It was never going to be easy with gale force winds expected but the mere hint that the sun might make a rare appearance for a fair chunk of the day and I was up with the larks. The overnight rain had been whisked away on a brisk south-westerly wind and the weak April sun had climbed out of the boisterous North Sea by the time I was heading, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, for Upper Coquetdale.
I parked in quiet Alwinton, the last village in Coquetdale, quickly gathered together the bits and bobs I needed for the day ahead and, without further ado, I was off fleet-footed for Clennell Street. The wind was at my back as I followed the rough track gently uphill and, whilst the distant hills still had the pale look of winter about them, the adjacent fields were decorated with newly-born lambs. Spring was definitely in the air.
The wind was already proving to be rather anti-social as it rushed about like a testosterone-fuelled teenager tugging at my sleeves and pushing at my sides. No matter, I trundled on, first up The Dodd, a small hill with a steep ascent and then over grass-covered Puncherton Hill. Ahead, small pockets of old snow dotted the long pathless slope to Wether Cairn as vast swathes of hillside-covering mat grass bent violently in the wind.
Undaunted, I pressed on and before long I was threading my way through a succession of foul-looking peat pools towards the summit-crowning triangulation pillar where miles of featureless heather moor stretched out to the north. In the mid-distance, Cushat Law and Bloodybush Edge rose high above the dark green mass of the Kidland Forest whilst the snow-speckled whaleback of the mighty Cheviot hogged the horizon. I stopped for an early lunch, back against the concrete pillar and more or less sheltered from the vicious wind.
I had reached the farthest and highest point of my walk but with four minor hills still to climb I was quickly back on my feet and heading for home. The brutal wind had now reached full force and was hurtling towards me like an express train. It was attacking me head on and attempting every trick in the book to ruffle my feathers. I wobbled, tottered, teetered and staggered but resolutely I remained upright. I was in no mood to submit.
Cautiously I picked my way across the saturated watershed of the Biddlestone Burn where, despite the roar of the wind, I heard the unmistakeable high pitched call of a single curlew. Cloud shadows raced across the landscape as I battled up the stone-littered contours of Silverton Hill. One more hill and I would be out of the full blast of the unruly wind so on I went, hat over my ears, hands gloved against the cold to Clennell Hill and near-vertical views to the River Alwin.
Once there, I kept well clear of the rocky edge as the savage wind now propelled me forwards, rushing me uncomfortably downhill towards the rapidly approaching valley. But still no respite as I staggered on, punch-drunk and just about ready to throw in the towel. But then, as if some kind soul had turned off the wind, I was sheltered in the lee of Camp Knowe with the welcome warmth of the sun on my wind-beaten face. Wow, I thought, that was some walk.
by Geoff Holland © 2014
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.