Striding out across the high lonely ground of the Cheviot Hills on a beautiful summer’s day it is so very easy to forget that in bad weather this can be an unforgiving place. Even the most experienced, weather-beaten walker is not immune from the potential hazards of the unpredictable and ever-changing weather conditions; just ask any member of a Mountain Rescue Team.
On a mid-April afternoon in 2005 two Pennine Way walkers, little more than eight miles from the end of their 270 mile journey northwards, left Auchope Cairn in rapidly deteriorating weather. Blizzard conditions quickly made route finding impossible so the walkers decided to pitch their tent and to sit out the storm. Gale force winds piled snow against the tent forcing the sides dangerously inwards. The poles became worryingly bent and then, after more than 12 hours huddled inside the tent, the walkers finally made a potentially life-saving 999 call.
The Border Search and Rescue Team was alerted and, despite being hampered by flooding, 70 mph winds, temperatures of -15°C and waist deep snow, the rescue team slowly made their way high into the hills. Eventually, after nearly 5 hours, the walkers were found and both were treated for hypothermia. The weather had been amongst some of the worst ever experienced during the month of April.
In October 2013 five walkers set off at lunch time from Wooler intending to walk to Byrness in Redesdale, some 25 miles away over exceptionally hilly terrain. By the time they had reached the mountain refuge hut at Yearning Saddle, and with 10 miles still to walk, it had turned dark. Inadequately dressed, and with only a torch to guide them, the walkers decided to cut their journey short and to head towards the lonely road through Upper Coquetdale some 4 miles away.
They quickly became disorientated and, with one member unable to carry on, they sensibly made an emergency telephone call. The Border Search and Rescue Team were mobilised and were joined by the Northumberland National Park and the North of Tyne Rescue Teams along with a helicopter from RAF Boulmer. Eventually, the bedraggled walkers were found, all suffering from hypothermia.
Even the hardiest and self-sufficient of fell runners can find themselves in difficulties as was demonstrated in January 2013, when a number of competitors in the gruelling ultra-marathon event, The Spine Race, were forced to seek overnight shelter in the two isolated mountain refuge huts in the Cheviot Hills. Three Mountain Rescue Teams were alerted and eventually the exhausted and cold runners, all of whom were well prepared, were safely assisted off the hills.
In each case, all members of the Mountain Rescue Teams were volunteers, as are all Mountain Rescue Team members throughout the country, and without their dedication to helping other in difficulties many of the walkers and runners rescued may never have arrived home safely. They deserve our support.
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.