The wettest April since records began had frustrated my walking plans for a number of weeks and I now had a backlog of routes I wanted to explore. Choice is a wonderful thing but inundated with so many tasty possibilities I was beset with indecision. I endlessly consulted my tattered old map, humming and hawing as I pondered over the various permutations. Which one should I choose? Where should I go? Finally, I decided to re-visit Shillhope Law, one of my favourite hills, and then to complete a high circuit of the Usway Burn.
The first day of May dawned dry and I was away with the wind heading up Inner Hill as the sun made a half-hearted and short-lived attempt to show its face. No matter, I was out and about striding along a delightful grass-blanketed ridge with heart-stopping views of the Usway Burn weaving between near-vertical interlocking shanks. In the distance, I could see the dark green fringe of the extensive Kidland Forest and beyond the higher hills of the border ridge.
The air was cold as ice as I clambered over a post and wire fence on the top of Inner Hill in an off-the-cuff attempt to locate four peat pools seemingly significant enough to be marked on the Ordnance Survey map of the area. In the event, I was somewhat under-whelmed and pressed on, over patches of fire-scorched heather, to the head of Shillhope Cleugh from where I splashed across the saturated saddle separating Inner Hill from the short climb to the summit of Shillhope Law.
I have never tired of this fine hill and, with my previous two visits having been blighted by dense low cloud, I enjoyed a rare moment admiring the view. Then on I went downhill, heading for the slopes of Kyloe Shin across a superb turf-covered ridge. The spring air echoed to the sound of bleating snow-white lambs and the anxious replies of their ever-watchful mothers. At the edge of the Kidland Forest a straight line, boundary-hugging descent quickly had me precariously scrambling along the steep-sided bank of the Usway Burn whilst below me the peat-brown burn raced over a series of small waterfalls. Ahead, on the opposite bank, stood the former farmstead of Fairhaugh now a remote, white-walled holiday home.
Once across the burn, a series of hair-pin bends on a good forestry track led me uphill and on through a pencil-slim avenue of trees where chaffinches hopped from branch to branch untroubled by the presence of a heavy-breathing, mud-splashed intruder. I was on my way to join Clennell Street, the king of all the Cheviot drove roads and with a history literally dating back to time immemorial. Sheltered from the wind and miles from absolutely anywhere I felt blissfully alone as I continued onwards. Once beyond the trees and still with many more miles to cover I was beginning to feel a mite peckish. A leisurely lunch overlooking the Usway Burn seemed like a good idea. A buzzard circled overhead.
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.