THE COQUETDALE BORDER ROUND

 

This walk links together two of Upper Coquetdale`s finest `beauty` spots, the iconic, windswept summit of Windy Gyle and the delightful waterfall of Davidson`s Linn, on a undulating route which never strays far from Northumberland`s fractured northern edge. Starting within touching distance of the twinkling River Coquet, the walk soon heads upwards as it crosses the rarely-visited Loft Hill on its way to the highest point of the day just across the Scottish border, cairn-capped Windy Gyle. Here, next to the summit-topping triangulation pillar, you will enjoy a 360 degree view of all that is best about the Cheviot Hills. Then, after a short, mainly paved, stretch of the Pennine Way you will briefly join Clennell Street, an ancient cross-border track, before branching off to follow the equally ancient Salter`s Road steadily downhill to the conifer-shrouded Davidson`s Linn, one of the loveliest of the Cheviot waterfalls. You will continue your journey for a short distance through the dark fringes of the Uswayford Forest before exploding into the open air alongside the pretty Clay Burn. From here, after passing the isolated farm of Uswayford, the walk makes its way towards spine-tingling Murder Cleugh and then onto the third and final hill of the day, Barrow Law, from where a knee-straining descent will deliver you back to the start, close to the farmstead of Windyhaugh. It is a walk to be savoured.

 

 

River Coquet

 

The River Coquet

 

The Walk

 

1. In his 1898 book, `A Thousand Miles of Wandering in the Border Country`, Edmund Bogg described Windyhaugh as being ... a shepherd`s house, tenanted by two generations of a family named Cowans, and stands in a plot of meadow in a hollow of circling hills, just by the west bank of the Coquet. In those distant days, when the track down the valley took a slightly different course to the current road, we are told that ..... a narrow plank gives means of access from the east. Five years later, in his 1903 book, `Upper Coquetdale, Northumberland: Its History, Traditions, Folk-lore and Scenery`, David Dippie Dixon informs us that for roughly three years ..... an adventure school had been conducted in the house of Robt. Cowans at Windyhaugh, the discontinuance of which, owing to insufficient accommodation, was the primary cause of the erection of the new and well-appointed school-room .... at Lounges Knowe near Barrowburn in 1879. Whilst no longer used as a school, the stone building at Lounges Knowe is now available as holiday accommodation along with the adjacent former school master`s house. How the times have changed. Once past Windhaugh, park your car on the river-hugging grassed area (GR NT861112) more or less opposite the sheep pens and the small plantation on the right hand side of the slim valley road. There are few better places to start a day in the hills and, once you have organised what you need for your walk, continue to follow the road up the valley, with the river over to your left. All too quickly you will meet a parting of the ways as the main valley road branches left and crosses the Rowhope Burn via the aptly named White Bridge (the railings are painted white!) whilst your route takes the road which branches to the right, heading towards three farms, only two of which are now occupied. You are now standing at a point commonly known as Slymefoot or, less commonly, Trows Road End, a popular parking spot for numerous walking routes hereabouts. So, turning gently to your right continue forwards with the Rowhope Burn close to your left hand side and the steep southern slopes of Shorthope Hill immediately ahead. In his 1950 booklet, `A Guide to the Cheviot Hills`, F. R. Banks described this now surfaced road as .... the cart-road up the Rowhope Burn �which reaches the farm of Rowhope in half-a-mile: it then bears to the right past Trows, on the burn of that name, to cross Clennell Street to Uswayford. The two-storied farm house at Trows is no longer occupied.

 

 

 

The parting of the ways at Slymefoot viewed from Shorthope Hill

 

2. By the time you reach the neat little farm of Rowhope (GR NT853122), your muscles will be stimulated and ready to start the long climb towards the highest point of the day, Windy Gyle. So, continue past the farm and, as soon as you reach the point where a superbly-constructed dry stone wall rises up the sharp slope on your left, leave the road behind and begin to follow the wall, now on your left. First, and very soon, you will encounter (and cross) a fence as you stick like glue to the magnificent wall until a second fence is met. Go over and, joining a grassed track, continue forwards rising gradually as you pass over Stob Hill to eventually reach a gate. Go through and turn right. Now, keeping the fence on your right, head upwards towards Loft Hill with wide views opening up over to your left, including Swineside Law and the route of the cross-border track The Street. When you reach flatter ground and a kink in the fence you will see a small step stile and, if you want to claim the `true` top of Loft Hill, climb over and walk approximately 50 metres to what seems like the highest point (GR NT849131) of a fairly even summit. This particular Loft Hill is not to be confused with the slightly smaller hill of the same name which stands close to the College Valley. Once the top has been claimed, return back to the fence, cross over and, turning right, continue downhill keeping close to the fence. When you reach the base of the descent you will need to cross to the other side where there is a generally clearer track/path, albeit a tad intermittent. This will make your journey upwards, over a mixture of grass and heather, slightly less demanding. The fence now stays on your left hand side so it is just a question of choosing the best route possible across increasingly boggy ground without drifting too far away from the guiding fence. The track/path comes and goes at will although, over recent years, it has become easier to follow. Eventually, you will spot on the distant horizon the huge triangulation pillar topped cairn sitting on the summit of Windy Gyle. However, in time and before reaching the cairn, you will cross a sunken track which, to your left, heads in a north westwards direction to meet the border fence on the west facing slopes of Windy Gyle. Whilst this track is not named on the current Ordnance Survey map many earlier maps had referred to a track along a similar course as being Maiden Cross, one of the seventeen border crossings listed in a state paper of 1543. It is a shame that the map does not reflect this fine old name. Once you have crossed the track you are strictly on Scottish soil, so continue forwards, cross over the next fence and then head diagonally right to reach the 619 metre summit (GR.NT855152) of Windy Gyle. The cairn is named on the Ordnance Survey map as, `Russell`s Cairn`.

 

 

 

Windy Gyle summit

 

3. The hills and mountains of England and Scotland, categorised by reference to a range of different and sometimes complex criteria, have been the subject of a vast assortment of lists. The oldest and best known list, the Munros, relates to those mountains in Scotland which are over 3000 feet in height, whilst other well known lists are variously known as, Corbetts, Wainwrights, Marilyns, Nuttalls, Hewitts and Donalds. The border-straddling Windy Gyle appears in three separate lists, Nuttalls, Hewitts and Donalds, and holds the unique distinction of being in lists of both English and Scottish hills. When a certain A. Wainwright (better known for his Lakeland wanderings) arrived here when writing his quirky 1969-published, `Pennine Way Companion` he noted that �. Russell`s Cairn, �of the largest on British hills, is an antiquity (tumulus). Set in the massive pile of stones is a star marker, a rough wind shelter and an Ordnance column. Whilst both the column and the shelter are still standing, the star marker has long since disappeared although you will encounter a similar marker slightly later in the route. The cairn was named after Lord Francis Russell who was killed near this spot in 1595 at a meeting of the Wardens of the Marches. After you have soaked up every angle of the extensive view, turn your back to the cairn and head towards the three fingered signpost and thence to the fence and the small gate through it. You are now returning through the gate to England where, on turning left, you will follow the mainly paved route of the Pennine Way gradually downhill. When A. Wainwright tramped this way back in 1969, he pointed out to readers that the section of the Pennine Way you are about to walk �. Keeps to the Scottish side of the Border fence whilst these days it is firmly on the English side of the flimsy fence. This is easy walking, gently downwards with wide views ahead. After some 550 metres you will spot, a short distance over to your left, a triangular shaped cairn occupying a fine position on the other side of the border. It is well worth a short visit. So, swing your legs across the border fence and pick your way carefully over fairly rough ground to reach this finely built cairn (GR NT859154). The views are extensive on both sides of the border.

 

 

 

Fine cairn on slopes of Windy Gyle

 

4. Now return across the border fence and continue your journey downhill passing, as you stride out as happy as the day is long, a large fence-hugging cairn with a star marker (placed here by the Ministry of Defence) indicating a site of archeological interest. In the distance, the mighty Cheviot makes a superb backcloth to the acres of wild and open countryside. Soon, you will reach a four fingered signpost together with an adjacent five bar gate and a nearby ladder stile (GR NT871160). This is variously known as Hexpethgate, Cocklaw Gate or the Border Gate. The signpost indicates the onward route of the Pennine Way (The Schil) as well as Clennell Street (Alwinton). Over on the Scottish side, Clennell Street continues northwards (Cocklawfoot) and the gate provides entry to the firm track downwards. The ladder stile therefore, on first sight, appears to be superfluous other than to dump the walker into a large expanse of knee-jarring heather. However, as you will recall, A. Wainwright informed us back in 1969 that the route of the Pennine Way kept to the Scottish side of the border between here and the summit of Windy Gyle and, with that in mind, the ladder stile seems to provide access to the older alternative route. Indeed, there is still a trace of the path which was utilised long before the helpful flagstones were laid. It is interesting to note, that Damian Hall in his 2012 published, `Pennine Way Official National Trail Guide` said that.....From the summit of Windy Gyle the Way leads north-east along the fence line (the English side has flagstones). Finally, before you leave this quiet place, take note of the seemingly out of place urban road sign on the opposite side of the border. You are now leaving the Pennine Way behind by turning right and following the course of the ancient Clennell Street as it gradually descends to a very distant Alwinton. This is lovely walking on an ancient cross-border track whilst enjoying wide angle views but, all too soon, you will need to leave this track behind to join the equally ancient and signposted Salter`s Road (GR NT874157). So, turn towards your left and follow a faint path over the grass and through a gate into the edge of the expansive Uswayford Forest. Keep with the firm track through the avenue of mature conifers and, on reaching a cross track, turn left. Then, after roughly 100 metres of walking, turn right down a clearly marked track until you reach a large clearing and the lovely Usway Burn. Once beside the burn, downstream from the footbridge across the burn, turn right to stand above the fine cascade of Davidson`s Linn.

 

 

 

Davidson`s Linn

 

5. In order to fully admire the waterfall you will need to drop down to the base of the cascade, which after rain has two distinct strands, by carefully following the thin path to the right hand side. Exercise caution as you descend as the path can be slippery at times. In his 1950 booklet, `A Guide to the Cheviot Hills`, F. R. Banks described Davidson`s Linn as.....a charming fall.... adding that.....it is not at all easy to find. In those days, the forest had not yet been planted and the route of the Salter`s Road was, in many places, difficult to follow. No such problem these days. It is the perfect place for a spot of lunch. Slightly downstream from here lies the remains of Rory`s Still, one of a number of former illicit whiskey stills in the Upper Coquedale area. Once you are ready to leave, retrace your footsteps to the top of the waterfall from where you will need to head for the footbridge over the burn. Safely on the other side, follow the track uphill and when this turns to the left you should continue straight on following as best you can what once was the main Salter`s Road route through the forest before the new track was constructed. The route you are now following becomes quite boggy as it passes between the dark green conifers and soon makes a sharp left hand turn. Once around the turn be sure to keep your eyes peeled for a path on your left (GR NT886154) which squeezes through a narrow avenue of overhanging conifers. You will need to do a bit of `ducking and diving` as you make your way easily downhill but very soon you will burst back out into the open above the junction of the Clay and Usway Burns. Directly opposite, on the other side of the larger Usway Burn, you will see a traditional circular Northumbrian sheep stell.

 

 

 

The junction of the Clay and Usway Burns

 

6. Now descend to the junction of the two burns, where you will need to splash your boots through the narrow Clay Burn, to reach the thin path which follows the Usway Burn downstream whilst clinging to the steep slopes of Hen Hill. This is a delightful stretch of the walk, heading towards the isolated farm of Uswayford and increasingly rising above the lovely meandering burn. When you reach a fence, cross over the stile and then, turning right, cross over the skinny wooden footbridge and climb straight up to reach a gravel track. Turn left. You have now reached Uswayford (GR NT885146) one of the most remote farms in the Cheviot Hills. In his 1951-published book, `Scottish Border Country`, F. R. Banks described Uswayford as �. One of the several last farms in England �. adding that it is 3 miles from the nearest road (it was 8 miles before the road was extended up the Coquet), 4 miles from the nearest school, 10 miles from the nearest inn and the nearest shop(though groceries are actually brought from Wooler, 25 miles away, to Barrowburn, at the foot of the Usway, and carted up thence by the farmer himself), 12 miles from the nearest telegraph-office (there is a small post office at Barrowburn), 20 miles from the nearest regular bus service, and 35 miles from the nearest railway station.Yes, pretty remote and, whilst in some respects the passing of the years (as well as the advent of the affordable motor car) has made distance less of a problem, in other ways, such as schools and post offices, things have become more distant. As the name suggests, access to the farm is via a ford. Now it is a simple matter of heading off down the firm track, all the while keeping the Usway Burn over to your left. Initially, you will have, on your right hand side, the tall conifers of the Uswayford Forest and then, the steep south eastern flanks of Hazely Law. In time, you will reach a junction of tracks and a four-fingered signpost. Rather than following the more modern gravel track you are currently standing on, your route now takes a far pleasanter course as it follows the route of the old road for a short way. So, turn sharp left, signposted `Clennell Street`, and once you are parallel with a small step stile on your left, turn right down a slightly sunken track which winds downhill to cross the Hepden Burn in a beautifully secluded dip.

 

 

 

The Hepden Burn

 

7. Cross over the burn and stay with the track as it climbs gently to eventually rejoin the gravel track at the corner of a small plantation. Continue in the same direction, either staying on the gravel track or, alternatively, dropping a metre or two to your left to walk along the softer surface of the older plantation-hugging track. Whichever way you choose, you will soon arrive at the end corner of the plantation and your cue to turn left through a five bar gate. Before you do so, turn to your left to see, just inside the plantation (GR NT867132), the memorial stone bearing the inscription, `Murder Cleugh Here in 1610 Robert Lumsden killed Isabella Sudden`. The story goes that Robert Lumsden, a local and a violent and independent character with a taste for other men`s wives, had killed Isabella Sudden in a particularly nasty way. Instructed to arrest Lumsden, a number of the King`s officers, who were based in Durham, rode for two days to Lumsden`s house to be greeted by him uttering .... I care nothing for the King, I care nothing for the Queen and I care nothing for you. Assisted by some of his cronies, he proceeded to relieve the officers of their pistols and swords before beating them black and blue. The officers fled back to Durham with their tails between their legs never to return. Eventually, Lumsden was arrested in Newcastle and was tried, ex-communicated from the Church, forced to acknowledge his crime at Alnwick Market Cross, pay a fine and serve a paltry one month in jail. A case, it seems, of excessive leniency. Now head through the gate and follow the track as it heads across a large area of open grassland with good views towards the bulk of Shillhope Law. Eventually, as you reach a point which is nearest to the top of Barrow Law, diagonally to your right, you will spot a track cutting away from the main track, again diagonally to your right (GR NT865119). Take this track and, as it crosses the heavily grassed summit area, head over to your left to find, as best you can, what appears to be the highest point. It is not an exact science, just make a judgement and accept that you have now climbed the third hill of your walk. Now go to the southern edge of the summit area and you will enjoy fine views down to the River Coquet. Leave the summit by heading south eastwards, in time descending a steep slope over fairly rough knee-jarring terrain heading towards a slight dip in the slope which runs almost to the base of the hill and the valley floor. This is a sod dyke, a turf wall constructed as long ago as the 13th century which it is thought delineated the boundary between land occupied by Henry the Crossbowman and land occupied by the Monks of Newminster. This dyke runs over Barrow Law and may have linked up with similar boundary markers elsewhere in the vicinity. Once you have reached the bottom of the slope, simply turn right and there you will see your car, ready to transport you home again. You will most certainly wish to return to the beautiful valley sooner rather than later.

 

 

 

The view from Barrow Law

 

 

Distance

15.2 km (9.4 miles)

Total Ascent

582 metres (1909 feet)

Grading

Moderate

Start & Key Grid References

Near Sheep Pens beyond Windyhaugh (GR NT861112, GR NT853122, GR NT849131, GR NT855152, GR NT859154, GR NT871160, GR NT874157, GR NT886154, GR NT885146, GR NT867132 & GR NT865119)

Time

5 hours

Nearest Town

Rothbury

Terrain

A mixture of clear paths and tracks, some tarmac and the occasional rough and pathless stretch.

Maps

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

Accommodation

The Camping Barn & The Deer Hut at Barrowburn, The Rose & Thistle & Clennell Hall at Alwinton otherwise a variety at Thropton & Rothbury

Public Transport

None

Tourist Information

www.northumberlandnationalpark.org.uk

 

 

 

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Devised, written & photographed: Geoff Holland 2018