In his 1965 song, ‘Farewell Angelina’ Bob Dylan wrote, “The sky is on fire and I must go”, and that is exactly how I felt when a spectacular autumn sunrise momentarily turned the sky crimson at the beginning of my journey to north Northumberland. A stiff breeze swept showers of fallen leaves across the empty streets of Monkseaton as I slipped quietly out of the village on my way towards the Harthope Valley six miles south west of the stone-built town of Wooler. The omens, whilst not perfect, looked exceedingly promising.
I was first into the popular valley by a proverbial whisker, eager to make the most of the post-British Summer Time day, and as usual I parked at the end of the public road. With the small grassed parking area still in the cold shadow of a neighbouring hill, I was booted up and ready to roll in the twinkling of an eye. A short, sharp climb followed and then the sun was on my back with the full length of the gold and rust-coloured valley of the Hawsen Burn rising ahead of me. The bracken was dressed to the nines, a flamboyant display of tarnished triangular-shaped fronds and the epitome of a perfect Cheviot autumn day.
I pressed steadily on to the saturated saddle between portly Broadhope Hill and the slightly slimmer Blackseat Hill where, pausing to cross a small stile, I enjoyed excellent views down the full length of the peaceful Lambden Valley towards a distant, high-level skyline monopolized by The Schil, The Curr and Black Hag. I was now on my way to the prime objective of my walk: an exploration of Woolhope Crag situated some 550 metres above sea level and clinging to the north face of The Cheviot. One of a handful of terrific crags overlooking the remote Lambden Valley, this was the only one of the set I had not yet visited.
The wind was now rushing down the valley seemingly fuelled by anabolic steroids and intent on ruffling my feathers. It was striking me face on as I followed the curve of the valley and made my way across the lively fledgling burn to the point where I needed to head directly upwards. Here an indistinct track guided me through ankle-grabbing heather and, as I gained some height, the slope of the hill began to shelter me from the full force of the aggressive wind.
I felt pleasantly warm when I reached a mishmash of tumbled rocks a short distance below Woolhope Crag. Standing high above the valley, I could clearly pick out the pink granite veins streaking through the muscular body of this impressive slab of light grey stone. It looked majestic against the clear blue sky, separated from a huge pile of boulders by a narrow neck of steeply angled grass. The panorama was nothing short of outstanding, stretching from the nearby Preston, Coldburn and Broadhope Hills to the thin horizon-hugging line of the Northumberland coast, from craggy Hare Law and next-door neighbour Newton Tors to the distant patchwork summit of windswept Cold Law.
I had finally completed the set of the Lambden Valley crags yet the day was still young and I had energy to burn. So, with a final glimpse at the grandstand view I scrambled towards the 815 metre high summit of Northumberland’s premier hill, the mighty Cheviot. I was, after all, just over half way there already.
by Geoff Holland © 2014
Geoff Holland is a regular contributor to a number of magazines and the author of four books of self-guided walks, ‘The Hills of Upper Coquetdale’, ‘The Cheviot Hills’, ‘Walks from Wooler’ and ‘Walks on the Wild Side: The Cheviot Hills’. All books can be purchased online from www.trailguides.co.uk.Geoff, who has lived in Monkseaton for 40 years, also operates the award-winning website www.cheviotwalks.co.uk. His poems have appeared in a number of publications.