Country diary: these remarkable beeches can be seen from miles away

Susie White
·2-min read

An old railway line leaves Scots Gap past a field studded with glistening waxcaps, crimson, apricot and yellow fungi colouring the rushy pasture. Soon, two trackbeds diverge, the Wannie line going west as we head north along the route of the Rothbury line. A circular walk takes in both green lanes where trains once carried stone, lime, livestock and coal from the Wallington estate.

A sheltered cutting, sunk between banks of ruby rosehips and cascading haws, rises to become an elevated walkway stretching out high above farmland. The disused line is an artist’s diagram of perspective, the vanishing point a grassy distance between red-berried hawthorns. Along with hogweed and knapweed in seed, it’s a linear food table for birds.

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As we walk, hundreds of thrushes lift off, fieldfares flashing silver undersides. They swirl and tumble in the wind, constantly flying ahead of us, snatching at berries before setting off again. These handsome winter visitors have blue-grey heads, black tails and strikingly patterned chests. Arriving in autumn from northern Europe, they strip trees of their fruits, noisily calling “chak chak chak”.

A heron flies off with a shriek of protest as we descend the embankment to follow the meandering Delf Burn. Peat-dark water is flecked with eddies of foam, its twisting course a contrast to the arrow-straight engineering of the railway. The river drops below us, as the path leads up through Scots pines, heading for the skyline and the Tuthill beeches.

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These remarkable trees were planted around 1760 on top of a stone-clad bank known as a kest. Throwing long shadows in the afternoon sun, their soaring grey trunks are mottled with paler grey circles of lichen. Bulging roots delve into the kest, grasping the regularly placed stones. Set on the high point of Tuthill, the beeches can be seen from miles away.

Close by is a limestone quarry; its 19th-century kilns produced high-quality lime. Four pointed arches delineate sharp triangles, the precision of their lines blurred and softened near the floor where carts rubbed the stones when drawing out the lime. Hart’s-tongue ferns now drape the corbelled interior and the only sound is that of the wind.