The beautiful Harthope Valley lies five miles south west of the north Northumberland town of Wooler and is a long-time favourite of burn-side picnickers, birdwatchers and walkers. The valley gives straightforward access to the slopes of the two highest hills in the range, as well as being surrounded by a fine array of relatively easy-to-reach crags. With the month of June well into its stride I had a notion to visit a number of these crags in a single circular walk.
I was off my blocks earlier than usual and, as I wandered away from the tree-shrouded Backwood Burn, a solitary slow worm slithered across the thin valley road, my first ever sighting of this limbless reptile. I quickly parted company with the trees and clambered over a wooden stile to join a part-sunken track climbing diagonally across the face of Snear Hill. The signpost read, ‘Cold Law 1¼’ and, heading upwards, I soaked up the gradually emerging view towards the distant head of the near-linear valley. The sun had already added a smidgen of warmth to the early morning air and a wisp of cloud delicately brushed the conical-shaped summit of stately Hedgehope Hill.
Before long I was happily leaning against the well-groomed triangulation pillar on the top of Cold Law with wide-angle views of the surrounding countryside. For once, this well-situated but slightly exposed hill failed to live up to its well-chosen name. Stepping backwards to take one final photograph of the nearby cairn I inadvertently disturbed a family of red grouse and in the ensuing panic parents and chicks headed off in completely diametrical directions.
I was eager to avoid causing further distress so I made a sharp exit and headed gently downhill, through patches of flowering cotton grass, towards the first crags of my walk. At 399 metres high Hawsen Crags are the lowest, by a proverbial whisker, of the four crags on my intended route but are none the worse for that, offering full-on views of nearby Blackseat Hill and the next three crags on the day’s agenda.
A thirst-quenching sip of water and on I pressed to the Harthope Valley road and then briskly uphill towards Housey Crags. Once there, an easy scramble over a mixture of rock and grass soon had me standing on the highest point of the most-visited of all the Cheviot crags surveying the vast landscape, stretching from the watershed of the Harthope Burn to the distant North Sea coast. A short detour off my circular route took me to neighbouring Long Crags and a superb view of Hedgehope Hill.
I now had the bit well and truly between my teeth and, with my next and final objective a little under two kilometres away, I hurried off towards Langlee Crags on a clear and relatively level track. Once at the base of the impressive crags I stepped off the easy track and started to pick my way steeply uphill through a scattered jumble of large rocks to the frost-shattered columns of grey stone of the main crags.
A final, simple scramble and I was snugly ensconced on the jagged outside edge of my favourite of the day’s four crags with my legs outstretched pointing directly towards the summit of Cold Law on the opposite side of the valley. As I sat there, sandwich in hand a couple of anxious curlews, Europe’s largest wading bird and the unmistakeable emblem of the Northumberland National Park, circled below me, their long and plaintiff cries echoing across the huge Cheviot emptiness. I savoured the moment, perfect in its simplicity.
by Geoff Holland © 2014
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.