THE HALF KIDLAND FOREST ROUND

 

The Kidland Forest is a vast commercial enterprise covering 2,100 hectares of hills to the north of the tiny settlement of Alwinton. First planted between 1953 and 1987, large areas of the forest have subsequently been harvested with substantial sections of second generation planting now well-established. This is an ever-evolving environment where the dominant species is Sitka Spruce supplemented by a mixture of Scots Pine, Japanese Larch, Norway Spruce, Lodgepole Pine and European Larch. Immediately outside the eastern boundary of the forest stand a number of spartan hills, including-The Dodd, Puncherton Hill, and Wether Cairn- which, when linked together with a visit to Cushat Law, the fifth highest hill in the range, make for a fabulously lonely and spacious walk. Add to this linear outward route a return journey along the winding Kidland Forest tracks, and you have a wonderfully testing and varied day out in the Cheviot Hills. Be prepared for the unexpected.

 

 

River Alwin and Rookland Hill

 

The Walk

 

1. The tiny settlement of Alwinton renowed for its annual Shepherds` Show is a popular place for walkers and mountain bikers to begin their exploration of the rolling hills which snuggle up in the south-eastern corner of the Northumberland National Park. The ancient cross-border track of Clennell Street passes through the village as it makes its way to the English/Scottish border at Hexpethgate, close to the iconic border-straddling hill of Windy Gyle. When David Dippie Dixon published his renowned book, `Upper Coquetdale Northumberland Its History, Traditions, Folk-lore and Scenery` in 1903, the village consisted of a large farmhouse, two excellent inns, the Red Lion and the Rose & Thistle, the post office and a few cottages. The Red Lion and the post office have long since disappeared but you can still enjoy a glass of ale in the stone-fronted Rose & Thistle. But first, the walk! Leave the car park (GR NT919063) by turning left, passing the Rose & Thistle on your right as you walk the short distance to the village green and a sharp right-hand turn in the road. Do not follow the road. Head slightly left across the green and cross the small footbridge over the narrow Hosedon Burn. Now turn left along the slightly rising track which soon turns past Alwinton Farm on the left as the gradient steepens a little and the track becomes slightly stony. This is ancient Clennell Street which has evidence of Iron and Bronze Age activity along parts of the route. In William Roy`s `Military Survey of Scotland 1747-1755` Clennell Street was identified as the, Road from Morpeth to Kelso. The slope quickly eases and in a very short while you will come to a ladder stile on the right hand side of the track. This is your route, and the end of your brief encounter with Clennell Street. Once on the other side, continue across two fields, turning left downhill after the second to reach a steel and concrete footbridge over the River Alwin. Now turn left on the red gravel track and stay with this as it crosses over two road bridges keeping close company with the winding River Alwin through this delightful valley. After crossing the second bridge, watch out for a path on your right which climbs the narrow southern slope of The Dodd (GR NT924084). The Puncherton Burn also lies on your right, immediately before your climb up The Dodd begins.

 

 

 

Climbing The Dodd and looking towards Clennell Hill

 

2. Now leave the track half-right and follow the path steeply uphill remembering to pause at least once to take in the view back over towards bonny-looking Clennell Hill with its steep, scree-covered north-western face. Continue with the quad track over The Dodd, 330 metres above sea level, passing an animal feed store on the left, and then, after a pleasant stretch of the legs around the head of White Slack, a corrugated animal shelter. This is as good a place as any to take a wee breather. Then, as you continue forwards be sure, when the track splits in two, to take the right-hand spur to reach fairly quickly two adjoining gates. Go through the left-hand gate and continue with the flimsy fence on your right, passing, as you wander merrily along, over the top of 410 metre high Puncherton Hill. At the next gate, go through and pick up a quad track which heads over featureless but enormously spacious grassland, keeping your sights firmly set on the high ground near the distant forest edge. On reaching the next post and wire fence, step over at the lowest point, and continue with the intermittent track over, in places, potentially squelchy ground. In time, and after much huffing and puffing and concentration as you attempt to keep with the semblance of a path, you will reach a boundary fence running alongside the most easterly part of the vast Kidland Forest. Keep going upwards until you reach a gate in the fence on your left. Hop over to the other side and, still keeping in the same upward direction, follow the rough track through deep heather, passing along the way a shelter cairn, to reach the triangulation pillar on 563 metre high Wether Cairn (GR NT940116). Standing on a green island set adrift in an ocean of heather, the pillar, which was completed on the 4th July 1954, dominates this rather unpretentious hill. When the first Ordnance Survey Six-Inch map of the area was published in 1866, the map named the spot where the shelter cairn now stands as, `Wether Cairn (Shepherds)`, and no doubt that shepherds` cairn has been refashioned over the years to offer weather-battered walkers a modicum of shelter in this wild and exposed place. Since that time, the hill itself, which is essentially Wholhope Hill, has become known and universally accepted as simply, Wether Cairn. The views are wide and distant with Cunyan Crags, Hogdon Law, Hedgehope Hill, The Cheviot, Cushat Law and Bloodybush Edge all clearly visible (on a fine day!) along with a few other smaller hills.

 

 

 

Wether Cairn

 

3. Your route to the highest point of the walk at Cushat Law, now lies straight ahead across a vast and lonely stretch of rough terrain, peat pools hiding in wait, grassy tussocks like large amply thatched human heads popping up in a minefield of endless tripping hazards, with the odd half hidden old boundary stone reminding you of an age when this huge area of open space was not enclosed by a spiders web of post and wire fences. However, the fence, which you are now about to follow, can be a very useful navigational aid in bad weather as you make your way across otherwise featureless terrain. So with the fence firmly on your right now head off in a generally northwards direction, following a very rough and ready track. Eventually, after about half a kilometre, the fence splits left and right. At this point, cross over to the other side of the fence which heads left, and once there also turn to your left, and continue the onward journey. You will need to find the line that suits you best, perhaps occasionally clambering over the fence to where the terrain might be less wearisome until, some 1.2 kilometres after leaving Wether Cairn, the ground conditions begin to improve a little. You are now heading downhill towards Sting Head with the deep green expanse of the Kidland Forest over to your left on the opposite side of the fence, and with a scattering of small conifers on your side of the post and wire divide. Your next main destination, Cushat Law, looms large ahead. Soon you will reach Sting Head (GR NT932129), the watershed of two watercourses, both named Sting Burn, heading in opposite directions, one a tributary of the Shank Burn to the east, the other heading westwards into the bowels of the forest. Here, on a grassy mound, sits a small cairn, once a shepherds` cairn now a handy point of reference for passing pedestrians. Over to your right rises conical-shaped Hogdon Law, impressive-looking from this remote spot.

 

 

 

Sting Head with Cushat Law ahead

 

4. Now begins a 1.2 kilometre section of walking involving 115 metres of steady climbing keeping all the while in close contact with the fence on your left. As you plod upwards, keep your eyes peeled for the occasional old parish boundary stone bearing, on one side the letter `N` and, on the other side the letter `R`. In time, you will reach the crescent-shaped shelter cairn on the top of Cushat Law (GR NT927137), at 615 metres in height the fifth highest top in the Cheviot Hills. In these parts `Cushat` means `wood pigeon` although you might be hard pressed to spot one of this species of bird on this grass-carpeted hill. When John and Anne Nuttall visited here when researching their 1990-published book, `The Mountains of England and Wales`, they thought that the wide open views were a welcome contrast to the shut in closeness of the forest. And indeed they are, although the forest has changed in many ways since the late 1980`s/early1990`s as first generation trees are harvested and second generation replanting is becoming well-established. This is perhaps a good time to get out your tucker and to spend a wee while enjoying the solitude on the top of this back-of-beyond hill whilst enjoying the extensive views.

 

 

 

Crescent-shaped cairn on Cushat Law

 

5. When it is time to leave your temporary bolt hole, head back to the fence where a small step stile will lift you over to the other side. Now, turning half-left, head off in a south-easterly direction across the tufted grass summit and begin your descent towards the forest edge. As you lose height, you will spot a five bar gate with an adjoining ladder stile and this is your route into the forest. Once over the stile you will be standing on a green forest track the route of which is clearly shown on the Ordnance Survey map although, as you will soon discover, there are one or two potential hurdles to overcome before you reach firmer and clearer tracks. Due to recent felling operations and wind damage, you may well encounter some forest debris along the way, some seemingly blocking your route, others merely an inconvenience to avoid. None should stop you in your tracks although at one early point you may need to crawl under a wind felled tree trunk like a Royal Marine Commando. However, by keeping to the rich green tree-surrounded track, which can be extremely wet further along the route, you will eventually reach a firm broad gravel track next to a small quarry. Turn right along this track and stay with it as it gently rises and bends around the head of Cushat Cleugh before descending to a junction of two tracks (GR NT923127). Your route turns to the left. A detailed examination of the Ordnance Survey 1:25000 map will reveal that the vast swathe of the Kidland Forest conceals a complex system of sikes, cleughs, slacks and burns which feeds the twisting River Alwin and drains the surrounding high horseshoe of hills. Described by David Dippie Dixon in his 1903 book as, a wide sparsely inhabited waste of steep and lofty hills divided by narrow winding glens or hopes, this area has seen enormous changes over the years, changes which are continuing to this day. Alas, all are not necessarily for the better and whilst, in an ideal world, it would have been exciting to experience this area as it was prior to the 1950`s tree infestation, we must learn to appreciate the Kidland Forest for what it offers, not least to walkers and mountain bikers, and to accept its many warts.

 

 

 

Heading downhill next to the Sting Burn valley

 

6. Now, having turned left at the last track junction as instructed (GR NT923127), continue your journey on a winding downhill track with the valley of the Sting Burn over to your left. Soon, at the bottom of the slope, the Sting Burn merges with the Yoke Burn close to the scant remains of Memmerkirk, once a chapel used by the Monks of Newminster whilst summering their sheep in the remote and lonely hills of Kidland. These remains are a Scheduled Ancient Monument. From here, navigation is an absolute doddle, as you stick with the main north to south forest track, following the Yoke Burn for approximately 2 kilometres of steady walking, tree-covered hillsides rising left and right, as far as the point where the White Burn combines with the Yoke Burn to form the broader River Alwin (GR NT916104). This will now be your watercourse companion until a short distance from the end of your walk. Soon after passing this spot, you will cross a relatively recent bridge across the River Alwin, constructed to carry the heavy logging-lorries which occasionally thunder down the valley with their cargo of timber bound for the saw mills, a bridge which replaced the simple culverted concrete structure which once carried whatever traffic passed this way. As you continue your downstream journey, the River Alwin now over to your left, the trees begin to open out giving good views to Kitty`s Crag on the sharp slopes of Puncherton Hill on the opposite side of the valley. A short climb leads you to the junction, to your right, with the track to Kidlandlee, once the extravagant shooting lodge of Christopher J. Leyland, of Haggerston Castle just south of Berwick upon Tweed. Standing at a height of 390 metres above sea level, the shooting lodge was spectacularly demolished by dynamite in 1956 leaving little more than a few ancillary buildings on this elevated site. These are now available to hire as holiday cottages. Ignore this track and continue straight on as you descend to a cattle grid and the southern edge of the Kidland Forest. The track continues downstream, no longer enclosed by tall conifers, and soon joins your outward route at the base of The Dodd. Stay with the valley track passing along the way the steel and concrete footbridge crossed on your outward route over to your right, and Clennell Hall on your left as the track becomes a surfaced single track road. On reaching a junction, turn right and make your way back through Alwinton to the car park you left all that time ago.

 

 

 

The Yoke Burn

 

 

 

Distance

21.4 km (13.3 miles)

Total Ascent

709 metres (2326 feet)

Grading

Strenuous

Start & Key Grid References

Northumberland National Park Car Park, Alwinton GR NT919063, GR NT924084, GR NT940116, GR NT932129, GR NT927137, GR NT923127 & GR NT916104

Time

6 Hours

Nearest Town

Alwinton/Rothbury

Terrain

An undulating ascent to Wether Cairn on an intermittent track followed by a rough potentially boggy section to Cushat Law. Then a slightly tricky green forest track leading onto firm gravel forest tracks. Plenty of ups and downs with potential for navigational skills especially in poor weather conditions.

Maps

OS (1:25000) Explorer Map OL16

Accommodation

Rose & Thistle & Clennell Hall, Alwinton & various in Rothbury

Public Transport

None

Tourist Information

www.northumberlandnationalpark.org.uk

 

 

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Devised, written & photographed: Geoff Holland 2021