Caught between the River Coquet and the Usway Burn, Shillhope Law stands a modest 501 metres above sea level and enjoys outstanding views. Of all the Northumberland hills it is undoubtedly one of my favourites, so, with June in full flow, it seemed like the perfect time to again visit this special hill.
A steady climb up the emerald-green slopes of Inner Hill soon had me crossing its grass-carpeted ridge whilst peering down at the meandering Usway Burn and the line of beautiful interlocking shanks which follows the burn downstream. A short, sharp descent and then a quad track-following ascent quickly led me to the cairn- and triangulation pillar-crowned summit of Shillhope Law.
I continued downhill through patches of heather and flowering cotton grass and then pressed onto to Kyloe Shin. Once I had clambered over a near-vertical ladder stile I was into the coniferous Kidland Forest and heading across Middle Hill through lush, thigh-high grasses. The trees closed in around me, shutting out most of the sunlight. Then, another ladder stile and I was out into the daylight once again with the short, sharp slope of The Middle looming ahead. I made quick work of the climb then headed downwards towards the Hepden Burn and the course of an old cross-country track. Pausing briefly, I found it hard to believe that in days gone by this peaceful place, known in medieval times as Oswold Myddle, was one of the most important track junctions in the border hills.
Back into my stride, I briefly joined the gravel track which links the isolated farmstead of Uswayford with the narrow single track public road through Upper Coquetdale, before turning past the head of tree-shrouded Murder Cleugh where a memorial stone stands bearing the words, “Here in 1610 Robert Lumsden killed Isabella Sudden”.
The story goes that Robert Lumsden, who lived nearby and had been linked with several other deaths, was a violent and independent character with a taste for other men’s wives. Instructed to arrest Lumsden, a number of the King’s officers, who were based in Durham, rode for two days to Lumsden’s house to be greeted by him uttering, “I care nothing for the King, I care nothing for the Queen and I care nothing for you”.
Assisted by cronies, he relieved the officers of their pistols and swords before beating them. The officers fled back to Durham, never to return. Eventually, Lumsden was arrested in Newcastle and was tried, excommunicated from the Church, forced to renounce his sins in Alnwick Market Place and served one month in jail. A case, it would seem, of excessive leniency.
I was now well into my journey, heading towards Barrow Law and on to the beautifully located Barrowburn Farm. This remote two-storey farmhouse, which now doubles up as a tearoom, is renowned for its beautiful upland hay meadows. Despite the smell of sizzling bacon wafting through the clear country air, I resisted the temptation to pop in; I was focused on a lunch break high on the steep slopes of Shillhope Law where I knew I could enjoy the best possible panorama of Upper Coquetdale. I headed upwards.
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 has lived in Monkseaton for over 40 years and operates the award-winning website www.cheviotwalks.co.uk. His poems have appeared in a number of publications.