Botanising Up North: Embleton Quarry, Bamburgh & Craster

An account of a wonderful weekend on the coast taking in Embleton Quarry, Bamburgh and other sites.

Last weekend, Matt and I had the pleasure of spending two days galavanting around North Northumberland and while botany was not the only purpose of trip, there was more than enough to keep this botanist happy throughout.

Saturday first and a visit to the fabulous Embleton Quarry, a relatively new nature reserve owned and managed by the community of nearby and namesake town. A former quarry and landfill site, it has been lovelingly restored to a quiet santuary for both people and nature.

Arriving at Embleton Quarry

Setting off into the reserve, I was immediately drawn to a rather striking fumitory growing on a disturbed patch beside the path. Jackpot I thought, this site is afterall known for the rare Purple Ramping-fumitory (Fumaria purpurea) but alas, it was far too early for that. Instead, what we found was a healthy example of White Ramping-fumitory (Fumaria capreolata). Still a pretty scarce plant up here and nice to see.

On a wall close to the entrance, we also encountered several nice examples of Black Spleenwort (Asplenium adiantum-nigrum), while the pathsides by the track into the reserve held a real mix of oddities. White-form Hedgerow Crane’s-bill (Geranium pyrenaicum), Perennial Cornflower (Centaurea montana) and Lamb’s-ear (Stachys byzantina) included. The latter recorded for the first time in the vice-county here by Chris Metherell a few years earlier.

Further into the site where the path begins to splay out in all directions, it was nice to see the hybird of Red and White Campion (Silene x hampeana) growing beside its parents while Matt was drawn to a renegade Garden Peony (Paeonia officinalis) growing among a patch of scrub. He does like a garden escape!

Spending a bit of time milling about the grasslands at Embleton Quarry, it was nice to spot our first ‘real’ display of Northern Marsh Orchids (Dactylorhiza purpurella) of the year. There were quite literally hundreds of them blooming across damper areas. In drier areas nearby, the exquisite red flowers of Scarlet Pimpernel (Lysimachia arvensis) could be seen, as could a large patch of Garden Star-of-Bethlehem (Ornithogalum umbellatum), a pretty frequent escape these days. Concluding our fleeting visit, a few other interesting invaders were to be had close to the periphary of nearby homes. The most interesting of these were Hidcote Comfrey (Symphytum x hidcotense), a first for me, and Poet’s Daffodil (Narcissus poeticus), ever the last narcissus to bloom each year.

For those interested, non-botanical highlights from Embleton Quarry included Buffish Mining Bee, Wall, Common Blue, Vestal Cuckoo Bee and lots of Tree Sparrows. A pitiful list but my eyes were focused mostly on the ground!

Next on Saturday’s agenda was a quick pitstop at a local train station known to host a colony of Rustyback (Asplenium ceterach), a scarce fern in these parts. Sure enough, we quickly found three plants growing in masonry beside the platform – a joyous sight to a someone usually confined to the urban extremes of Newcastle where this species doesn’t occur.

Concluding our trip with a stop-off at Bamburgh (complete with epic views of the castle) a few interesting odds and ends were had along the circular route around the ramparts. A nice medley of Thrift (Armeria maritima), Sea Campion (Silene uniflora) and naturalised Wallflower (Erysimum cheiri) was certainly a welcome sight. Once again, however, it was alien plants that stole the show and slightly further south, it came as a surprise to see the dunes awash with the blousy red blooms of Oriental Poppy (Papaver setiferum). Indeed, I have never before seen this species beyond the confines of gardens!

Mixed in with the poppies, the familiar blooms of another fence-hopper, Bearded Iris (Iris germanica) could be seen and along the path to the village, gardens and roadsides had been colonised by Leopard’s-bane (Doronicum pardalianches). After that, all that remained was a sortie for ice-cream and much-needed after sun.

Monday now and with the sun beaming yet again, we opted to explore a different stretch of the coast. Heading this time for a very busy Craster, the aim was to walk the mile or so North to Dunstanburgh Castle, though not before stopping just outside the village to track down another patch of Rustyback on a roadside wall. We succeeded!

Cutting a long story short, the walk between Craster and the castle proved uneventful and dare I say it, a little boring. Much of the grassland along this stretch of coastline has been grazed and trampled to within an inch of its life and interesting plants are in short supply. We did find a small, sickly patch of Purple Milk-vetch (Astragalus danicus) near the castle, though this was a shadow of what it would be absent the wooly grazing machines.

A little downtroden by the poor diversity of the former site, before heading home we decided to stop at one I knew would be more exciting – Cullernose Point, a delightful stretch of coastline complete with cove, grassy clifftops and ample seabirds. Located just South of Craster, this is a really lovely site to visit in early-summer.

First on the agenda at Cullernose was the colony of Sea Spleenwort (Asplenium marinum) known the inhabit the various nooks and crannies under the cliffs here. Sure enough, after a little scrambling, we found several rather healthy plants tucked away out of sight of passers-by. This isn’t a common plant in VC68 with only a scant few colonies strewn between here and Berwick in the North.

Moving upward from the beach, next came a stop at the clifftops where (mercifully) some rather large expanses of Purple Milk-vetch were in full flower. A real local speciality, this one is without doubt a real beauty. With it, plenty of Spring Squill (Scilla verna) could be seen too, another notable plant which while it had gone slightly over, still looked good in places.

Also noted at Cullernose were Sea Campion, Northern Marsh Orchid, Common Milkwort (Polygala vulgaris), Heath Groundsel (Senecio sylvaticus) and Kidney-vetch (Anthyllis vulneraria), though the rest of the flora here failed to top the splendor of the afformentioned plants.

The North Northumberland coast really is a thing of beauty. I look forward to exploring it further over the weeks ahead.

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