I had no pre-conception as to how the day might unravel but it was, in retrospect, a funny old walk. Perhaps it was the indifferent weather conditions which made it seem so understated or maybe it was just that time of year when the countryside colours are more subdued that dictated the mood of the day. Whatever it was it did little to spoil my enjoyment of yet another visit to one of Northumberland’s best loved hills.
With Christmas fast approaching I was keen to get one more trip into the hills under my belt before the festivities took control and, with daylight hours at a premium, I plumped for a starting point in the not-too-distant Breamish Valley. It was overcast but unseasonably mild as I stepped out onto the narrow grass verge close to the end of the public road where, to my surprise, another car was already parked ahead of me. A sneak peep revealed that this belonged to a Northumberland National Park Volunteer Ranger who was, I presumed, out and about on ‘official’ business. For once someone had beaten me out of the blocks.
I had chosen Hedgehope Hill as the main focus of my walk but first I wanted to make a short detour to Linhope Spout, one of the finest and most-visited waterfalls in Northumberland. So, off I went following the private tarmac road past Hartside farm and then a small plantation teeming with a sprawling bouquet of hyper-active pheasants. The males in their brown, gold, purple and white plumage, crested bottle-green heads and distinctive red wattles looked particularly resplendent as they, and their less showy female companions, concentrated on the earnest business of feeding themselves.
The hamlet of Linhope was as quiet as a hibernating dormouse and marked the point where the private road ended and my true uphill journey began. A rough and ready track led me over pine-scented hillsides and out on to the open moor from where I descended over slippery ground to Linhope Spout. This superb waterfall was described by William Weaver Tomlinson in his 1888 book, ‘Comprehensive Guide to Northumberland’ as, “the finest of the district” which, “tumbles over a brown crag into a deep pool below”. Luckily I had caught it at its best, a near-vertical moving column of white water noisily announcing its passing before crashing into the foaming peat-brown pool below. I had it all to myself.
With the purpose of my detour satisfied I plodded on, splashing my boots through muddy puddles as the ‘go-back, back, back’ call of a succession of red grouse punctured the thin morning air. Then, as I crested a small rise, the top of Hedgehope Hill suddenly came into view, covered by cloud and looking suspiciously as if someone had unceremoniously planted an unkempt grey toupee on an otherwise bald head.
The temperature was beginning to drop like a stone and I was soon pulling on my hat and gloves. I pressed on, first negotiating a tumbledown post and wire fence and then a couple of potentially treacherous peat steps as I climbed into the ever-thickening low cloud. I was nearing the conical-shaped summit but I could see nothing of the huge pile of stones which mark the pinnacle of this fine hill. Then, as if through a net curtain, I spotted the faint outline of the triangulation pillar which sits on top of the pile of stones and less than 100 metres later I reached my main objective. Now, with nothing to distract me in the view department, I could seriously concentrate on doing justice to my appetizing picnic lunch.
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.