It’s easy to make grand outdoor plans, much easier than putting them into practice. The plan was to drive to Northumberland straight after work in the Bongo and find a quiet spot out of the way for the night. When it eventually came round to it I really could not be bothered as work had knackered me out. I got home and procrastinated which meant that it was nearly 8.00pm by the time I loaded Reuben into the van and headed north.
The flow of the long journey was interrupted by a section of the A1 being closed, an hour being added to the journey. It was 1.00am by the time I pulled into a remote forestry car park just outside the village of Holystone, ignoring the ‘No overnight parking signs’. It was pitch black and the air completely still as I took Reuben for a quick walk in the forest. I immediately felt a million miles away from the stresses of work earlier that day.
It was whilst sorting out the sleeping arrangements in the van for Reuben and I that the helicopter started. The sound of a helicopter buzzing overhead is a common occurence where I live, but in the middle of Northumberland? Soon after the heavy artillery started booming away, then in quick succession there was a loud rapport of machine gun fire. Checking my map I realised that I was parked up only a couple of miles from the edge of the military firing range. They were obviously doing night training and it was loud, very loud. How does the village I had just driven through cope with the racket?
Reuben was unhappy, not only was it his first overnight trip in the van but he was being asked to sleep in the middle of a war zone. He put on the saddest face a dog can possibly make and tried to lay directly on top of me. That was uncomfortable so he was ordered to lay on one the seats. He jumped up there and looked even sadder. Unsurprisingly I did not sleep very well that night.
11.6 miles with 900 metres ascent
It was a beautiful sunny morning as I drove through the Coquet valley past the small village of Alwinton. Here the road narrows and twists and turns its way deeper and deeper into the upper reaches of the valley. A truly remote area of green rolling hills, even on the road you feels you are in the middle of nowhere. I parked at the Wedder Leap car park, saddled up the dog and headed across the river and past the camping barn at Barrowburn. The first objective for the day was the isolated summit of Shillhope Law, the path to the top giving views of the gently folded landscape.
The Cheviot hills can hardly be called dramatic. However what they lack in drama they certainly make up for it in terms of wide open spaces. The rolling grassy hills fill the horizon, broken only now and then by artificial forestry plantations. It’s a place to stride, hands in pockets and listen to the skylarks singing overhead. You can see why Northumberland is the least densely populated county in England, for here in these hills you really feel that you are alone. Thankfully they are in England and in a National Park. I would imagine that if located in Scotland they would be covered in giant windmills. The border itself was only a few miles away, I would set foot in Scotland the following day.
The summit is a place to linger and take in the landscape, completely unmarred right up to the horizon in all directions. It was clear enough to see the sea and I sat by the trig and enjoyed the warmth of the sun. Reuben obliged by posing on the trig itself.
The military however had plans that day and the peace was shattered once again by the thud, thud, thud of something being exploded. First would come a whistling noise and then a huge bang. We headed further east to get some peace and quiet.
A steep descent to the Usway burn which was easily crossed dry-shod led to the remote farm of Batailshiel Haugh, an ugly bungalow set in a sublime valley. I kept glancing back as I climbed the easy grassy track on the way to Clennel Street wondering if someone lives here full-time.
The next hill was to be Yarnspath law but on my initial attempt at leaving one track to get onto another I had to retreat. The marked footpath simply did not exist, the way being barred by dense new conifers. A few hundred metres of back tracking to get round a very short obstacle.
The open moor of Yarnspath Law itself was horrible, almost unwalkable. It was made up almost entirely of deep heather, giant tussocks and numerous hidden holes. I lurched rather than walked to the summit, even Reuben had trouble, often faced with a wall of impenetrable vegetation.
Thankfully there was a narrow path of sorts headed in the direction of the highest point of the day, Bloodybush edge. This is the only 2000ft peak in the Cheviots I had not climbed, forming the main objective for the day.
The summit itself was not the most endearing of places, covered in soggy bog and collapsed fence posts. I briefly managed to get Reuben to sit on the trig for a few seconds for a photo, his ears flapping in the now strong wind.
A soggy squelch across the moors brought me to the head of the Usway Burn, the views muted in the gathering gloom. However I was still struck by the emptiness of the landscape, soft hills seemingly rolling on forever.
I had planned a visit to Davidson’s Linn, a waterfall hidden in the forestry plantation, a place where I have wanted to wild camp for a while now. However it was now drizzling so I found a spot next to the river to sit for a while and finish the food in my rucksack. Unfortunately the midges were making the most of the still, humid air and they drove us quickly on.
Uswayford farm is well known as a stop over on the final long leg of the Pennine Way. I have read stories of its mischievous owner telling tired walkers that they are in the wrong valley just to see the reactions on their faces. I have since read that those owners have now moved on, the property as far as I know now laying empty. It is miles to the nearest road from here, even when you reach the road it is a long drive to the nearest village and then even further to a small town. I would imagine that it would be isolating to live here permanently, although I would love to give it a go for a few weeks.
The aptly named ‘The Middle’ is a small hill that separates two steep valleys and gives good views down along the lengths of both.
Following the bridleway through the forest I was soon high above the Hepden Burn on probably one of the best paths I have ever walked on. Soft and grassy underfoot it contoured beautifully above the valley, loosing height only gradually. One of those rare paths that would be a pleasure to walk in bare feet.
Nearing the road I passed the only two hikers I had seen all day, a man and teenager were heading into the hills with huge packs which looked exceptionally heavy by the way that they were walking.
Thankfully the Bongo was where I had left it. I drove a few miles further up the remote valley and parked up just past Blindburn at Buckham’s bridge. I ignored the ‘no overnight parking’ signs once again and settled down for a peaceful evening with just the dog for company.