It started as a simple question, innocently asked and, once replied to, that should have been that. However, these things have a habit of gaining a momentum all of their own and soon it had developed into the germ of an idea. Then, all of a sudden, the imagination began to spiral out of control and the planning juices started to work overtime. A circular route was quickly prepared and, before we had time to change our minds, we were making arrangements to meet at Hethpool in the College Valley.
But then it rained in bucket loads causing our immediate plans to be put on hold. It was after all the wettest summer in living memory. Other more pressing matters came along, small hurdles in our leisurely stroll through life, and our much hoped-for trip into north Northumberland was put into cold storage. The answer to that original simple question, we decided, would just have to wait.
It was early November when we finally managed to meet up, the bracken was dying back and a golden-brown carpet covered the slopes of Wester Tor and its immediate neighbour Hare Law. The College Valley was drenched in deep shadow as we booted up and started off towards the ruined farmstead of Harrowbog.
From a distance our planned route had seemed pretty straightforward, a pleasant looking grass-covered stretch of steep hillside running between an unnamed watercourse and an area of native broadleaved trees. But as they say, distance lends enchantment to the view, and once we had arrived at the start of our climb, the way uphill appeared to be barred by a tangled undergrowth of bushes and bracken, tussocks and brambles.
But we are nothing if we are not stubborn, so off we went uphill floundering through chest-high grasses and slithering over moss-encrusted rocks. We soldiered on determined to find out whether or not the deep linear indentation running diagonally towards the summit of Hare Law, spotted from the other side of the valley months earlier and forming the basis of the original question, was the line of an ancient track.
Eventually, the stranglehold of vegetation began to loosen as the bracken became more sporadic and the brambles were left behind. Ahead we spotted what appeared to be the linear indentation and we plodded on excited by the prospect of finally reaching our ‘Holy Grail’. Once there we followed the line upwards looking for clues as to its possible origins and uses and discussing the various alternatives. On balance, we decided that it was indeed an old sunken track, once well-used but now long-forgotten and substantially overgrown. We doubted whether anybody had wandered up or down these slopes for many years and we wondered what purpose or places this former track may have served.
We stopped for a while and admired the view across to the other side of the valley where the remnants of the Iron Age hillforts on both Sinkside Hill and Great Hetha looked impressive. As we stood there, within shouting distance of the rocky and lonely summit of Hare Law, we found it hard to believe, on such a peaceful November day, that this part of Northumberland was once, some 2,000 years ago, a busy hive of human activity. We had, it seemed, the place to ourselves and with that pleasant thought in our heads we made tracks for our next port of call, Hare Law summit. The day still had much to offer.
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.