THE DORMOUNT HOPE BORDERER

The long and undulating road from the tiny settlement of Alwinton winds past a handful of isolated farms as it travels through some of the most beautiful and remote countryside in the whole of Northumberland.  It is a journey to whet the appetite so, when you have finally negotiated the last lonely mile of this narrow, river-hugging single track road and stepped out into the cool morning air at Buckham`s Bridge, you will be eager to stretch your legs on this superb cross-border walk. Climbing away from the River Coquet you will quickly claim your first hill of the day as you make an early and short detour to the tiny walker`s cairn on the grass-covered top of Yearning Law before crossing a vast track of featureless moorland en route to the border at Yearning Saddle. After then climbing nearby Lamb Hill you take one giant step onto Scottish turf and begin an interesting circuit of lonely Dormount Hope. Eventually, after passing the uninhabited cottage of Peelinick, you will return to the border at Raeshaw Fell before descending, by various ways and means, to Buckham`s Walls Burn. Any thoughts of a straight forward ending to your trip are quickly dispelled as you turn towards the final top of the day, unmarked Deel`s Hill from where an easy downhill wander will return you to the valley. This is Upper Coquetdale, hill walking territory par excellence. Prepare yourself for a walk on the wild side.

 

 

 

Yearning Law

 

The Walk

 

1. “Alwinton”, said F. R. Banks in his 1951-published book, `Scottish Border Country`, “is the gateway to Upper Coquetdale, the road up which is pushing farther and farther into the hills and now extends as far as Blindburn, 9 miles above the hamlet [Alwinton] and about 3 miles from the Border at the Chew Green forts”. These days the public road continues almost as far as Chew Green. This walks starts at the small parking area immediately prior to Buckham`s Bridge, little less than 800 metres beyond the farm of Blindburn and not quite 4 kilometres from the end of the public road. It is a quiet spot up close and personal with the River Coquet as it gently flows beneath the 1955-constructed beam and concrete bridge, more functional than pleasing to the eye. No matter, this is the limit of your trip up Coquetdale so, once you have sorted yourself out after the long journey, start your day by heading back down the road you have just travelled towards the roadside buildings of Blindburn, an easy start before the day`s exertions begin in earnest. Immediately prior to the farmhouse, on the left hand side of the road, you will see a signpost (GR NT829108) indicating, `Yearning Law Border Ridge`. This is your route. Once on the other side of the fence follow the track as it winds uphill and, when the gradient eases and the view begins to open up, aim for the prominent hill ahead. This is Yearning Law, 477 metres above a very distant sea level and your first hill of the walk. A minor detour from the main track will be necessary to reach the small walker`s cairn (GR NT817118) which adorns this otherwise undistinguished top. However, the panorama is extensive and time should be taken to enjoy the vastness of this empty landscape.

 

 

 

The Mountain Refuge hut at Yearning Saddle

 

2. Now return to the track and continue heading towards the border across what is essentially a vast tract of fairly featureless moorland avoiding the temptation to follow any side track or path. Keep your eyes focused on the distant border ridge, with Lamb Hill especially noticeable, following the often damp track as it eventually turns to the west to reach the Mountain Refuge hut at Yearning Saddle (GR NT804129), slap bang on the border with bonny Scotland. In foul weather this hut can literally be a life saver. In January 2013 three well-prepared runners, competing in the gruelling Montane Spine Race, were forced by blizzard conditions to shelter overnight in this basic hut before being assisted off the hills by a Mountain Rescue Team the following morning. Hopefully, when you reach this lonely place, a mere 4.5 kilometres into your walk, the sun will be shining in an unblemished blue sky and you will want to linger a short while sitting on the duckboard `veranda` feeling, “as happy as the grass is green”. Once you are done, with your back to the front of the refuge hut and the border fence on your left hand side, start the steady climb up the south western slope of Lamb Hill. You are following the route of the Pennine Way as it wanders towards the Scottish border town of Kirk Yetholm and the finishing post of an epic high level journey. In his book, `The Pennine Way` published in 1969 and only 4 years after the route was officially established, walking legend Tom Stephenson described this part of the route as having been, “grazed by sheep for centuries though there are stretches of heather and bilberry”, and on “either hand are great swelling hills”. How right he was. The true top of Lamb Hill is marked by a triangulation pillar on the opposite side of the fence and a quick visit across a small stretch of heather will take your total hills so far to two. The will be more before the day is done.

 

 

Lamb Hill

 

Lamb Hill

 

3. Now return to the English side of the post and wire fence and back track for approximately 100 metres, as far as the fence which joins the border fence on the Scottish side (GR NT809133). This is your guide rail to the next important feature on this walk so, without further procrastination, step onto the Scottish side of the border fence and then, with the other fence to your right, follow this as it crosses an area of pathless heather and makes its way in a generally north westerly direction. Eventually, you will trade in the heather for nicely cropped grass and as you swing merrily along you will spot, to your left, the conical-shaped Kip with a neat and obvious little cairn on the top (GR NT803135). So, it is now time for yet another short detour by turning to your left, heading downhill and climbing to the top of this small but perfectly formed hill. When you arrive at the cairn you will be greeted by a superb view with the Mountain Refuge hut at Yearning Saddle taking centre stage.

 

 

 

The cairn on The Kip

 

4. Return to the fence you have been following since leaving the border and continue in the same direction, on a generally downhill trajectory, ensuring that you leave the security of the fence behind for a brief spell in order to cross the grass-carpeted top of Broad Law, a short distance to the left. An obvious track will guide you there. Keeping with the fence, your route continues to descend with a pleasant view across Dormount Hope to the uninhabited cottage of Peelinick, your next target. In summer, the lower part of this path may be invaded by patches of thick bracken but keep your pecker up and continue to the point where the Callaw and Dormount Hopes collide to form the Yett Burn (GR NT796143). This is the farthest point of your walk and standing here, surrounded by steep green hills you are literally miles from anywhere. It is a truly lonely spot. Stay with the fence as it turns sharply to your left around the head of the Yett Burn and starts to climb very steeply towards the cottage of Peelinick. Just before you reach the cottage, cross over the small stile on your right and take a moment to catch your breath and to enjoy the view.

 

 

 

Looking towards Callaw Cairn and Ewemoorside Hill from Dormount Hope

 

5. Now, walk towards the boarded up cottage, keeping it to your left hand side with a damp patch of ground to your right, and you will soon reach a gate and a track. Go through the gate and continue uphill on the firm track. Once you have reached level ground you will see, to your left, a less established green track (GR NT793140) which will, eventually, lead you back to the border. But that is still some way off so just bide your time and make sure you do not go astray as you wander easily uphill. Very quickly you will join some substantial linear earthworks which more or less double as your track upwards. This bank and ditch are believed by some to be a medieval deer trap which more or less enclosed the head of Dormount Hope and prevented the escape of deer from the enclosed land. Others tend to disagree. However, whatever the original purpose of these earthworks, they remain to this day a highly visible mark on the landscape and will act as your guide rail uphill. As you gently gain height enjoy the view across Dormount Hope, stopping a wee while to look towards your outwards route, on the opposite side of the hope, where The Kip, Hymer`s Gap, Stell Rig and Lamb Hill all catch the eye. After about 900 metres of walking you will spot a faint trace on your right hand side (GR NT794131) heading uphill in a generally south westerly direction and this is your onward route to Raeshaw Fell and the border fence. The trace is intermittent to non-existent in places but, by keeping in the same general direction and always aiming for the highest point you will, after a short while, reach the post and wire fence which separates Scotland, where you are currently standing, from England. A very short distance to your right you will see a gate which you must pass through to reach the top most point of the almost flat Raeshaw Fell. This lies where there is a slight kink in the fence, marked by a thicker than normal post (GR NT790128). The panorama is expansive to say the least, a huge empty view into England, the perfect place to have your lunch if you have not already succumbed to the walker`s pangs of hunger. In his 1926-published book, “The Border Line”, James Logan Mack referred to this place as “Rushy Fell” and not, as stated on the current Ordnance Survey map, Raeshaw Fell and he thought that this section of the border could, “lay claim to the most desolate of the whole Border Line”.  However he did admit that under favourable conditions there is, “a magnificent panorama”.

 

 

 

Raeshaw Fell and a huge view into England

 

6. Now retrace your steps back through the gate and, still keeping the fence close to your right hand side, continue on until you reach another set of substantial earthworks (GR NT792128). It is now time to leave the fence behind and, whilst remaining for a wee while longer on Scottish turf, turn to your left and, with the earthworks immediately on your right, head straight on following a rough track in a generally easterly direction for approximately 650 metres, to the point where the earthworks more or less come to an end. Turning to your half right, start the final leg of your journey back to England over fairly rough and ready ground. Do not fear, it is a short trip and before you have time to wave the white flag of surrender the post and wire border fence comes into view (GR NT802126). Cross over and you are again standing on the route of the Pennine Way, 50 years old in 2015 and still going strong. Hopefully, you are too, as there is still much energy needing to be burnt. In poor visibility, this section of the walk will require careful navigation as you are travelling back over a tract of featureless moorland which is, generally, both pathless and rough underfoot. In clear conditions, you will be able to visually navigate by facing in a southerly direction and picking out a small animal feed store standing on the tip of a `nose` of land caught between two small valleys, one unnamed and the other the valley of the Rennies Burn. Once located, strike out across the vast green acres and, eventually, you will reach the feed store which you will discover is a solid metal container, built to withstand anything the Cheviot weather can throw at it (GR NT802120). You can now clearly see the way ahead, the valley of the Rennies Burn.

 

 

 

Animal feed store and the valley of the Rennies Burn

 

7. Your route now descends in roughly the same direction as you arrived at this spot aiming initially for a circular stone sheep stell (GR NT803118) and the left hand bank of the Rennies Burn. Ahead, at a sharp left turn in the burn, you will spot a small rock face and, as you make your way downsteam, passing this landmark as you go, you may need to cross and re-cross the burn in order to find your best line forwards. It is easy enough and you should keep your feet dry. This is a winding journey up close with the skinny Rennies Burn, surrounded by steep green hills and perhaps, if lady luck be with you, a handful of feral goats for company. In time, you will reach the point where the Rennies Burn flows into the Buckham`s Walls Burn (GR NT807112), which arrives from your right and continues its journey straight ahead to finally reach the River Coquet at Buckham`s Bridge. This is not your way back to your vehicle unless you have run out of steam and are ready to call it a day. Otherwise, and why would you not wish to complete the full route, you must now turn right and follow the Buckham`s Walls Burn upstream, keeping to the right hand side of this audible but sometimes invisible watercourse. As you will note from your map, you are following a public footpath which is, to say the least, pretty difficult to locate. Simply keep to the right hand side of the burn avoiding, if possible, sinking into the rather damp surrounds. It is a relatively short stretch of potentially boot-soaking ground before you reach, at the junction of the burn with Foul Whasle, dry land. Once there, make your way to the sheep stell (GR NT800109) which lies, more or less, straight ahead.

 

 

 

Rennies Burn

 

8. Immediately to the north, on the opposite side of the burn, lie the remains of the remote farm of Buckham`s Walls which was occupied until 1941 when the then inhabitants moved to Makendon close to the River Coquet. Life as a shepherd in this two roomed, peat-heated cottage must have been a lonely one with the inhabitants having to endure long periods of isolation during the winter months. At this fairly featureless point be careful not to become disorientated. So, with the sheep stell to your right, head to your left across a shallow ford through Foul Whasle and, once on the other side, you will spot a track ahead which wanders uphill in a generally south easterly direction. Start climbing and, when you reach a fork in the track, take the right spur to the reach the unmarked top of Deel`s Hill (GR NT803101). Standing at a height of 495 metres this seems an insignificant hill in a vast moorland landscape. Enjoy the abundance of space and the huge view before making your way to a cross track, a public bridleway, which to your right eventually heads to the border at Black Halls and to your left to the River Coquet at Buckham`s Bridge. This is your route so, turning to your left, keep with the track as it heads gently downwards to the beautiful Coquet valley. Once you have finally reached the end of your lonely walk on both sides of the border you will be well and truly ready for a rest. Enjoy your journey home.

 

 

 

Distance

16.5km. (10¼ miles)

Total Ascent

752 metres (2467 feet)

Grading

Strenuous

Start & Key Grid References

Buckham`s Bridge Car Park, Upper Coquetdale (GR NT824107), (GR NT829108), (GR NT817118), (GR NT804129), (GR NT809133), (GR NT803135), (GR NT796143), (GR NT793140), (GR NT794131), (GR NT790128), (GR NT802126), (GR NT802120), (GR NT803118), (GR NT807112), (GR NT800109) &

(GR NT803101).

 

Time

5-6 hours

Nearest Town

Rothbury

Terrain

A mixture of terrain from clear paths and tracks to rough pathless moorland over undulating countryside with a number of reasonably steep but relatively short ascents and descents.

 

Maps

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

 

Accommodation

A variety of accommodation available in Rothbury and a little in Alwinton.

 

Transport

None (except Rothbury)

 

Tourist Information

www.northumberlandnationalpark.org.uk

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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NEXT: A CROSS BORDER JAUNT

 

Devised, written & photographed: Geoff Holland 2017