Each month has its own unique characteristics and, like the start of every other month, the first day of March last year marked a psychological new beginning. I was keen to hit the ground running. So, with tiny signs of spring popping up here, there and everywhere, I pulled onto the narrow grass verge, close to the farmstead of Hartside at the end of the public road from Ingram, with Hedgehope Hill firmly in my sights.
The morning air was still ice-cold when I passed through the tiny hamlet of Linhope and, as I made my way upwards on a well-defined track, sporadic patches of semi-frozen snow tested my skating abilities. I was following by far the most popular route to the summit of Hedgehope Hill but with an early start under my belt I was not expecting any company. Only the distinctive cry of the occasional red grouse broke the silence as I continued on beneath a fine curtain of cloud. I was making surprisingly light work of the generally wet underfoot conditions and less than 1½ hours after setting off I was striding across the thin layer of summit-topping snow.
Rising to a height of 714 metres, the conical-shaped Hedgehope Hill is capped with a triangulation pillar and a giant wrap-a-round cairn. It is the second highest of the Cheviot Hills and offers a grandstand panorama. On the opposite side of the Harthope Valley the mighty Cheviot stretched out like a beached whale whilst endless waves of hills rolled westwards towards the Scottish lowlands. To the east, way beyond a patchwork of fields, plantations and hillsides, the thin line of the Northumberland coast hugged the horizon. To many a seasoned walker this is the most majestic hill in the area.
As I stood on the summit catching my breath and admiring the distant views the sun began to peep through the slowly cracking cloud. It seemed like a good time to press on. I picked my way cautiously downhill close to the conifer-green edge of Threestoneburn Wood and then, after splashing my way across the saturated watershed of the Dunmoor Burn, I started the steady climb to the flat, heather-clad top of Dunmoor Hill and yet more eye-watering views.
There is an assortment of crag-littered descents from this quiet 569 metre high hill but not all of them are particularly inspiring. I could have headed eastwards to Cunyan Crags, an easy route I had used previously to climb to the summit of Dunmoor Hill. However, I wanted a little more in the way of excitement so I opted for the 1¼ mile direct but pathless line over Long and Cat Crags, a route which offered a far more interesting and photogenic way back to Hartside. Along the way, I detoured briefly to visit the grass-carpeted top of Grieve’s Ash, a small but well-situated hill which has, on its lower slopes, the remains of one of the largest Iron Age stone-built settlements in the area.
As I made my way down the final stretch of bracken-invaded hillside towards the road back to my car I thought how lucky I had been that the month had started on such a high note.
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.