When I arrived at Hartside it was raining gently and Hedghope was in cloud, shades of my previous day on Cheviot! A quick chat with Linda and we agreed that it would be prudent to don overtrousers in addition to the waterproof jacket, it was only just after the summer solstice after all. Then the drizzle turned to rain and we sat in the car awaiting the arrival of the day’s clients who were quick on the uptake and dressed accordingly. It was good to meet-up with old friends from previous walks (Valerie and Darren, Linda and Muriel) and to meet some new faces (Rowland and Maria). As everyone assembled early we set-off exactly on the advertised start time, most unusual.
We managed to cross the moorland and start climbing towards Cunyan Crags before the first heavy shower caught us. They only lasted a few minutes but were quite intense with big drops. Fortunately the wind wasn’t anywhere near as strong as it was on the previous day but the hailstones still stung a bit, flaming June? We followed a quad bike track up onto Cunyan Crags and on to Dunmoor Hill which was surprisingly dry. The peat alongside the summit fence had largely dried out and even developed desiccation cracks. The new fencing, management for sheep and grouse and lines of shooting butts made an impact on everyone as did the extent of Threestoneburn Wood. The conifers of this huge plantation are due to be harvested soon and it will make a big difference to the appearance of the landscape east of Hedgehope.
We descended to the dip between Dunmoor and Hedgehope, “walked the planks” over the boggy bits before beginning the steady two kilometre climb up to the summit. The weather alternated between twenty-mile-an-hour fog (i.e. low cloud) and occasional glimpses of the hill between heavy showers so we were more than ready to crouch in the summit shelter for lunch.
The descent involved much less exertion except that the frequent showers had now liquefied the surface peat and the small stream that originates just below the summit beside the fence was now running; it had been dry on the way up. Slips and slides were the order of the day so we had to be careful on the way down. The fast moving shafts of sunlight picked-out the granite domes of Great and Little Standrop and we were able to see exposures of granite on the path down towards the Linhope Burn. A short detour to see Linhope Spout and take photographs from both the top and the plunge pool below saw us actually beginning to dry-off as we walked through the hamlet of Linhope. It was easy to appreciate the environmental difficulties of hill sheep farming in these hills having experienced such a wet day in summer. Similarly the difficulty of building and drystone walling with the irregularly shaped lavas found locally. All of the building corners, lintels and window frames were constructed of cut and shaped sandstone with the random stone of the lava being held in place by mortar. The contrast in both the materials and building techniques used in the construction of “the big house” and the adjacent farm cottages was noticeable too. Leaving the hamlet the location of Grieve’s Ash, an Iron Age settlement, was pointed out. Everyone had heard of Brough Law, which we could easily see from where our cars were parked. However the plethora of other hillforts in the area were largely unknown so the Northumberland National Park’s Hillforts Trail was mentioned as was the idea of looking at our route on Google Earth when everyone returned home.
Hopefully a good day was had by all and, despite the weather, I hope everyone enjoyed the day and saw and learnt something new, we certainly had a few laughs. The fact that Val and Darren are booked on walks over the next two weeks is encouraging, see you both soon.
Richard Monday, 24 June 2013
Up bright an early and it was a dry sunny morning, by breakfast it was clouding over and by time we arrived at Biddlestone Chapel it was raining but by 10.00 the sun had come out.
As usual Mike was making excuses that Sundance’s soft shoe shuffle had not worked this week as a radio presenter had been playing sunshine music every morning and he does not work on a Saturday he had put the hex on the weather.
A gentle stroll through the woods brought us to the major climb of the walk. Mike was soon out of breath and stopped for a rest but had enough breath to begin to whitter fortunately it started to rain so Mike shut up to put on his waterproofs. As we continued to climb it stopped raining and from the top of the hill we had good views all the way round.
After a short stretch across the hill top we met with a farm track which we followed until we came to a way marker that lead us across some rough, wet ground. As we walking this stretch we heard a tremendous bang and looking back into the Otterburn Range we could see a huge column of smoke raising this was that start of a number of shells being fired.
Just as we stopped for an early lunch (Mike was Hungry) it started to rain once more, fortunately after a couple of minutes it stopped and the rest of the day was dry and fairly bright. After lunch we continued along the hill side until Mike said we were on the wrong path but this was OK because we had by-passed a herd of beasts (cattle to the rest of us).
A short walk brought us back on the path Mike Said but in reality it was just rough pasture and is was only when we reached a farm gate at Singmoor that we knew we were back on the correct track.
From Singmoor we followed a farm track down hill until we were near the top of Biddlestone quarry. Here Mike took us on a slight detour so that we could look down on to the workings of the quarry, then it was back down the track to Biddlestone. A short walk along the road brought us to the track leading to Biddlestone Chapel. Half way up we stopped to look at the Biddlestones which are supposed to be part of an anglo-saxon cross. Once back at Biddlestone Chapel Mike opened up the chapel and gave us a guided tour.
The Cheviot, well nearly.
My first walk of the Rothbury Walking Festival and I failed. The ten people who arrived for the walk didn’t get up Cheviot but we hope to do so another time.
When I arrived at the Hawsen Burn an hour before the starting time it was foggy and raining hard, not an auspicious start. A chat with a shepherd suggested that it wasn’t going to get any better until the afternoon which is what the Met Office said before I left home!
When everyone arrived it hadn’t improved much except that the cloud base had lifted a little. I offered an alternative route up and down Cheviot but the thought of four or five hours in cloud didn’t appeal so we opted for a walk around the Harthope valley skyline instead.
There were supposed to be fourteen of us but after a waiting twenty-five minutes beyond the starting time we set off up the Hawsen Burn passing the sheep stells and joining the track that goes towards Broadstruther and on towards Commonburn House.
When we reached the crest of the ridge we could just see both illuminated in the shafts sunlight. The mosaic pattern created by heather management for grouse shooting made an impact on everyone as did the proliferation of shooting butts and access tracks.
Elevenses was taken near Cold Law cairn where everyone had a good view of the Harthope valley and could appreciate just how straight it was, a result of a fault-guided and glaciated valley. We continued on past Carling Crags and we began dropping down towards the very large but dilapidated cross-shaped wind shelter with its drystone walls and Scots pines. The wind was rising but we had our backs to it for the time being. The views towards the coast gradually improved and we could just pick-out Bamburgh Castle, Holy Island and the Farne Islands. Behind us Cheviot remained firmly in cloud, we couldn’t even see Scald Hill. We descended Snear Hill, past Coronation Wood and crossed the footbridge over onto the other side of the valley.
It was lunchtime and we were now in pleasant sunshine and sheltered by the trees of the Happy Valley so we sat on the grass and enjoyed it watching and listening to swallows, curlews, oyster catchers and briefly seeing a single swift fly by. A trudge uphill onto Brands Hill resulted in a rapid appreciation of the force of the west-north-westerly wind. We still couldn’t see Cheviot beneath is cloud-cap, so everyone appeared happy with the decision not to go up it.
We climbed out onto the open moor via a good quad bike track and were rapidly exposed to a strong wind (25 – 30 mph, Force 6) which was thankfully quite mild. Fortunately we were walking in a cross wind for most of the time but when we turned into wind wigs and hats were sorely tested!
Out on the plateau it was easy to appreciate the volcanic nature of the Cheviot massif and the granite masses that made up both Cheviot and is slightly lower neighbour, Hedgehope, surrounded as they were by the eroded lava landscape that makes the Cheviots so distinctive compared to the surrounding sedimentary rocks of the lower land.
The tors of the baked rocks forming the metamorphic aureole stood out clearly (Middleton Crags, Langlee Crags, and Long Crags) and some of us used to the one at Housey Crags to shelter from the wind and identify landmarks along the coast before descending back to the car park. Cheviot was now clear of cloud but we didn’t see anyone on the “tourist route” up to the summit. We definitely had the best views; you don’t see much from the Cheviot trig point because of the plateau surface and the convex contours.
I’m sorry that we didn’t top-out on Cheviot’s summit for those who hoped to do so BUT I’m equally sure that we had a better day in the hills than we would have had we just had our “head in the clouds” with nothing to see for most of the day - and being wet and clammy too. Thank you to Kevin, Colin, Lisa, Rachel, Ann, Marjorie, David, Sandra and Ellie for your understanding and your company. I hope that you know a bit more about the Cheviots origin, land use and biodiversity than you did and hope to see you again in the future.
Monday, 24 June 2013