Author Interview: David Wilson, Day Walks in Northumberland
- Thursday 11 March 2021
Hailing from Northumberland, David Wilson is a Trail and Tour Guide with extensive knowledge of the county. Not only is he an ambassador for Northumberland, but a long-standing Ordnance Survey GetOutside Champion, a combination of roles that expresses his love for the landscape while encouraging others to experience it safely and sustainably.
Day Walks in Northumberland features twenty accessible routes that span the beauty of the coast and countryside. From the castles at Bamburgh and Dunstanburgh to the Holy Island of Lindisfarne, Northumberland’s rich history and heritage is placed at the forefront of some of the most stunning walks it has to offer.
In this interview, David discusses the obscure routes of Northumberland, their vibrant histories, and the key to the Secret Kingdom.
Coquetdale Cheviots. © Dave Wilson.
Northumberland has for a long time been known as the ‘Secret Kingdom’, where does this come from?
Northumberland has a lot of things going for it, from a visitor’s perspective. Vast open spaces, deserted beaches, and a low population density all add to the unique qualities of tranquillity and escapism we promote. Being tucked up in the North East corner of England gives us a unique situation where we aren’t a tourism hotspot compared to the Lakes or Peak District, so we have endless hidden gems for people to discover. I have been here for forty years and I am still discovering new places.
Which walks would you recommend for those particularly interested in history?
Section three of Day Walks in Northumberland is focused on ‘History and Heritage’ trails. These are places of significant natural wonder with fascinating historic or heritage stories to share. Walk 20, for example, takes you along the River South Tyne and its close companion the South Tyne Railway. Once one of England’s most picturesque railways, the trail runs through an area of outstanding beauty with frequent gifts of old tracks and stations on route.
With so much to discover, from castles to the coal industry, the walks feature such rich history that people will want to visit them again. These aren’t just one-off routes.
Below: Bridge over Usway Burn. © Dave Wilson.
Probably Northumberland’s most famous walk, the Hadrian’s Wall Path goes through some quite remote countryside. What does it offer for walkers, fastpackers or trail runners who are thinking about completing a long-distance trail?
The Hadrian’s Wall Path offers something for all trail enthusiasts. Stretching across the country while visiting coastlines, cities, and countryside makes it something incredibly special. At eighty-four miles, the trail isn’t one of the longest in the country, but it’s loaded with features to keep even the weariest hikers interested. The Hadrian’s Wall Path is well waymarked and maintained, with a wide choice of places to eat, sleep, and play. The best section? I love the central stretch which sits on the southern boundary of Northumberland National Park, it must be one of the best trails in the country to explore.
While writing the book, did you discover any walks that most people won’t have heard of?
My aim with the book was to take people to well-known places, then give them something new that they might not have seen before. This might be something simple as a unique standing stone, as in Walk 14, or the overgrown ruins of a church that feature in Walk 17. The beauty of a walking guide is that it often turns the miss-able into the unmissable.
Out of the twenty routes featured in the book, do you have a particular favourite?
I loved walking and discovering them all, and hope that everyone loves them as much as I do. I couldn’t say if one route is my favourite, but I do remember discovering a trail that particularly stood out to me. The day I walked along the Castles of the Tweed & Till (Walk 16) was a great one. I visited places I had never been to and discovered things that amazed me since I thought I had seen everything Northumberland had to offer.
What is the best thing about being a Trail and Tour Guide in Northumberland?
Freedom. After a long time in financial services being in a corporate office environment, the chance to spend time in the great outdoors with such a diverse range of people and places is amazing. I have a genuine enthusiasm for Northumberland which I always try to get across to people to encourage them to spend more time here.
Below: Black Braes. © Dave Wilson.
You’re a long-standing Ordnance Survey GetOutside Champion. Can you tell us a bit more about what this role entails?
I joined the GetOutside team in 2017 and I can’t speak highly enough of the other champs and the team at Ordnance Survey. The thing I love most about this role is the freedom it gives to promote the GetOutside message in my own way. It’s about encouraging people to get outside more in whichever way fits their lifestyle, not about huge adventures or any level of competitiveness. There’s just a simple, positive, and critically important message: GetOutside.
Which do you prefer: coastal walks or countryside walks?
My book has three sections: ‘Northumberland Coast’, ‘Northumberland National Park’, and ‘History and Heritage’. The section with the most walks is ‘Northumberland National Park’, which I think tells you my favourite place. At 400 square miles it holds a big place in my heart and my future outdoor plans. I could easily spend the rest of my days there and never get bored.
Are there any Northumberland walks that you’d thought about including in the book?
If the book had been twenty-one walks in Northumberland, I think I would have included a popular walk of mine in Otterburn. Sitting on the edge of Ministry of Defence training land, the area of Otterburn holds fascinating walks. The walk I had planned was great, but on the day I walked it, I was met with a dozen fully-armed soldiers hiding behind a wall. It wasn’t a live training day, but the prospect of a visitor encountering them lead me to choose another walk.
Do you have any advice for someone new to walking who has bought your book?
The book contains a range of walk types and distances so it’s worth getting to know them all before you choose your first one. Look at distance, ascent, and navigation as a quick guide as to how challenging the walk might be. Start easy and build up as you gain ability and confidence. It’s critically important to be prepared too, so always do the following before any walk; check you have the right kit for the walk (including for in case of an emergency), check you have sufficient time to complete the walk, check the day’s weather and always tell someone where you're going and which route you have planned.
Click HERE to buy a copy of Day Walks in Northumberland.