A WINDY GYLE DOUBLE

The lonely and windswept border separating England from Scotland lies just over three miles from the delightful spot where the River Coquet welcomes the Rowhope Burn into its gently flowing fold. This is Slymefoot, otherwise known as White Bridge or Trows Road End, wedged between steep-sided Barrow Law and the grass-covered slopes of Tindale Law on opposite sides of the river. Here, at the very heart of beautiful Upper Coquetdale, lie a plethora of meandering paths and tracks which offer the walker a choice of fascinating routes to a cornucopia of outstanding vistas. On this breathtaking walk you will twice visit the iconic and border-straddling Windy Gyle as you cross and re-cross the flimsy post and wire border fence. It is a journey which will take you from what is arguably Northumberland`s finest river to the remote Scottish farmsteads of Kelsocleuch and Cocklawfoot. Along the way you will enjoy far-reaching views across an ocean of wild rolling hills whilst the ice-cold breeze of a dark and bloodstained history brushes the nape of your neck.  This is hill walking at its absolute best.

 

The Rowhope Burn meets the River Coquet

The Rowhope Burn joins the River Coquet

The Walk

 

1. “Between Shillmoor and Windyhaugh, a distance of three miles, the eye has little to rest on except the rounded contour of the grassy hills……………..or the flashing runnels of the stream”, wrote William Weaver Tomlinson in his 1888- published book, `Comprehensive Guide to The County of Northumberland`. As you make your way along the narrow, undulating road through Upper Coquetdale from Alwinton to the starting point of this walk at Slymefoot, these rounded contours and flashing runnels will more than likely be all that you need to keep you happy on one of the most scenic road journeys in Northumberland. The small parking area at Slymefoot (GR NT859114) stands at a height of 260 metres (853 feet) above sea level at the point where the valley road crosses the Rowhope Burn via the aptly-named White Bridge. At this spot the Rowhope Burn was described by David Dippie Dixon in his 1903-published book, `Upper Coquetdale Northumberland Its History, Traditions, Folk-lore and Scenery` as, “ ……having been joined by the Trows Burn, here issues from between the steep slopes of the Slyme and Barra Law and mingles its waters with the Coquet at Rowhope-burn-mouth”. What better place to start your day? So, turning your back on the River Coquet and keeping the Rowhope Burn to your left, follow the tarmac road which leads past the neat farmstead of Rowhope, less than 1mile further on, and then a short distance away the now uninhabited two-storey farmhouse of Trows. Like many farmsteads in the area, Trows was purchased by the Ministry of Defence in July 1941 and, in the early 1960`s this far from pretty farmhouse was built to replace the older more attractive building which lies to your right, alongside the burn. The stone building is now used for storage. Keep with the gravel track as it climbs briefly uphill and then descends to the meeting place of the Trows and Wardlaw Burns. At this point you can either cross the Trows Burn by the small wooden footbridge to your left or alternatively you can splash your boots through the normally shallow ford as you head diagonally left towards the rising grass-sided track and the nearby metal gate (GR NT855126). The gravel track which you have just left ultimately leads to Uswayford, one of the most remote farms in Northumberland.

 

The Trows & Wardlaw Burns

 

The Trows and Wardlaw Burns entwine

 

2. Once through the metal gate you have started the long climb towards the summit of Windy Gyle now less than two extremely enjoyable miles away. For the most part you will be walking on a grade one carpet of cropped grass as you follow a clear track over a gently rising ridge caught between, to your right, the tree-swept valley of the Wardlaw Burn and, to your left, the magnificent valley of the Trows Burn. As you climb ever upwards you will see over to your left the steep slopes of Windy Gyle beautifully accentuated by the deep incisions of Inner Strand and Routinwell Strand. If you have time to spare, see if you can visually locate the source of Routin Well, a natural spring which seeps out of the scarred upper reaches of Routinwell Strand. Be sure to follow the track as it turns gently to your left away from the route of the map-marked Public Bridleway. Eventually, this track turns north westwards a short distance before Scotchman`s Ford is reached and at this spot on your upward journey you are starting the final and possibly steepest part of the climb. As the summit gets ever closer (GR NT856149) you will need to turn to your right rather than follow the deep set track which heads straight on. You should be able to see ahead of you a small gate and an adjacent stile which, once reached, will deliver you to the other side of the border post and wire fence and within easy shouting distance of the huge Bronze Age burial cairn which adorns the summit of Windy Gyle.

 

3. Described in the 1989-book, `National Trail Guide Pennine Way North` by Tony Hopkins as, “often wind-swept, and with violent and sinister associations, Windy Gyle is one of the atmospheric highlights of the Pennine Way”, this spot high on the border ridge is indeed, as Tony added, “quite literally, miles from anywhere”. Standing at a height of 619 metres (2031 feet), Windy Gyle is the fourth highest of the Cheviot Hills and the only one over the magical 2000 feet mark to which Scotland can lay half a claim. The giant cairn, known as `Russell`s Cairn`, is topped with a triangulation pillar from where there are outstanding views in all directions. It also makes an ideal backrest as you enjoy a moment of quiet contemplation. The next nearest triangulation pillars to this one are located on the summits of Kings Seat, Bloodybush Edge and Lamb Hill. With your boots still on Scottish soil, it is now time to make your way off this iconic hill by turning towards the west and following the well-worn path across the summit towards the border fence, a short distance away. Once reached, continue downhill ignoring as you go the small stile over the fence. Soon, the path turns away to your right (GR NT848153) and starts its journey around the huge amphitheatre of the Gyle Burn.

 

 Heading towards Kelsocleuch Rig

Heading towards Kelsocleuch Rig

 

4. Initially this rough track crosses Windy Rig before then bending gently right over grass-covered Kelsocleuch Rig offering extensive and heart-stopping views of the Cheviot Hills. As the track, now merely the twin indentations of a shepherd`s quad bike, looses height you will see the remnants of a plantation ahead of you and this is your next target. When the boundary of the plantation is reached (GR NT851171), go through the gate and pick your way carefully through the rough remains of this mainly harvested area following a faint but generally discernible path. Be prepared to be surprised by the sudden upwards rush of a nervous pheasant or two. Exit the area via a five bar gate. Now aim for the next five bar gate which lies on the opposite side of the field more or less straight ahead. Once there, go through and cross over the next field, heading slightly left of the farmhouse of Kelsocleuch. As you approach the boundary wall you will spot a ladder stile and, once you have climbed over this, you will need to turn right and follow the wall as far as a post and wire fence next to the entrance to the farm. Cross carefully over the fence onto a track, turn left and, when you reach a second track turn right. The farm you have just passed stands at a height of nigh on 254 metres (833feet) above sea level and, since leaving the dizzy promontory of Windy Gyle, you have completed nearly 1200 feet of descent. Your boots are now well and truly planted on Scottish soil. After approximately half a mile of walking and with a plantation on your left hand side you will reach a signed junction and the start of the public road towards Sourhope and Bowmont Water. At this point you need to turn right along a gravel track and then cross over a small bailey bridge which straddles the Kelsocleuch Burn. Ahead lies the picturesque, white-walled and not insubstantial farmhouse of Cocklawfoot together with the start of your climb back towards the English/Scottish border.

 

Cocklawfoot

The picturesque farm of Cocklawfoot

 

5. Long before walking became an enjoyable leisure pursuit Cocklawfoot served as an inn which was frequented by the many drovers who crossed these windblown hills as they moved their cattle from the fertile Tweed Valley to the hungry markets of industrial Tyneside. The route you are about to follow was marked on William Roy`s map of 1755 as, `Road from Morpeth to Kelso` and on the English side of the border it is known as Clennell Street. You are, therefore, following in an awful lot of footsteps with history literally constantly beneath your feet. Now head through two metal gates in rapid succession towards a third metal gate alongside which stands a sign pointing in the direction you have just come from indicating, `Belford`. Pass through this gate and start your uphill journey eventually entering a small plantation via another gate bearing a small disc marked, `South of Scotland Countryside Trails`. The `South of Scotland Countryside Trails` consist of a 350 kilometre network of routes developed specifically for horse-riders and walkers which are linked to quality assured horse and rider accommodation. Soon you will be out onto the open hillsides once again with the Kelsocleuch Burn way below you on your right hand side. The track is clear as you head ever upwards with Windy Gyle and the hills along the border ridge starting to dominate the way ahead. Over to your left, above the flat-bottomed valley of the Kingsseat Burn, rises Mallie Side with the stately, crag-topped cone of The Schil just visible behind. The track, stone-strewn and rain-washed in places, curves across hillsides scattered with a host of archaeological remains. The names slip past, Camp Tops, Hayhope Knowe, Cock Law, The Bank and then Outer Cock Law and the final climb to Hexpethgate (GR NT871160) your crossing point back into England. Unnamed on the Ordnance Survey map and also known as the Border Gate and Cocklaw Gate this crossing was one of seventeen Cheviot border crossings listed in a state paper of 1543. Before you clamber back into England glance behind you to see the ludicrously out of place `No Motor Vehicles Allowed` signpost which is more suited to an urban setting rather than this wild and lonely place.

 

6. Once back in England you are standing on the route of the Pennine Way and the adjoining four-fingered signpost tells you that The Schil, seen earlier in the far distance, is still a lung-testing 6 miles away and that, in the opposite direction, the outstanding Roman earthworks of Chew Green are an even further 8½ undulating miles away. Luckily, with plenty of climbing already under your belt, you are little more than 4 relatively easy miles from the end of your walk. But first, turn to your right and follow the paved pathway, with the border fence close to your right hand side, gradually uphill towards your second visit of the day to the iconic top of Windy Gyle. Along the way, you will see, a little way to your right across a sea of ankle-twisting heather, a slightly impressive cairn. In time, the pathway will deliver you to a small gate in the fence through which lies your route to the summit-crowning Bronze Age burial cairn (GR NT855152).

 

 

Windy Gyle

 

Shelter cairn on Windy Gyle summit

 

7. Over the years a lot of words have been written about Windy Gyle most of them as a consequence of the Pennine Way crossing its summit. In his 1967 book, `Guide to the Pennine Way` , Christopher John Wright wrote that, “Windy Gyle affords a splendid view of the English side of the hills, while the whole of the Border ridge is in view to the `stone men` on Auchope Cairn”. The view is indeed extensive although whether you are able to see the stone men of Auchope Cairn is perhaps more down to the quality of your eyesight and the prevailing weather conditions. No matter, you will surely enjoy your second visit of the day. Once you are ready to leave this high ground, turn your back to the cairn and, facing in a south westerly direction, head towards the step stile in the border fence. Once on the other side, continue straight on with a post and wire fence on your right hand side. Soon you will cross a rough and fairly deep set track (GR NT854150) which, to your right, heads towards Windy Rig and, to your left, towards Scotchman`s Ford. You must continue straight on keeping the fence relatively close to your right side as you follow, as best you can, an intermittent path across initially damp ground.  Stick with the fence as it heads downhill, turns SSE and then, after crossing to the other side, climbs relatively gently towards the top of Loft Hill which stands at a height of some 450 metres (1476 feet) above sea level a few metres on the other side of a small step stile.  Once you have visited the unmarked top you can, if you so wish, continue downwards with the fence on your right or alternatively, you can climb back to the other side via the convenient step stile and head downwards with the fence on your left. The choice is yours although the latter is the preferred route. Eventually, if the fence is on your left, you will reach the point where there is a step stile which you must step over and continue your journey gently downhill in a south easterly direction. Way over to the right, on the other side of the valley of the Rowhope Burn, lies the route of the cross-border track known as The Street.

 

 

Descending Loft Hill

 

 

8. Soon, with the prim and proper farmstead of Rowhope and the steep flanks of Shorthope Hill within your sights, you will reach another step stile and, once you have crossed to the other side of the fence, follow a finely constructed dry stone wall all the way to the bottom of the fairly sharp hill. You have now joined a tarmac, single track road which, as you turn to your right and cross over the nearby cattle grid, will lead you all the way back to your car with the beautiful and ever-present Rowhope Burn for company.

 

 

Rowhope Burn at Slymefoot

 

The Rowhope Burn

 

 

Distance

19.2 km ( 11.9 miles)

 

Total Ascent

847 metres (2779 feet)

 

Grading

Strenuous

 

Start & Key Grid References

Slymefoot (White Bridge), Upper Coquetdale (NT 859114), (NT 855126), (NT 856149), (NT 848153), (NT 851171), (NT 871160), (NT 855152) & (NT 854150)

 

Time

6 hours

 

Nearest Town

Rothbury

 

Terrain

Mainly good paths/tracks although intermittent in one or two places. A number of steep ascents & descents. Two short stretches of tarmac.

 

Maps

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

 

Accommodation

Rose & Thistle Public House, Alwinton (limited), Clennell Hall (including caravan park). Otherwise a variety in Rothbury.

 

Transport

None (except to Rothbury & Thropton)

 

Tourist Information

www.northumberlandnationalpark.org.uk

 

 

 

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NEXT: THE FORGOTTEN HILLS OF ALWINTON

 

Devised, written & photographed: Geoff Holland 2012 (new photograph added 2017)