It was 10 am, I was standing on the flat summit of Mozie Law within hugging distance of the Scottish border and I had been on my feet for two sun-kissed hours. Dressed in robes of the finest purple heather I had seen for many years, the hills of Upper Coquetdale had never looked better. Skylarks rose vertically out of the long grass and wheatears danced from fence post to fence post. The crack-of-dawn start was already paying rich dividends and, at 552 metres above sea level, I had reached the watershed.
I stood for a while admiring the superb view towards the distant Cheviot plateau and then, after one final photograph, I swung my right leg across the border fence and planted my foot firmly into deep Scottish heather. My left leg quickly followed and then, with my back to the fence, I set off to find the track which I knew would lead me into the Heatherhope Valley. The track was rapidly located, at first two faint parallel impressions in the lush grass and then firmer furrows as the twin tracks wound lazily downhill.
The views sprang into life, prominent Callaw Cairn and nearby Church Hope Hill, and then, as I wandered downwards, the tiny square of the redundant Heatherhope Reservoir, a rare blue body of water in a landscape of greens, grey and purple. In the mid-distance, the iconic Eildon Hills, much-loved by Sir Walter Scott, stood head and shoulders above the surrounding patchwork of fields. Down I continued on a meandering course through patches of heather, interspersed with shin-high bracken and yellowing grasses, with cone-shaped Sundhope Kipp on neighbouring Greenbrough Hill and the long incision of Philip Hope especially eye-catching.
The depth and height of the invasive bracken increased as the valley drew near until at last I was standing next to the slender Heatherhope Burn close to a well-situated animal feedstore. The air in the narrow valley, sheltered from the breeze by its steep sides, was particularly hot and heavy and with the bracken now shoulder high it felt exceedingly oppressive. Thankfully, my visit was a brief one and after little more than ten minutes I was again climbing towards the border fence, this time up long and lonely Phillip Shank.
As I continued to climb the views behind me became more distant until I could no longer see the light-reflecting reservoir. The views ahead grew in stature, first Windy Gyle and then the broad back of The Cheviot until, on reaching the ancient border-bound line of The Street, a whole gamut of familiar hills came into view. A nearby three-fingered signpost pointed to Hownam, Calroust and finally to the Pennine Way.
I had now completed more than half of my walk and soon I would be back on home turf heading first to the iconic summit of Windy Gyle, unbelievably my forty-seventh visit to this honey-pot top, and then to Loft Hill where harebells flourished on rarely-visited, grass-carpeted slopes. In all, I was destined to have seen only nine other walkers during the whole day, all of whom were taking in the glorious grandstand view on the cairn-topped summit of Windy Gyle. Solitude, I thought, as I sat quietly beside the River Coquet at the end of my day, comes to those who seek it out.
by Geoff Holland © 2015
Geoff Holland has contributed to a number of magazines and is 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 over 40 years, also operates the award-winning website www.cheviotwalks.co.uk. His poems have appeared in a number of publications.