Very much like a football match, walking in the Cheviot Hills is a game of two halves. On the English side of the border access to a myriad of grass and heather-covered hills can be gained via Upper Coquetdale and the College, Harthope and Breamish Valleys, whilst on the Scottish side of the divide the Halterburn, Bowmont and Kale Water Valleys provide a host of starting points for walkers wishing to tackle the hills from the north.
However, if you live in the sleepy streets of Monkseaton, a northern approach involves a considerable amount of travelling and therefore, whenever possible, I prefer to begin a walk on English soil. After all, time spent behind the driving wheel can be better spent tramping the hills even if this means that, on those occasions when I want to explore the humps and bumps on the Scottish side, I end up covering many more miles on foot than I would otherwise have done had I started my walk in Scotland.
This was one of those walks. An early start deep in Upper Coquetdale, an easy wander alongside the meandering Blind Burn, a face to face encounter with three very curious dark-haired feral goats, a damp trek across lonely grasslands to the border ridge and then I was three miles into my journey. For the next high-level mile I kept up close and personal with the border fence as I skipped along the stone-enhanced Pennine Way footpath to a small gate and my entry point into Scotland.
Once through, the bare bones of a path led me across a sea of honey-scented heather and down onto Callaw Moor. Wave after wave of cleuch-indented hills rolled into the distance, a tangle of shanks and hopes, knowes and rigs decorated in shades of green and dappled with patches of purple. I detoured briefly to claim the cairn-crowned summit of Church Hope Hill, small in stature but big in views, and then continued downhill to the narrow Heatherhope Valley. To my left, beneath the scree-splashed slopes of Greenbrough Hill, I could see the redundant Heatherhope Reservoir which had once provided water to the border town of Kelso. My route lay to the right.
Clouds were beginning to creep in from the west as I turned for home and the long and strenuous climb up Hard Rig. The occasional backwards glance to the fast disappearing Scottish lowlands more than compensated for the lung-bursting effort. Eventually, I reached the summit of Mozie Law and, once I had clambered over the thin post and wire boundary fence, my boots were firmly back on the Pennine Way and English soil.
Now with the bit between my teeth, I virtually galloped to Beefstand Hill and the highest point of my walk. Here it was time to leave the security of the well-defined footpath behind and to follow an intermittent quad track over bog-ridden Beef Stand to the drier terrain of Carlcroft Hill and Broadside Law. A final hill-topping view and then I ambled downhill through grasses bristling with harebells, buttercups and thistles to the sparkling Blind Burn I had followed all those hours before. The sun had now disappeared and a fresh breeze trundled down Upper Coquetdale. I was ready for home.
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.