THE HALTER BURN BORDER ROUND

The Halter Burn starts its relatively short life beneath the towering slopes of The Curr where a multitude of tiny, unnamed sikes trickle down from the undulating Steer Rig and the double-topped Latchly Hill. The Halterburn Valley, which lies on the western fringes of the Cheviot Hills barely a mile from the sleepy Scottish village of Kirk Yetholm, is surrounded by a beautiful array of grass-carpeted hills. These hills offer walking of the highest quality and as you leave the shelter of the valley behind you will be embarking on a high-level journey which will inspire you to do it all again another day. You will climb to the windswept summit of White Law, via its often neglected west top, before heading for cairn-capped Madam Law and a far-reaching panorama. After descending to Tuppie`s Sike you will pick your way up the bracken-covered slopes of Coldsmouth Hill where, on reaching the summit, you will be greeted by three superb cairns. Turning for home, you will cross Humbleton Swyre, visit the turf-carpeted top of Burnt Humbleton, catch your breath next to Eccles Cairn before finally heading back across the border to hillfort-crowned Green Humbleton. A rapid, eye-watering, knee-aching descent will return you to the Halterburn Valley with your senses well and truly stimulated.

 

Border Hotel

The Border Hotel, Kirk Yetholm

 

The Walk

 

1. In his 1931-published book, `Road Guide to Northumberland and the Border`, Robert Hugill described the journey immediately beyond Westnewton as entering, “on a miniature pass climbing high above the stream”, and then, after passing Kilham as, “ascending again by a road quite over-canopied with foliage”. As you make your own way to Kirk Yetholm along the narrow B6351 you will see for yourself that little has changed in the 80 years or so which have passed since Robert Hugill travelled this way. After crossing the English/Scottish border just prior to the Shotton Burn and the farmhouse of Yetholm Mains you will arrive in Kirk Yetholm with the distinctive Border Hotel on your immediate right overlooking the village green.  Your starting point lies in the valley of the Halter Burn so you will now need to turn left passing, as you start your climb uphill, the impressive Gypsy Commemorative Stone. The single track road, with occasional passing places, climbs to a height of 187 metres (614 feet) and, once the crest is reached, unveils a heart-stopping panorama of the border hills. A rapid descent takes you into the valley where, once over the cattle grid, you must turn left onto a rough track where you will find ample parking space on the adjacent grassed area (GR NT839276). This is a lovely spot to start your walk with Staerough Hill on one side and Green Humbleton on the other. The valley road continues in a generally southerly direction and culminates a little less than one mile from here. Your way forward lies along this thin tarmac thread. So, with your hands in your pockets and your coat collar high make your way towards the tiny settlement of Halterburn some 800 metres away. Amongst the cluster of bricks and mortar stands a pair of listed, mid-19th century two storey buildings which house the Halterburn Penial Revival Centre. When a certain A. Wainwright wrote his book, `Pennine Way Companion A Pictorial Guide` in 1968, this was the Halterburn Hotel which he thought was, “a welcome surprise”. He explained that the building had formerly been, “a deserted farmhouse” that had, a few years earlier, been, “converted to a comfortable and modern hotel”. He commented that, “as the first place of refreshment after 27 inhospitable miles its appeal to walkers with spectacular thirsts and appetites is irresistible”. Sadly, for the thirsty and hungry 21st century Pennine Way walker that, “spectacular thirst” will just have to wait a little bit longer to be truly satisfied. After passing the buildings and just before the band of trees comes to an abrupt end (GR NT841268) you will need to bid farewell to the road and to start your climb towards higher ground.

 

Halterburn Valley

 

The track leading away from the Halterburn Valley

 

2. You will spot a track leaving the left hand side of the road which cuts across the tiny Halter Burn and heads, initially over fairly flat terrain, towards the west top of White Law, more than obvious in the distance. Do not be persuaded to follow the subsidiary track which turns sharply left and heads immediately uphill in the direction of a small plantation. You will only have to backtrack. In the distance you will see, climbing up the steep hillside to the right of the deep set Dryslack Burn, a distinctly green track. Be sure to keep your eyes focused on this track as you make your way increasingly uphill following a generally obvious quad track. As you pause from time to time to look back over your shoulder the view to Green Humbleton and Coldsmouth Hill will undoubtedly catch your eye. Before the day is out, you will have climbed to the summits of both these hills. Eventually, you will come to a hillside-climbing drystone wall at a point somewhere close to a gate which offers you easy access to the other side. Pass through the gate, immediately turn left and continue your climb uphill with the drystone wall and an accompanying post and wire fence on your left. Soon, with your lungs expanded and a trickle of lactic acid seeping into your well-worked leg muscles, you will reach the rock-splattered west top of White Law (GR NT852261).

 

3. This must be one of the finest viewpoints in the Cheviot Hills revealing a complex landscape of endless creases and crumples. A widescreen panorama filled with hills and valleys, sikes and burns. It is simply breathtaking. Like so many other hills in the area this western spur of White Law was once the site of a hillfort. You may wish to stay awhile but it really is too soon for lunch. Continue across the west top and then follow the drystone wall downhill to the ladder stile at Whitelaw Nick. This is the point where the Pennine Way leaves the high ground and begins it gradual descent to the Halterburn Valley. Your route lies straight uphill to the 430 metre (1411 feet) high summit of White Law and yet another contender for the most outstanding viewpoint in the area. “The summit has a fine outlook”, wrote a rather restrained Tony Hopkins in the 1989 edition of his book, `National Trail Guide Pennine Way North`, before adding, “north-west over the Tweed Valley to the Lammermuir Hills and north-east to the Bowmont and the Till”. There is much more besides to satisfy even the most demanding connoisseur of `views to die for` including, again in the words of Tony Hopkins, “Berwick and the North Sea”, “the outer bastions of the Cheviots” as well as, “Hare Law, Wester Tor, Easter Tor and Yeavering Bell”. Perhaps the finest view is southwards over the glorious Steer Rig which, on the Scottish side of the border, falls steeply away to the upper reaches of the Halterburn Valley and, on the English side, to the treeless and secluded valley of the Trowup Burn. Time now to turn your back on the way you came and to pass through the small gate in the border fence. Ahead lies Wideopen Head a little way downhill.

 

The Curr from White Law

 

Steer Rig, The Curr and Old Halterburnhead

 

4. The fence is on your left as you stride downhill on a clear, grass-covered track with Madam Law, your next objective, more or less straight ahead. When you reach the bottom of the slope and a 90 degree turn in the fence, turn left and go through the gate a handful of strides away. The track ahead, if you were to follow it, eventually leads back into Scotland crossing the border at White Swyre, an ancient crossing place for reivers and drovers, where it then meets up with the Kirk Yetholm-heading Pennine Way. However, you must now turn to your right and start the short climb to the turf-covered top of Madam Law. Crowned with a neat little walker`s cairn, this 397 metre (1302 feet) high hill offers good views especially to the twin tops of White Law and to your next challenge, Coldsmouth Hill. Continue across the flat top, with the fence on your right, until this insubstantial guide rail decides to make a 90 degree turn (GR NT863269). Now, turning slightly to your left, head downhill, initially in a northerly direction but curving slightly to your left as you aim for the north western corner of the medium-sized plantation. The occasional wayward quad track may, if you are fortunate, ease the going. In time, hopefully without too much difficulty, you will reach the point where the route of the 62½ mile long St. Cuthbert`s Way disappears into the depths of the plantation. Continue downhill, cross over Tuppie`s Sike and then head for the tumbledown enclosure which lies, slightly uphill, on the southern slope of Tom`s Knowe. Once reached, you must now turn to your left and aim for the bottom corner of a linear plantation which lies between Coldsmouth Hill, your next summit, and Burnt Humbleton. You will need to find the route which suits you best over what is a very rough and sweat-inducing gradient avoiding, where you can, the worst of the hill-invading bracken. As you begin to gain some height you will spot a small gate close to the plantation corner which leads on to the upper slopes of Coldsmouth Hill. Pass through the gate and, with the going still a tad heavy, turn half-right and pick your way upwards to the oval-shaped summit and the first of three impressive looking cairns (GR NT857281).

 

 

Coldsmouth Hill

 

One of three cairns on Coldsmouth Hill

 

5. “Even a comparatively low summit like Coldsmouth Hill can give a panorama of the Border`s splendours, especially with a brisk wind in the north-west quarter clearing the sky”. So wrote John Talbot White in his 1973 book, `The Scottish Border and Northumberland`, and even at a modest 414 metres (1358 feet) above sea level this hill certainly does not disappoint in the view department. The three summit-crossing cairns are relatively modern additions to the summit furniture and immediately draw the eye away from the remains of two large Bronze Age burial cairns which have adorned this windswept and elemental place for nigh on 3,000 years. After you have had a good potter around head back to the southern end of the summit and descend south westwards towards the linear plantation which appears, at first sight, to bar your progress to the border. However, as you approach the wall of conifers, you will see a small gate in the plantation boundary fence which will lead you, through a narrow gap in the trees, to Humbleton Swyre and the drystone wall and post and wire fence which separate England and Scotland.  Once reached and into daylight again, turn to your right and then, after some 25 metres, turn left through a small gate. From here walk slightly uphill and you will soon place your size 8`s gently on the deep carpet of soft grass which covers the top of Burnt Humbleton (GR NT852280). The summit, which was once the site of an Iron Age hillfort, gives you a crow`s nest view of the double line of walling surrounding the hillfort which once occupied the summit of the neighbouring Green Humbleton. Once done, return to the gate, go through into England and, turning to your right, follow the border line uphill with the plantation brushing your left shoulder. At the end of the plantation you will reach a small gate and once you have passed through head diagonally left uphill to reach a small cairn standing on a grassy knoll.

 

6. This is Eccles Cairn, not named, as you might be tempted to suggest, after the witless Goon Show character of the same name, but perhaps, as was stated by Alan Hall in the 1998 edition of his book, `Walking in Northumberland`, “the burial chamber of an Iron Age chieftain”. Like so many other points along this walk this modest height enjoys an idyllic location with history never far away. Take time to enjoy this view from English soil as you will soon be back on Scottish territory. Now with  your back to Coldsmouth Hill, bid farewell to Eccles Cairn by following the thin green path as far as the broader track of St. Cuthbert`s Way. Once joined, turn right and before you have time to recite the first verse of `Coming Through The Rye` you will reach a small gate in the border fence (GR NT853273). As you step through, the signpost bids you a friendly, `Welcome to Scotland`.  

 

 

Green Humbleton

 

The track to Green Humbleton

 

7. Now are now almost home and, if the weather has been kind to you, hopefully also dry. So, with no reason to dilly-dally, follow the waymarked path downhill and, when this in turn merges with the track of the Pennine Way, turn right following the sign, `Pennine Way St Cuthberts Way`. Straight ahead stands the pocket-sized Green Humbleton, your fifth and final top of the day. After following the Pennine Way for barely 300 metres you will need to leave this iconic long distance trail yet again and to make your way to the hillfort-topped summit of Green Humbleton. The route across the pleasant grass-covered col, which links Green Humbleton with Stob Rig, is more than obvious and then after a short, steep climb you will find yourself standing on the 287 metre (942 feet) high summit. At risk of sounding repetitive, this is yet another fine vantage point affording airy views to the valley below and of the surrounding hills. You can also now examine at close quarters the double line of walling you could clearly see from the top of Burnt Humbleton. Once you decide to leave, take care as you descend the steep western slope as a misplaced footstep will have you heading downwards rather faster than you intended. You will be able to spot your car little more than a quarter of a mile away as the thin path guides you downhill, crossing along the way a small rocky outcrop and eventually delivering you to the corner of a drystone wall. Now all you need to do is follow the wall downwards and, after splashing your boots through the cool, clear waters of the Halter Burn, you will be back where you started your day. You may have worked up a “spectacular thirst”. If so, then why not treat yourself to something refreshing as you make your way home past Kirk Yetholm`s irresistible Border Hotel.

 

 

Distance

9.2 km (5.7 miles)

 

Total Ascent

663 metres (2175 feet)

 

Grading

Moderate

 

Start & Key Grid References

Grassed area, Halterburn Valley (GR NT839276), (GR NT841268), (GR NT852261), (GR NT863269), (GR NT857281), (GR NT852280) & (GR NT853273).

 

Time

3½ hours

 

Nearest Town

Kirk Yetholm/Town Yetholm

 

Terrain

A mixture of good paths/tracks & pathless grass-covered terrain. A number of ascents & descents. A short stretch of tarmac.

 

Maps

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

 

Accommodation

Small hotels, guest houses & cottages in Kirk Yetholm area. A caravan park/camp site in Town Yetholm.

 

Transport

Kelso to Kirk Yetholm Service 81 (First Group 08708727271 www.firstgroup.com)

 

Tourist Information

Scottish Borders Visitor Information Centres 01835863170

 

 

 

 

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Devised, written & photographed: Geoff Holland 2012