I had one final route to walk and then my latest book, ‘Walks on the Wild Side: The Cheviot Hills’ could be sent to the publishers. I had deliberately left the best until last and, as I headed away from the deserted Harthope Valley, I was looking forward to a very long day in the hills.
The weather was unseasonably warm and, as I climbed towards the highest point in Northumberland, the first signs of exertion were beginning to trickle down my face. When I finally stepped on to the vast summit plateau I could see the huge triangulation pillar ahead of me marooned on a tiny green island in an ocean of weather-worn peat. Fortunately, for the fine weather 21st century walker, there is an almost uninterrupted paved pathway across the mighty Cheviot, making a summit crossing now little more than a proverbial ‘walk in the park’. However, it is a totally different proposition in the depths of winter when the path is obliterated by a blanket of snow and the wind is relentlessly sweeping in from the north. I enjoyed the rare moment of calm.
I had barely started my walk so, with an air of purpose in my stride, I continued on to join the Pennine Way close to the highest point on the English-Scottish border. I was now within touching distance of the Hanging Stone, possibly one of the loneliest places in the Cheviot Hills and one of my personal favourites. It stands little more than 200 metres to the east of the Pennine Way across a deep and trackless sea of heather. I stepped forth with extreme caution as I was eager to avoid the half-hidden rocks and trouser-soaking peat holes which I knew lay mischievously in wait. Experience is such a wonderful thing!
The Hanging Stone is not, as the name might suggest, a single isolated stone. It is a rocky outcrop consisting of a series of large grey boulders tumbling down the south-western slopes of Cairn Hill. It occupies an isolated location with unimpeded views to the south, east and west. The vast swathe of conifers which surrounds the upper reaches of the Usway Burn sweeps eastwards from the immediate tops of Score Head and King’s Seat whilst wave after wave of hills roll away on both sides of the border. It has atmosphere in abundance and is a place to linger.
Eventually, I returned to the Pennine Way and continued downhill to desolate Score Head where I bumped into the only two walkers I would meet all day. After a few minutes of polite conversation they melted into the distance as I clambered over the border fence and headed west through knee-high heather towards Mallie Side. Marked by a tiny pile of stones, the 452 metre high grass-covered top occupies a prime position high above the valley of the Cheviot Burn. Dominated by an array of finely-shaped hills, including the rocky top of West Hill and the steep-sided Auchope Rig, the valley is one of the most beautiful in the Cheviot Hills. I had it all to myself.
However, the hours were slipping away and with more than eight miles still to walk, I needed to press on. The long strenuous climb back over The Cheviot was beginning to occupy my mind.
by Geoff Holland © 2012
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.