I had calculated that it must have been more than 20 years since I had last started a walk from Alnham. A re-visit was well overdue and, with the morning apparently set to remain dry and bright, I decided on a shorter than normal trip to the hills. I hoped to be home by early afternoon.
The tiny, slightly fragmented village lies just over 300 metres outside the south eastern boundary of the Northumberland National Park and boasts a Grade II* Listed 14th century Vicar’s Pele and the fine Church of St Michael and All Angels. I parked on the verge close to the lych gate and, after a quick peep inside the eerily silent churchyard, I headed past the Vicar’s Pele and onto the Salter’s Road, my route to higher ground.
The rutted track was extraordinarily wet and, feeling the effects of a few weeks without any serious exercise, I laboured uphill. My boots were caked in thick mud by the time I had reached the drier ground of Northfieldhead Hill where a superb ‘cloud inversion’ made my early morning struggle worthwhile. The higher hills of the Cheviot heartland stretched out in front of me with the snow-sprinkled top of the mighty Cheviot particularly catching my eye. It was November and already there were signs of a harsh winter ahead.
A quick detour to visit the green-topped Hart Law, where a herd of grazing cattle eyed me with extreme suspicion, was rewarded with excellent wrap around views and, once back on course, I headed across the Coppath Burn as far as the inaccurately-named White Gate. It was now time to turn my back on the far reaching panorama. So, striding downhill towards the Spartley Burn, I started the return leg of my walk. I crossed the remote single track road which leads to the isolated farm of Ewartly Shank, took one final look at the conical-shaped Hogdon Law and then stepped over the fast-flowing burn via a narrow wooden footbridge.
It was still only 11:00 am but already the sun was beginning to slip coyly behind the ever-increasing, breeze-blown cloud. I took my final photograph of the day and, with the bracken-brown slopes of the hillfort-crowned Castle Hill climbing steeply to my left, I struck out for Old Hazeltonrig on a fine grass-covered path. Once past the farm buildings, and a flock of sheep being held in a pen by three border collies, I re-crossed the Spartley Burn and continued on to Hazeltonrig, a rather plain looking brick-built bungalow. The nearby stone-constructed farm buildings were in the process of substantial renovation and I wondered whether these buildings might ultimately be used as holiday accommodation, with ‘all mod cons’.
A short climb on a rough track, alongside a hill-clinging plantation, was followed by a series of gates, stiles and fields leading me eventually to the road back to Alnham. The adjoining War Memorial Hall was a sobering reminder of the huge human cost inflicted on small rural communities like Alnham by the 1914-18 War. I walked the short distance back to my car reflecting on what might have been for so many young men.
by Geoff Holland © 2011
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.