It was semi-dark when I left home and very little had changed by the time I reached the Harthope Valley six miles south west of Wooler. A thick blanket of cloud covered the upper slopes of both Hedgehope Hill and The Cheviot and a harsh wind rushed down the narrow valley. Winter still had the Cheviot Hills in its vice-like grip and spring, for the time being at least, seemed a long way off. Undaunted, I stepped out into the cold, pulled down my hat and then, bending into the wind, I headed for the mighty Cheviot.
I was barely into my upward journey when I began to question the wisdom of choosing to climb to the highest point in Northumberland on such a boisterous day. I was walking into a vicious headwind powerful enough to stop me in my tracks and my forward momentum was painfully slow. With nearly 2,000 feet to climb and some 3¼ miles to cover before I would reach the lofty summit I really did wonder whether I had made the right decision. However I reassured myself that I could always turn back should the need arise, so on I pressed. First over windswept Scald Hill, from where I carefully picked my way through a quagmire of rain-filled peat holes, and then into dense low cloud as I began the final 1,000 feet of lung-stretching ascent.
Up and up I went with nothing to be seen but the ground beneath my boots and the faint outline of a post and wire fence guiding me slowly on my way. The damp cloud rushed by as the ferocious wind delighted in constantly knocking me off-balance. Still, I managed to stay on my feet and laboured on uphill until finally, veiled by the thick cloud, I spotted the silhouette of the large stone cairn which marks the eastern end of the summit plateau. I crossed the adjacent ladder stile and continued along a helpful stone pathway which eased my wandering route across the extensive plateau-capping bog. It was bleak in the extreme, a landscape of utter desolation and I was a castaway in a cruel swirling sea of wet cloud and an over-energetic wind.
Finally, like a giant stumbling across the roof of Northumberland, the huge, plinth-topping triangulation pillar came into view. At last, with both relief and satisfaction, I had reached the summit of The Cheviot, my 33rd visit to this elevated place and possibly one of the toughest I had ever encountered. Now partially sheltered by the substantial pillar I grabbed a quick energy-enhancing drink and then back-tracked to the eastern end of the plateau with the wind in my sails. But I had planned more than just an out and back climb to the summit so, turning to the north, I made my way down towards the Lambden Valley.
Suddenly, a blast of wind caught me side on and dumped me, rather unceremoniously, on the sodden, grass-covered ground and, as I lay there, I quickly decided that a visit to Woolhope Crag would not be terribly sensible. It was not a day for solo off-piste exploration. In the event, as I wound my way back to the Harthope Valley, I climbed to the top of Broadhope Hill and detoured briefly to the wind-harassed Hawsen Crags. The sun appeared momentarily as I reached my car. Typical I thought.
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.