In 1916 James Logan Mack, an Edinburgh lawyer, “decided to explore the whole region through which runs the line of demarcation between Scotland and England from sea to sea”, but it was to be another six years before he traced the full length of the English/Scottish border. The first edition of his classic book, ‘The Border Line’ was published in 1924, and until broadcaster Bob Langley wrote ‘Walking the Scottish Border’ in 1976 it was the only detailed account of such a journey. It is a fascinating read.
However, my main walking focus has always been on that stretch of the border in the Cheviot Hills between Redesdale and Kirk Yetholm, an undulating distance of nigh on 27 miles. For the most part this section of the border is closely shadowed by the Pennine Way as it passes through some of Northumberland’s most remote and lonely landscape. I have walked the majority of these leg-stretching miles, in bite size pieces over many years, yet I have never been able to decide which particular spot along, “Northumberland’s ragged edge” is my all-time favourite.
There are more than enough contenders. For instance, there is the border-hugging, rock-strewn Auchope Cairn, the view from which “must be one of the most extensive in Great Britain” thought James Logan Mack. It is without doubt an outstanding view and one which, it has been said, stretches as far as Lochnagar on the Royal Estate of Balmoral. Alas, I cannot substantiate this rather extravagant claim.
On the other hand, a mere 2½ miles further along the windswept border and definitely within sight of Auchope Cairn, stands The Schil, 601 metres high and with a giant foot in both countries. The summit of this splendid hill is, in the words of James Logan Mack, “surmounted by a huge, confused, irregular mass of stones” as well as being one of the finest grandstand viewpoints in the Cheviot Hills, taking in the huge mass of Northumberland’s highest hill, the Muckle Cheviot, and its many acolytes.
Further south lies a hill I have visited more times than any other, iconic Windy Gyle. Here, where there is a near 360 degree panorama from a Goliath of a summit-crowning cairn, the far-reaching view demands every weary walker’s full and undivided attention. However, James Logan Mack seemed less than impressed when he made his way to Windy Gyle on New Year’s Day 1922 complaining that, “the elements were unfavourable for venturing into so inhospitable a region”. The weather can undoubtedly be unfriendly, but catch this magnificent hill on a good day and it is difficult to find a better one in the area.
I could go on listing the contenders ad nauseam, recounting happy days spent on this fine line between England and Scotland, but space dictates that I list just these three outstanding possibilities. I must therefore leave it at that. However, as I continue to tramp along the roller-coaster watershed in the months and years ahead, cold wind sweeping across the vast expanse of wild border hills, it is just feasible that I may stumble upon that single glorious spot which I can, after all my aimless, wayfaring wanderings, finally call my absolute and ultimate all-time favourite.
by Geoff Holland © 2015
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.