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A Winter Walk at Hareshaw Linn

A short account of a frosty trip to Hareshaw Linn in Northumberland last weekend

Hareshaw Linn, a designated SSSI near Bellingham in Northumberland, is a truly lovely spot. One which I have visited previously in summer (writing about it here) but never during the colder months. Given the site’s reputation as a botanical hotspot perhaps that is little wonder – most plants tend to vanish in winter – but keen to get out and about in the winter air, we thought we would give it a go anyway. We certainly weren’t disappointed.

Ferns are a real specialty of Hareshaw Linn with the wooded valley and shady slopes here playing host to myriad rare and unusual species. While many of the ground-dwelling species had been flattened by recent frosts, during our walk, we noted several species including Lady-fern (Athyrium filix-femina), Male-fern (Dryopteris filix-mas) and Hard-fern (Blechnum spicant). The scaly ferns had taken a battering but it was still possible to discern Golden-scaled Male-fern (Dryopteris affinis) and its cousin, Borrer’s Scaly Male-fern (Dryopteris borreri). Hard Shield-fern (Polystichum aculeatum) with its rigid fronds also proved numerous – a welcome change to other sites I have visited recently.

Ferns growing higher up on rocks and trees seemed to have fared better than their relatives on the floor. On tree trunks strewn throughout the gorge, we noted both Common Polypody (Polypodium vulgare) and Intermediate Polypody (Polypodium interjectum), while boulders held Brittle Bladder-fern (Cystopteris fragilis) too. Of course, the area around the waterfall proved most productive with both local specialties observed. Lobed Maidenhair Spleenwort (Asplenium trichomanes subsp. pachyrachis) can be seen in good numbers here at its only Northumberland site. Green Spleenwort (Asplenium viride) was harder to come by but still present.

Of course, ferns are not the only thing to appreciate about Hareshaw Linn. The site is rather beautiful in any season but now, in the depths of winter, looks remarkable clad in snow and ice. Given the sub-zero temperatures, the famed waterfall here had partially frozen making for an impressive sight. Better still was the presence of ice pancakes on the burn itself. Believed to form when foam floating on the water’s surface begins to freeze, this was the first time either of us had seen these. An impressive sight!

While everything looked more than a tad wintery at the Linn, signs of spring could also be seen and heard. The leaves of typical spring flowers such as Wood Anemone (Anemone nemorosa) had begun to appear and in the wood, various birds had begun singing. It was nice to catch the drumming of Great Spotted Woodpecker (Dendrocopos major) in particular.

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