It’s time for a Cheviot’s Report, and there’s nowhere better to start than on my favourite top Windy Gyle. I first visited the Cheviots 15 years ago doing the standard Cheviot & Hedgehope walk from Langleeford. The boggy peaty ground put me off so much that I didnt return for 13 years, however I’ve recently discovered there’s much more to the area than the Cheviot itself and this walk on Sunday Oct 21st was a perfect example.
One thing about walking up hills is that you never need to worry about whether you are “in the mood” or “up for it” as this is irrelevant, you just need to ‘turn up and things happen’, that’s my motto. My other motto involves red wine & chocolate but let’s stick to the first one. I certainly wasn’t up for this walk, I was tired & didn’t really want to get out of bed however the weather was due to be excellent so I was going walking whatever. My mood soon changed on the drive north with perfect autumn light, clear distant hills and remnants of mist hanging in valleys; today was going to be a good day.
- Distance = 14.61 miles (23.5 km)
- Duration = 7 hrs 15 mins, (start 9.50am, finish 5.05pm) inc 50mins on W Gyle
- Total Ascent = 2,609ft (795m), max height Windy Gyle 2,031ft, 619m
- Start/Finish = Trows Rd End Car Park, past Barrowburn
- Date = Sunday 21st Oct 2012
- Click on the interactive Route Map below to zoom in/out
This walk starts half an hours drive past Rothbury, heading west up the superb Upper Coquetdale Valley passing Alwinton to the small parking area at Trows Rd End. Also known as Slymefoot it’s the site of an 18th century Inn reputedly a den of iniquity serving farmers with whisky from nearby illegal stills. There’s little sign of the pub now however it’s a fabulous spot with a choice of walks in 4 different directions excepting southwards as that side of the road’s reserved for the Otterburn Military Ranges.
Leaving the car at 10.55am I set off east along the roadside, turning off at the Tea Room at Barrowburn and heading north along the Hepden Burn. I was trying a new approach so this was the first time up this path which made a gently steady ascent soon leaving the Burn and providing those typical rolling green ‘Chevioty’ views.
After an hour you enter the Kidland Forest and as usual with coniferous forests I went slightly wrong, missing the straight path over Middle Hill by deviating down to the ford & remote holiday cottage at Fairhaugh. This may have been a good move as it turned out to be an interesting little forest glade. I soon ascended back up to the main path and eventually emerged out of the forest over the fence and up slightly to the imaginatively titled little bump ‘Middle Hill’ for the views northwards below.
At the signpost I joined the ancient drovers road named Clennel Street, where Scottish cattle & sheep were brought down to English markets. With the increasing height comes increasing views and the pic below looks back down over the route up.
Due to the clear conditions just a little more ascent revealed the first exciting glimpses of Lake District fells 80 miles away on the south west horizon. Carrying on uphill for another 5 minutes brings you up to the Border Gate and the first views north. Also known as Hexpethgate or Coxlawgate the gate was in olden times used by cattle drovers and even smugglers. It lies on the Border Ridge which isn’t a true ‘ridge’ in Lake District or Highland terms but is still an impressive high route giving views in all directions and also forming part of the Pennine Way. To the right the Ridge stretches away up to The Cheviot and to the left it goes up to wonderful Windy Gyle.
Turning left and joining the Pennine Way the path becomes paved which you soon become thankful for on this tussocky peaty soggy ground. It’s a steady incline past various historic cairns along the border fence up to the 2,031 ft summit of Windy Gyle, one of only 6 Cheviot hills over 2,000ft. On top is a huge stone cairn called Russells Cairn, named after Lord Francis Russell who was mysteriously murdered near here in 1585 after a Marsh Warden dispute. Reputedly a Bronze Age burial mound the cairn’s also a very welcome refuge from cold winds though to be fair it seems no windier than other summits. As it sits on the border, Windy Gyle is the only hill in the WORLD to be listed as both a Scottish ‘Donald’ and an English ‘Hewitt’ & ‘Nuttall’. I do like it up here and over the past 2 years have been up 8 times in all weathers including snow & darkness – though I didn’t know about the ‘burial mound’ bit before sitting here isolated on my own in darkness:-)
The views are extremely pleasing, the best I have seen in the Cheviots particularly northwards and particularly at this time of year with the golds and greens.
This was the first time I’d seen the Lakes from Windy Gyle and also the first time I’d brought my decent binoculars which revealed a perfect outline of Skiddaw & Little Man, Blencathra, some more distant hills, then two big groups almost certainly the Scafell & Helvellyn ranges. Unfortunately none of these showed up on my camera phone. I spent around 50 minutes up here gazing at the views, chatting with some fellow walkers and eating an apple. The last bit didn’t take very long. Reluctantly I left the top and started heading west along the Pennine Way.
At this point my normal route is to return south down ‘The Street’ another excellent Drovers path which stretches nicely across to the car at Trows. This time however there was just enough time to squeeze in a little extra mileage and still make it back by darkness so I carried on along the Pennine Way to do a section I’d only done once before and in dense cloud. Soon I’d reached the innocuous ‘Mozzie Law’ below, with it’s majestic erm summit wooden post thingy?
Despite seeing the pleasant views west to the Scottish border hills for the first time I still spent more time looking down at the thin line of peat threatened paving slabs, which is probably why I didnt notice passing over Beefstand ‘hill’, or that the sheep ahead werent sheep but the famous Cheviot Wild Goats.
These goats are believed to be descended from the original goats introduced by the first farmers of the Neolithic period and apparently number around 100-150. (I Googled it).
I’d only seen the goats once before and this time ended up walking through two groups around Beefstand and Lamb Hill (should be called Goat Hill).
From Lamb Hill the path descends down to a well maintained mountain hut and another viewpoint over the rolling hills.
From here theres 3 alternative paths back to the Upper Coquet valley, I picked the northern one as it brings you down to the road nearest the car. Seemed a good idea but it wasnt a great path, more a sheep track though really well signposted. Wasn’t impressed with all the new fencing in this area containing lots of very bright metal strips reflecting the light. Due to the low sun this looked really awful looking east, once through this gate however I discovered a large area recently planted with deciduous sapplings so assume the fencing is to keep the deer off, as well as the sheep and goats.
Once through the gate I regained the high ground to thankfully see that the way ahead was obvious, down to Carlcroft Farm and the road in the Coquet valley.
The road walk seems longer than the map suggests for some reason and it’s a relieving moment to at last glimpse the White Bridge and the car. It’s even more relieving when your car starts first time in this remote spot.