THE BIG ONE

 

Six of the Cheviot Hills break the two thousand feet barrier and when joined together in a single days walk represent a classic round of hills. Starting from the beautiful Harthope Valley this walk crosses the tops of The Cheviot, Windy Gyle, Bloodybush Edge, Cushat Law, Comb Fell and Hedgehope Hill as it wanders over some of the wildest and loneliest country in England. With over five thousand feet of ascent and more than 23 miles of walking, this route encompasses many facets of the total Cheviot experience. So rise with the larks and enjoy this long day in the hills par excellence.

 

Hedgehope Hill

 

Hedgehope Hill

 

The Walk

 

1. The Harthope Valley, 5 miles south-west of the north Northumberland town of Wooler, is the perect place to commence this epic walk. There is adequate road side parking where the Hawsen and Harthope Burns converge (NT 954225). There is no access for cars beyond this point along the road which continues towards the farmstead of  Langleeford, where, in about 1791, a young  Walter Scott spent a happy holiday, describing this place as, “….one of the wildest and most romantic situations”.  Once parked and booted, follow the road for a further 200 metres to the point where there is a small sign indicating, `Turning Area. No Parking Please`. Now step off the road to your right and follow the track which bends left beyond the plantation. This is the direct and most popular route to the summit of The Cheviot. The steadily rising, well-worn track is perfectly easy to follow as it cuts a swathe through the hillside heather towards the first stile on your upward journey. Already you will enjoy good views across the valley to the 714 metre high Hedgehope Hill and the adjoining sombre-looking Comb Fell, both of which you will experience face to face later in the day. Once over the stile, the clear path heads relentlessly upwards and, when the track splits in two, be sure to take the left hand folk. In time, you will meet up with a post and wire fence leading to the 549 metre high top of Scald Hill (NT928218). A small heather-hidden cairn on the other side of the fence marks the true summit. The path continues to follow the fence off Scald Hill into a short and potentially boggy depression before climbing steeply to the summit plateau of The Cheviot. Cross over the ladder stile and follow the millstone-slabbed pathway to the summit trig point perched high above the sea of peat on a substantial concrete plinth. This is the highest point of the walk and the loftiest hill in Northumberland, although not the one offering the best views.

 

 Pennine Way junction

 

Pennine Way signpost and duckboards

 

2. Now proceed to follow the easy stone pathway, with the fence always to your left, passing first a small lough and then Cairn Hill the south western outhill of The Cheviot with its rambling shelter cairn known as Scotsman`s Cairn. Here there are good views back across the valley to Hedgehope Hill, Comb Fell, Coldlaw Cairn and beyond. On reaching the Pennine Way signpost (NT 896194) and a jumble of converging fences, cross over the stile and, turning to your left, head south westwards, signed `Windy Gyle 4`, crossing as you go a stretch of duckboards. Soon you will pass, on your left, a small rock bearing a plaque containing the message, `In memory of Stan Hudson died 12 July 1981`. Continue downhill over Score Head, with the post and wire border fence always to your right, and eventually you will reach the trig point which adorns the unremarkable top of the 531 metre high Kings Seat. Further easy and generally downhill walking will eventually deliver you to the ancient  Clennell Street border crossing at Hexpethgate, also known as the Border Gate and Cocklawgate. For centuries this route was used by drovers, reivers and smugglers, but now only the sound of the wind breaks the silence of this lonely and delightful place. On the other side of the fence note the rather incongruous signpost which appears to have strayed a long way from its more natural urban setting. This `No Motor Vehicles Allowed` sign is totally out of place in this wild and remote landscape. Continue to follow the Pennine Way as it faithfully clings to the border fence on its way to the summit of Windy Gyle, at 619 metres the fourth highest of the Cheviot Hills. The summit is capped by an enormous Bronze Age stone cairn together with a trig point poking out of its top. This is known as Russell`s Cairn, so named to commemorate Lord Francis Russell who was killed near this spot in 1595 at a meeting of the Wardens of the Marches. There are extensive views in all directions so take time to enjoy the moment.

 

 

The Cheviot from Clennell Street at Hexpethgate

 

3. From the summit cairn retrace your steps through the gate to the Pennine Way footpath and proceed straight ahead, south easterly, towards Scotchman`s Ford (NT 861148). Once reached, continue along a grassy quad track in the same general direction, across the western side of Little Ward Law, and then leaving the track aim towards the bottom corner of the plantation to your left (NT 870138). Continue downhill across open fell to the gravel track leading to the isolated farm of Uswayford. Turn to your left and follow this track around the steep green flanks of Hazely Law, ignoring the side track on your left which leads into the forest, until you ultimately reach the farm, sheltering below Bloodybush Edge, your next objective. Cross over the Usway Burn, via a wooden footbridge, skirt around the northern side of the farmhouse and then climb uphill, over a thin path, towards the saddle (NT 892138) between Yarnspath Law and Bloodybush Edge. On reaching the fence running across the saddle turn to your left and follow the line of fence posts uphill until you reach the trig point on the top of Bloodybush Edge. This, at 610 metres, is the lowest of the six 2000 feet hills in the range.  From the unspectacular summit there are good views of the surrounding hills and, to the south, the extensive Kidland Forest. Planted between 1950 and 1970, this forest covers an area of countryside which was, between the 13th and 16th centuries, used by the monks of Newminster Abbey for the grazing of their flocks and herds. If you are lucky enough you might just catch a glimpse of a roe deer grazing outside the confines of the forest.

 

Bloodybush Edge summit

 

Bloodybush Edge summit

 

4. With your back against the trig point and facing north, cross over the step stile in front of you, turn right and, with the fence also on your right, continue downhill to a long boggy depression. This is the gathering ground of the Ainsey Burn. Once across the boot-squelching watershed, with the fence still to your right, start the steady climb to the 615 metre top of Cushat Law (NT 928137). Locally, `cushat` means `wood-pigeon` and `law` means `hill` and ,rising above the vast swathe of forest, this hill is often referred to as the `Monarch of Kidland`. To the north of the fence lies an old shelter cairn from which there are excellent views to the whaleback bulk of the Cheviot and the conical Hedgehope Hill, whilst to the east the distant North Sea is visible. For the rough descent into the Upper Breamish Valley there are no particularly clear paths to follow although there is the occasional misleading quad track. Therefore, it is necessary to initially to leave the shelter cairn on a magnetic bearing of 4 degrees for approximately 500 metres and then on a bearing of 30 degrees, heading steeply towards the lonely farm of Low Bleakhope (NT 934153) far below, keeping well to right of  Hareshaw Cleugh. The farm, when this is ultimately reached, can be best skirted on the eastern side to join the single track tarmac road which follows, to your left, the course of the ancient Salters Road as it shadows the River Breamish towards the remote head of the valley. Keep with this road until you reach the fence marking the boundary of High Bleakhope (NT 927157). Now, turning to your right, climb the adjacent short sharp embankment and pick up a rough stone track which climbs diagonally up the side of High Cantle in a north westerly direction.  On reaching the post and wire fence which runs across the saddle turn to your left and continue over rough and boggy ground. First you will pass over the barely discernible top of Shielcleugh Edge and then, having kept the fence to your right, you will arrive at the rocky Coldlaw Cairn (NT 914180). This is perhaps one of the most isolated and wild places in these wind-blown hills, so, standing on the very top of this natural mound, take time to savour the atmosphere and the extensive views before setting off on the final leg of your trip through England`s northern extremities.

 

 

The view from Coldlaw Cairn

 

5. Your route sticks with the fence as it heads north easterly to the flat and relatively uninteresting top of Comb Fell before descending gently to a boggy col from where the ascent of Hedgehope Hill begins.  As you gain some height the ground becomes much drier and then after a short while you will reach the large summit cairn, a collection of stone shelters and a summit-topping trig point (NT 943198). From here there are superb views to the North Sea where Bamburgh Castle can be picked out on a clear day. You may wish to spend some time taking in every single angle of the fine view. Now bidding goodbye to the height you have enjoyed for many long miles you will descend steeply north easterly along a thin path. In time the gradient will begin to ease. Stay with the path eastwards as it crosses the cotton grass rich moorland of Kelpie Strand to a small stile over a post and wire fence. You are now at the southern end of Long Crags. Cross over the stile, turn left and continue towards and then around the impressive Housey Crags, poised grandly above the Harthope Valley, before then descending sharply to the footbridge over the chattering Harthope Burn. Celebrate the end of a classic round of hills by refreshing your tired toes in the crystal clear waters of this one of the loveliest of burns. They have most certainly earned it.

 

Harthope Valley

 

Harthope Valley

 

 

Distance

37km (23 miles )

Total Ascent

1710 metres (5610 feet)

Grading

Strenuous

Start

Harthope Valley (NT 954225 ), (NT928218), (NT 896194), (NT 861148), (NT 870138), (NT 892138), (NT 928137), (NT 934153), (NT 927157), (NT 914180) & (NT 943198)

Time

10 hours

Nearest Town

Wooler

Terrain

Mainly mixed fell some pathless , boggy in places, with steep ascents & descents, some stone paths & a very short stretch of tarmac

Maps

OS Explorer (1:25000) OL 16. Harveys Superwalker (1:40000) The Cheviot Hills

Accommodation

Wooler Youth Hostel.  Telephone 01668 281365. Small hotels & guest houses in Wooler & two caravan parks/camp sites

Public Transport

None ( except to Wooler )

Tourist Information

Wooler Tourist Information Centre. Telephone  01668 282123

 

 

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NOW READ `THE CLASSIC CHEVIOT ROUND`

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Devised, written & photographed: Geoff Holland 2005 (revised 2011 & 2012 & new photographs added 2017)