FORAY INTO SCOTLAND

 

The border between England and Scotland wanders across the Cheviot Hills seeking out some of the highest ground. As it makes its way slowly through Northumberland, the Pennine Way, for much of the time, hugs the post and wire fence which marks this international boundary.  The majority of these green, rounded hills lie to the south of this long distance footpath and, as a consequence, the Cheviot Hills are generally considered to be the `pot of gold` at the northern end of the Northumberland rainbow. Not quite. With one foot in Northumberland and the other foot firmly planted on Scottish soil, this rainbow has no regard for arbitrary boundaries. On this walk you will cross and re-cross the wild border line as your feet touch the high ground of the Pennine Way. You will climb four small Scottish hills; Staerough Hill, Sunnyside Hill, Wildgoose Hill and Latchly Hill, whilst all the while feeling that you have never really left Northumberland. It is a walk for connoisseurs.

 

 

Hethpool

 

Are these the finest cottages in Northumberland?

 

The Walk

 

1. The tiny hamlet of Hethpool nestles beneath the slopes of Great Hetha, White Hill, Newton Tors and The Bell at the northern end of the beautiful College Valley. It stands where the Elsdon and College Burns join forces and has a history dating back to 1242. Owing to its proximity to Scotland, Hethpool was, in the distant past, exposed to cross border raids. Today, the hamlet is the most peaceful of places whose character is largely determined by a group of buildings belonging to the Arts & Crafts style of the early part of the 20th century. The splendid Hethpool House was built in 1919 and was further embellished in 1928 when the distinctive conical roofed tower was added. To the south of the house, a row of four farm cottages was built in 1926 and these have been described as “among the finest cottages to be seen anywhere in Northumberland”.  The College Valley lies 7½ miles from the north Northumberland town of Wooler and is reached along an unclassified single track road heading southwards off the B6351. There is parking just beyond Hethpool, at the end of the public road immediately after the cattle grid (GR NT893281). Before heading back along the road you have just traveled, spend a few minutes to enjoy the view southwards.

 

 

College Valley

 

The College Valley southwards

 

 

2. Follow the road back past the four cottages and when you reach the end of the row you will be joining the 62½ mile St. Cuthbert`s Way, a route you will stay with for the next 4½ miles. Opened in 1996, this walk through the Border region links together the religious sites of Melrose Abbey and Lindisfarne and is normally walked in a west to east direction. You will be heading against the flow of `pilgrims`. The route is waymarked by a Celtic cross, so keep your eyes peeled for the waymarkers. Continue with the road until it turns right towards Westnewton. At this point you must turn left through the gate with signs on the fence to Elsdonburn and Trowupburn, keeping with the roadway as it runs parallel with the Elsdon Burn. Ignore the left hand fork which turns southwards to Trowupburn after just less than one mile of easy walking, staying instead with the burn as far as the farm of Elsdonburn. The surfaced roadway becomes a rough track (GR NT873284), signposted `To the Border Ridge 1½ miles`, leading you past a bungalow before swinging right through a gate. You are now alongside Shank`s Sike and when the track splits in two, immediately after the five bar gate, be sure to take the right hand path which descends to cross the sike. Head diagonally across the green pasture of Scaldhill Shank along a faint path towards and then through the plantation (GR NT865278). The area immediately to the north of here is littered with the remnants of times long past including, the 19th century hill farm of Elsdonburn Shank, the medieval settlement of Heddon and the Iron Age hillfort of Ring Chesters.

 

 

Eccles Cairn

 

The view from Eccles Cairn

 

3. Once out of the plantation, the path crosses Tuppie`s Sike before climbing towards the border. As the ground begins to level out at the 340 metre contour, a short diversion from the path, to your right, will bring you to Eccles Cairn. This is a superb and atmospheric vantage point. Below you, to the south west, is the Halterburn Valley and the four hills to be climbed later in the walk. To the west the triple-topped Eildon Hills, much loved by Sir Walter Scott, rise above the Tweed Valley. The view is extensive. Now rejoin the path as it heads into Scotland. Once over the border, marked with a `St. Cuthbert`s Way` signpost, the path begins to descend across the southern flanks of Green Humbleton and soon you are joined by the Pennine Way from the south east. At this point, it is worth turning left for 400 metres or so to the higher ground of Stob Rig where you will greeted by the Stob Stanes (GR NT851270). The larger of the two stones, which still stands erect, measures 1.65 metres in height and when viewed up close is impressive. The stones are known locally as the `Gypsy Stobs` as they mark the spot where the gypsy kings and queens were traditionally crowned. The true purpose of the stones is not known, although they may have marked a medieval border line between England and Scotland. They may even have had a more mysterious ritualistic purpose. We will probably never know. Turn back towards the Iron Age hillfort topped Green Humbleton and continue along the green track of the Pennine Way down to the ford (GR NT840276) across the Halter Burn.

 

4. The annual Yetholm Hill Race starts near to this delightful spot in June each year. The 8 mile event crosses, amongst others, the four hills you are about to climb, as the lung pumping participants wind their way over a switchback circuit of these lovely border `humps and bumps`. Cross the ford and the green parking area, turning right across a cattle grid and up the narrow road towards Kirk Yetholm. After little more than 200 metres of tarmac, when a five bar gate is reached, leave the road to your left and make your way, via a thin path, towards the summit of Staerough Hill. If there happens to be any livestock across your route which make you uneasy, keep with the tarmac road to the next five bar gate or failing that a tiny fence at the end of the stone wall immediately before the plantation. Whichever one you choose, it is just a matter of picking the best route up the steep sided hill. Do not be put off!

 

 

Staerough Hill

 

The summit of Staerough Hill

 

5. At 331 metres high this is not a big hill but the view down to the twin settlements of Town Yetholm and Kirk Yetholm is outstanding. The hill is rounded on three sides but its western flank reveals a totally different character; a precipitous rock face. The trig point (GR NT828271), marking the true top, stands at the south western end from which there are outstanding views. Leave the summit by following the south easterly descending wall and fence, to your right, to reach the saddle between this hill and your next objective; Sunnyside Hill. When you are nearing the end of the small `native` plantation, where two walls begin to converge, go through the gate on your left (GR NT832266) and continue upwards. Within 200 metres pass through another gate which lies on your right. Now leave the wall and fence behind and climb in a southerly direction, along a faint quad track, towards another wall and fence which will, in turn, lead you to the 327 metre top (GR NT833261). Here you are caught between the valleys of the Halter Burn, to your left, and the Clifton Burn, to your right.  Stay with the wall and fence as they first descend to a col before then climbing to the 336 metre top of the wonderfully named Wildgoose Hill (GR NT840252). The hill is crowned with the remnants of an oval Iron Age hillfort and this has been designated as a Scheduled Ancient Monument.

 

 

Latchly Hill

 

The descent from Latchly Hill

 

6. Keeping with the wall and fence, descend the short distance to the next saddle before climbing steeply to the summit of Latchly Hill. At 411 metres this is the highest of the four hills making up this high quality 2½ mile ridge walk. The view southwards is dominated by the broad girth of The Curr, where on the 12 th December 1944, a Mosquito aircraft crashed whilst on a practice attack flight. Both crew were killed and the remains of parts of the aircraft can still be seen just below the summit on the northern side of the hill. Follow what remains of the stone wall downhill towards a rendezvous with the Pennine Way low level alternative route. This is the head of the Halter Burn Valley where, just before a gate is reached GR NT851242), you turn left to follow the clear path northwards to reach the ruined buildings of Old Halterburnhead. In his 1926 book, `Walks From Wooler`, W. Ford Robertson perfectly described the view from here which, even all those many years ago, was “…. a ruined cottage“. He said, “……..the Curr towers in front of you, the high ridge of Steer Rig is on your left and Latchly Hill is on your right whilst, to the north, White Law rises abruptly and forms quite an imposing feature”.  Now you must leave the valley, crossing first the infant Halter Burn (GR NT852252), and head north eastwards on the green track which climbs diagonally up the bracken covered hillside towards the depression between White Law and Steer Rig. Once reached, you are again on the main Pennine Way (GR NT858256) and are immediately confronted with the stiff, al beit short, climb to the top of White Law.

 

 

White Law

 

The view from White Law towards Latchly Hill

 

7. Take time to catch your breath on the 430 metre high top and enjoy the fantastic view back towards The Curr and Black Hag and down to the Halterburn Valley. With the mat grass blowing in the wind it is easy to understand how this hill acquired its name. The grass, which produces erect spikes in June, bleaches to almost white as autumn approaches and remains that colour throughout the winter. Time now to part company with the Pennine Way as it hurries off towards its final goal of Kirk Yetholm. Turn right through the small gate and, heading north eastwards, drop downhill to Wideopen Head (GR NT861265) where a track climbs up from Trowupburn, to your right, and then heads north westwards towards the ancient border crossing of the White Swire. Turn right and follow the green track as it heads downhill across the flanks of Madam Law towards the farm of Trowupburn (GR NT876265). When you reach an oblong stone sheep enclosure be sure to turn right downhill towards the `hidden` farm buildings. In the reign of King John, the younger brother of `Richard the Lionheart`, the land around the white walled Trowupburn was granted to the Cistercian monks of Melrose Abbey. Continue in front of the buildings, following the `College Valley` signs, and, crossing the Trowup Burn, head along the track towards the plantation engulfed Sinkside Hill. Pass through the five bar gate and into the plantation. Enjoy the cool shade of the trees for the next 1 mile before finally emerging (GR NT888265) into the full daylight of the College Valley. Turn left along the tarmac road and savour the delights of this the loveliest of valleys as you make your way back to Hethpool. As you prise the boots from your feet, once again take time to enjoy the view southwards. It is worthy of a repeat performance.

 

 

Great Hetha

 

Heading towards Trowupburn from Wideopen Head

 

 

 

Distance

20.3 km (12.6 miles )

Total Ascent

1020 metres (3346 feet)

Grading

Strenuous

Start & Key Grid References

Hethpool  (NT893281), (NT873284), (NT865278), (NT851270), (NT840276), (NT828271),(NT832266), (NT833261), (NT840252), (NT851242), (NT852252), (NT858256), (NT861265), (NT876265) & (NT888265)

Time

6 hours

Nearest Town

Wooler

Terrain

Stretches of tarmac, green tracks, steep ascents & descents, grass covered pathless hills & a forest track

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

Rothbury National Park Centre. Telephone 01669 620887

 

 

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NEXT: THE BIDDLESTONE PARISH ROUND

 

Devised, written & photographed: Geoff Holland 2006 (re-measured 2012 with minor alterations & additional photographs 2016)