A WINDY GYLE WANDER

The summit stands a matter of metres inside Scotland and is topped with an enormous cairn and a triangulation pillar. Topping out at a fairly decent 619 metres (2031 feet) high it enjoys tremendous all-round views over both sides of the border, and, as it also stands on the route of the Pennine Way, Windy Gyle is, by Cheviot standards, a relatively popular hill to visit. There are many ways to reach this iconic summit, some of which are well-trodden, others which are very much on the quieter side- you are absolutely killed for choice. This walk treads a line between the two, offering on the one hand a taste of some of the quieter routes whilst also taking in some of the more popular tracks. Whichever way you reach the top of this border-straddling hill, you will be inundated with outstanding vistas as well as enjoying a giant slice of the incredible peacefulness of the Cheviot Hills. When your day is done, you will in all likelihood be seeking out other alternative routes to this, one of the finest hills in the range. You will find a number of other routes on this website by simply consulting our Index of Hills.

 

 

Windyhaugh & the River Coquet

The Walk

 

1. The drive through Upper Coquetdale, from the tiny settlement of Alwinton to the start of this walk just beyond the beautifully situated farm of Windyhaugh, is perhaps one of the finest in the whole of Northumberland as you twist and turn along six miles of undulating single track road never straying far from the delightful River Coquet. Take it canny as you go for, just like Murray Mints, this journey is just too good to hurry. Once beyond Windyhaugh, which lies on the opposite of the river, you will see, on the right hand of the road, a small plantation and some sheep pens. Park your car on the river side of the road on the broad green haugh (GR NT861112) with Tindale Law rising steeply immediately across the river, and the equally steep slopes of Barrow Law climbing up from behind the plantation. This is a perfect spot to start your walk, and, if you are lucky, you might just hear the piping of the oystercatchers which seem to inhabit this stretch of Upper Coquetdale during the summer months. Once you are ready for the off, primed for the day ahead, head back down the single track road passing, as you get into your stride, the farm buildings of Windyhaugh on the opposite river bank. When David Dippie Dixon wrote his 1903-published book, Upper Coquetdale Northumberland Its History, Traditions, Folk-lore and Scenery, he said that there was at Windyhaugh, a voluntary school, and although this is without doubt the most remote school in the county, the scholars daily walking several miles across the fells or down the valley to attend it, it obtains very excellent reports from the Government Inspectors. The school master at that time was a certain Andrew Blythe.

 

 

 

Andrew Blythe-Windyhaugh School Master

 

2. Some 150 metres after passing Windyhaugh, at a point where the road takes a slight kink to the right, you will see a five bar gate in front of you (GR NT866110), and this is your route ahead. Once through the gate your boots will be following, for a very short stretch, the route of the old road through this part of Upper Coquetdale, a road which was superseded by the current road in 1935 upon the construction of the road bridge over the River Coquet close to the entrance to the farm of Barrowburn. After some 100 metres, beside a marker post, you will need to turn sharp left to begin your steady climb towards higher ground. As you begin to gain a little height, be sure to look back over your shoulder at the beautiful view of idyllic Barrowburn and the twinkling River Coquet as it meanders downstream to an ultimate meeting with the cold North Sea at the fishing port of Amble. Keep with the clear green uphill track, climbing steadily across the eastern flanks of Barrow Law, and eventually the gradient will begin to ease as the huge view ahead opens up. You are following a fine Public Bridleway which on some earlier Ordnance Survey maps was described as The Border County Ride, a 100 mile horse-riding route which fell into disuse a number of years ago. It makes for easy walking over a wide expanse of grassland as you head towards the obvious but distant curves of Hazely Law standing proudly behind the plantation surrounding Murder Cleugh.

 

Heading towards Hazely Law

3. In time you will reach Murder Cleugh (GR NT868131) and the surrounding plantation, which like so many other plantations and woodland in Northumberland, suffered substantial damage during the extreme Storm Arwen in November 2021. The name Murder Cleugh conjures up visions of dastardly deeds, and, if you peep carefully into the plantation you will see a memorial stone which tells you that these visions are perhaps not so fanciful as they are very firmly rooted in the dim and distant past. The memorial stone states that, in 1610 a certain Robert Lumsden killed Isabella Sudden close to this very lonely spot. The story goes that Robert Lumsden, who lived nearby and had been linked with several other deaths, was a violent and independent character with a taste for other men's wives. Instructed to arrest Lumsden, a number of the King's Durham-based officers 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. Then, assisted by a few 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 again. Eventually, Lumsden was arrested in Newcastle and was tried, excommunicated from the Church, forced to renounce his sins in Alnwick Market Place and served one month in jail. A case, it would seem, of excessive leniency. Now pass through the gate onto a gravel track. Do not turn right or left, but instead head straight through a gap in the narrow plantation on the opposite side of the track where you will discover a five bar gate. Go through the gate and, turning right, you will see a multi-directional marker post. Whilst the Ordnance Survey map shows a Public Bridleway heading off in a roughly northerly direction, you will be hard pressed to find evidence of this on the rough ground. No matter, the way head is relatively straight forward as first you set forth on a northerly bearing and, after approximately 400 metres, veer gently to your left as you climb the eastern slopes of shapely Ward Law. You will find the way which suits you best, and after about 15 minutes of climbing you will reach the 484 metre (1588 feet) high grass-covered top of Ward Law (GR NT864136). The view is outstanding, especially southwards from whence you came where the huge bulk of Shillhope Law dominates. In the opposite direction the slopes of Windy Gyle beckon.

 

 

 

Shillhope Law from Ward Law summit

 

4. So, off you go by turning your back to the Shillhope Law view and setting off in a generally north easterly direction, following a rough quad track towards the rounded hill ahead. This is Little Ward Law, 495 metres (1624 feet) high, and whilst the names of these two adjacent hills would tend to suggest otherwise, it is 11 metres (36 feet) higher than its sibling Ward Law. However, it does lack the girth of the latter, although it is a hill well worth visiting on your journey upwards. The quad track soon delivers you onto a more well-defined track, shown on the Ordnance Survey map as a Public Bridleway, which cuts across the south western slopes of Little Ward Law, although the track on the ground does not fully correspond with that shown on the map. As the track crosses the upper slopes, a short detour to your right will take you to the grass-carpeted top of this delightful wee hill. Returning to the track, continue upwards with the deep valley of the Wardlaw Burn to your left, and the bulk of Windy Gyle ahead. Soon you will reach Scotchman's Ford (GR NT860148), where the track crosses the fledgling Wardlaw Burn. For the majority of the time, there is little water running across the ford, barely enough in summer time to wet your boots. Looking south down the valley of the Wardlaw Burn, offers you a wall-to-wall panorama of the rounded hills of Upper Coquetdale. The name Scotchman's Ford is shrouded in mystery, with no known explanation as to its origins. However, a track which follows the route of this Public Bridleway was shown on the first Ordnance Survey Six-inch map of the area published in 1866, a route which had been in existence long before that date. The track (and hence the Public Bridleway) crosses the border into Scotland a little further on, just west of Windy Gyle summit, and whilst this border crossing has never been named on any Ordnance Survey map of the area, many earlier maps had referred to a crossing of the border called Maiden Cross in this approximate location. In fact, Maiden Cross was one of seventeen border crossings listed in a state paper of 1543, and the description of its location shown in that paper places the crossing at approximately the same place as the current border crossing. That being the case, it is fair to say that the current track you are walking on was, in the long forgotten past, one of the regular routes used between England and Scotland.

 

 

 

Valley of the Wardlaw Burn

 

5. Once across the ford, the track begins its final climb towards Windy Gyle, passing a marker post at a point where a track from the now empty and distant farm of Trows merges with the Public Bridleway. Further on, when the now ragged track splits in two, be sure to take the right hand spur as the left hand one heads to the border crossing thought to be that of Maiden Cross. In time, you will reach a small gate in a fence, often erroneously thought of as the border fence, which will deliver you to the last few metres of your journey to the summit of Windy Gyle (GR NT855152). Along the way, you will pass the invisible line of the English/Scottish border. This is a very special place, which was described by F. R Banks in his 1951 published book as affording, a splendid view of the country on both sides of the border. He continued to describe the large summit-topping cairn as, the huge tumulus of stones on the summit, known as Russell's Cairn, received that name in commemoration of Sir Francis Russell, who lost his life at Hexpethgate in 1585, in one of those unfortunate affrays into which the meetings of the Wardens of the Marches all too frequently ended. Unfortunate indeed! Take time to enjoy the wrap-around view, sheltering if necessary in one of the two shelter cairns erected on the rounded top, perhaps also tucking into some well earned sandwiches. As the Pennine Way passes this way, you may have the company of one or two fellow travellers.

 

 

Windy Gyle Summit

 

6. When you are ready, possibly suitably refuelled, you need to turn to the west and follow the clear path leading to a decent towards Windy Rig. For the time being, you are following the route of the Pennine Way, the first ever long distance footpath in England and, at an official distance of 268 miles in length, still after all this time (established 1965) very popular with walkers and runners. In fact the current fastest known time (FKT) for a full completion of the route was set in May 2021 by US ultra runner John Kelly at an impressive 58 hours 04 minutes. Like all records, this will no doubt be bettered in the fullness of time. After a short while you will need to cross back into England by going through a five bar gate on your left. The path continues to be clear as first you climb across the head of the valley of the Rowhope Burn, perhaps one of the best viewpoints in the Cheviot Hills, and thence across the potentially boggy ground of Foul Step (the clue is in the name!). After climbing out from what is essentially the gathering ground of Foulstep Sike, a stretch of fairly rough path leads you to a four-fingered signpost at Plea Knowe. The Pennine Way continues ahead through a small gate with an adjacent step stile, although this is not your route. Your way ahead is shown as being, Public Bridleway The Street Coquet Valley. Unlike some of the cross-border tracks, there is very little knowledge about the history and origins of The Street, although it is fair to say that its route through the Cheviot Hills has long been an attractive way to travel between England and Scotland. Indeed, the name was in use at the time when the Ordnance Survey surveyed the area in 1859, and when the first Six-inch map was published a few years later, the name had the additional label of (Drove Road) attached to it. So, turning towards the Coquet Valley, begin your descent back towards the narrow single track road you travelled earlier in the day. As you cheerily wander along, vast views opening up ahead as you cross Black Braes, be sure to watch out for the feral goats that frequent this area and have done so since ancient times.

 

 

 

The view from Black Braes

 

7. This clearly well-walked route is by far the most popular way to reach/return from Windy Gyle summit, and as you head downhill towards Swineside Law immediately beyond the next saddle it is easy to see why. On your left hand side lies the lonely Rowhope Burn, a watercourse that starts its life high on the slopes of Windy Gyle, on your other side, the valley of the Carlcroft Burn which is formed when the Westhope and Easthope Burns merge at Carlcroft Hope. Both valleys are worthy of further exploration on another day. After passing through the gate on the saddle between Black Braes and Swineside Law, the track contours the slopes of Swineside Law, a hill which is well-worth a visit when next you pass this way. Soon you are gradually heading downwards with a post and wire fence on your left hand side, your handy guide rail until you reach a five bar gate just beyond Hindside Knowe (GR NT849118). Go through the gate, and with the fence now on your right hand side continue to the small step stile immediately before your final descent to the valley road at Slymefoot (also known as White Bridge or Rowhope Road End). Once back on the road, turn left and follow it the short distance back to the start.

 

 

 

The Street (R) & the valley road (L)

 

 

Distance

14.2 km (8.8 miles)

Total Ascent

588 metres (1929 feet)

Grading

Moderate

Start & Key Grid References

Beside Sheep Pens (Near Windyhaugh) GR NT861112 ,GR NT866110,GR NT864136,GR NT860148, GR NT855152 & GR NT849118

Time

4-5 hours

Nearest Town

Alwinton/Rothbury

Terrain

Mainly clear paths/tracks, sometimes over rough ground, with a number of ups and downs. Good navigational skills helpful especially in poor visibility.

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 2022