It was a dull February day, wind blowing from the east, rain running down the windows like tiny rivulets and I happened to be browsing through William Weaver Tomlinson’s 1888-published book, ‘Comprehensive Guide to Northumberland’. As I aimlessly glanced through the appendices I noticed that this 19th century writer had included a list of eighteen Northumberland crags, many of which I knew well. However, much to my surprise, not a single one of these crags fell within the extensive boundaries of the Cheviot Hills and I could not help but feel that this well-respected writer had erred in his selection of crags all those years ago.
With nothing much else to distract me, I decided to get out my well-used Ordnance Survey map of the area and to jot down as many crags and rocky prominences in the Cheviot Hills as I could find. I would then reduce this fairly substantial list to a few of my own favourites and compare their various merits with those on Tomlinson’s erstwhile list. In the event, it proved to be a near-impossible task.
To the north of the Northumberland National Park lies the splendid College Valley, on the east side of which stand two superb crags, Easter and Wester Tors, both enjoying extensive views over the surrounding hills. Further south, where the College Valley leads into the peaceful Lambden Valley, the mighty Cheviot rises like a colossus with its rugged north face scarred by the deep incisions of a trio of secluded burns. Here stand the finest and most remote of all of the Cheviot crags: Bizzle, Bellyside, Braydon and Woolhope, each one a contender for my top ten list. On the opposite side of the valley lies the imposing grey rock of Dunsdale Crag, much loved by generations of passing walkers.
Meanwhile, on the west side of the hill are the airy outcrops surrounding the magnificent Ice Age cleft of the Hen Hole, possibly the area’s most iconic place and, in the whole of Northumberland, without peer. Cross over the vast bog-ridden plateau of The Cheviot to the Harthope Valley and there are a plethora of striking crags: Housey, Hawsen, Langlee, Long and Middleton along with a sprinkling of lesser-known crags such as Tathey, Steel and Carling. Not as spectacular as their northern counterparts perhaps but more readily accessible to the leisurely rambler.
Further southwards the Breamish Valley cuts through a landscape which includes the excellent trio of crags on Dunmoor Hill: Cunyan, Cat and Long, whilst to the west, where the Linhope Burn drains conical Hedgehope Hill and neighbouring bleak Comb Fell, stand the rocky twins of Great and Little Standrop. Still heading south, close to the edge of the National Park, lie Kitty’s Crag and Raven’s Crag, small in stature yet both dramatic in their own right.
As I continued to add names to my list of rocky prominences, the majority of which I had visited over the years, the greater my amazement that William Weaver Tomlinson had omitted every single Cheviot crag from his not insubstantial 1888 list. Was it just a case of personal preference, I thought, or had he never actually stepped foot in what must have been, in those distant Victorian days, the exceedingly remote Cheviot Hills? That, alas, we shall never know.
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.