Things to do at Allen Banks and Staward Gorge
Connect with nature in the ancient woodland of Allen Banks. The northern end of the wooded gorge is a ‘wilderness garden’ developed by Victorian owner Susan Davidson. The southern, wilder end at Staward Gorge is a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). Follow the walking trails, keep your eyes peeled for wildlife including red squirrels and otters, then admire the views from the restored summer house.
Walk the woodland trails
A mix of ancient trees and other flora, Allen Banks is the largest area of ancient semi-natural woodland in Northumberland. In the 19th century, owner Susan Davidson worked hard to enhance the woodland. She added avenues of beech trees, a tarn, summer houses and the miles of waymarked paths which make Allen Banks what it is today.
Listen for the sounds of wildlife and the peaceful trickling of the River Allen as you walk the Allen Banks Moralee Tarn woodland walk which is 2.5 miles.
Have a family adventure
Take some time out to tackle a few of the activities on your list of ‘50 things to do before you're 11¾’. Whether you’re searching for six-legged critters on a bug hunt or building a den, the woodland at Allen Banks is the perfect place for family fun.
Spot some wildlife
Allen Banks is a haven for wildlife, from birds and insects to mammals both large and small. What will you discover on your visit?
It's rare to see these elusive mammals when walking in the woods. But you might be lucky if you scour the treetops, where they spend their days on the lookout for snacks such as seeds and acorns.
Red squirrels were once the only squirrel species in England, but their numbers are declining due to habitat loss and competition from the non-native grey squirrel. We work in partnership with Red Squirrel Northern England and the Forestry Commission to make sure they can thrive here.
Inquisitive, playful and intelligent, otters are fun-loving creatures. They’re semi-aquatic mammals and they live in holts around the water’s edge.
Otters love to be on muddy banks, and we’ve caught sight of them at Hagg Bank at Plankey Mill here at Allen Banks – perhaps you'll spot them there too.
Staward Gorge is home to the most northerly population of Dormice. That’s why 100 acres of the woodland round Staward Pele Tower has been designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). The unique habitat here supports these endangered little beauties.
With a combination of old trees to nest in, a river and open fields to feed along and plenty of insects to eat, this is an ideal location for bats. Of the 10 species found in Northumberland, eight have been recorded in Allen Banks and Staward Gorge to date.
Roe deer are secretive but you can sometimes see them grazing in the woods or surrounding fields early in the morning. Unlike other deer, they don’t live in herds – look for solitary individuals or family groups of a mother and her offspring.
Nocturnal and shy, the badger remains one of the UK's favourite mammals. They're social creatures and live together in large underground setts, which are passed on to their young.
Each generation expands and refines each sett, resulting in huge tunnel systems that are centuries old in some cases.
Forage for fungi
With many dark, moist nooks and crannies, Allen Banks makes the perfect habitat for fungi to grow, which is why there are so many species here. Fungi are also extremely good for the estate. Some of the species work on breaking down the wood, helping to get rid of waste wood while providing the soil with nutrients.
Many of the species here are most commonly visible from around July to November, but cast your eyes downwards now and you could spot the oyster mushroom, which is visible year-round. Found on deciduous trees, particularly beech, it grows in large shelf-like clusters on stumps and fallen wood. The oyster mushroom can be pink, white or yellow.
Fungi to look out for this autumn
- Giant puffballs: Often found in a large circle called a 'fairy ring', giant puffballs are saprotrophs, meaning they feed on dead organic matter. This species is edible if it’s collected when it’s young and in good condition. Visible from late July to November.
- Common puffballs: While most puffballs are not poisonous, some often look similar to young agarics, especially the deadly amanitas, such as the death cap or destroying angel mushrooms. For this reason, all puffballs gathered in mushroom hunting should be cut in half lengthwise and closely examined to determine its identity. Visible from July to November.
- Yellow stag's horn: A woodland dweller, the common name is derived from its likeness to the branched antlers of a red deer stag. Some yellow stag's horn branches have been known to reach a height of 10cm, but the majority are considerably shorter. Visible from late July to early November.
- The Deceiver: As the name suggests, a few species of small mushrooms look very similar so be sure exactly what kind of mushroom you have before you eat one. The deceiver is very common and can be various colours and hues. Visible from around June to November.
See how geology has shaped the gorge
Allen Banks has a fascinating geological story to tell, marked by tropical seas and deltas, molten rock, glaciers and river processes as well as the subtle imprints of an industrial past.
While you’re walking the trails, look out for what the terrain can show you about its history and see how the powerful River Allen continues to shape the landscape today.
Rest at the summer house
We’ve lovingly restored the summer house, and it’s a perfect spot to take a moment to rest and admire the views. To find it, follow the walking path to the right of the car park – it’s at the top of a steep hill.
With woodland to explore, sticks, and plenty of ground to cover, Allen Banks is a slice of canine heaven. Bring your dog here for an outdoor treat. Allen Banks and Staward Gorge is a one pawprint rated place.
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