THE FOUR CHEVIOT TOPS

 

The shortest route to the summit of Northumberland`s highest hill starts from the beautiful Harthope Valley close to the Hawsen Burn and, at little more than three miles in length, it is by far the most popular way to reach the vast summit plateau. As a consequence, there is a well-worn path virtually from start to finish and, whilst it is not unknown to have this particular route all to yourself, there is a very real possibility that you will meet a fellow walker or two along the way. However, for those folk who prefer their ramblings to be well away from other visitors there are a variety of other routes to and from the summit. On this walk you will ascend the hill by the popular `tourist` route and then, after catching your breath beside the huge monolith marking the top, you will descend down the quieter northern slopes to the lonely and delightful Lambden Valley. After stretching your legs on a firm track around the head of the valley you will encounter a steep climb to the unmarked top of Broadhope Hill followed by an easy crossing of heather and grass-covered Blackseat Hill. A delightful and meandering descent will deliver you back to the Harthope Valley and a short walk back to the start. It is a walk of contrasts.

 

 

 Harthope Valley

 

The Harthope Valley

 

The Walk

 

1.   “At the foot of Cheviot, on its southern side, is the Harthope Burn which flows between Hedgehope and Cheviot”; this is how Nancy Ridley, in her 1965-published book, `Portrait of Northumberland`, described the burn close to where you will commence your walk. Having descended carefully the steep and narrow Skirl Naked into the Harthope Valley, continue to drive along the single track road, first over the 1956-built Carey Burn Bridge,  then through a series of tree-lined twists and turns before emerging into the broad open valley beneath the hillside cottage of Langlee. Keep following the road until you reach a large area of cropped grass on the left hand side and just prior to the small bridge over the Hawsen Burn. This, as far as you are concerned, is the end of the public road and you will need to park your car on this spacious grassed area (GR NT954225). Ahead, the road continues towards the farm of Langleeford, a place which a young Sir Walter Scott described, in a letter to a friend, as being, “one of the wildest and most romantic situations which your imagination, fertile upon the subject of cottages, ever suggested”. Once you are ready to roll, continue along the tarmac road, over the small bridge and then, after some 400 metres, you will see, on the right hand side of the road, a track which passes through a five bar gate. This area is, in essence, a wide gap through a small plantation. Follow this track through the gate and then, in rapid succession, turn to your left and continue forwards on a rough uphill track quickly leaving the trees behind as you gain a little height. The track is broad and clear as it passes through a stretch of overhanging heather eventually reaching a small step stile. Already the view has opened up with majestic Hedgehope Hill looking splendid over the valley to your left.

 

 

Hedgehope Hill

 

Hedgehope Hill on Cheviot ascent

 

2. Once across the stile, follow the path uphill over an area of rough grassland and, when the track splits in two, be sure to follow the left hand spur. Navigation, even in poor weather, should be without much difficulty as long as you keep with the clear path and, after much huffing and puffing, having crossed another small stile, you will reach a post and wire fence arriving from your right hand side (GR NT933221). You are now standing some 500 metres above sea level and will soon reach the top of your first hill of the day. So, keeping in the same direction with the fence to the right, walk the short distance to the unmarked summit of Scald Hill which stands close to a left hand kink in the fence. This may be a good place for a quick breather to admire the view before you head towards the steepest part of the climb. Now descend to a another small stile, and make your way across what can be a very messy stretch of boggy ground, picking the line that suits you best and always keeping the fence close at hand. In time, and with your boots now certainly looking less than brand new, start the steady, breath-stealing climb towards the unseen summit. You will inevitably need to pause from time to time to ease your aching limbs so, take it canny and enjoy whatever view back over you can see. In time, you will cross a couple of patches of small rocks which can be a wee bit slippery during or after wet weather. Take care and eventually, as the gradient eases a little, you will spot ahead a near-vertical ladder stile at the eastern end of the vast Cheviot plateau (GR NT914206). As you pause before climbing over to the other side, take a moment to enjoy the fine view which was perfectly described by broadcaster Bob Langley in his 1976-published book, `Walking the Scottish Border`: “Standing on the slopes of Cheviot with the wind smashing into my face, I smelled-or imagined I could smell-the first subtle salt spray hint of the sea. To my right, the rounded hump of Hedgehope loomed into the sky, topped by its inevitable cairn of boulders, and at my feet, one of the most beautiful valleys in England rippled seaward in a flourish of lush grassland, heather, red bracken and soft green trees.” Hopefully, the weather will be kind so that your view will be no different to Bob Langley`s.

 

 

The Cheviot

 

Eastern end of The Cheviot plateau

 

3. Now cross over the stile onto the paved pathway which snakes across the plateau leading you, after some 600 metres, to the enormous monolith which marks the highest point in Northumberland. This structure consists of a triangulation pillar supported by a huge, 2016-Northumberland National Park-repaired stone plinth which stands on a grass-fringed island surrounded by an ocean of saturated peat. Much has been written over many years about the summit plateau, the majority being anything but complimentary, and the general consensus can best be illustrated by the words of John Wood from his 1947-published book, `Mountain Trail The Pennine Way from the Peak to the Cheviots`. He described his journey to the summit triangulation pillar from nearby Cairn Hill as being, “an interminable-seeming half-mile of torment along and over the fissured peat-hags.......and what an anti-climax when it is reached. The only view from the highest point of Cheviot is a cloudscape.” You will draw your own conclusions but remember that back in 1947 when John Wood passed this way, there was no paved pathway to guide him easily through the labyrinth of peat-hags. Think yourself lucky and be thankful to have reached the county`s highest point. When you have digitally recorded the occasion and are suitably refreshed, retrace your boot steps as far as the ladder stile but do not cross over. Instead, leave the comfort of the paved pathway by turning to your left, initially keeping the fence close to your right. This is a rough and trackless stretch of ground so be patient as it will soon get a lot easier. After about 100 metres, start gently bending to your left and, as you begin to leave the fence behind, you will first see a cairn over to the left and then another larger cairn more or less straight ahead. This larger one, you will discover in a very short period of time, is in fact a substantial shelter cairn. You are now aiming to pass this larger cairn (GR NT914208) on its left hand side and, as you get a little closer, you will join a relatively clear track which will, after a lengthy descent, deliver you to the Lambden Valley. As you wind your way downhill you will need to keep alert so as not to lose the track as it wanders, sometimes a tad slippery, through swathes of heather with fine views over the Lambden Valley to a trio of hills in the middle distance, Broadhope, Preston and Coldburn Hills, and the more distant Newton Tors, Easter and Wester, along with the neighbouring rocky Hare Law. Over to your left the deep cleft of the Goldscleugh Burn will almost certainly attract your curiosity.

 

 

Lambden Valley

 

Heading towards the Lambden Valley

 

4. In time, you will reach a plantation. Ahead, just over the tops of the trees, you might just spot the small farm of Goldscleugh, as isolated a place as you could wish to find. You have just descended what F. R. Banks described in his 1950 booklet, `Guide to the Cheviot Hills` as, “the long, broad nose which thrusts out to the north”, and if you take a look at the Ordnance Survey map of the area and you will see exactly what he meant. Continue to stay with the track as it follows the outside edge of the plantation with a fence to the right hand side of the track. When the fence turns ninety degrees to the right you too must turn in the same direction and, within a mater of metres, you will join a firm gravel track (GR NT915228). Your route continues to the right. The Lambden Valley, in which you are now standing, forms part of the College Valley Estate which is managed by a Board of Directors whose duty is to manage the estate in a way that increases its value as an environmental, social and economic place of excellence. The estate extends to some 12,000 acres in total, all of which falls within the Northumberland National Park. When F. R. Banks wandered here back in 1950 the track that you are about to follow did not exist, nor did the plantation you have just passed through. Like the summit plateau paved pathway, this track will ease your journey to the point where you will begin to leave the valley behind. So, heading off to the right, stay with the track as it makes its way towards the head of the valley, passing first an old `National Carriers` wagon, and then, beneath Woolhope Crag, a wooden estate shack. Soon after this, in a small dip in the track, you will cross the Lambden Burn which rises high on the slopes of The Cheviot, before then making your way around the valley head. The view to the distant curves of The Schil, Black Hag and The Curr is outstanding. Eventually, you will reach a five bar gate together with a fence which heads uphill to your right (GR NT927231). Alongside the fence is a track of sorts, which varies from time to time depending whether or not the estate has cut back some of the ground cover. However, as the track sticks like glue to the fence line, the ascent towards Broadhope Hill is perfectly clear albeit heavy going. So, turn to your right, leave the gravel valley track behind and begin your climb uphill.

 

 

Lambden Valley

 

The Lambden Valley

 

5. As you steadily climb uphill you may wish to pause from time to time to admire the view back across the valley to the north face of The Cheviot. In time, you will meet a cross fence at which point you will continue your journey to the right. It is up to you whether or not you cross over to the other side of the flimsy post and wire fence a decision which will depend on which side offers the easier ascent. From a directional point of view, it is assumed that you will cross over the fence. You are climbing Broadhope Hill, a decent 517 metres above sea level and, eventually, you will cross the unmarked, grass-topped summit beyond which you will come to a fine, curved-top boundary stone. On one side of the stone is the letter `H` whilst on the other side the letter `S`. This is one of a number of similar stones between here and Cold Law. Keep going in the same direction until the fence turns ninety degrees left (GR NT935232). Climb over the facing fence and then turn immediately right keeping the fence also to your right. This next stretch of terrain is nearly always boot-soaking wet as you follow a clear but messy path.  The rain that falls on this area either drains to the east and the Harthope Valley, or to the west and the Lambden Valley. After you have ploughed your furrow for nearly 700 metres the ground drops steeply away to the head of the New Burn. However, immediately prior to the start of the drop, you will see, to your left, a clear track which slices through deep heather.

 

 Blackseat Hill

 

The track to Blackseat Hill

 

 

6. This is your route back to the Harthope Valley. Ahead you will see the small rise of Blackseat Hill, a top you will visit after another 650 metres of walking and, as you make your way along the twin indentations which pass for the track the deep cleft of the New Burn will be below you to the right. You will soon reach the small rocky summit of Blackseat Hill, crowned with an ever so small cairn (GR NT940226). The view, however, is pretty big. From Hedgehope Hill to Langlee Crags, from Cold Law to the mighty Cheviot, the panorama is pretty well 360 degrees in extent so take a few minutes to enjoy every single angle. Once satisfied, rejoin the track and continue to follow this as it bends away from the summit to the north before then turning to the east. This is a superb descent, relatively easy on the knees and certainly exceedingly kind on the eyes with Landglee, Housey and Long Crags all more or less straight ahead across the valley. In time, you will pass a length of dry stone walling on the left after which you will join another track. Turn right with this, cross over the New Burn and continue downwards until you reach the tarmac valley road. You will recognise this from your outward journey. Now, it is just a simple matter of turning left and before you have time to recite Milton`s `Paradise Lost` you will be back where you started all those hours ago. You can now add four more tops to your list of Cheviot conquests.                                                                    

 

 

Blackseat Hill

 

Blackseat Hill towards Cold Law

 

 

Distance

14.4 km (9 miles)

Total Ascent

806 metres (2644 feet)

Grading

Moderate

Start & Key Grid References

Grassed area at the end of the public road in the Harthope Valley (GR NT954225), (GR NT933221), (GR NT914206), (GR NT914208), (GR NT915228), (GR NT927231), (GR NT935232) & (GR NT940226).

Time

5 hours

Nearest Town

Wooler

Terrain

Mainly clear paths and tracks although some are fairly rough and there is one pathless stretch of terrain.

Maps

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

Accommodation

Numerous & varied in Wooler including Youth Hostel & caravan parks

Public Transport

None

Tourist Information

www.northumberlandnationalpark.org.uk

 

 

 

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Devised, written & photographed: Geoff Holland 2017