Hidden in the Hills
Mon 8th October 2012
Hidden in the hills - advanced map and compass training
Six miles of walking, five great hours, four hill tops, three hill forts, two boundary stones and a marker post on a hill top. It's not christmas yet though but it's definitely Autumn. It was a little chilly as we all met in the tree shaded car park at Ingram. Keen for a bit of warmth from the Autumn sun, our guide Russell led us to the sunny Visitor Centre car park a short distance away.
After giving us some pointers on safety in the hills and checking we all had compasses and maps, off we trekked. The first stop was at the foot of Brough Law. Two of the group were despatched to navigate to the summit. Shortly after the rest of us followed. It was a short but sharp ascent alongside some woodland, setting us up nicely for a days walking in the hills. The warm cloths put on earlier were quickly shed as the sun warmed us as we climbed, with calls to turn on the air-conditioning heard. Ian, one of the volunteers, promised that he'd arranged that at the top. At the summit we found the other two resting in the centre of the hill fort, enjoying the cool breeze and spectacular views of Hartside Hill and the Breamish Valley.
After a few minutes of enjoying the scenery Russell set us our next challenge. We set off walking towards a small valley. On reaching the valley side he asked us to walk towards a rock and once there provide an 8 figure grid reference for our position. Given a few minutes to think about it one of the group announced a figure. Astonished, Russell had to look at his list. Only 20m out. He'd obviously taught us well on the Map & Compass course.
The next objective was a grid reference which was identified by the group as Ewe Hill on the map. We discussed how we would reach it and off we went. As a relatively flat hill top it would be harder to see the closer we got. A good exercise in navigating terrain with few features.
Once at Ewe Hill we immediately got the grid reference of another location. We formed into groups of two and started planning our strategy to get there. Faced with an option of following marked paths or walking on a bearing, the majority of the group chose to take the opportunity to practice walking on a bearing, making various paths through the long grass, bracken and thistles. There was a little confusion nearer to the objective but eventually everyone reached the spot and it was deemed a good place to stop for lunch.
When we'd had our fill, we set off for a hill fort a short distance away at Middle Dean. This one is unusual in the area as it is not on a hill top. From here, Wether Hill, the third hill of the day, was our next target. The group were again allowed to make their own way to the hill fort at the top. Everyone managed to successfully navigate the way there and once reaching it enjoyed the views of the hills towards the east of the Breamish Valley and the North Sea beyond. A helicopter could even be seen landing at distant Boulmer RAF station.
A short stop for an afternoon snack and we were on the move again. Our next objective being a feature on the map labelled BS. Hmmmm, what could it be. Various routes were taken as everyone was becoming more confident in their navigational skills. Even when the objective was reached we were still puzzled as to what it's purpose was. When Russell arrived he explained it was a boundary stone, one of several in the area that are listed monuments and were once used to mark parish boundaries.
With glee Russell sent us back up the steep grassy slope to find the next Boundary Stone. However, as an incentive to get us up the hill he pronounced that there would be a prize for the first one there. Off went the only lady of the group in pursuit of the prize. Once we all reached the stone Russell announced that her prize was free entry to all national parks for life. Russell's prizes are always this generous!
Our next exercise was to walk on a bearing towards a path marker on Cochrane pike, the fouth hill. Sounds easy but the marker was out off site from our location. Showing our navigation skills we all arrived within 20m of the marker, boosting our confidence in our navigational skills even more.
After a little rest and more information on navigational techniques we set off for the final objective, back to the Visitor Centre.On arrival everyone agreed that this had been a great day in the beautiful hills of the Breamish valley. It had iron age archaeology, history in the later parish boundaries, interesting natural features, flora and fauna, spectacular scenery and all of the navigational challenges needed to practice this skill.
Anyone who needs to practice navigation, whether to increase their confidence in their skills or simply brush up on navigational techniques, should do this walk. The guides and volunteers are able to pass on their extensive knowledge and experience in an interesting and informative way, making it an enjoyable day for anyone who wants to get to the parts of Northumberland that are rarely reached.