A seasonal bug and a lengthy spell of inclement weather had conspired to keep me off the hills for most of the previous two months and I was, to say the least, feeling a tad stir crazy. I was itching to be out over the high ground and, once I felt close to hill walking fitness, the tiny settlement of Kilham seemed like an ideal starting point for an exploration of an area of the Cheviot Hills I had hardly ever wandered over.
Situated close to the northern boundary of the Northumberland National Park and well on the road to the Scottish border towns of Kirk and Town Yetholm, Kilham has a history dating back to medieval times. It lies within shouting distance of the 1887-opened Alnwick to Cornhill railway line and whilst the last passenger train ran in 1930 the line continued to carry goods until 1965.
I parked my car on a narrow grass verge just beyond Kilham and was considering the best route forward when a grey heron rose out of a small nearby pond, its huge wings beating slowly as it made its way silently upstream. I chose to head downhill across the slither of a burn and then through patches of gorse, not yet in flower. After the long lay-off I was labouring slightly, my lungs stretched to their limits, my muscles aching with the effort of the sharp climb over what had now become a pathless and rough, grass-covered slope.
I huffed and puffed my way upwards and, eventually, the gradient eased as I tramped the final few metres to the stone cairn which marks the rounded summit of Kilham Hill. Standing a mere 338 metres high in its bare feet this shapely hill lacks nothing in self belief and appears much less vertically challenged than its moderate height might otherwise suggest. Keen to keep the momentum going, I quickly soaked up the fine view then headed off over a rollercoaster of humps and grass-carpeted bumps to my next port-of-call 1.5 kilometres to the south west.
I was now well into my stride and was soon leaning nonchalantly against the rather sorry-looking triangulation pillar on top of Longknowe Hill. Squeezed up close and personal with a drab dry stone wall and a down-at-heel wooden fence, this unpainted and seemingly unloved slab of concrete was one of the least inspiring I had ever had the misfortune to bump into. Compensation, however, arrived in the form of a tremendous view. Ahead I could clearly see my next objective, the distinctive hump-backed, triple-cairned Coldsmouth Hill, with the small and lonely farmstead of Elsdonburn Shank lying quietly at its feet.
With over 4 kilometres to walk before I could crest the summit of this fine hill, I needed to press on, especially if I intended to pause for a panorama-packed lunch break on Eccles Cairn a short distance further on. The very thought of Eccles Cairn conjured up a vision of the tall, lanky, amiable and well-meaning teenager created and performed by Spike Milligan in the Goon Show way back in the 1950s. As I picked my way carefully downhill I recalled how in the episode entitled, ‘The Greatest Mountain in the World’, Eccles, who was also remarkably stupid when dealing with physical objects, said on finding two sticks of dynamite, “Oooh what a bit of luck! Two big cigars and they’re both lit!” I chuckled out loud!
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.