Suddenly the cloud parted and a glimmer of sunlight appeared through a crack in the silver-grey curtain. Way below me I could see, snaking southwards, the deep and narrow valley which carries the Rowhope Burn on a meandering course from its source high on Windy Gyle to the River Coquet just over 3½ miles away. I was utterly captivated by the sheer beauty of what, I thought, must be one of the most exquisite views in Northumberland. But then, like a dream half dreamt, it was gone as the cloud swept in, wrapped its arms around me and devoured the view along with any thoughts that I might have of a spontaneous change of route.
But that was thirty years ago and, whilst I have passed that same way on many occasions since, I have invariably been heading somewhere else much further afield. However, I have always made a point of pausing for a moment to admire the view which many a Pennine Wayfarer will also have enjoyed on their high-level journey northwards. Over and over again I have vowed some day to plummet down the steep grass-covered slopes and to explore this beautifully secluded valley.
Finally that day had arrived and, as I turned my back on the border fence and made my way downhill, I resisted the almost overwhelming temptation to pick up my pace. Instead, I opted for a more sedate, knee-friendly amble over cropped grass towards the point where the graphically-named Foulstep Sike trickles into the fledgling Rowhope Burn.
At last, I was on the valley floor, in a world seemingly cut off from the rest of mankind by steeply rising slopes. Each twist and turn of the wayward burn obscured the route ahead as I made my way cautiously downstream. Thin grass-sided cleughs tumbled towards the valley as I crossed and re-crossed the burn in pursuit of the best way through an avenue of near-vertical hillsides. This was the most perfect V-shaped valley you could wish to find with the only sign of civilisation being the occasional tumbledown sheep stell and the faint indentation of an age-old sheep trace. The slow-moving burn was crystal clear and mirrored patches of blue sky above along with a procession of renegade clouds drifting in from the west.
Beneath the grey slopes of Rough Knowe the valley took on a wider, flatter form and revealed the most immaculate circular sheep stell I had seen for some time. There was barely a stone out of place and it looked more like a carefully manicured Andy Goldsworthy sculpture than a well-used upland sheep shelter. The flanks of Black Braes climbed sharply away from the valley as I began to follow an intermittent and faint quad track through the slightly boggy ground which stretched outwards from both sides of the broadening burn.
Soon I reached the point where I had experienced the very best the valley had to offer and I was happy to continue my journey over higher ground. Then suddenly up popped a convenient valley-exiting quad track to my right and guided me relatively easily uphill to the route of the ancient cross-border track of ‘The Street’. As I then wandered merrily back to Upper Coquetdale, I vowed that I would return before the year was up. There was much more to explore.
by Geoff Holland © 2012
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.