Six of the Cheviot Hills exceed the magical two thousand feet mark, the height at which a mere hill is reclassified as a mountain. This transition is akin to a football team being promoted to the Premier League, and when these tops are linked together in a single circuit you have a classic walk of just over 23 miles, with a height gain in excess of five thousand feet.
The forecast was for a settled day so I was up with the worms and heading for my first top of the day, the mighty Cheviot. With clear views across the Harthope Valley the time rushed by, and within the hour I was passing the monstrous triangulation pillar marking the summit of Northumberland’s highest hill. I continued across the vast, lonely plateau heading towards top number two some five miles away, the iconic summit of Windy Gyle, where an early lunch was disturbed by the arrival of a procession of annoying wasps. No matter, the sun had slipped behind a cloud and, with the air noticeably cooler, I was keen to maintain momentum.
So, down I went, crossing the minor top of Little Ward Law and then striding out along the gravel track to the isolated farm of Uswayford, cut off for 17 consecutive weeks back in the winter of 1940/41. Once over the Usway Burn it was uphill again, tracking Bill’s Sike to the saddle between my next objective, Bloodybush Edge and neighbouring Yarnspath Law. There, high above the vast green swathe of the Kidland Forest, I encountered the only other walker on my long journey, followed by a two mile high-level slog to Cushat Law, number four on my list. With still two more tops to go I paused only to take a compass bearing over rough and pathless terrain to the Upper Breamish Valley.
Once there, a gentle stroll alongside the river, with two oystercatchers announcing their presence, and then I was climbing steeply to nondescript Shielcleugh Edge. This is a huge, generally flat area where drainage is poor, so the going, over bog-ridden peat and cloying heather to the next prominence was seriously hard going. I caught my breath on the rocky lookout post of Coldlaw Cairn, close to the watershed of both the River Breamish and the Harthope Burn whilst enjoying expansive views.
Refreshed, I squelched over uninspiring Comb Fell, my fifth top of the day, and on towards conical Hedgehope Hill, imposing in the distance and definitely the sting in the tail of this epic walk. A jumble of fences, a stone shelter and a looming triangulation pillar greeted my arrival on the summit of this the second highest hill in the range. The views stretched as far as the distant North Sea. A quick energy drink and it was downhill virtually all the way to the Harthope Valley, crossing en route Kelpie Strand and Long Crags and passing beneath the cold, grey stone of Housey Crags.
Back in the valley a small wooden footbridge carried me over the tree-enclosed Harthope Burn and, a few minutes later, I was dipping my toes in the blissfully cool Hawsen Burn, one toe nail short of a full set. It had been an arduous walk lasting just over eight hours but one that I will remember for many years to come.
by Geoff Holland © 2016
Geoff Holland is a regular contributor to a number of magazines and the author of four books of self-guided walks, ‘The Hills of Upper Coquetdale’, ‘The Cheviot Hills’, ‘Walks from Wooler’ and ‘Walks on the Wild Side: The Cheviot Hills’. All books can be purchased online from www.trailguides.co.uk. Geoff, who has lived in Monkseaton for over 40 years, also operates the award-winning website www.cheviotwalks.co.uk. His poems have appeared in a number of publications.