SO NEAR YET SO FAR

 

The lonely and beautiful Harthope Valley narrowly separates the two highest summits in the Cheviot Hills as they stand on either side of its twinkling burn like giant sentries. To the north stands The Cheviot, at 815 metres the highest point between the Pennines and the southern uplands of Scotland, whilst to the south Hedgehope Hill rises majestically to an impressive 714 metres. “So close yet so far” will be the cry as you start this walk with the toughest climb of the day, The Cheviot itself, for it will be just over 14 miles before you ultimately touch the triangulation pillar marking the summit of Hedgehope Hill. In between you will have walked along broad ridges, crossed remote valleys and climbed the three highest hills in the Cheviot Hills. You will be entranced.

 

 

 

Hedgehope Hill

 

The Walk

 

1. Travelling south west from Wooler, the single track road which winds through the Harthope Valley brings you to your starting point, where the Hawsen and Harthope Burns meet. There is roadside parking (NT 954225) and, as you prepare yourself for the day ahead you will be itching to be on higher ground. Once booted up, your route continues along the tarmac road for 200 metres to where a signpost, on your right, points the way to Scald Hill and The Cheviot. Follow the track as it turns gently left, first climbing for a short distance before then leveling off a wee bit as it cuts through a stretch of heather as far as a step stile. Cross over and continue with the path as it climbs to the left of the New Burn, avoiding a spur which cuts away to your right, and in time you will join the ridge (NT 933221) leading to the top of Scald Hill. The path continues to follow the fence off Scald Hill across a potentially boggy depression before climbing steeply over mixed ground to the eastern end of the summit plateau of the Cheviot. This is a pretty solid climb so be sure to pause occasionally for a quick intake of breath. You have a long way still to go. Now cross over the ladder stile and follow the paved pathway for just under half a mile to the elevated triangulation pillar perched high on an enormous plinth. Two earlier triangulation pillars have apparently disappeared deep into the peaty morass of the summit plateau. This is the highest point of your walk but do not expect the remainder to be all downhill, far from it.

 

 

 

The summit of The Cheviot

 

2. Continue to follow the pathway and the fence across the plateau, passing on your left a small lough, and then Cairn Hill, the south western outhill of the Cheviot. The pile of boulders on Cairn Hill is known as Scotsman`s Cairn and is a perfect place to view the hills to the south. On reaching the main Pennine Way footpath (NT 896194) and a jumble of converging fences, turn to your left across the stile, heading south westwards towards Score Head and then to the triangulation pillar on Kings Seat. You will now have a sense of utter loneliness, far from any visible habitation and with both feet in England but a mere stride or two from Scotland on the other side of the post and wire fence. Continue generally downhill to the signpost at Hexpethgate (NT 871160), also known as the Border Gate and Cocklawgate. This is where Clennell Street, a medieval trade route used over the centuries by drovers, reivers and smugglers, crosses the border, and meets the Pennine Way, on its way from Alwinton in Coquetdale to Cocklawfoot and the Bowmont Valley in Scotland. Ahead lies the iconic summit of Windy Gyle, one of the finest tops in the area.

 

 

 

 

Windy Gyle from Hexpethgate

 

 

3. You must now turn left and follow this ancient track as it descends gently towards the extensive plantations of Uswayford. After a short while (NT 875157) you must bid farewell to Clennell Street and take the signposted Salters Road to your left. Continue down through the forest, via a good graded path and when a cross forest track is reached turn left. Then, after approximately 50 metres, turn right onto another downhill heading graded path. In a short while this will deliver you to the Usway Burn close to a circular sheep stell. You will be greeted, to your right and partially hidden from view, by the impressive waterfall of Davidsons Linn (NT 884157), one of Northmberland`s very best. This is the perfect spot to catch your breath and to remember that near here in the distant past, long before the forest was planted, there was an illicit still for drying malted barley, known as `Rory`s Still`. Above the waterfall, cross the burn via the wooden footbridge, and continue to follow the signposted Salters Road as it travels through the forest above the Clay Burn. Just before the track emerges out of the forest at the col between Bloodybush Edge and Lint Lands be sure to follow the track, which climbs slightly to the left of the main forest track, which in turn bends away to the right, and not the forest track itself.

 

 

 

Davidson`s Linn

 

 

4. Once out of the forest (NT 904157) continue eastwards along the Salters Road towards the Upper Breamish Valley. Previously there was no obvious track through what is very boggy ground, but now there is a firm track across this area which in turn becomes a fine grass track towards the top of Nagshead Knowe. Once crossed the track descends to the ford of the Ainsey Burn and the bridge over the River Breamish. Once on the other side of the river head south eastwards downstream for approximately 200 metres before then taking the bridleway (NT 921162), which climbs to the left, towards, but not to, the summit of High Cantle. On reaching the ridge your route turns to the left to follow the fence, first to Shielcleugh Edge and then on to Coldlaw Cairn. However, before doing this, a short diversion to your right will take you to the small cairn on the 482 metre high top of High Cantle with excellent views down into the remote Upper Breamish Valley. How can you resist.

 

 

 

The view from Coldlaw Cairn

 

5. Once back on track and heading forwards, with the fence on your right, you will continue over rough and, at times, very wet ground at a height constantly in excess of 500 metres for over three and a half miles. This is wild country and on reaching the rocky Coldlaw Cairn (NT 914180) it is hard to imagine a more isolated spot  in these most northerly of England`s vast array of lonely hills. Below you from this rocky promotory, to the west, lies the infant River Breamish, whilst to the north rises the mighty Cheviot, climbed all those hours and long hard miles ago. To the north east lies the flat and uninteresting Comb Fell and beyond the shapely cone of Hedgehope Hill. Your route to these two hills continues to stay with the fence. The summit of Comb Fell and the subsequent gentle descent pass without much note, except perhaps for the wet underfoot conditions and the continuing sense of absolute solitude, before the summit, and drier ground of Hedgehope Hill is reached (NT 943198). The views from this lovely top are excellent in all directions with the large bulk of The Cheviot dominating the north west and the North Sea clearly visible to the east. Take time out to enjoy this splendid spot before descending steeply north easterly along a single track path. When the gradient begins to level out head eastwards, across the moorland of Kelpie Strand, where odd waymarkers ease navigation, until the southern end of Long Crags and a step stile are reached. Continue over these fine crags towards and around the impressive mass of Housey Crags before descending sharply, on a clear green path to the wooden footbridge over the tree-shrouded Harthope Burn and the end of a long and glorious day in the Cheviot Hills.

 

 

The Cheviot from Hedgehope Hill summit

 

 

Distance

27.5 km. (17.1 miles )

Total Ascent

1258 metres (4127 feet)

Grading

Strenuous

Start & Key Grid References

Harthope Valley (NT 954225 ), (NT 933221), (NT 896194), (NT 871160), (NT 875157), (NT 884157), (NT 904157), (921162), (NT 914180) & (NT 943198)

Time

7 hours

Nearest Town

Wooler

Terrain

Mainly mixed fell, boggy in places, with steep ascents & descents & some stone paths

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                                                                                                                                                                                 

 

 

NEXT WALK : HIGH ABOVE THE COQUET

RETURN TO HOME PAGE

 

Devised, written & photographed: Geoff Holland 2005 (re-measured, text amended & new photographs added 2012 & 2016)