It was my first solo hill walk of the year, and I needed to slowly rebuild my fitness level with a route less strenuous than normal. So, on a bright, late summer’s day, I headed up to Wooler and the nearby Humbleton Burn Picnic Area, an ideal spot to start any number of fine walks into the Cheviot Hills.
I had mapped out a six mile route containing a variety of terrain, not overly demanding but with sufficient ups and downs, twists and turns to keep me happy. Initially I followed the route of St. Cuthbert’s Way, first alongside the tiny trickle of Humbleton Burn and then across the gentle, emerald green slopes of Wooler Common. To the west lay the track to distant Broadstruther, once a derelict cottage now renovated for use by grouse shooting parties. My route, however, turned south first to Earlehillhead, a handful of neat farm buildings, and then onto Switcher Wood and one of the loveliest views in the area.
The panorama was immaculate, a single native tree in the foreground, Langlee and Housey Crags in the middle distance, heather-clad slopes slipping down to the tree-veiled Harthope Burn, and conical Hedgehope Hill, the second highest hill in the range, majestic in the background.
Then down I went, turning to my right to follow the delightful Carey Burn upstream. First an easy grass-carpeted track, then a narrow, scree-clinging path until, caught in a jumble of dense foliage and tumbling over cold, grey rock, I reached Careyburn Linn, a diamond in a magpie’s hoard of precious stones. Peaceful, simple to reach places do not come any better than this and I was reluctant to leave.
But on I eventually went, threading my way through the narrow, bracken-infested upper reaches of the valley as far as the junction with the bridleway linking Wooler Common and lonely Broadstruther. This marked the extreme point of my walk. A sharp right turn and I was confronted with a stiff, breath-stealing climb up the tree-covered slopes of Watch Hill to the sun-stroked open moor, where a sea of deep purple flowering heather stretched towards my next port-of-call, flat-topped, grass-covered Hart Heugh.
I was almost within touching distance of this super little hill and I was soon picking my way towards the large pile of stones which marks its 326 metre high top. Whichever way I looked familiar hills came into view: Broadhope, Preston, Watch and Hedgehope Hills, as fine a quartet as you could wish for, The Cheviot with Bellyside and Braydon Crags vying for attention and, last but not least, Cold Law looming large across the deep incision of the valley I had earlier wandered through. I wallowed in the beauty of Northumberland’s finest hills whilst enjoying a very leisurely lunch.
Before I left Hart Heugh I made a first ever visit to its subsidiary top, a puny five metres lower and little more than stone’s throw away from the true summit. The detour proved worthwhile, offering me a slightly different perspective of some of my favourite hills in the range. I then wound my way back to the Humbleton Burn, satisfied with my day’s walk.
by Geoff Holland © 2016
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 over 40 years, also operates the award-winning website www.cheviotwalks.co.uk. His poems have appeared in a number of publications.