Set in a hollow at the top of the hill to the east of Ford village, with stunning views over the Till Valley and the Cheviots, Ford Moss is an area of wild landscape, exciting flora and fauna, and historical remains of an abandoned mining community.
Ford Moss extends to over 60 hectares (150 acres). It is an area of bog and scrub known as a lowland raised mire. A deep layer of peat, formed by rotting vegetation over many thousands of years, overlies the carboniferous limestone bedrock. Seams of coal were mined on the site from the late 18th to the early 20th century. Ford Moss has become increasingly more dry over the last 250 years mainly through human activity (mining, afforestation and associated drainage).
The bog plant communities in this area include the aromatic Bog Myrtle, while the adjacent woodland contains mature Scots Pine and Oak trees. The Moss is also of interest for its wildlife, the site being home to common lizards and occasional adders as well as birds such as red grouse, woodcock and snipe. Buzzards and kestrels are also often seen above the reserve.
Because of its special characteristics, Ford Moss was notified in 1968 as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and further classified by the European Union as a Special Area of Conservation (SAC) in 2000. Ford & Etal Estates work closely with Natural England and the National Wildlife Trust to promote positive management of the reserve. The aim is to maintain the conservation interest, principally by reducing the amount of water run-off through a series of small dams on the bog surface. This has retained the mire community.
Ford Moss is dangerous to walk on. Its boggy surface is very soft and treacherous. However, a circular path of 2 miles allows visitors to walk right around the area and gives excellent views of the surrounding countryside as well as the Moss itself.
Park on the road side by the main entrance gate and please wear appropriate clothes and footwear. A seasonal toilet is located 300m further along the tarmac road behind the small stone building.
Like all landowners and land managers, Ford & Etal Estates have a duty to keep vermin under control. Particular attention must be paid to controlling species that are non-native (such as Grey Squirrels, Signal Crayfish and Himalayan Balsam) or which can damage agricultural crops, such as Rabbits and Woodpigeons. Carrion Crows are also actively controlled.
Ford & Etal welcomes many visitors from across the UK and Europe in the winter months to shoot game, in particular pheasant and deer. Please refer to the website of Hetton Shoot for further details of such opportunities and for contacts.
River Till The river is a major feature of Ford & Etal and much conservation work is needed to preserve and enhance its environment for the benefit of fish stocks, otters and other river life. The River Till has been designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI).
To counteract the effects of erosion and help stabilise the riverbank, willow sapling are planted on more vulnerable areas and stone ‘croys’ are constructed in strategic places to establish a better environment for river life. These help to create deeper pools and faster flowing waters which flush silt from the riverbed making a better breeding area for the minute creatures that the fish feed on.
Grounds Department Staff of the Grounds Department are responsible for looking after the appearance of the villages, other public places and the private gardens of Ford Castle and Etal Manor, giving them work to do all year round. Their duties include tending the formal gardens, trimming hedges, controlling weeds and mowing the large area of grass and verges in Ford & Etal.
Modern technology has affected gardening and grounds maintenance, just as it has affected farming. In former times up to 20 people were employed on the estate for this purpose, at a time when not just Ford Castle or Etal Manor but also larger farmhouses had garden staff. Nowadays there are just five people employed in maintaining the grass and grounds
There’s nothing better than a walk with your dog in the countryside and at Ford & Etal Estates we welcome dogs and their owners but ask that you are respectful of the area and of other people by following the simple advice below.
Ensure that your dog does not disturb wildlife, farm animals, horses or other people by keeping it under effective control. This means that you:
keep your dog on a lead, or
keep it in sight at all times, be aware of what it's doing and be confident it will return to you promptly on command
ensure it does not stray off the path or area where you have right of access.
We strongly recommend that in public areas you keep your dog on a lead at all times.
The access rights that normally apply to open country and registered common land (known as 'open access' land) require dogs to be kept on a short lead between 1 March and 31 July, to help protect ground nesting birds, and all year round near farm animals.
For your own safety and for the welfare of the animals your dog should be kept on a lead around horses and farm animals. A farmer may shoot a dog which is attacking or chasing farm animals without being liable to compensate the dog's owner.
However, if cattle or horses chase you and your dog, it is safer to let your dog off the lead - don't risk getting hurt by trying to protect it. Your dog will be much safer if you let it run away from a farm animal in these circumstances and so will you.
Everyone knows how unpleasant dog mess is and it can cause infections, so always clean up after your dog and get rid of the mess responsibly. Please do not leave poo bags on footpaths - "bag it and bin it" in one of the bins in the villages. Poo bags are available free of charge from Heatherslaw Visitor Centre, Ford and Etal Village Shops, and at the start of the riverside walk at Etal.
Follow the Countryside Code - Respect Protect Enjoy
Respect other people
Consider the local community and other people enjoying the outdoors
Leave gates and property as you find them and follow paths unless wider access is available
Protectthe natural environment
Leave no trace of your visit and take your litter home
There is a wealth of opportunity for enthusiasts in natural history at Ford & Etal. In its 16 500 acres a huge diversity of landscapes and habitats exist, and because of the award-winning conservation approaches taken by the Estates over many years the area is rich with wildlife, flora and fauna. Woodland management and management of the landscape in general has always been a mixture of commercial and environmental elements, none more so than with the wood reserves put aside for one of the last Red Squirrel populations in England.
The Estates have two specific Sites of Special Scientific Interest – on the River Till where conservation work on the banks and consequently as part of an otter conservation project has proven incredibly successful; and also at Ford Moss, a rare example of a peat bog containing several very rare species of plants and moss not to mention butterflies and other insects and birds.
Natural England and Northumberland Wildlife Trust
To help with expertise and management of these and other sites and themes around the Estates, partnerships and associations have been formed with both Natural England and the Northumberland Widlilfe Trust. Again this has proved to be very successful and opens up areas for conservation work by volunteers. It also gives the public insight through walks and talks across the calendar year. This is a particularly popular venue with school children as a consequence.
Located at the edge of the village of Milfield, the trail depicts life in the Cheviot Hills from the dawn of time showing man’s occupation through the ages.
A full-scale reproduction of a Stone Age wooden henge, an exact copy of one of the many wooden henges that stood on the landscape some 4300 years ago, is the focal point of this trail which comprises a short walk with information boards along the way. There is also a Dark Age hut which visitors can explore by collecting a key from nearby Cafe Maelmin (in Milfield village). A free information brochure is also available at the Cafe.
Hay Farm Heavy Horse Centre is set to step back in time on 11th & 12th October with its "Looking Back" event. Visitors to this weekend event will be able to see Heavy Horses working in the field and view horse drawn machinery through to the first working tractors. Whilst children can visit the Clydesdales stabled within the barn parents can browse the selection of crafters, food producers and demonstrators located in the undercover market area. The organisers of the event have been very fortunate in locating a rare crafter who will be demonstrating the old art of corn dolly making. Also joining them for the weekend will be a very unusual sight - the only ploughing mule team in the country, who apparently are also highly skilled at escaping from stables!
In its day Hay Farm was an integral part of the estate as the standing steam engines for threshing were located here. In years gone by seventeen heavy horses worked the land and moved cereals down to Heatherslaw for milling. This event incorporates these two venues and visitors can take a short leisurely walk down past the working horses to Heatherslaw Cornmill and learn of its history - children can even become 'junior millers'! This is truly a family event and is sure to bring back memories for grandparents as well as giving younger family members an insight into rural life in years gone by. Daily admission charge to event only £2.50 adults/£1.00 children. Admission event plus Cornmill – Adults £5.00 Children £2.00. Both venues open 10am – 4pm, last admission to Mill 3.15pm.
Ford and Etal Estates is a quiet and remote part of the country, filled with hidden gems, with many walking trails around the villages and farms. But one of the wildest parts of the estate is a place many visitors don’t get to: the nature reserve of Ford Moss. Situated east of Ford village, it lies away from the main roads, accessible by foot from Ford, or by car along a narrow, winding lane followed by a short walk. The Moss itself is a bog, dangerous to walk on, but a circular path allows visitors to explore the area safely.
The 24th North Northumberland Bird Club Dawn Chorus Walk this year took place on Sunday 14th May, starting from Slainsfield, and there was a record turn-out of 27 members when we saw and heard a record number of 53 species.