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Thread: An afternoon in the Cheviot Hills

  1. #1
    Ultra King That bastard Skip's Avatar
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    Sometimes things just work out right. While planning my recent family holiday in Northumberland, I'd toyed with the idea of walking up The Cheviot then heading north to cover the last nine miles or so of the Pennine Way.

    As usual, the holiday started with a visit to Barter Books, a large second-hand bookshop in the former railway station at Alnwick. It's a good source of used OS maps at bargain prices. On this visit not only was I able to fill in several gaps in my collection of 1:50,000 Landrangers but - serendipitously - I picked up a copy of Harvey's 1:40,000 map of the Western Cheviot Hills which included the twenty-odd miles of Pennine Way from Brownhart Law to the path's northern terminus in Kirk Yetholme. In the same box I also found a copy of Tom Stephenson's The Pennine Way published in the 1970s by HMSO. I bought the pair for a fiver. Result!

    On a cloudy-bright morning I armed myself with the book and map (as well as the relevant Landrangers) and got my wife to drop me at Langleeford in the Hartshope valley. "See you in about six hours," I said, adding as an afterthought "You will be able to find Kirk Yetholme, won't you?" A snort of derision greeted my question and she brandished the road atlas at me before driving away peeved.

    Freed from the joy of matrimonial harmony, I set off up the path to The Cheviot. I'd walked to the summit the previous year but this time the air was hazier and the long seaward views far to the east didn't open as I got higher. Tough tussocky grass, bog cotton and stubbly heather gave a pleasant mottle to the hillside.

    The ascent is certainly not devoid of interest but from the walking point of view it's a pretty plodding affair. Nonetheless, an easy-going 90 minutes found me at the summit trig point. I sat for a few minutes studying the map and quaffing water before setting off southwest towards Cairn Hill and the Pennine Way.

    The Cheviot plateau is peatland and although the hags and groughs are not nearly as dramatic as those on Kinder 240 miles away at the southern end of the PW, I was glad of the stone-flagged path.

    I'd not seen a soul since stating the walk but at Cairn hill I found a fellow walker sitting by his bulging pack. We exchanged greetings. It transpired he was not following the PW but was just stravaiging about the Cheviot Hills wildcamping wherever surroundings and his mood suggested. It also transpired I'd left my rations box in the car. Graciously my new-found friend offered me a Snickers bar which I immediately accepted and offered to pay for. "Don't be daft," he replied, "What am going to spend money on up here?" If you're reading this, Mark, my sincere thanks for that reinvigorating chocolate treat.

    We parted at the path junction, he towards Coombe Fell and Hedgehope Hill, me northwest on the PW towards Auchope. It turned out that Mark was my first and last human contact during the walk; until I entered Kirk Yetholme village at the end of the day I saw no-one else at all.
    Continues...

  2. #2
    Ultra King That bastard Skip's Avatar
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    Continued
    Reaching the Auchope refuge hut (wherein some thoughtful soul had provided a couple of rollmats for the comfort of visitors) I had a good nose round, read the guestbook then, after a brief breather, stomped on my way.

    To be honest, on a clear day a map is really only needed as back-up. The Pennine Way is well-trodden and has finger-board signposts at most of its junctions and major turns. Besides, for much of this section it is handrailed by the fence that marks the border between England and Scotland. However, the walk offered a good opportunity to practice my nav skills on unfamiliar ground so I had my nose in the map (and a finger on each tick-off point) most of the way.

    Map aside there was plenty to look at. Although neither as rugged nor grand as rockier mountains, the Cheviot Hills are very attractive, largely grass-covered and softly rounded. I strode on contentedly, England on my side of the fence and Scotland on the other. The PW passes near the summit of The Schill, its rocky outcrops just over the fence in Scotland, before descending into a col below Black Hag where it crosses the national border through a signposted gate. From here the PW divides, the high level route to the east going over the tops while the low level route rounds the shoulder of the hill before descending into the farmland of the Halterburn valley. I opted for the latter route.

    The path dropped down the valley into pleasant sheep pasture. I passed ruined farm buildings, a stand of handsome trees and a circular drystone sheepfold (called a 'stell' locally, I believe) before reaching Burn Head Farm. Here a small diversion bypassed the farm before emerging onto the farm road to Kirk Yetholme. By now it was beginning to drizzle so on went the jacket but the valley walk was very pleasant.

    Along the farm road I noticed a sign warning visitors that cows with calves can be protective and advising people to give the grazing cattle a wide berth. As most of the stock was the other side of the burn (and as I didn't have my dog with me) I felt unthreatened. But rounding a bend in the track I came across a solitary bovine grazing the verge. It looked rather bulky and, when it turned its back to me seeking out the tenderest grass, it was apparent that it was a well-endowed bull. There was no obvious way of circumventing the brute so I whistled and stamped my feet to warn it of my approach and marched apprehensively past. The bull didn't even bother to look up.

    There was no sign yet of the village - and I soon found out why. The lane, by now tarmac surfaced, swung west and ran up onto a ridge. To be frank, finding a short steepish rise at this juncture felt like the sting in the PW's tail. I'd only come a dozen or so miles but I tried to imagine the inward groan at this last unexpected ascent at the end of a 250 mile excursion.

    Over the ridge the lane dropped down into Kirk Yetholm, a pleasant unpretentious little place. I soon spotted my wife waiting in the car reading the road atlas. I glanced at the dashboard clock as I opened the passenger door and felt fleetingly smug - the walk had taken me six hours almost to the minute.

    Apparently the official end of the Pennine Way is the Border Hotel on the village green. Official or not, it was the end of my PW walk; as the rain started in earnest we settled down in the public bar for refreshments and a spot of Wimbledon on the telly.

    I reckon the whole walk was just over twelve miles and the cumulative ascent a bit under 3,000 feet. For me, that's about ideal for an afternoon's walking. I'd had a jolly nice day out on the border hills.

  3. #3
    Ultra King alexander rae's Avatar
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    We done , nice write up.

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    Mini Goon
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    A timely report; I'll be on holiday in this area for the next two weeks and have incorporated much of your route in the walks that I'd had in mind. I made my first visit to the area last August when I started a walk near Halfwayhouse (NT840275) at the far end of the steep single track road leading from/to Kirk Yeatholm. I followed the St Cuthbert's Way to Elsdon Burn where I met two women walking their dogs. One of the women had been attacked by cows with calves at heel. Sensible walkers are aware of the dangers and give livestock a wide berth, but the risk still remains.

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    Widdler
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    ometimes things just work out right. While planning my recent family holiday in Northumberland, I'd toyed with the idea of walking up The Cheviot then heading north to cover the last nine miles or so of the Pennine Way.

    app developer sydney

  6. #6
    Ultra King Paddy Dillon's Avatar
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    Skip... I'm glad you enjoyed the Cheviot. A lot of people really like that hill, but a lot of people also moan about it. You're clearly in the 'love it' camp. Most of the time I've climbed it, I've had the entire hill to myself, but sometimes I've been up there while people were following the Pennine Way. Out of maybe a dozen encounters with Pennine Wayfarers, I've only seen ONE person include the summit. The rest have taken one look and just said 'Sod it', and made a beeline for Kirk Yetholm. When the weather is really, really bad, I guess I can't blame them, but for my own part, I've just gritted my teeth and made a summit bid anyway. Did you notice all the trees up there? You'll probably say 'What trees?' If you looked really carefully down among the grass and heather, you might have spotted thousands of dwarf willows... making some parts of the Cheviot into a vast forest of bonsai!

  7. #7
    Ultra King That bastard Skip's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Paddy Dillon View Post
    ...glad you enjoyed the Cheviot...You're clearly in the 'love it' camp.
    Yeah, I'm getting to be. It's an easily-graded walk up from the valley, the views open out nicely on a clear day, the hill has a remote and isolated feel, it's not teeming with people, and I have a taste for peat upland scenery.
    Quote Originally Posted by Paddy Dillon View Post
    ... If you looked really carefully down among the grass and heather, you might have spotted thousands of dwarf willows...
    Damn! Missed those entirely! Next time ...

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