For many of us The Cheviot often seems like a big boring lump of soggy Northumberland peat. But at 2,674ft this is England’s highest point outside the Lakes & Pennines. It’s few interesting features are hidden away on the remote north western edges (best accessed from the College Valley). Unfortunately those of us approaching from the more populated south east get the boggy lumpy side!
There’s three familiar route options, all from Langleeford in the Harthope Valley ;-
- Direct route up Scald Hill – popular, increasingly tedious, often annoyingly boggy
- Follow the Harthope Burn up the valley – some like it, not keen myself, feels hemmed in with limited views.
- Via Hedgehope – often climbed after the Cheviot but can be done first. A fine hill but in either direction the peat hags over Comb Fell are rarely less than unpleasant, spoiling what could be a fine route. Best kept for a dry period or after frost.
However here’s a fine fourth alternative, avoiding the Scald Hill ascent by a diversion north west. This longer but hugely more interesting route continues around the Cheviot then clambers up through its very best feature. Put simply, the best route from the east is simply to ascend from the west!
Covering 13 miles, 3 valleys and 3,300ft of ascent, this circular walk starts in Harthope Valley, through remote and peaceful Lambden Valley, joins remote and peaceful College Valley, then ascends through the fascinating craggy waterfall-filled Hen Hole. The Cheviot’s bog filled summit plateau is traversed on the firm slabbed path, with a final fairly rapid descent over Scald hill back to the car.
If you never felt any affinity with the Cheviot then try this. You’ll leave with a greater understanding of this remote area, and you might just begin to like it.
- Distance = 13 miles (21 km), anticlockwise
- Duration = 6hrs, (start 12.50, finish 18.50)
- Total Ascent = 3,300 ft (1,006 m), max height the Cheviot 2,674 ft (815m)
- Start/Finish = Car park east of Langleeford, Harthope Valley, Northumberland
- Walk Date = Sun 15th May 2016 (some late summer photos added for contrast)
Park at the popular grassy parking area near the end of the single track road up Harthope Valley, just before Langleeford Farm. Take the usual Cheviot route by walking westwards along the road. Almost immediately, leave the road at a small bridge over Hawsen Burn. The aim is to follow the north side of the Hawsen as it curves westwards. Avoid an inviting low path along the burn banks as this has become eroded and is infested with dense bracken in summer. It’s a faff, so instead angle northwards from the bridge up a feint track through heather as if heading directly to Cold Law. After 30ft or so veer north west keeping high above the burn. Trust me, it’s worth it. Soon the feint track turns into a path which joins a much wider access path still high above the burn.
Stay on this path, keeping to the left as it splits (photo below), gently rising north westwards. I tried a signposted track closer to the stream but this just slows you down, especially in summer. Not the most inspiring scenery so far, best views are backwards. Heard Cuckoos and saw my first Ring Ouzels, which livened things up.
Once the path levels, continue westwards by one of the heather tracks to meet a fence. If lucky you’ll end up opposite a wooden gate, if not then just follow the fence north till the stile appears. Do try and use the tracks as the heather ground is not particularly invitin,g unless you’re a grouse. Once across the stile, follow a path westwards.
Lambden Valley – Now for a change of scene as the Lambden valley opens up ahead. Flanked by the Cheviot’s more attractive northern side, these are pleasant views many Cheviot baggers never see. The path descends gradually through heather moorland, watch out for hidden holes in the last section, harder to see in summer.
A forest vehicle track is joined briefly then continue to a small wood below Preston Hill.
This used to be simply a bit of fun winding through the trees dodging conifer branches before emerging into the open. However recent tree falls have barred the initial woodland path. Best go over the gate and round the wood along it’s north side. Once past a fallen tree either follow the fence or nip over it back into the wood to find the path. This can be full of ferns in summer, so if poss try to get back into the wood.
This is now an attractive valley walk, more open and varied than the upper Harthope. It’s pleasantly peaceful here, colours vary through the seasons and the Cheviot shows off it’s finer side. Continue west over a small stream then sharp right over another stile to emerge above remote and lonely Goldscleugh. Cross a larger stream then pass the abandoned farmhouse and inhabited bungalow to join a pleasant little road section to Dunsdale.
Amidst the air of solitude Dunsdale is now a holiday cottage so you might actually see a human being! Great views south up the Bizzle which gives an alternative route up the Cheviot. By now Langleeford seems far away, but remember that initial ascent, well you’ve just lost all that height gain just to arrive down here! But the best bit’s ahead.
Walk by the south side of Dunsdale cottage through a gate past the barn, then through the gate above (looking back east). Now to leave the Lambden Valley and start gaining a little height again turning south west still flanking the Cheviot. Another change of scene with views northwards down the College Valley.
Descend gradually through open ground then over a huge stile to ford the College Burn. Or before the stile head straight down and round the fence. The ford was a trickle in May but in late summer after a downpour was above boot height. I carefully traversed the stones using trekking poles for balance.
College Valley – Once over the river you join a wide path to the head of the valley. Now to follow the College Burn virtually to it’s source on the Cheviot plateau. College Valley has a well deserved reputation as a remote and beautiful place. Access is usually from Hethpool as vehicle access is restricted. A few cars are allowed up each day so you might see a few people at the Mounthooly YHA bunkhouse. Enjoy the situation and appreciate the variety on this walk.
Approaching the head of the valley you’ve reached the furthest point from the start. So far it’s been reasonably gentle which makes for decent progress. Now to finally turn back to Langleeford and start the ascent over Cheviot. Quickest route would be to follow one of 2 paths either side of the Refuge Hut, then trudge up to Auchope Cairn.
However if you want the best route up the Cheviot then take the Hen Hole, probably the most impressive hike in the Cheviot hills.
The Hen Hole – A hanging valley formed in the ice age, this is the surprise of the Cheviot hills. There’s an initial path but then you end up criss-cross the stream trying for the best line of ascent. Nothing difficult, hands on in places. It’s as though all the waterfalls in the Cheviots were scooped up and deposited in this narrow ravine. The photos below give the best description even on a hazy day. I had a smile all the way through, it’s pure joy.
Reaching the end is a mixture of relief that you’re through, with regret that it’s over. But by now you’re probably in a rush to get back, I certainly was. But you are still in the ravine which opens up before turning 90 degrees right.
I tried following the valley round but the path petered out and I ended up scrabbling around on mossy slopes. Far better to simply turn south and scramble up directly up to Auchope cairn. A viewpoint is soon reached and on a fine day the vista is extensive. Such a contrast to what’s just gone before.
You just have to stop at Auchope. Have some food, drink, anything, just gaze and take a moment. After all, it’s the Cheviot plateau next, not much fun there! The route is simple, follow the millstone grit pavement, part of the Pennine Way. Firstly to a gate and stile, then taking the path to the Cheviot trig.
If you like bleak peat bogs then you’re in luck. Not much to be said for the Cheviot plateau, except be grateful you’re on stone and not floundering in the mire. It’s a means to an end, we are heading for the car and just as things get tedious, a giant weathered trig appears.
The base and trig are in a poor state, I’ve reported it to the Ordnance Survey so hopefully they’ll make repair before it falls down. Anyway, the single pavement continues to another stile and at last a proper viewpoint, now looking east.
Now to descend over Scald Hill which can be boggy after rain, but is certainly better coming down than trudging up. And there’s quite an inspiring view ahead, with a potential coastal panorama depending on the haze. Lindisfarne and Farne Islands just visible.
Turn off for Langleeford which is quicker than it looks, usually only taking me about 70 mins from the trig without stops. A line of newly installed grouse butts were noticeable next to the lower path in September.
So a fine tramp around, up and over the Cheviot, with plenty of variety and interest. I’ve never met a soul on some sections of the Lambden valley. There’s also a few variations available and I need to do a walk around the summit edges next. Finally 20 years after I first did the Cheviot, I’m finally getting to like the bloomin thing:-)
- Could be done in reverse of course, which gets the highest climb over the Cheviot done first, but the Hen Hole is best going up.
- Same route avoiding the Hen Hole – instead of the Hen Hole just head for the skyline either side of the Refuge hut. Then a steep and unforgiving trudge up to Auchope Cairn. This tests your stamina after the long walk-in. Fortunately the ground is very good and views outstanding, see below;-
- Longer 16 mile route from Langleeford including the Schill you can divert through the Hen Hole if required, tougher day.
- Shorter walk up the Bizzle, (though avoid summit bogs by walking round to Auchope)