The year was young and the first shoots of spring were just beginning to show. Skylarks were singing, the snow on the high hills had all but vanished and the world was becoming restless. Change was afoot.
On my previous trip into the hills I had tramped over new ground, an interesting day out that had opened up new and exciting possibilities. For the present however, I was content to re-visit some old haunts, in this instance a trio of smaller hills nicely located a mere stone’s throw from the delightful College Valley.
The sky was clear and the last traces of overnight frost had disappeared by the time I slipped past the sleepy-eyed cottages at Hethpool and into the empty car park. Confronted by an enticing view towards the head of the valley, I was soon striding purposefully along the undulating single track road with grass and bracken-covered slopes sweeping down to the adjacent sheep-cropped verge. Immediately ahead, a blanket of mixed conifers covered conical Sinkside Hill, a hill I intended to visit towards the end of my walk.
I was happy to leave the hard surface of the road as I turned to follow the Trowup Burn westwards along a narrow path across the steep southern slopes of shapely Great Hetha. A tiny waterfall tumbled noisily below a tangle of leafless trees and bushes as blue-tits and chaffinches hopped from branch to branch. Eventually, the white gable end of the beautifully situated Trowupburn came into view along with a jumble of gates, fences and empty sheep pens. Behind the cottage rose Shorthope Shank and the track I intended to follow to the summit of Saughieside Hill. Once beyond the buildings I forded the shallow, slow-flowing burn and began the long, upward journey whilst enjoying superb views across bonny Steer Rig.
Unmarked, the top of Saughieside Hill is something of a disappointment, so without breaking stride I continued across the top and settled myself on the upper north-facing slope for a leisurely lunch. Once devoured off I went, a rapid descent, a rough forest ride and then Loft Hill, cairn-capped and 416 metres high. Another descent and I was soon standing next to the permissive path leading to the summit of tree-clad Sinkside Hill. There was, however, one small problem, my way was well and truly barred by a succession of wind-felled trees and, try as I might, I was unable to penetrate this king-size coniferous barrier.
I needed a change of plan. So, without much ado, I turned towards neighbouring Great Hetha and, as I did, I noticed on the lower grass-covered slopes a couple of figures, mere specks in the distance, who I recognized by their distinctive walking styles honed over the years climbing the Scottish Munros’. I set off in hot pursuit, more in hope than expectation, hurtling downhill whilst all the while keeping an eye on those two moving figures. I was closing the gap faster than I had expected and by the time I crested the final hill my two friends, occasional walking companions, were just settling down for a bite to eat. I joined them and, as we sat there, we wondered what the bookmaker’s odds would have been against such a chance meeting in an area of remote rolling hills of more than 1,035 square kilometres. Pretty long, we thought.
by Geoff Holland © 2015
Geoff Holland is a regular contributor to a number of magazines and the author of four books of self-guided walks, ‘The Hills of Upper Coquetdale’, ‘The Cheviot Hills’, ‘Walks from Wooler’ and ‘Walks on the Wild Side: The Cheviot Hills’. All books can be purchased online from www.trailguides.co.uk.Geoff, who has lived in Monkseaton for 40 years, also operates the award-winning website www.cheviotwalks.co.uk. His poems have appeared in a number of publications.