The previous August I had headed for Upper Coquetdale for my first mountain bike ride away from the coast in an absolute age. It had gone like a dream and, as the adrenalin rushed through my veins on a pell-mell descent down the twisting valley road, I felt that I had rolled back the years. It had been a good feeling and, as late spring ambled towards early summer, I had a hankering to do it all over again.
And so it was, on a perfect May morning, that I filled up my water bottles, loaded up my bike and set off intent on exploring the College Valley Estate on two wheels. I parked at the end of the public road, just beyond Hethpool in the College Valley, unloaded my bike and with the sky an immaculate blue I started along the undulating private road.
There was barely a breeze, the air was as fresh as a mountain stream and the brilliant yellow of flowering gorse flooded the valley floor. The banksides of the Trowup Burn were festooned with wild primroses as I eased uphill towards Whitehall and on to the single storey Cuddystone Hall. At the junction of two roads, this handsome building with its triangular-shaped, whitewashed gable end topped with a small bell is the educational, social and entertainment centre of the estate. Nearby stands a poignant memorial to the allied airmen who lost their lives in the Cheviot Hills between 1939 and 1945, enclosed by a pristine circular sheep stell and enjoying a most magnificent view.
I took the left-hand fork across the wooden Sutherland Bridge and started the steady climb into the Lambden Valley passing, as I slipped down through the gears, the busy little farm of Southernknowe. As I crested the first hill the views of The Cheviot’s north face opened up with the huge cleft of The Bizzle particularly outstanding. I continued on past the secluded holiday cottage of Coldburn and then beneath the towering pink and grey rock of Dunsdale Crag.
Still I went up, detouring briefly to the pretty cottage of Dunsdale as I edged towards Goldscleugh, the last farm in the valley and the end of the tarmac road. However, not content to stop at this isolated spot I took a deep breath and began the steady climb up a steep forest track, ultimately throwing in the towel after nearly one kilometre of painful pedalling. I came to an abrupt halt beside an old goods waggon, ate a banana, sipped my high energy drink and then hurtled back downhill at a fair rate of knots.
I took full advantage of the downwards gradient and before I had time to appreciate the scenery I was back in the College Valley, climbing towards the farmstead of Fleehope and eventually, at the end of the tarmac road, Mounthooly Youth Hostel. I followed a rough track around the edge of the hostel, continued on past Wilderness Wood and then left the public bridleway behind and struck out on an intermittent path towards the Hen Hole across rapidly deteriorating ground.
Finally, beneath the imposing flanks of West Hill and close to the head of the valley, I decided to call it a day. All that remained was lunch and a hair-raising return down the 7.6 kilometre length of the valley when, once again, adrenalin rushed through my veins.
by Geoff Holland © 2015
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.