THE KILHAM BORDER WANDER

 

Located close to the northern boundary of the Northumberland National Park and well on the road from Wooler to the Scottish border towns of Kirk and Town Yetholm, the tiny settlement of Kilham has a history dating back to medieval times. It lies within shouting distance of the 1887-opened Alnwick to Cornhill railway line and, whilst the last passenger train ran in 1930, the line continued to carry goods until 1965. The small cottages of Kilham stand at the entrance to the linear valley and are dominated by the twin tops of Kilham and Longknowe Hills. At the distant head of the valley stands Coldsmouth Hill squeezed up close and personal with the border between England and Scotland. On this lonely undulating walk you will climb to the rounded summits of two of these quiet grass-covered hills, Kilham and Longknowe Hills, as well as visiting the cairn-topped Madam Law and Great Hetha. ´┐ŻAll the while you will enjoy fantastic wrap-around views of this quiet corner of Northumberland and the Scottish border country. However, rather than starting the day in the narrow Kilham Valley where parking is at a premium, you will begin your journey in the neighbouring College Valley, slightly more popular but none the worse for that. Be prepared for an up and down kind of day.

 

 

 

Post Box, Entrance to Hethpool House.

 

The Walk

 

1. Longknowe and Kilham Hills are literally off the map, the one which covers the vast majority of the Cheviot Hills, the Ordnance Survey Explorer Map OL16. In order to get a lay of that particular land you need to consult the Ordnance Survey Explorer Map 339, but that is a task for later in the walk. First we must start at the beginning, the beautiful College Valley and the tiny settlement of Hethpool, named on the first Ordnance Survey Six-Inch map of the area, published in 1866, as Heathpool. The pretty cottages close to your starting point were built, in the Arts & Crafts style, in 1926 and have been described as, among the finest cottages to be seen anywhere in Northumberland. They are Grade II Listed. You will, no doubt, judge for yourself. Once you are ready for the off, return along the road that lead you into the valley, and, once past the first 90 degree left hand turn in the road, have a peep at the other side of the left hand rounded pillar standing at the entrance to Hethpool House. At the next right hand turn in the road, turn left signed St. Cuthberts Way, and then quickly right signed Ring Chesters 2 (GR NT893285). You are now following the local Hillforts Trail known as the Ring Chesters Round, along which you will find the occasional marker post to keep you on the straight and narrow. As you climb easily uphill, you will notice the well-preserved cultivation terraces across the slope of the hill where former inhabitants once grew their crops. Whilst not known for sure, it is thought that these terraces were first used as long ago as medieval times. As you proceed uphill be sure to keep a watch out ahead for the intermittent marker posts as the narrow path is indistinct in places. You will, eventually, join a clearer green track which takes you across the flanks of White Hill to a small plantation, a five bar gate and a small stile (GR NT887289).

 

 

 

Standing Stones

 

2. Have a quick look over your right shoulder and you will see, a short distance away, a couple of standing stones set in a circular area of cropped grass within a generally rough moorland area. This might suggest that the green area is the site of a former large cairn, possibly a burial cairn and possibly dating back to the Bronze Age. Now, cross the stile and head straight on following a clear green track uphill turning to your left when the marker post directs you to do so. As you walk across the top part of this spur of Laddie`s Knowe, you are passing over the remains of a prehistoric defended enclosure, a burial mound and a Romano-British settlement. This was obviously once a well-populated area so consider yourself lucky to have it all to yourself.  Stay with the track over Laddie`s Knowe as it makes its way towards a part-harvested plantation boundary. However, before reaching the plantation boundary you will come to a marker post (GR NT879287). Do not follow the directional arrow but keep straight on upwards to the plantation gate. Go through the gate and follow the plantation track, which at times, particularly in the summer, becomes a little overgrown, whilst all the while enjoying the superb views over to your left. Those with a keen eye will be able to spot, Ell`s Knowe, Madam Law, Sinkside Hill, Loft Hill, Saughieside Hill, Black Hag, The Curr, The Schil and, in the distance, the huge bulk of the Cheviot. As you make your way through this harvested part of the plantation, keep an eye open for the marker post which directs you to a small gate to your right (GR NT871291). Head for the gate and go through.

 

 

 

Marker Post to small gate on Haddon Hill

 

3. Now, with no discernible path to guide you, head straight uphill to the rocky top of Haddon Hill, relatively small in stature but with fine views ahead to your next objective, Longknowe Hill. So, keep more or less in the same direction over rough pathless terrain, and as you head downhill you will see ahead the stone-strewn remains of an old settlement. Head towards the dilapidated stone walls and, once there, turn to your right and make tracks the short distance to a small gate (GR NT874297). If you have not already got your boots muddy, then there is a good chance that this is the moment when all the cleaning and polishing you carried out after your last walk will be totally ruined. Once through the gate, your task is simple. Head straight up the facing slope of Longknowe Hill, relatively steep but otherwise without any real problems. As you approach the top, you will spot a metal gate, and once there go through to reach the triangulation pillar marking the 346 metre (1135 feet) high top. The top of the hill is also decorated with a drystone wall and one old wooden gatepost. Looking back the way you came reveals a splendid view of Coldsmouth Hill with the lonely dwelling of Elsdonburn Shank lying at its feet. Ahead lies the unnamed 327 metre (1073 feet) high top and beyond the 338 metre (1109 feet) high Kilham Hill. There is no easy way around the unnamed top so prepare yourself for a rollercoaster journey to Kilham Hill and back.

 

 

 

Longknowe Hill

 

4. Your route now, which for the most part is pathless, heads more or less straight on in a generally north easterly direction descending on a fairly obvious trajectory to the saddle (GR NT 878303) between Longknowe Hill and the conical-shaped unnamed top. Once on the saddle turn ever so slightly to your left and plod your way upwards to the grass-carpeted unmarked top of this pleasant wee unnamed hill. Once you have caught your breath, turn to your right, cut across the summit and then start your descent to the saddle before Kilham Hill, adjusting your route as you head forwards so as to aim for the metal gate and the junction of two fences. Go through the gate and initially follow the fence steeply uphill. When the fence peters out, continue straight on and, eventually and quite possibly thankfully, you will reach the large cairn marking the top of the superb hill. This modern walker`s cairn sits on top of the turf-covered remains of a Bronze Age burial cairn with a view to please even the most demanding panorama connoisseur. This, the most northerly hill in England over 1000 feet in height, is separated from the hills immediately to the north by the Bowmont Valley a place the Scottish border poet Will H. Ogilvie fondly recalled in 1898 with the words, Seen the brier roses quiver/When the West-wind crossed the dell/Heard the music of the river/And the tale it had to tell. Over to the north east the shimmering thread of the cold North Sea might just be spotted whilst lying in the valley, slightly west of north, is the tiny and peaceful settlement of Kilham. But it was not such a peaceful place in the turbulent past when it regularly suffered from repeated Scottish incursions, and was often destroyed and laid to waste. But this was back in the 16th century, so no need to worry about any marauding Scots spoiling the peacefulness of your day out in the hills. Now you must return the way you came, first to the metal gate on the saddle and thence the climb to the top of the unnamed hill from where you will, once again, descend to the saddle before climbing to the triangulation pillar you left all that time ago. Take a moment to enjoy the view and to catch your breath, there is still a long way to go.

 

 

 

Kilham Hill cairn

 

5. Once you are ready for the off, continue to retrace your steps, initially downhill to the small (muddy) gate and then, once through the gate, turn right to the ruins of the old settlement. From here, head straight uphill to the rocky top of Haddon Hill, your second visit of the day, and then downwards to the small gate into the part-harvested plantation. Re-enter and turn right, following the path to another marker post, and then left downhill along the edge of the large mature trees. At the bottom of the descent, cross over the stile (GR NT867290). Ahead stands the short steep northern slopes of Ring Chesters and the remnants of one of the many Iron Age hillforts that litter this area of Northumberland. If you have the energy, a flying visit might appeal although, be warned, there is still a fair bit of climbing to do before your day is done. Assuming that you have declined the invitation to visit Ring Chesters, turn left and head downhill with the fence and plantation close on your left. You will eventually join a firm gravel track and at this point you need to turn right and then left when another track is reached. You will soon reach a gate and a stile close to the Elsdon Burn. Cross over the stile and head a short distance as far as a three-fingered signpost. One finger points to your right, signed Border Ridge and this is your way forward. At this crucial point, should you feel that you have done enough and wish to cut the walk short, you have the option of carrying straight on along the narrow surfaced road following the route of St. Cuthbert`s Way eastwards. The route is signposted and easy to follow. If you wish to continue on this fantastic walk, turn right onto a rising gravel track passing, on your right, the fairly modern cottage of Elsdonburn, the last sign of human habitation until the end of the walk.

 

 

 

Descending towards Elsdonburn

 

6. Soon the track, which is also the route of St. Cuthbert`s Way, will take you above Elsdonburn, and when the track splits in two, St. Cuthbert`s Way bearing right, continue straight on towards, and eventually passing, the remnants of a harvested plantation on your right. You will now be climbing gently across the slopes of Ell`s Knowe and when the boundary of the old plantation turns to your right, keep close to the boundary fence until you reach two gates (GR NT868274). Go through both. Turn briefly left and then right so that you are facing roughly south west and straight uphill. Now pick your way uphill over trackless grass-carpeted slopes, keeping in the same general direction and always aiming for the highest point ahead. Eventually, you will reach a fence which you will now need to keep firmly on your left, and, in time, you will reach the cairned-top of Madam Law. This hill has been described as, somewhat elongated, oval-shaped, although standing here looking out across the green, rolling Cheviot Hills, you will have little sense of its true shape. This fine hill does however make a super pit stop if you have not already devoured your sandwiches. Standing at a height of some 397 metres (1302 feet) above a very distant sea level, this quiet hill enjoys excellent views, especially towards the Curr, Black Hag and the shapely sweep of Steer Rig. The cairn, which is a modern walker`s cairn, sits on top of what the Ordnance Survey map names as a tumulus which simply means, an ancient burial mound, and in this instance possibly dating back to the Bronze Age.

 

 

 

Cairn on Madam Law

 

7. Once you have finally soaked up every conceivable angle of the extensive view, leave the summit by descending to the gate on the saddle known as Wideopen Head (GR NT860265). Head through the gate and follow the clear green track ahead which contours the southern flanks of Madam Law. Over to your immediate right lies the deep cleft of Wide Open and beyond that the remote rising valley known locally as Trowup Burn Hope. Stay with the obvious track until this bears off to the right close to a stone sheep stell (enclosure). At this point do not follow the path to the right, instead keep more or less straight on, Great Hetha your next objective rearing up sharply in the near distance, to eventually reach a metal gate. Go through, and with a fence over to your left continue forwards, passing a large cairn en route to joining a narrow surfaced road close to a small former quarry (GR NT876269). Now, turn briefly right and then, leaving the road behind turn left to cross a small stile with adjacent signpost. Note the fine strand of trees over to your left. You are now about to start your final climb of the day, following the occasional Hillforts Trail marker posts so be sure to watch out for these as you head steadily upwards. The track is relatively clear but if in doubt just keeping aiming for the highest point ahead.

 

 

 

The track to Great Hetha your next objective

8. Eventually, you will cut across the tumbled stone ramparts of the Iron Age hillfort that once occupied this well-located hill. Standing at a height of 343 metres (1125 feet) and topped with a small walker`s cairn, this wedge-shaped hill overlooks the College Valley with wide-ranging views in all directions. In particular, there are fine views towards the Cheviot plateau with the great scooped out bowl of the Bizzle and the up-clenched fist of Braydon Crag especially prominent. Once you are ready to go, leave the summit by continuing in the same direction, passing once again through the ramparts to join a green track heading downhill. At the marker post keep with the track whilst pausing now and then to enjoy the widescreen panorama over the wooded lower College Valley. Over to your right, Yeavering Bell and Easter and Wester Tors look particularly impressive. When you reach a small col (GR NT888276) turn to your right and follow the thin path which cuts through swathes of bracken, with a small plantation over to your left. When the single track road is finally reached, turn left and enjoy what little is left of your Kilham Border Wander.

 

 

 

Summit of Great Hetha

 

 

 

Distance

17.3 km (10.75 miles)

Total Ascent

926 metres (3038 feet)

Grading

Strenuous

Start & Key Grid References

Car Park, Hethpool, College Valley GR NT894280 & GR NT893285, GR NT887289, GR NT879287, GR NT871291, GR NT 878303, GR NT867290, GR NT868274, GR NT860265, GR NT876269 & GR NT888276

Time

5-6 Hours

Nearest Town

Wooler

Terrain

Mixed, some good clear paths & tracks, some pathless & rough grasslands, two short surfaced stretches & plenty of non-technical ascents & descents

Maps

OS (1:25000) Explorer Map OL16 & Explorer Map 339

Accommodation

Various in Wooler including Wooler Youth Hostel

Public Transport

None

Tourist Information

www.northumberlandnationalpark.org.uk

 

 

 

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Devised, written & photographed: Geoff Holland 2020