A severe drop in the overnight temperature had made driving conditions less than ideal, so it was with some relief that I pulled into the empty car park in the village of Alwinton more or less unscathed. The pale February sun had already wandered into the flawless blue sky when I sauntered past the tiny ‘Rose & Thistle’ public house and across the deserted village green.
I headed up Clennell Street, the premier cross-border drove road, before turning towards the Grade II Listed Clennell Hall and the meandering River Alwin. My first hill of the day lay a mile upstream and an easy walk along the red gravel valley track soon delivered me to The Dodd, small in stature but commanding superb all round views. A thin film of frost covered the grass-carpeted ground and patches of old snow filled a smattering of hillside folds. The low winter sun cast deep shadows over the fast-receding valley and the boundary fence surrounding the extensive Kidland Forest skipped uphill ahead of me. It was a near perfect day, wind-free and crystal clear.
I was now climbing steadily towards Wether Cairn, some 563 metres above sea level and crowned with a triangulation pillar balanced on an elevated grass raft anchored in an ocean of dark brown heather. To the north lay the heart of the Cheviot Hills, stretching from the conical Hogdon Law to the whale-backed Cheviot, from the tree-skirted Cushat Law to the shapely Hedgehope Hill. To the north-east, I could see the thin blue line of the cold North Sea hugging the distant horizon but, with the temperature still sub-zero, it was not a day for loitering.
So, without further ado, I followed the fledgling Biddlestone Burn downhill picking my way across a morass of saturated, partially frozen ground and trying, as best I could, to avoid a potentially embarrassing misplaced footstep. Eventually, I reached the dry upper slopes of Gills Law and a splendid view of the way ahead. I was bound for the ruins of Old Rookland, uninhabited for more than half a century and, until 1939, the home of John Dagg one of the shepherds who in December 1944 rescued four crew members of a crashed B17 Flying Fortress (see ‘Roundabout’ March 2011). These days, the old farmstead is a sad and sorry sight, neglected and unloved.
The tiny thread of Rookland Sike slithers through a deep and pencil-thin valley and seems to lie in a constant state of semi-darkness. I made a rapid descent to the ice-cold trickle followed by a quick climb out of the bitter shadows to emerge into full sunlight close to the summit of Clennell Hill. At 322 metres high this is a tiddler of a hill but the near-vertical views from the western edge of the summit are outstanding. Way below me the sparkling River Alwin twisted and turned downstream brushing, as it rushed on its way, the slopes of the slightly gnarled, hillfort-topped Camp Knowe. High on the opposite side of the valley the impressive Lord’s Seat popped its head above the green line of the border-heading Clennell Street.
This was the perfect finale to a memorable late winter’s trip to the hills and all that remained was the short and pleasant stroll back to Alwinton.
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.