I was keen not to travel too far on a day threatening to be excessively windy and the stone-built town of Wooler, little more than a sixty minute drive from the coast, seemed like the ideal place. However, having tramped the hills around this cosy town more times than I cared to remember, I was anxious to attempt something new. I had an idea: a circuit of eight of the smaller hills immediately to the west of the town, a seemingly perfect nine mile route for a late autumn day.
The wind was already making a nuisance of itself as I left the bitterly cold Humbleton Burn car park and headed up the Common Road. Once onto Wooler Common and exposed to the full force of the vigorous wind, forward momentum on a rising track was painfully slow as I laboured on to my first hill, cairn-topped Hart Heugh. From the summit, buffeted by the constant gusts, I admired the crystal clear panorama and the rich autumn colours as best I could.
Next Watch Hill, a tangle of deep foliage and the awkward remnants of a harvested plantation and then a rocky outcrop offering superb views of the Cheviot heartland, with the tiny building of Broadstruther cut adrift in a vast expanse of moorland. A sudden change of terrain, a mixture of pathless grass and rough track, as I trudged onto neighbouring Fredden Hill. The summit, the highest of my walk, was marked by a number of flat-topped rocks, perfect grey platforms from which to enjoy the enormous landscape.
On I continued, downwards past a series of shooting butts and the ruins of one of the four cottages that once stood on these lonely slopes. Then the occupied bungalow of Bell’s Valley, by-passed through bracken, autumn-bronze and a jumble of irritating stems and outstretched leaves. Finally, boots planted on St. Cuthbert’s Way, I headed towards Gains Law, my fourth hill of the day, and the only triangulation pillar of my trip.
With four hills still to climb, a quick drink and away I went, cautiously plotting the best downhill line through dense, chest-high bracken. Alongside Monday Cleugh and close to the site of the Battle of Homildon Hill, I was on my way up again, lung-bursting into a fierce headwind. A small cairn ultimately indicated that I had reached the summit of Harehope Hill, not a place to linger on an unsociable day so I made a 45 degree turn and then the short descent towards the base of Humbleton Hill, my next climb.
With the wind now at my back I fairly flew up this popular hill, cresting through the remains of an Iron Age hill fort that once occupied the summit. I was now feeling peckish and ready for an energy boost and a break from the incessant pummelling. So, down I went and once in the shelter of the conical hill I sank to the ground and began to tuck into my sandwiches.
I still had two hills to climb, Coldberry Hill and Brown’s Law, tiddlers in the grand scheme of things but necessary to complete the planned set of eight. However, as I sat there enjoying the brief calm, I was content to leave these hills until later – after all they would still be there when I had finished my lunch.
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 over 40 years, also operates the award-winning website www.cheviotwalks.co.uk. His poems have appeared in a number of publications.