. These may be the pink-footed geese that have been seen recently (I will have to check them out with my binoculars some time). They fly down from their breeding grounds in Greenland and Iceland to over-winter here in Britain, and graze in farmers’ fields (if not disturbed by foxes, walkers, etc). Incidentally, that flock or another flock of geese was seen over West Monkseaton at midday.

Four bank voles (ginger-brown, blunt-nosed “mice”) were disturbed by “an inconsiderate volunteer” when digging out soil for filling in the new steps.

A robin was singing nearby as we were working. They are about the only birds singing at this time of the year.

It turned out that the morning session was just long enough to get the job done. Here is the outcome:

Photograph F. Completed steps