The first time I visited Coldburn Hill was on a solo fell run from the Harthope Valley with the high ground of the Cheviot Hills blanketed in dense low cloud. Visibility was just a few metres and careful compass-aided navigation was needed to reach the twin-cairned summit. Views of the surrounding countryside were non-existent. On a cold February day in 2007 I returned to the grass-carpeted top during a circular walk which was destined to become one of the routes on my fledgling walking website. Second time around I was treated to an excellent far reaching panorama although the day was generally overcast.
Despite my clear memories of these outings both seemed long ago and, having recently viewed Coldburn Hill and two of its near-neighbours from afar, I had a strong hankering for a long-overdue re-visit. The shortest day of the year was just around the corner and I was conscious that the Christmas festivities would soon become all consuming. So, with sunrise at a ridiculously late 8:09 am, I was up and away from Monkseaton long before there was any sign of daylight climbing over the horizon.
It was barely light when I arrived at my starting point in the Harthope Valley where the only other person out and about was a quad bike-borne shepherd and his faithful border collie. As I began my uphill journey alongside the Hawsen Burn, I feared that my day might turn out to be a case of déjà vu, with the immediate high ground totally obliterated by thick swirling cloud.
Undeterred I pressed on to Broadhope Hill, the first of four hills I had planned to climb during the course of my walk and, at 517 metres, the second highest. More importantly, it was totally clear of cloud. However, 20 minutes later, as I crested the eastern slope of Preston Hill I was greeted by feathery fingers of damp cloud caressing the bleak heather moors which sweep across the broad summit area. This hill might only be nine metres higher than its neighbour but on this occasion it was enough to make a big difference weather-wise.
Once across the summit I followed the straight line of a post and wire fence towards Foulburn Gair. Imperceptibly I had dipped below cloud level and the view to my next hill began to open up. I had forgotten how conical-shaped Coldburn Hill was, especially when approached from the east, and the climb to its top appeared to be steeper than I had recalled. It is funny how time plays tricks with the small detail.
In the event, an indistinct grouse-shooters track cut conveniently uphill and I was soon wandering between the two stone cairns adorning the top of this fine hill. Distant views were hazy, even below cloud level, but I could pick out the vague outline of the College Valley as it passed beneath the gloomy slopes of Hare Law.
I had reached the extreme point of my walk, a slight detour from the main loop, and now it was time to seek shelter from the increasingly lively wind. I was ready for a bite to eat before tackling Blackseat Hill, the final top of my walk, and the steep slopes overlooking the remote farmstead of Goldscleugh in the Lambden Valley seemed like the perfect spot. With that thought in mind, I headed briskly downhill.
by Geoff Holland © 2014
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 40 years, also operates the award-winning website www.cheviotwalks.co.uk. His poems have appeared in a number of publications.