It was a bit of a journey to the Scottish border town of Kirk Yetholm along roads which had more twists than a ‘Midsomer Murders’ plot. However, once I had started the spectacular descent into the nearby Halterburn Valley I knew that the time spent travelling would, without a shadow of a doubt, turn out to be time well spent.
The grassed parking area alongside the sparkling burn would have made the perfect spot to while away a bright April morning but I had rather more energetic plans in mind. A flock of sheep looked hopefully on as I packed away my sandwiches, pulled on my boots and then headed up the narrow valley road.
I soon stepped off the line of tarmac and wound my way upwards on a delightfully green quad track towards my first objective of the day, the west top of White Law. Situated high above the Halterburn Valley, this rock- flecked top enjoys fantastic views over the border ridge and across the valley to Latchly Hill, where I spotted four horse riders descending the gentle northern slopes. After pausing for a while, I followed the post and wire border fence on the short climb to the true summit of White Law and the last significant hill for north-bound Pennine Way walkers.
Once I had crossed the border onto English soil I headed to Wideopen Head before climbing to the cairn-topped summit of Madam Law. A cold north-westerly wind was beginning to put a bite into the morning air so I hurried on towards the lower slopes of Coldsmouth Hill and the stiffest climb of the day. Once across the tiny trickle of Tuppie’s Sike I put my head down, bent into the hill and plodded upwards to the triple-cairned, windswept summit.
Standing at a height of 414 metres, this modest hill offers outstanding all round views and, as I sat with my back against a large stone munching away at my incredibly tasty lunch, I lost count of the hills I could name. The three cairns which adorn the summit of Coldsmouth Hill are relatively modern additions and distract the attention away from the remains of two large Bronze Age burial cairns which have occupied this place for nigh on 3,000 years. A 1929 excavation of the northern cairn uncovered cremated bone, a flint knife and a bronze dagger.
With the wind now becoming somewhat unruly I headed through a narrow, border-hugging plantation and onto the nearby hillfort-capped Burnt Humbleton. After scrutinising every angle of the superb vista I returned to the border, crossed back into England and headed over Humbleton Swyre to the prominent Eccles Cairn. This neat little pile of stones stands on a beautiful green mound 360 metres above sea level and offers a grandstand panorama.
With only one more hill to climb I joined the route of St Cuthbert’s Way as it dropped gradually downhill towards the Halterburn Valley. A short distance after merging with the Pennine Way I left the well-walked track behind and made the short journey to the hillfort-topped Green Humbleton. From there a high-octane descent down a near-vertical slope returned me, rather rapidly, to the twinkling burn I had left a few hours earlier. The flock of sheep had wandered off to pastures new.
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.