We really had no firm plans to go for a walk, just a drive out to Wooler, a bowl of winter-warming soup, a bit of a pootle around the town and then home for tea. But how could we resist? The sun was shining, the sky was a cornflower shade of blue and we had packed enough warm clothes to support a 15-strong polar expedition. It would have been criminal not to have put a selection to good use.
First the soup, vegetable broth and a warm bun, and then we parked in Ramsey’s Lane, steeply-sloped and leading into the foothills of the Cheviots. The cold westerly wind swept over the brow of the hill as we pulled down our hats and headed along the gorse-lined track towards Waud House. Two black Labradors nosily announced their presence and then disappeared in a flash wagging their tails behind them. ‘Handbags at dawn’ sprang to mind.
Slumbering in a peaceful location, Waud House is not, as you might think, a grand country house but a picturesque white-walled cottage from where a short climb took us past a half-hidden World War II pillbox to The Kettles. Standing a mere 177 metres above sea level, this grass-covered promontory overlooks Wooler and has a fascinating history. It is the site of an Iron Age hillfort as well as a Roman Period settlement and was once home to the local 1893-founded golf club. A number of the concrete blocks which once supported the club house, last used in the 1950s, can still be seen within the ramparts of the hillfort.
We were now following the route of St. Cuthbert’s Way, the 62½ mile long footpath which links the religious sites of Melrose and Lindisfarne, and we headed gently upwards towards the plantation which covers much of Kenterdale Hill. A narrow path cut through the tall trees and sheltered us from the worst of the wind. Close to the highest point, a gap in the coniferous blanket revealed, after a minor detour, superb views towards the heart of the Cheviot Hills.
Back on the path, we cautiously picked our way down the frost-patched slope and were soon out into the open hugging the plantation edge. Over to our left, the prominent Langlee Crags rose majestically skywards whilst nearby elegant Hedgehope Hill gazed on. From a small gate at the plantation corner we turned downhill and, as we meandered along, the view towards the sun-bathed Humbleton Hill, Brown’s Law and Coldberry Hill was outstanding.
We soon met up with the Humbleton Burn, thin and slow-flowing, which in turn led us along a narrow bank-clinging path to the picnic area bearing the same name as the burn. This is a popular place to begin many a route into the higher hills and consists of a pond, footpaths and a bird feeding area. It is a relatively recent and quiet addition to the local landscape but it was not always so peaceful. During World War I, targets were hoisted by the military on the now plantation-darkened slopes of Brown’s Law whilst soldiers, located further down the valley, took aim and fired. For many years the area was shown on maps as ‘The Targets’.
The best of the walk was now behind us and all that remained was an easy stroll along the single track road back to Wooler. For the most part we walked in the cold shadow of Kenterdale Hill. No matter, we had seen the best of that outstanding January day.
by Geoff Holland © 2013
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.