It is so easy to go soft around the edges, Christmas can do that to you. A glass of ‘Special Reserve’ port in one hand and a delectable luxury chocolate in the other and the rot begins to set in. The big day comes and goes and by Boxing Day you have already eaten too much for your own good. But then again everything is so tempting and it only happens once a year…
However, the celebrations stretch out and by the early part of the new year you can feel the lethargy seeping through your limbs. The weather also plays a part in the scenario; dark, drab days at best, endless rainfall at worst, even a thin blanket of snow would help to lift the mood. Sunshine would be too much to expect.
Then, at last, a little voice inside your head reminds you that you are supposed to be a self-motivated, all-weather outdoor type priding yourself on your supreme levels of fitness and your never-say-die attitude. You are, in your own mind at least, the epitome of energy in abundance. Now prove it! So, the well-thumbed map is laid neatly on the table, a route, bulging with tightly packed contours, is quickly sketched out and the poor weather forecast for the following day is ignored.
And that is exactly how I came to be heading at the crack of a January dawn to north Northumberland for my first walk of the year on what could, at best, be described as a less than perfect day. No matter, I was on my way and heading along a waterlogged St Cuthbert’s Way towards gorse-flecked Wooler Common with a thin veil of low cloud ghosting between the mass of conifers on Kenterdale Hill. Drifting in and out of sight, the grass-carpeted summit of Hart Heugh was quickly visited and then I was wandering downhill past Switcherdown’s solitary tree to the confluence of the Carey and Harthope Burns.
Once into the Harthope Valley the narrow road guided me along the bottom edge of Coronation Wood to the start of my diagonal climb up the slopes of Snear Hill half a mile further on. A quick clamber over the tiny stile and away I went uphill on a clear, green path and with each step I slipped into an ever-darkening world of dense low cloud. Suddenly, a short distance ahead, I spotted the vague outline of a slightly tilted object looking eerily like a weather-worn headstone of some ancient wayfarer’s lonely hillside grave. A handful of paces further on and I realized that this was merely one of the many old boundary stones to be found in the Cheviot Hills and that this one, like a number I had seen previously, had the initials ‘SH’ cut into the facing side.
I pressed on and finally reached the highest point of my walk wrapped in a cloak of wet, swirling cloud. Standing on the triangulation-crowned summit of Cold Law, soaked to the knees and without even a hint of a view, I saw no reason to dally especially as I expected my next port of call to provide the highlight of my day. And so, some 40 minutes later, I was watching the energetic Carey Burn rushing pell-mell over the three distinct steps of the impressive linn as it squeezed between walls of grey, flood-washed rock. I was exhilarated by both sight and sound and lingered close to the burn whilst I savoured every bite of my appetite-satisfying sandwiches. The year was up and running!
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.