Maps make fascinating reading and they never cease to amaze me as to the wealth of information they contain. But, however much I might like to think that I know every square metre of each detail-loaded grid square of my frayed-at-the-edges favourite map, it can be guaranteed that at some point in time I will discover a tiny feature that I have not previously noticed. My curiosity will be aroused, the planning juices will begin to flow and before I have time to think of an excuse to stay at home I am heading off into the countryside to investigate that feature up close and personal.
It happens all the time and my list of interesting places to visit just seems to grow with each passing season. No sooner have I ticked off a handful of difficult-to-reach hideaways than I have acquired another half dozen or so equally out-of-the-way spots worthy of closer examination. One such spot is Routin Well, a natural spring and no more than three map-written words hovering around the 530 metre contour line on the steep and lonely southern slopes of Windy Gyle.
So what is so special about a simple little natural spring situated somewhere in the middle of nowhere in particular when there is a huge number of springs marked on the map of the Cheviot Hills to choose from? Well, like the many waterfalls which are also marked on the map, the vast majority of these springs do not have a specific name assigned to them. Therefore, whilst not totally unique, the fact that Routin Well has been given a name seems to me to make it just that little bit more intriguing.
I was lucky. The day was as perfect as I could have hoped for, an impeccable blue sky and a total lack of even the slightest breeze, as I headed along the private single track road towards the abandoned farmhouse at Trows. I had a definite spring in my stride as I then followed a fine green track through rough pasture and into the narrow valley of the Trows Burn. Ahead, Trows Law cast a deep shadow over a ninety degree bend in the burn as I picked my way along the remnants of a pencil-thin sheep track close to the valley floor.
I was caught between two walls of sharply rising hillsides with the head of the valley now in my sights. Happy to be alone in a relatively wild setting, I pressed on and soon reached the start of the climb towards my main objective. Grass-covered and exceedingly steep, the pathless slope soon had the blood rushing through my veins and the muscles in my legs in total rebellion. I was only too pleased that the bracken, which would infiltrate this remote slope later in the year, had yet to reveal its first green shoots of spring.
Finally, I reached Routin Well, a tiny peat-stained, trickle of water half- hidden by a collage of rocks, moss and various grasses, a magical spot of far-reaching views over haze-covered hills and deep set valleys. Barely visible, a slither of crystal-clear water seeped out of the hillside, cool and fresh. I splashed a handful across my sweat-stained face. I was in no hurry to leave and, as I sat there quietly soaking up the marvellous panorama, the faint sound of Bruce Springsteen singing ‘Better Days’ drifted aimlessly around my head. The song struck a chord and the words, “These are better days, it’s true”, seemed to perfectly describe a day that had scarcely begun and which was, as I was soon to find out, going to get even better still.
by Geoff Holland © 2013
Geoff Holland is the author of four books of self-guided walks, ‘The Cheviot Hills’, ‘Walks from Wooler’, ‘The Hills of Upper Coquetdale’ and ‘Walks on the Wild Side The Cheviot Hills’ , is a regular contributor to ‘TGO (The Great Outdoors)’, ‘Country Walking’ and ‘The Northumbrian’ magazines and is the operator of the highly acclaimed website www.cheviotwalks.co.uk. His books are available online from www.trailguides.co.uk or from all good bookshops and he can be heard reading a selection of his poems on www.listenupnorth.com. He has lived in Monkseaton for almost 40 years.