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Five Hillforts and a Waterfall

Five Hillforts and a Waterfall

Wed 30th July 2014

Sunday 27th July 2014

Executive Summary: Rain stopped play in the College Valley.

Nothing went as originally planned on this walk.  On the drive to the College Valley the wind picked-up and at Wooler the flags outside the Tankerville Arms were taught.  On arrival at Hethpool car park it was breezy and quite chilly – in the middle of a celebrated warm spell! When I did the recce two weeks beforehand the original route proved to be impractical; far too rough underfoot, exposed involving lots of climbing and descent, oh and the “easy level bit” proved to have monster bracken that towered above my head for about a mile and a half so that was no good either.  Two people even had the foresight to withdraw from the walk the day beforehand but as things turned out they missed a good day.

The revised plans included an innovative two-centre walk with the longer of the two taking up the bulk of the time with a much shorter and easier mini-walk on the way home.  The former now became Three Hillforts and a Waterfall (not counting the not inconsiderable deluges, also known as “showers” but felt like waterfalls encountered en-route).  You really do have to have a sense of humour with our weather.

The revised route took us via the 4,000-5,000 year old Neolithic stone circle to the base of the hill on which Great Hetha, the first of the hillforts was located.  Several pauses later, to admire the landscape, we reached the summit in time for elevenses.  Unfortunately the gentle drizzle had also just started but as everyone present was truly British we ignored it. As an aside I noticed that some of those present did the same at the stops along the way when I was pontificating explaining about the Iron Age, the significance of hillforts and the change of climate at the beginning of the Iron Age in Britain.  The views were certainly worth the effort.  Apart from unusual and often unseen views of the northern Cheviots we could also see NNE out of the valley towards the North Sea which came into view as we reached the summit. The descent towards Little Hetha 130 m lower down provided a really plan good view of the smaller of the two hillforts.  There was much discussion about the term hillfort, its origins, whether or not they really were defensive sites, social gathering places, indicators of social status etc never mind the practicalities of providing a water supply up here on the hill tops.  All this and a consideration of the environmental history of the area meant that it was beginning to sound a bit like a University of the Third Age field class, heady stuff, time to get walking.

The next waypoint was Elsdonburn on the route of the St Cuthbert’s Way to begin the gentler climb up the farm track towards Ring Chesters hillfort.  The original intention was to have lunch on the summit but following consultation the majority vote was in favour of lunch in a less windy and exposed place so one was found a few hundred metres further up the track.  In terms of the steadily increasing frequency and intensity of the showers to come later this proved to be a good decision.  After lunch we summited again and gained a good view into Scotland including towards Melrose and the three hilled summit known to the Romans as Trimontium.  From here to we could see some of the difficult terrain that formed part of the original but discounted route, another good decision.  Looking upwind we could see the heavy showers coming our way, at least we would have the consolation of having our backs to these as we made our way towards Hethpool Linn.

Several sharp showers later we were approaching Hethpool when it really started to rain; there wasn’t time to don overtrousers. As we were only 300 metres from the cars some of our number opted to retire gracefully at this point.  Those of us remaining, the last of the few, set-off for the waterfall and gorge getting thoroughly soaked in the process; thank goodness we weren’t still on the tops.  A quick look at the natural swimming pool upstream of the waterfall and the gorge from the safety of the footbridge and it was time to walk back to the car park miraculously without the accompaniment of precipitation.  As time was getting-on it was unanimously decided not to drive to the second location to take-in the other two hillforts.  When we arrived back at the car park the deep puddles made even getting into the cars a challenge.

A good day was had by all; it’s a great life if you don’t weaken.  Lovely to see everyone again, I hope you all enjoyed it as much as I did and yes, there are many different facets to the term “enjoyed.”


Monday, 28 July 2014