I travelled north, past verges patterned with red campion and ox-eye daisies, heading for Upper Coquetdale and the spot where the Rowhope Burn converges with the River Coquet. Here, squeezed between the imposing flanks of Barrow Law and Tindale Law, is Northumberland at its finest, where, in the words of historian George Macaulay Trevelyan, “both heaven and earth are seen”.
From Slymefoot there are numerous ways to reach the Scottish border and, on a faultless June morning, I decided to begin my journey by following the ancient drover’s track previously called ‘The Clattering Path’ but now better known as ‘The Street’. Once over the nearby stile there was no time to catch my breath. In an instant I was heading uphill with the glimmering River Coquet rapidly disappearing behind me. Ahead the green track steadily made its way along the broad ridge that separates the valleys of the Carlcroft and Rowhope Burns whilst a buzzard soared overhead. Skylarks hovered over the vast grasslands as I contoured Swineside Law and then started the steep climb towards Black Braes.
A flurry of tiny clouds had infiltrated the pristine blue sky by the time I had reached the sinuous line of the Pennine Way. To my right lay Windy Gyle and the long, undulating miles to Kirk Yetholm. To my left was the start of a switchback ride over Mozie Law, Beefstand Hill and Lamb Hill, a high level route which eventually leads to the shelter of Yearning Saddle.
I turned left and, as I wandered along the path, paved with flagstones from derelict cotton mills, I hardly noticed that I had crossed the unremarkable summits of Mozie Law and Beefstand Hill. I was totally engrossed in the seemingly empty landscape of superbly rounded hills. Cotton grass bent in the breeze as I stepped off the Pennine Way treadmill, clambered over the border fence and began an out and back detour to Callaw Cairn through knee-deep heather and patches of wild bilberry.
Standing on a prominent hill some 507 metres above sea level the relatively modern cairn sits on top of the remnants of a much earlier cairn which is now largely overgrown with grass. Traces of the original stone core are still visible in places from this the most outstanding of viewpoints. I could have stayed all day studying every angle of the vast panorama but there were quite a few more miles to cover before I could call it a day.
So, on I pressed over the triangulation pillar-topped Lamb Hill and down to the delightful dip of Yearning Saddle where the long wooden step of the Mountain Refuge Hut made the perfect seat on which to enjoy a bite to eat. Summer was in full flow and I stayed considerably longer than I normally would. After making a short entry in the ‘visitor’s book’, I made tracks across the gentle flow of the pocket-sized Blind Burn and then onto Carlcroft Hill. I was now leaving the high ground behind and striding towards the single track valley road that would eventually carry me back to Slymefoot. Along the way the beautiful River Coquet was my constant and only companion.
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.