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The Central Cheviots 3 days / 50 miles (80km)

OS Route Map → Map Route file →

Date: 20 May 2010
Start / Finish: Alwinton village green (the official car park along the road is pay-and-display and prohibits overnight parking).
Maps: Explorer 016 The Cheviot Hills.

Day 1Shillhope Law to The Schil16.2miles / 4878 feet (26.1km / 1486m)
Day 2Black Hag to Dunmoor Hill19.1miles / 4919 feet (30km / 1499m)
Day 3Shill Moor to Wether Cairn14.3miles / 2608 feet (23.0km / 794m)
View from Shillhope Law

A solo circuit around the central region of the Cheviot hills, based on a framework of ten new Dewey 500m hills and including five of the six Nuttall mountains of the region en route. The route has a small overlap with our Northern Cheviots trip and covers a variety of terrain and scenery with expansive heather moors, coarse moorland grasses, the steeply incised valleys of the Usway Burn and River Alwin and the wide hill-lined College Valley and Coquetdale. Some parts of the moor are naturally boggy but their sting was drawn by the recent lack of significant rain: easy dry crossings all the way this time.

From leaving Alwinton on Thursday morning until I descended to the River Alwin on Saturday afternoon, I saw only one couple: they were on the principal route up to The Cheviot from Harthope, apart from them the whole area was totally deserted.

I found this backpack pretty hard, due in part to the temperature and humidity which were considerably higher than expected and made slow, gruelling work of the sheltered ascents. I don't ostensibly suffer from hay fever but I suspect the high pollen index may have had an effect too, at any rate it felt a lot tougher than anticipated.

Note: Many of the high Access Land areas in these hills are managed as grouse moors and dogs are not allowed under the access agreements except on public rights of way.

Day 1 - Shillhope Law to The Schil

I walked west on the lane out of Alwinton to locate the start of the signed bridleway path that climbs gently over the shoulder of Green Side to the 300m contour at Pass Peth, a grand vantage point for Upper Coquetdale for such a modest effort and elevation.

Upper Coquetdale from ‘Pass Peth’
Upper Coquetdale from ‘Pass Peth’ (20 May 2010__11:22:07)
The River Coquet from ‘Pass Peth’
The River Coquet from ‘Pass Peth’ (20 May 2010__11:22:07)

The path descends to follow the River Coquet, passing one of the many beautifully constructed circular sheepfolds in the area, to cross the Usway Burn via a footbridge at Shillmoor Farm. Passing the main buildings through a gate, I watched out for the bridleway track that departs sharp right to ascend into the valley of the Usway Burn. A short way up I left it for a good side track shown on the map that climbs the SE ridge of Shillhope Law, giving good views throughout until the final rough slopes where the trig point lies just beyond a fence. The clarity was excellent with a wide vista of rolling hills from the trig point encircled by a windshelter.

View from ascent of Shillhope Law
View from ascent of Shillhope Law (20 May 2010__12:06:29)
Shillhope Law summit
Shillhope Law summit (20 May 2010__12:37:30)

The plan was to descend eastwards and cross the Usway Burn via a footbridge below Batailshiel Haugh: from the summit fence I descended back down the track, which took me past the rough ground before it turned away, and continued down the easy but increasingly steep convex slope. Once I could see the buildings and the burn, it was clear that there was no footbridge, although there appeared to be the remains of a bridge support pier. I walked upstream past a sheepfold and forded the burn with little difficulty on the rocks to join the bridleway path heading up into the valley.

This is a very attractive walk, curving around into the incised valley of the burn and accompanied by little falls where the path follows the edge of the forest.

The upper Usway Burn
The upper Usway Burn (20 May 2010__13:27:00)

Just before the white buildings of Fairhaugh, I turned right uphill on a track that climbs through the forest and turned left at the T-junction to emerge on the open slopes of Yarnspath Law, leaving an easy climb by the fence to the heathery summit and a welcome cool breeze. This rather undistinguished top marks the entry into a tract of high heathery moorland managed for the grouse and is typical of many hills in the region, linked to others by ubiquitous fences which - fortunately for hikers - are often accompanied by quad-bike tracks through the rough tangled tussocks.

The fence stretches onward to the trig point of Bloodybush Edge, gleaming white in the sunshine today against the dark peat and heather and standing at a scruffy fence junction. Someone has stretched an old sock over one of the fence posts, which seemed strangely in keeping with the feel of this desolate spot. From the northern slopes there is a spacious view ahead to the next objective Lint Lands and the headwaters of the River Breamish with the higher hills beyond.

View towards Lint Lands from Bloodybush Edge
View towards Lint Lands from Bloodybush Edge (20 May 2010__15:57:24)

Descending northwards the clear orange stripe of the crossing Salter's Road track comes into view, one of the major old routes through the Cheviots. On the far side a path on the left of the fence heads gently uphill onto the broad flat heathery summit area of Lint Lands, one member of a small elite group in the hill-lists whose conquests are particularly striking as total non-events.

This time however, Lint Lands will linger in the mind for another reason: it was my first encounter with a funnel trap, erected near an internal corner of the forest. This is a large cubical cage around 2m - 3m square with the wire netting of the roof bent downwards into a convex open funnel with dead rabbits on the floor as bait. Birds can easily descend the funnel into the cage but can't get back out. Trying to blot out of my mind the the illegal practices that undoubtedly occur with these devices - not to mention the smell - I moved briskly on to Breamish Head and began the long uphill climb to the main ridge as the rain started. It didn't last long and the air cleared enough for a retrospective view of the Upper Breamish valley.

The Upper Breamish from near Cairn Hill
The Upper Breamish from near Cairn Hill (20 May 2010__17:47:11)

I joined the Pennine Way at the ridge, first on paving slabs and then on the boardwalk built by the Northumberland National Park Voluntary Ranger Service. The views from Auchope Cairn were really dull today and not worthy of its fame as one of the best viewpoints in the Cheviots, but the tops were clear and the descent by Hen Hole is always a highlight.

Passing the Mountain Refuge hut and traversing Birnie Brae, another Dewey top, I made the final climb of the day to The Schil, one of the best summits in these hills and crowned by a rocky summit tor.

Hen Hole
Hen Hole (20 May 2010__18:28:11)

Day 2 - Black Hag to Dunmoor Hill

The humidity overnight was very high, as were the condensation levels in the tent, and although it felt quite warm I opened the door to a pronounced inversion. The rising sun quickly raised the temperature and began to disperse the low valley cloud as I descended NW for an excellent early morning walk under clear blue skies towards Black Hag, parting company with the Pennine Way at the col for a short climb to the rough heathery summit.

Inversion from the pitch on The Schil
Inversion from the pitch on The Schil (21 May 2010__04:38:05)
Early light on the western hills from The Schil
Early light on the western hills from The Schil (21 May 2010__06:09:42)
Inversion beyond The Schil from Black Hag
Inversion beyond The Schil from Black Hag (21 May 2010__06:31:45)

I walked NE along the fence to crest a minor rise at 528m and set off over pathless ground towards the little hump of Blackhaggs Rigg. Just as the ground began to rise, I decided to head straight down steeply eastwards on easier grass alongside a small stream to join the metalled bridleway track in College Valley: in hindsight it would have been more satisfying to continue NE along the nose of the hill, passing the hill fort and alighting on the bridleway a mile further north.

In the shelter of the valley it was already feeling very warm with hardly a breath of wind, which made the steep slopes on the far side seem formidable indeed in profile. College Valley is a picturesque location, lined with hills, very quiet and resplendent with flowering gorse. One of those smart circular sheepfolds has been used to house a well kept memorial to the airmen of the Cheviots, complete with red grit floor and benches.

The bridleway track terminates at the road end car park at Hethpool, where a short way along the road I took the track bound for Hethpool Mill to cross College Burn.

Memorial to Cheviots airmen in the College Valley
Memorial to Cheviots airmen in the College Valley (21 May 2010__07:35:51)
View south along College Valley
View south along College Valley (21 May 2010__08:01:35)
College Burn from Hethpool Mill bridge
College Burn from Hethpool Mill bridge (21 May 2010__08:24:07)

Over the bridge I turned left on St. Cuthbert's Way through the forest to the open hillside of Newton Tors. It was blistering hot and dead calm as I started the merciless climb of the northern slopes, which were fortunately of easy grass for the long steep section, achieved by a very slow progression of ten steps / rest , ten steps / rest, with sweat dripping everywhere. After what seemed like an age, the angle eased and a cooling breeze kicked in as the rough summit cap of heather and tussocks predominated and the trig point came into view.

The top could not really be described as attractive with its three slimy lime-green pools surrounding the column, but anywhere with a cool breeze, clear views and a place to sit down was heaven today!. Ahead lay the expanse of Great Moor, a patchwork of heather moorland to be circumnavigated to the next top Preston Hill on the far side. All around is evidence of the moorland management, including many grouse feeding stations.

Summit trig point and bog on Newton Tors
Summit trig point and bog on Newton Tors (21 May 2010__10:01:12)
Great Moor heather patchwork from Newton Tors
Great Moor heather patchwork from Newton Tors (21 May 2010__12:16:31)

I set off in the direction of Hare Law, initially over rough tussocky heather but I soon picked up some mown tracks that took me to the fence and a beaten path alongside it. This was a long day and I bypassed the summit of Hare Law, rather a pity as it appeared to have quite a fine rocky top, and followed the quad-bike track by the fence across the often rather wet expanse to the forest at Foulburn Gair. From here an easy climb gained the unmarked top of Preston Hill and a short switchback brought me to Broadhope Hill, another undecorated heathery hill.

At the next fence junction I took the peaty track across to Scald Hill and joined the popular path up to the Cheviot, where I saw the first couple of walkers of the trip - and the last until I descended to the Alwin valley near Alwinton the next day. I also encountered the first adder I've seen south of the border.

I traversed The Cheviot on the paved path that stops short of Scotsman's Cairn, but there were stacks of new slabs in place ready to complete this final peaty section. A path descends to the head of Harthope Burn where most return down the valley, but I turned right a few steps to the fence where a distinct path has developed across the wasteland of peat hags to ascend Comb Fell. This greatly simplifies the traverse, but there are still several deep groughs to manoeuvre across in the middle and this mountain never relinquishes its frustrating grip for a minute, constantly presenting walkers with lesser boggy bits throughout its ascent. The descent has far less of this and was a much quicker affair, and I soon climbed to Hedgehope Hill with its sprawling cairn and trig point. The views were dull and hazy today.

Hedgehope Hill cairn and trig point
Hedgehope Hill cairn and trig point (21 May 2010__17:01:10)

An easy descent SE brought me to the rather boggy head of Dunmoor Burn with a smart new stile sitting incongruously in the midst of the wetland. There is a path of sorts hugging the forest fence that climbs to the long flat summit of Dunmoor Hill at a liitle outcrop, while grouse butts line the northern side of the fence.

Day 3 - Shill Moor to Wether Cairn

Dawn brought clear skies again and good clear views, accompanied by the loud cackling of grouse from all directions. A quad-bike track leads easily down eastwards along the fence through Cunyan Crags, one of the few significant rocky outcrops in these hills, and down to the forest corner.

Early light view from Dunmoor Hill
Early light view from Dunmoor Hill (22 May 2010__05:21:33)
Cunyan Crags
Cunyan Crags (22 May 2010__05:57:33)

The map shows the footpath and bridleway curving around SW as nonexistent on the ground, but there is an excellent and obvious grassy track through this expansive valley of grassland. After crossing the streamheads that form Willow Burn, the track bends a little right towards a waymark: here I turned left on another bridleway that does indeed head SE down virtually pathless slopes, finally arriving at a waymark just before fording a stream. The waymarks continue past the buildings of Greensidehill to the road.

I had to decide on a route across the River Breamish: I walked westwards to Hartside and took the signed public footpath down the field to the track that crosses the river via a bridge to Alnhammoor. The waymarks lead behind the buildings to the bridleway westwards to join the metalled track heading into the Breamish Valley. Climbing past the small plantation I took a side track to a sheepfold and on to some higher enclosures where I gained the NE ridge of Shill Moor. The summit has a cairn and trig point and gave good clear views, another fine spot for relaxing in the sun and cooling down after a hot climb.

Shill Moor summit looking to the Cheviot
Shill Moor summit looking to the Cheviot (22 May 2010__08:36:49)

A fence descends southwards to reach the Salter's Road again, conveniently close to the col before the next top Cushat Law. I knew the best approach line from the previous trip here, a grassy track that ascends the nose of Bush Knowe and leads easily most of the way to the top, leaving just a short trackless bit to the summit cairn.

Cushat Law looking to the Cheviot
Cushat Law looking to the Cheviot (22 May 2010__10:10:16)

More fence-following to the last top Wether Cairn: The summit fence leads east and south to the edge of the Kidland Forest and over an unnamed flat minor top to Black Butt. Knowing this kind of territory well and being familiar with moorland place names, I expected something horribly boggy and it certainly would be after a spell of rain, but the predominant sphagnum and peat was merely damp and spongey today requiring only a little zigzagging. Better ground is reached on the short ascent to the trig point.

Wether Cairn
Wether Cairn (22 May 2010__11:12:48)

There are no paths marked on the map from here but a clear track heads southwards towards the forest corner, descending easily inside the forest fence only to end abruptly at a firebreak. Crossing to the outside of the fence I continued down easy grassy slopes and spotted some walkers near the bottom toiling upwards. This is a relatively well used line apparently, it descends steeply down the forest edge to a stile onto a track alongside Allerhope Burn and on to a bridge over the River Alwin. I turned left on the forest road and emerged into the open lower Alwin Valley.

Here I had a choice: either take the easier but longer line on the Alwin Valley track to Clennell and cross the fields to Alwinton, or the direct route on the bridleway track that climbs over the shoulder of a substantial hill. Despite the heat I chose the latter hill route and it's an excellent one, giving a grand view over the valley and back to the heartland. The waymarked bridleway drops to join Clennell Street down into Alwinton at the little footbridge to the village green.

The Alwin Valley from the high path back to Alwinton
The Alwin Valley from the high path back to Alwinton (22 May 2010__12:39:27)