HILLFORTS & HEATHER MOOR

 

The line of hills that stretches in a north westerly direction from the small town of Wooler, on the edge of the Northumberland National Park, appears to stand guard against intruders from the north. They are not big hills, but when viewed from the flat plain of Milfield they cry out to be climbed. These are hills that bear the remnants of long gone habitations, where the earth beneath your feet is stained with the blood of ancient battles. These hills carry the heavy burden of history.  They rise and fall along the exposed edge of the Cheviot Hills and, when joined together in a single walk, Humbleton Hill, Harehope Hill, Akeld Hill and Yeavering Bell will stretch your legs and expand your lungs. So stiffen the sinews and step out into the past.

 

 

 

From Humbleton Hill towards

Harehope Hill & Yeavering Bell

 

The Walk

 

1. The tiny hamlet of Humbleton lies at the end of a narrow, hedge lined single track road and is little more than one mile from the North Northumberland town of Wooler. There is some verge parking close to the telephone box (NT 976284). Be considerate. Many years ago Humbleton was a reasonable sized village with a church and a number of cottages clustered around a village green. With the telephone box on your right, turn left up the gravelled lane past Homildon Cottage and through the gate. Ignore the signposted bridleway heading towards Gleadscleugh and continue to rise gently uphill. Where the track dips slightly, turn right through the five-bar gate, marked with a green circular `Hillforts Trail` sign, and head for the obvious green path which climbs steeply up the south east slope of Humbleton Hill. As the gradient begins to ease, cut through the gap in the stone ramparts to reach the large summit cairn from where there are panoramic views across Milfield Plain and beyond to the North Sea. As you stand here, with the wind in your face, it is easy to understand why our Iron Age ancestors chose to build a hillfort on this prominent hill. Built in about 300 BC, the hillfort, with its pink stone ramparts, was one of the most strongly defended forts in the area.

 

2. Leave the summit cairn by heading towards the edge of the ravine on the southern side of the hill. Follow the path which heads downwards alongside the ravine and, on reaching the bottom, cross over the step stile. On the 14th September 1402 this area was the scene of the Battle of Homildon Hill. The Scots, led by Archibald, Earl of Douglas, were returning from a raid in Northumberland when they were intercepted by the Earl of Northumberland and his son Harry Hotspur, accompanied by a force of English archers. The archers were in Monday Cleugh, directly opposite the stile, when they rained a devastating shower of arrows on the Scots who were standing on the slopes of Humbleton Hill. The Scots were soundly defeated and news of the battle is immortalised in Shakespeare`s play, `Henry IV`. You are now heading towards Harehope Hill and you will need to pick your way through the bracken as you aim for the dry stone wall, below you to the north west (NT 961285). In the dip, immediately before the wall is reached, you will need to cross a post and wire fence before passing through the wall via a gate. The unmistakable rocky cleft of Monday Cleugh is a meltwater channel dating from the end of the last Ice Age and most certainly has an ancient aura.

 

 

 

Monday Cleugh

 

3. Continue to head generally north westwards choosing the best route up the pathless Harehope Hill to the small summit cairn (NT 957286). To the south west, at the head of Monday Cleugh, there was a pre-historic settlement, signs of which are still visible. As you leave the flat top of the hill, again in a north westerly direction, there are good views down to the Akeld Burn, the buildings of Gleadscleugh and the hamlet of Akeld. Lying to the north east of the fine looking Akeld Hill, the hamlet has a long history. In 1296 it was a prosperous and wealthy settlement consisting of 13 householders. Head downhill over the pathless heather, keeping Gleadscleugh as your target, and soon you will arrive at a dry stone wall (NT 953288). After passing through a gate, follow the wall downwards and, in turn, cross over the stile to join the Akeld Burn as it hurries towards Milfield Plain. Cross over the burn and onto the track leading away from Gleadscleugh. Where the track merges with the Gleadscleugh track, cross over and head slightly to your right climbing towards the col (NT 949293) between the top of Akeld Hill and the smaller subsidiary top. On reaching the col it is worth the short diversion to the subsidiary top to your right. There are good views from the cairn.

 

 

Gleadscleugh nestling below Akeld Hill

 

4. Retrace your steps to the col and continue straight ahead to the 254 metre top of Akeld Hill. There are a number of historical sites in the proximity of this hill, including traces of at least three medieval shielings, which were temporary settlements used by shepherds grazing their flocks on upland pastures. Leave Akeld Hill in a south westerly direction, crossing the neck of land leading to White Law, your next objective, and en route you will pass the sites of some of these remnants of an earlier age. Continue towards the dry stone wall which climbs steeply up the slopes of White Law and in a very short while you will reach the barely noticeable summit (NT 942290). This is the highest point of the walk so far and you will enjoy extensive, wide open views towards many of the higher Cheviot Hills. There is a sense of great emptiness on this wind-blown hill. To the north of this spot are traces of a prehistoric settlement consisting of a roughly square enclosure standing close to a cluster of building foundations. Cross over the wall, via a ladder stile, and head in a westerly direction towards the prominent hill of Yeavering Bell. The route is across generally pathless terrain, although occasionally a faint track will be picked up heading in the general direction. On reaching the base of the hill, where you climb across a post and wire fence, you will have to find the best way up the steep hillside. By heading to your right and winding your way upwards, via sheep traces, the going should be slightly easier.

 

 

 

A distant Yeavering Bell from White Law

 

5. On reaching the cairn (NT 929293) you are now at the highest point, by 6 metres, of this twin topped, hugely historic hill. This is the site of Northumberland`s most spectacular Iron Age hillfort with a lineage of habitation stretching back over 2,500 years. Take time to explore the tumbled, but obvious stone ramparts which protected some 130 roundhouses. Try to image what life might have been like on this wild and exposed `Hill of the Goats` all those many years ago. Before leaving, visit the slightly lower top and then from the col between the two tops descend in a south westerly direction, following the signposted path, past the circular sheep stell, as far as the small burn. Cross over the burn and climb up the short hill to reach a green track and a shin high directional marker (NT 923287). This is part of St. Cuthbert`s Way, a 62 mile route from the Scottish border town of Melrose to Holy Island, just off the Northumberland North Sea coast. The walk is named after the 7th century saint who began his work in Melrose, achieved the status of Bishop and on his death was buried on Holy Island. You will follow this track on your return journey to Humbleton, but first, the small matter of the ascent of Easter Tor.

 

 

Cairn on Yeavering Bell

 

6. Cut straight across the track and clamber over the ladder stile to pick up a narrow path, which begins to contour the hillside before turning to climb sharply towards flatter and higher ground. There is the occasional marker post. As you rise, take your time to look behind and you will have good views down towards the College Valley and the tiny settlement of Hethpool. Once the flatter ground is reached you will need to follow the path which bends to your right and heads the short distance to the obvious rocky Easter Tor (NT 915281). If you are lucky, you may catch sight of the shy feral Cheviot goats which have roamed these hills for centuries. The prominent Easter Tor forms part of the larger Newton Tors, the 537 metre high summit of which lies one mile to the south west. In 1904 a Bronze Age axe was found hidden among some stones on Easter Tor, whilst on the lower reaches of the north west slope there is evidence of a Roman Period settlement. Once you have taken in the views you must retrace your steps back to the track of St. Cuthbert`s Way keeping your eyes peeled all the while for those elusive goats.

 

 

 

Looking towards Yeavering Bell from Easter Tor

 

7. With the majority of the climbing now behind you, strike out along the green track in a south easterly direction and where the track splits in two make sure to take the left hand spur. When a fence cuts across the track, Tom Tallon`s Crag lies a short distance to your left. Many years ago a huge cairn, covering a bone filled cist stood near to the crag, but it was eventually `robbed` in order to build some stone dykes.  Continue to follow the track which, at times, becomes quite boggy. Whilst the way forward is along an obvious track, do not be distracted by side routes. Remember you are following the course of St. Cuthbert`s Way as first you pass close to the top of Black Law before turning sharply to within striking distance of Gains Law summit. When you have reached the 310 metre contour and are virtually parallel with the top, make the short diversion across cropped heather to the triangulation pillar. There is evidence of a Bronze Age field system nearby, indicating that crops were once grown here, whilst to the east of the summit the remains of a medieval rectangular structure, made of dressed stone and rubble, have also been uncovered.

 

8. Head back to the main track and continue on your way. Once through the five-bar gate and just before the track begins to drop downhill, it is time to claim your final hill of the day. To you right stands Coldberry Hill and you will need to cut across gently rising ground to reach the summit cairn (NT 968275). There are fine views down to Wooler and across to Humbleton Hill. A number of historic sites have been discovered on this small hill, including a pre-historic field system and a Roman Period settlement. Leave the hill by a direct line, in a north easterly direction, to rejoin the track which now continues all the way downhill to the tiny hamlet of Humbleton. Enjoy the easy `ride home`, after all it has been a fairly tough day in the hills.

 

 

 

Yeavering Bell from Gains Law

 

 

Distance

18.2 km. ( 11.3 miles )

Total Ascent

925 metres (3035 feet)

Grading

Strenuous

Start & Key Grid References

Humbleton ( NT 976284 ), (NT 961285), (NT 957286), (NT 953288), (NT 949293), (NT 942290), (NT 929293), (NT 923287), (NT 915281) & (NT 968275)

Time

6 hours

Nearest Town

Wooler

Terrain

Mixed fell, often pathless, with steep ascents & descents, a good stretch of green track, occasionally boggy.

Maps

OS Explorer (1: 25000) OL16. 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

Rothbury National Park Centre. Telephone: 01669 620887

 

CLICK HERE TO READ: `TOWARDS GAINS LAW`

 

 

 

NEXT WALK : THE COLLEGE VALLEY & THE BORDER LINE

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Devised, written & photographed: Geoff Holland 2006 (re-measured 2012 & new photographs added 2016)