Allen Banks woodland walk
Set on the steep valley sides of the river Allen, a tributary of the south Tyne, explore the woods and see what wildlife you can spot on this gentle riverside walk.
A great walk for spotting wildlife all year round
It's the largest area of ancient woodland in Northumberland and has been here since at least medieval times. This long history has helped make it a fantastic home for flora, fauna and fungi.
Allen Banks car park, grid ref: NY798639
Starting at the car park, follow the main footpath into the woodland. Take the lower left-hand fork in the path and the River Allen comes into view.
A carpet of bluebells and ramsons, commonly known as wild garlic, covers the woodland floor in spring and early summer. During warm weather, and when crushed, the latter has an unmistakably pungent aroma. Many of the plants here are characteristic of ancient woodland and soil types help dictate which species grow where. Woodruff, ramsons, dog’s mercury are found on the richer brown earths, whilst greater woodrush dominates in poorer and drier soils.
The path drops close to the waterside and the woodland opens out. The river is rocky and fast flowing here, a prime spot for birds like dipper and grey wagtail.
This ancient woodland is host to an array of wildlife ranging from common birds to the elusive and rare, but extremely cute, Dormouse. April to July is a great time to see birds - more than 70 species have been recorded on the estate including species in decline, such as wood warbler and pied flycatcher. The River Allen provides a great feeding ground for Heron, Goosander, Dippers and rare visits by the Kingfisher and Otter. Other animals to keep you company are Red Squirrels, Roe Deer, Bats, Badgers and Foxes - plus a whole world of bugs and insects.
At a bend in the river, under Raven Crag, the river becomes deeper and slows to create a flat pool where, on summer evenings, Daubenton’s bats skim just above the water feeding on insects. There are 17 species of bats indigenous to Britain, our 3-year 'Bat Life' project (started in 2013) aims to find out how many species are found at Allen Banks, follow us on Facebook to find out the results.
Decaying fallen trees on the banks above you here are part of the life cycle of the woodland. Insects and fungi feed on and break down the rotting timber, returning vital nutrients to the soil. Woodpeckers and other birds then feed on the insects and create nests in the standing deadwood.
Allen Banks is one of the best places in the north-east for fungi, with 181 species recorded here. Autumn's the best time to see mushrooms and toadstools, as this is when most fungi develops a ‘fruit body’ to distribute its spores and reproduce. Deathcap, destroying angel and panthercap fungi are deadly poisonous with no known antidote; all can be found in the woodland here. The deathcap is reputed to have been the cause of the murder of Roman Emperor, Claudius Caesar - it was added to his favourite mushroom dish by his wife.
After crossing the Kingswood Burn, turn left and cross the Plankey Mill Bridge over the river Allen. Walk right, towards the farm buildings and join the public road which travels left for about 110yd (100m). Take the track to the left of this road, which heads down to a kissing gate near the river and old ruins.
Walk through meadows along the river bank. Alder trees with lichen-covered stems and branches line the river. Lichens require clean air so are good indicators of pollution-free areas. During the summer, keep a look out for wildflowers such as field pansies, orchids and yellow rattle near the river and in the hay fields here. They make it a great habitat for a wide range of butterflies.
Enter the woodland opposite Raven Crag and soon take to a higher level path.
Carry on past the wobbly bridge following the footpath alongside the river. You will leave the woodland and make your way through two fields, follow the path under the road bridge and through a gate leading on to the road, now head back across the bridge to the car park. Alternatively, you can head across the re-instated wobbly bridge - from the middle you can enjoy views down the River Allen. Continue along the path downstream until you reach the car park.
Allen Banks car park, grid ref: NY798639
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