The Hunting Hall Farm Trail
A network of footpaths lets you explore some of the beautiful countryside and wildlife habitats that we have created at Hunting Hall. A teenage environmental group, the Northumberland Eco Wild Team, have designed a farm trail with a leaflet guide and interpretation panels which can be seen along the trail.
Click on the highlighted areas of the map for more information about the farm.
Two semi-circular ditches once protected an Iron Age settlement on the banks of the stream at Hunting Hall. Archaeologists have discovered that there was a palisade (fence) inside the ditches, circling a group of roundhouses and workshops – there may even have been a Bronze Age burial site. An archaeological dig unearthed evidence of cobbles from the base Iron Age roundhouses, hearths, pottery shards, animal bones, and a jumble of stones that were once bits of buildings. Neolithic flint was found and a lovely early Medieval brooch. These suggest that the site could have been occupied for thousands of years.
The people who lived here were farmers; they kept cattle and sheep which may have been driven into the settlement at night. Their circular houses were made of wattle and daub with thatched rooves. On the south side of the little hamlet there were workshops where men would have smelted iron.
The archaeological dig has been covered over, but you can clearly see the outer ditches. Look out for dips in the grass of thicker rushes that probably mark the site of more roundhouses.
A four metre strip of grass and wildflowers running around the edge of all our fields has proved one of the best and easiest wildlife habitats we have made on the farm. Voles, hares and partridges can be seen in these wild areas away from the crop. Barn owls have come to feast on small mammals living in these field margins, and on a sunny day you’ll see butterflies and moths rising up as you walk through the long grass.
After the summer, Tom will mow part of the strip as small mammals prefer the shorter cut grass to nibble, while other birds and mammals hide in the long stalks or enjoy taller seed heads that form on the grass.
The old hawthorn hedges of Hunting Hall are tall and wonderful wildlife habitats. In May they are blanketed in white blossom and in the autumn festooned with berries. They are carefully managed; only trimmed twice in five years and cut to an A shape so that sunlight can reach all sides. Bird species prefer different nest sites; wrens and dunnocks nest lower down while the thrush, chaffinch or blackbirds prefer higher nests.
Meg’s Wood and Pond
Our daughter, Meg, created this three acre wood and pond after she became Young Environment Champion of the Year 2001. She led an environmental youth group to design wildlife glades in her wood – you may still see some herbs and berry-rich shrubs in between the trees which the children planted. We planted 2400 trees in the wood. Meg chose a mix of evergreen; Scots pine, larch and Douglas fir, and deciduous trees; bird cherry, ash, rowan, beech etc.
We’ve planted over 2700m of new hedges at Hunting Hall and some of these are starting to reach maturity. The new hedges are a fabulous mix of species; crab apples, wild plum, hazel, guelder rose, blackthorn, hawthorn, honeysuckle and dog rose are just a few. In the autumn you can harvest a basket of brambles or small plums from these young hedges.
Once an arable field has been harvested it is usually cultivated, so any grain missed by the combine is quickly lost. Sometimes you will see a field of stubble at Hunting Hall that has been left throughout the winter to provide food for all sorts of wildlife; deer, partridge, small farmland birds, mice etc.
Pollen and Nectar Mix
Swards of flowers, rich in pollen and nectar, are sown in our fields to attract bumble bees, moths and butterflies. In the sun these colourful areas of clover, borage and phacelia have a haze of butterflies flitting between plants and there’s a gentle hum of bumblebees.
The Community Orchard
We have worked with our local community to create an orchard of over 120 heritage fruit trees at Hunting Hall. More than 60 people have been involved in planting and working in this lovely space and all the trees are sponsored by members of the public. Paths wind between the trees to a belvedere with fabulous views across the land to the sea. The young trees are slow-growing but several varieties have interesting histories which you can read about on signs by the paths, or you could try answering the quiz which you’ll find on our orchard webpage.
The South Low burn runs through the Top and Bottom Denes at Hunting Hall. These lovely organic meadows show evidence of ancient farming rig and furrow and are considered special for their richness of plant species by Natural England (there’s also a lot of thistles!). Down by the stream flag iris and marsh marigold flourish. Primroses and violets grow in the shelter of hawthorn that is a cloud of white blossom in May, and vibrant gorse fills the air with the scent of coconut. The organic grass is grazed by our sheep flock and we’ve planted willows by the water’s edge to provide shade and shelter. Look out for sand martins flitting above the banks of the burn where they return to nest each year.
This beautiful tree-lined grassy bridleway was once trodden by many pilgrims. Medieval travellers to Lindisfarne would follow the Roman road, The Devil’s Causeway, north and then branch off towards the sea at a crossroads where the village of Lowick now stands. They would then travel east along our small grassy lonnen towards the holy island of Lindisfarne.
In Medieval times people believed that by going on pilgrimage they could be healed of an illness or do penance for a sin, and so many set off on a journey to a holy place, especially the home of a saint. St. Cuthbert of Lindisfarne was considered a great healer and 11 years after his death his body was said to still be perfectly preserved. Travellers would make a pilgrimage to the island and probably hope to buy a relic or souvenir when they got there. Just think of the people who must have walked this route!
The Pond Field
Once boggy rough land around the farm mill pond, this field was drained by Tom’s father and put under cultivation. We have recently returned it to organic grass and sown wildflowers at the edge. There’s a hard path around the field to a new pond and wood area, and a small wetland site for birds. Berwick Wildlife Group planted trees along the field path and we’ve added several new hedges rich in species variety. The field edges provide a wonderful wildlife habitat; badger, deer, fox and hare all follow tracks through the long undergrowth.
The Pond Field Pond and Wood
In 1992 we started our first environmental project; to create a pond and woodland in this boggy area of field. Tom planted 600 trees around a newly dug pond with a little help from the family. It was a cold winter and we put up a tent to shelter our young children while we planted! We later worked with the children of Belford Wildlife Watch Group to add more shrubs and wetland plants to the site, which has become a lovely wildlife habitat. In 2010 a bird hide and dipping platform were built at the pond and, though there’s not a lot to see from the hide, there’s nearly always plenty of water-life for children to enjoy catching in the dipping nets.
Wild Bird Seed Mixes
Areas of our fields are sown with plants that will provide food for wild birds during the winter months. Fodder radish, linseed and sunflowers often attract flocks of farmland birds. Look out for a charm of goldfinches rising up above the plot.