Just over ninety minutes after leaving Monkseaton I was crossing the border into Scotland on my way to the secluded Halterburn Valley and the start of my day in the hills. Suddenly, in front of me, two leggy young roe deer careered across the narrow, winding road before plunging into the adjacent dense hedgerow. Already the indecently early start had reaped a reward on what would, in time, turn out to be the most perfect of October days.
A thin film of frost covered the sheep-cropped grass bordering the thin valley road as I headed off with a distinct spring in my step. The low, slowly rising sun gently caressed the curvaceous tops of the surrounding hills as I followed the alternative low level route of the Pennine Way towards the high ground of the border ridge. As I wandered past Halterburnhead, the last farm in the valley, I wondered why the Ordnance Survey map of the area still referred to this as Burnhead.
At this point I parted company with the road and entered the tight upper reaches of the valley where the bracken- dappled slopes of White Law rose sharply to my left and the track made a 90 degree turn to the south. Ahead, the remains of Old Halterburnhead and its neighbouring trees looked beautifully picturesque in the clear morning air. The roof of this former farmstead was blown off more than 85 years ago and the building has been in a state of decline ever since. Somehow this lonely spot would not be quite the same without this tumbledown old cottage.
The Curr, a big brute of a hill, dominated the way ahead as the frost-fingered track, still wallowing in deep shadow, rose steeply across the flanks of Steerrig Knowe. Finally, the track broke free onto high, open ground and sunlight flooded across the huge landscape. The Pennine Way stretched out in front of me as I passed beneath the impressive Corbie Craig heading towards my main objective of the day, The Schil just over 1 kilometre away. I tackled the climb with gusto.
There was barely a breeze to be felt as I crested the final slope and made my way to the summit of this fine hill where frost-shattered slabs of light grey rock thrust their jagged edges upwards and delicate streaks of cloud dusted the bright blue sky. There was a sense of utter tranquility and I was like a kid in a candy store as I clambered over rocks of all shapes and sizes eager to photograph the area from every conceivable angle.
However, like Quibble in the play, ‘The Author’s Farce’, by the English novelist Henry Fielding, my stomach was starting to feel, “as hollow as any trumpet in Europe” so it was time to seek out a suitable spot to tuck into my lunch. With so many grassy seats and rocky backrests dotted about the summit, I was spoilt for choice but in the end I settled for a comfortable place with an extensive view of the western flanks of The Cheviot.
Sitting down, I turned my head to the left and spotted a small brass plaque carefully screwed into the rough face of the rock I was about to rest my back against. It read, “In memory of Steve Bertram who died on the 20 November 1999 doing a sport he loved”. As I sat there quietly enjoying my sandwiches I reflected on how each of our lives flashes past in the blink of an eye. I thought about the many people who had wandered this way before me and how many of those souls might have sat in this same spot gazing into the vast Cheviot distance. I wondered whether Steve Bertram had been one of those lucky people. I felt happy to be alive.
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.