It was 10:15 a.m. and I was sitting on top of Yeavering Bell enjoying an exceptionally early lunch. As I relaxed on the soft summit turf, surrounded by the extensive ramparts of one of Northumberland’s finest hill forts and an empty landscape of rolling hills, I reflected on the vastness of time and space. It was, by whatever means of measurement you care to use, the most perfect of November days.
Earlier I had left tiny Kirknewton, silently slumbering in the shadows of the neighbouring hills, and ambled along a pleasant tree-lined track towards St Cuthbert’s Way and the route to the first hillfort of the day. Ahead, craggy Easter and Wester Tors seemed to rise vertically from the surrounding fields whilst, on the opposite side of the College Burn, The Bell looked fetching with its covering of autumn-tinted bracken, flowering gorse, grey scree and grasses of various shades of green.
At 62½ miles long and linking together the religious sites of Melrose and Lindisfarne, St Cuthbert’s Way is a popular cross-border route. However, with not a pilgrim in sight, I followed the clear, well-walked track past the lonely dwelling of Torleehouse with the silence of the still young morning disturbed only by the sound of barking dogs. The low November sun was in my eyes as I climbed across the lower slopes of Easter Tor and, with each upward step, the views behind me grew in stature. The gentle breeze rippled through my hair.
Eventually, when I reached the waymarked ‘Hillforts Trail’, I headed downhill, crossed the slither of an unnamed burn and began the sharp climb up the bracken and grass carpeted slopes of Yeavering Bell. Once through a gap in the well-preserved stone ramparts of the Iron Age hillfort, I visited the 361 metre high cairn-topped summit followed by the subsidiary top, a mere six metres lower. The panorama stretched out every which way, from the North Sea coast to the rolling ridge of Kilham and Longknowe Hills, from the rocky Easter Tor to a distant Humbleton Hill, from the hillfort-crowned Great Hetha to the cloud-dusted Cheviot.
As I looked out across the dramatic landscape I found it difficult to believe that more than 2,000 years ago some 130 timber-built roundhouses were spread across the upper reaches of this now blissfully peaceful hill. I counted myself lucky to have it all to myself. However, early lunch or not, I needed to press on so, turning north, I made my way downhill along a narrow and boot-worn track towards the hamlet of Old Yeavering. One rather undignified tumble later and I was relieved to be back on the gravel track which led me, in a wee while, to the start of the short climb to the cairn-capped summit of West Hill.
This was my first visit to West Hill where the now mainly turf-covered stones of the Iron Age hillfort run along the upper edge of the natural slope. With excellent views across the River Glen to Lanton Hill and the monument to Alexander Davison, Nelson’s friend and chandler, my eyes wandered across the delightful landscape. It was now a simple matter of re-joining the tree-lined track I had left earlier in the day and an easy walk back to Kirknewton. Winter seemed a long way off.
by Geoff Holland © 2012
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.