A number of factors had conspired to scupper our country walking plans over the previous handful of months so, as we made our way north on a delightful summer morning, we travelled more in hope than expectation. But optimism quickly grows and, after a very pleasant pit stop in Rothbury for a much-needed caffeine kick, we were soon pulling onto the village green in the tiny settlement of Alwinton.
It had been a long time in coming, our first trip back to Coquetdale for nearly eleven months, but at last we were about to start our wander into the nearby hills. It was the ideal place to begin our day, mimulus, foxgloves and meadow cranesbill tumbling down to the Hosedon Burn, swallows sweeping low over the surrounding grasses and the pretty stone-built Bridge End Cottage a perfect picture-postcard backcloth.
The distinctive mellow song of a single blackbird caught our attention as we crossed the narrow wooden footbridge over the crystal-clear burn and then, with a signpost pointing towards the distant Border Ridge, we headed up the ancient line of Clennell Street. This track, which runs from Alwinton to Cocklawfoot in Scotland, has a history dating back to time immemorial and has over the centuries been used by smugglers, peddlers, reivers and drovers. These days it serves those more inclined to recreational pursuits: walkers, runners and mountain bikers.
The buildings of Alwinton Farm were quickly left behind as we followed the rough, stone-strewn track uphill, sheep-filled fields and the River Coquet over to our left, Clennell Hall and the River Alwin away to our right. A brief stop to admire the view towards the wooded Harbottle Hills and then upwards again, contouring the flanks of Castle Hills and on past tree-shrouded Clennellstreet Cottage.
The track, now grass-carpeted and gentle on our feet, continued its uphill trajectory and, as the gradient began to ease a little, the views towards shapely Clennell and Silverton Hills and the lonely ruins of Old Rookland opened up. Ahead lay the southern, recently harvested fringes of the vast Kidland Forest and, as we paused to cast our eyes along the undulating horizon, we were able to pick out the animal feed store close to the site of the long-gone youth hostel of Wholehope.
We had reached the extreme point of our walk and, with the pangs of hunger beginning to remind us that it was way past lunch time, our thoughts turned to the tuna-packed poppy seed bun we had bought just before leaving Monkseaton. So, without any discussion, we back-tracked a short distance, left the main track behind, headed steeply uphill and then, some 364 metres above sea level, we settled down for a leisurely break high above the delightful and secluded valley of the Hosedon Burn.
The wall to wall panorama from this modest height was dominated by the nearby pyramid-shaped, bracken-clad Lord’s Seat and the straight-edged plantation wrapped around the head of the Alwinton Burn. With our legs stretched out and the warm breeze brushing past we were happy to be back in one of the most beautiful parts of Northumberland.
by Geoff Holland © 2016
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.