HIGH ABOVE THE COQUET

 

The River Coquet cuts through the Cheviot Hills as it winds its way through endless miles of wild and empty countryside. From its remote source close to the Roman camp of Chew Green to its arrival where the golden beaches of Northumberland collide with the North Sea, this is a truly beautiful river. This walk starts where the river meets the Usway Burn at Shillmoor and then climbs towards Shillhope Law high in the Cheviot Hills before eventually descending to join an ancient drover`s road as it works its way through the recently harvested edge of the vast Kidland Forest. Finally, after leaving the age worn track behind, the route heads down the strangely named Copper Snout to rejoin the lovely Usway Burn near Shillmoor. It is a walk to gladden the heart.

 

 

 

The Valley of the Usway Burn

 

The Walk

 

1. Shillmoor is an isolated farmstead standing where the Usway Burn joins the River Coquet and is 3 miles from the village of Alwinton along the unclassified road through Upper Coquetdale. There is road side parking by the river immediately before the bridge (NT 884078). This area was colonised under the monasteries in medieval times and is now used by the Army as part of their dry training area. Do not be deterred, there is absolutely no danger. Walk over the bridge and then turn immediately right down the access road to Shillmoor, with two houses on your left. Soon after passing these houses, and before reaching the main buildings of Shillmoor, take the track to your left leading into the valley of the Usway Burn. Ignore the `Private Road` sign as this relates only to vehicular traffic. Within 100metres a rough track climbs away from the main track on the left, alongside a stone wall. Follow this track as it continues to climb close to the boundary wall and then fence. Keeping the fence on your left you will quickly gain height and when you reach the gate (NT 883084) just above the small crags on your right, glance back over your shoulder. You will see the River Coquet glistening below as it wanders through the valley towards Alwinton and beyond. There are extensive views of the neighbouring hills. Continue through the gate and after further climbing along a grassy track you will reach the top of Inner Hill at 436 metres. To the west Upper Coquetdale lies below you whilst to the east lies the narrow valley of the Usway Burn. Continue along the broad ridge, losing some height, before crossing the fence, via a gate, at the col and then climbing on either of the two tracks to the trig point of Shillhope Law (NT 873097) of 501 metres. This stands just west of the fence.

 

 

The Summit of Shillhope Law

 

 

2. Return to the fence and descend, first in a northerly and then in a north westerly direction on a sometimes boggy path. As you begin to lose height you will have excellent views down to the isolated farms of Barrowburn and Windyhaugh and beyond to Windy Gyle and the Border ridge. Cross the fence at the gate (NT 873101) where it meets another one and continue along a faint track until fairly level ground is reached. At this point you will need to strike out across the grassy col towards Kyloe Shin. There is no obvious path to the top of this hill, although sheep traces abound. You will need to choose your own route and to seek out the highest ground at 433metres by continuing in the same general direction as you have come, bearing slightly to your right as you climb. Once reached (NT 877113), continue along the flat top until, to the north west, you can see the recently harvested (as at summer 2016) forest fence below with a ladder stile, a five bar gate and the top of Middle Hill popping out from the remnants of the forest. Head down the nose of the hill on a clear track to the gate and go over the stile across the forest boundary fence. Do not follow the main track down to Fairhaugh but take instead the track to your left heading towards the top of Middle Hill. Before this is reached the track veers to the right and falls downhill to join a track coming in on the right from Fairhaugh. Turn left and in a short while emerge at the forest boundary fence. Follow the quad track across the small hill immediately in front of you (NT 874134) until you reach the gravel road leading to Uswayford farm. This is probably the most remote farm in the Cheviot Hills and was, when Tomlinson wrote his “Comprehensive Guide to Northumberland“ in 1888, “a shepherd`s hut”.

 

 

 

 

The descent from Shillhope Law

 

 

3. At this point the gravel road is crossed by the ancient track of Clennell Street as it heads northwards to Hexpethgate, also known as the Border Gate. You will join Clennell Street on your return journey, but first a short sharp climb. Here the Hepden and Usway Burns flow down on either side of Hazely Law, coming within 200 metres of converging before being thrust apart by Middle Hill so that they eventually enter the River Coquet some 2 miles apart. Head straight up the nose of Hazely Law on a clear path climbing steeply to its 499 metres summit (NT 877144). You will be rewarded with excellent views of the surrounding valleys and hills. Retrace your steps down the hill, stopping halfway for the perfect refuelling spot.

 

Hazelly Law from Clennell Street

 

Hazely Law from Clennell Street

 

 

4. On reaching the Uswayford road cross over and head south over the stile, descending to the wooden bridge over the Usway Burn. From this delightful spot you now climb gradually across the lower slopes of Yarnspath Law to the Kidland Forest. You are on Clennell Street, the 12 mile cross border track used over the centuries by drovers, peddlers, reivers and smugglers and which runs from Alwinton to Cocklawfoot in Scotland. You enter the harvested remains of Kidland Forest (NT 879128) , planted between 1950 and 1970 on land assigned  in 1181 by the Cistercian  Abbey of Newminster ( near Morpeth ) to monks and their servants for the grazing of sheep, and continue for a further 2 miles straight ahead along Clennell Street. For the second mile you have the forest remnants and on your left and open countryside on your right. Along this stretch there are three arrowed finger posts, one on your right and two on your left. Leave the track on your right when you reach the second finger post on your left (NT 897106) and head across boggy ground, crossing two stiles, to Copper Snout and a glorious downhill walk of almost 2 miles on a clear path back to the River Coquet. The views are outstanding. Once in the valley, cross the Usway Burn (again!) by either the dilapidated concrete bridge or the rather more sedate wooden footbridge, passing Shillmoor on your right and head back to your car.

 

 

Heading towards Copper Snout

 

The track to Copper Snout

 

 

 

Distance

17 km. ( 10.5 miles )

Total Ascent

840 metres (2756 feet)

Grading

Moderate

Start & Key Grid References

Shillmoor in Upper Coquetdale ( NT 884078 ), (NT 883084), (NT 873097), (NT873101), (NT 877113), (NT874134), (NT 877144), (NT 879128) & (NT 897106)

Time

4-5 hours

Nearest Town

Rothbury

Terrain

Some steep ascents and descents, good grassy paths, occasionally boggy, and a stretch of gravel track

Maps

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

Accommodation

Caravan site at Clennel Hall ( Alwinton ) Hotels and guest houses in Rothbury

Public Transport

None ( except Thropton )

Tourist Information

www.northumberlandnationalpark.org.uk

 

 

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NEXT WALK : THE THREE VALLEYS OF CHEVIOT

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Devised, written & photographed: Geoff Holland 2005 (re-visited with additional photographs & re-measured 2012 & 2016)