Above the College Valley
Mon 19th May 2014
The exploration of the southern end of the College Valley was a new experience and enjoyable experience for most, access isn’t easy beyond the public car park at Hethpool and the really interesting stuff is another five and a half kilometres further down the valley on the Pennine Way which actually follows the Border Ridge.
We started from the Mounthooly Youth Hostel having made use of the facilities (thank you Pauline) in a very strong wind but it was dry and threatening to become sunny later. A quick “good morning” to the shepherd by the sheep pens adjacent to the shelterbelt just beyond Mounthooly and we were off following the steam that flowed out of the Hen Hole as far as the first of the cascades that allowed us to peer around the corner into this huge glacial bowel. We even found a place out of the wind – well, more or less. From here it was a free-ranging uphill trudge to the Border Ridge crossing the contours to make the ascent easier. We emerged onto it a few hundred metres east of the Refuge Hut into the full blast of the wind form the southwest. The Refuge Hut made an excellent place for elevenses (dead on time for once) with the “outsiders” sitting in the lee of the wind on the bench looking north down the length of the valley towards Hethpool and the “insiders” discussing the merits of the shelter in inclement weather whilst listening to the wind buffeting the structure.
As we walked the ridge from the shelter towards Red Cribs when someone spotted an Adder on the path and, despite being in a strong and chilly wind it moved-off quite quickly, too fast for anyone to get a camera out in time to record it. Nevertheless it was a first for some and all the more satisfying for that. Looking down the path that follows Red Cribs up onto the ridge it was obvious taht we had followed a much more pleasant and gentle way onto the Pennine Way. Behind us we could now see into the Hen Hole properly and to its right we could follow the line of the long distance path up towards Auchope Cairn. To the south we looked into Scotland which felt a bit odd until you look at the map and spot the kink in the route of the border. Looking even further south onto the hazy skyline we were looking back into England and could make out the profile of Russell’s Cairn on Windy Gyle close to where we were last month when we went to Davidson’s Linn.
Turning north at Red Cribs we started the undulating ridge walk towards The Schil. It was good to have the strong wind behind us for the uphill sections, every little helps. In the few dips when we were protected from the wind it was idyllic. Unfortunately it really was blowing a hooly (the derivation of Mounthooly?) when we reached The Schil (601m)and with little shelter we decided to have lunch lower down a little later. We descended to the col between The Schil and Black Hag where the Pennine Way goes over the Border Fence in to Scotland by way of a substantial stile. We turned east instead to descend back into the College Valley but made a mental note about a possible walk, to or from, the beginning or end, of the Pennine Way at Kirk Yetholm at some future date. The prospect of a drink at the pub there drawing 100% support, nothing changes.
We tracked along the Fleehope Burn, crossed it to the south and stopped for lunch adjacent to the conifer plantation sitting on dry heather in the sunshine out of the wind, luxury. Conditions underfoot had changed frequently and often since passing Red Cribs and we had experienced mud, bog, stone pitched paving, dry springy peat, flooded sections, clearly defined and hidden, secret sections (i.e. invisible) of the path all in short order.
After a pleasant lunch the rest of the walk was really pleasant and straightforward, the wind had dropped considerably and the day was beginning to heat-up. Just before we left Mounthooly we heard a cuckoo somewhere in the shelterbelt we’d passed earlier in the morning at the very beginning of the walk. Hopefully a good time was had by all. The College Valley was looking its best; it could easily have been high summer when the sun came out. The intense yellows of the numerous gorse and broom bushes shone out from the myriad of shades of green which is so characteristic of trees in springtime. I hope everyone enjoyed the day as much as I did and that we meet-up again soon.