February’s visit to a new-to-me nature reserve was going to be to the Northumbrian Natural History Society’s reserve at Gosforth Park but an inclement weather forecast on Saturday kept me closer to home for a visit to the one of the nearest sites I’ve not visited before – Trimdon Grange Quarry. The story I like best for the origin of the name Trimdon is that King Canute stopped here en route to worship at St Cuthbert’s shrine in Durham in 1020 to have his head shaved! More plausibly, the name comes from Tremeduna or Tremeldon, Old English for a wooden cross on a hill. Like Raisby Hill, Trimdon Grange is an abandoned quarry on the Late Permian magnesian limestone which forms a ridge down the coast of North-east England. It’s actually just a kilometre or so beyond Raisby, along another branch of the disused Raisby Way mineral line I’ve been using to get there. I caught myself thinking, “how convenient that all these nature reserves are near old railway paths,” before realising the obvious connection! The abandoned lime kilns at Garmondsway Village are another clue.
My OS map was less than clear about how to access the railway path so, in a bid to avoid unnecessary hills, I ended up cycling along the ‘private’ road to the modern day Garmondsway village from Coxhoe, past the site of the medieval village now hidden between the stubble of arable crops. Two courting pairs of yellowhammers made their presence known in the hedgerow alongside the road, despite the less than spring-like weather. Having failed to work out how to get onto the railway path even from the village, I abandoned the bike behind a hedge and plodged along the footpath through some very muddy fields till I finally found a style with steps down to the railway path. Apart from some naturalised snowdrops and hazel catkins dancing in the wind, the only flowers I saw all day were the gorse and some tiny barren strawberries here. A few Hawthorn leaf buds starting to burst remind me, though, that spring will soon be here.
It takes me a while to work out that what sounds like heavy machinery in the fields above the railway path is actually just the gale-force wind blowing through overhead wires carried by pylons marching across the fields. The railway path itself is wet and muddy and the reserve, when I finally arrive, even more so. The sign board at the entrance promises mature hawthorn and elder scrub and developing ash woodland around the old quarry. There is plenty of coppiced hazel too. By the time I arrive at the quarry itself it is too cold and wet to hang around for long but the leaves of many of the typical limestone grassland flora – Betony, Salad burnett, Carline thistle and the like – tell of goodies to come. Definitely worth a repeat visit in summer, when there should be plenty of butterflies enjoying the flowers too.
Right now mosses, ferns and fungi hold the floor – Tamarisk moss and feather mosses like we found at Deepdale but others I don’t recognise too. As I’ve noticed before, the bark and branch nodes of elder trees seem to provide a particularly good start in life for lichens, some becoming miniature gardens as mosses start to make use of the organic matter accumulated by the lichens to gain a foothold.
The damp woodland is a perfect habitat for fungi – dead wood on the floor for Ear fungus, Auricularia auricula, and bales of hay stacked at the edge of the woodland for the wonderfully-named Bubble goblet fungus, Peziza vesiculosa, a new one for me.
The other delight of the day was some spectacular skeleton holly leaves on the mossy woodland floor, looking like nothing so much as a natural lace curtain. The tiny veins must be well lignified to survive when everything else has gone.
Walking back along the railway line from the reserve to where I’d left my bike made it easy enough to find the railway path back towards Coxhoe but I’d reckoned without the amount of rain we’ve had recently when thinking this might be the easy option – it was certainly not the clean one!