A Favourite Walk in the Cheviots – 10 miles over Shillhope Law and Windy Gyle from Trows Rd End (Slymefoot) in Upper Coquetdale

This has become my favourite walk in Northumberland’s Cheviot Hills and is strongly recommended.  The Upper Coquet valley is particularly attractive with small streams cutting through green rolling hills rising up to the Border Ridge & Pennine Way. Whilst lacking the craggy feature filled landscape of the Lakeland Fells, this walk still provides a cracking day in the hills, ultimately ending on the regions best top Windy Gyle.

  • Distance    =  10.4 miles (16.74 km)
  • Duration      =   5 hrs 38 mins, in very high winds (start 12.00pm, finish 5.38pm)
  • Total Ascent   =   2,522ft (769m), max heigh Windy Gyle 2,031ft
  • Start/Finish      =   Trows Rd End, (Slymefoot) Car Park, west of Barrowburn
  • Date                      =   Sunday 9th February 2014, cloud, sun, wind, cloud, rain + wind
  • Total people seen  =  4
  • Click on the Route Map below to zoom in/out
Cheviots Route Map; Slymefoot, Barrowburn, Shillhope Law, Border Ridge, Windy Gyle

Cheviots Route Map; Slymefoot, Barrowburn, Shillhope Law, Border Ridge, Windy Gyle

Why this route

The temptation for anyone new to the Cheviots is often to head for the highest hill; I did this myself years ago and the experience put me off for ages. Despite being the highest English top outside Cumbria, The Cheviot (2,674ft/815m) is a disappointingly bleak and boggy plateau. Fortunately far more fun can be found on the smaller hills and especially in Upper Coquetdale. The best of these is undoubtedly Windy Gyle (2,031ft/691m) which is not particularly impressive in itself yet the location and views make it something special. Of the many routes available this one undulates nicely, maintaining interest and varied views throughout the day. There’s also lots of small variations available that can either lengthen or shorten the walk as required. I go anticlockwise which leaves the highlight of Windy Gyle something to look forward to at the end. It can certainly be done in reverse however I find walking up by the Trows Beck or ‘The Street’ less exciting than using these in descent. Another great reason to go anti clockwise is after finishing on Windy Gyle you can choose at least 4 different descent routes depending on time & fitness. Today’s route covers the shortest most direct route back, also see the other Cheviots posts here for alternatives.

Start Point

The starting point is the small parking area at Trows Road End also known as White Bridge or Slymefoot (site of dodgy old smugglers pub), half an hours drive west of Rothbury along the Coquet Valley where the Coquet meets the Rowhope Burn. Important tip – enjoy the scenery however keep an eye on the twisty road, mind the sheep and beware puddles as they cover many a pothole. Take it slowly.

Route Summary (done over 5 stages)

  1. From the Car park up to Shillhope Law summit
  2. Shillhope Law along to The Middle
  3. The Middle, down and up to the Border Gate
  4. Border Gate up to Windy Gyle
  5. Windy Gyle back to the car (4 ‘descent’ choices)

Route Detail & Pics from Sunday 9th Feb 2014

Stage 1 – From the Car park to Shillhope Law (1,644ft)  – a short but very pleasant road walk which quickly gets the legs going. After 5 mins take a gate behind the Barrowburn Tea Room, over a small bridge crossing the Hepden Burn then bend left to the Deer Hut & Camping Barn. Once over the stile you can shorten the day by following the excellent bridleway rising gently straight up to the trees. However I strongly recommend taking the feint sheep track angling from the stile slightly uphill then curving up right, across grass heading straight for Shillhope. On reaching a gate you follow the fence steeply up on boggy ground but you are soon at the top and rewarded with a belting view. On top is a stone shelter & trig point which gives a little respite from any wind. Only 1,644ft/501m, yet feels much higher. This section has taken me between 35 – 45 mins depending on my fitness & the conditions. There’s a good sense of achievement so early in the day, the downside being you have to retrace your steps losing much of the height gain, but it’s worth it 🙂

Trows Rd (Slimefoot) Car Park

Trows Rd (Slimefoot) Car Park – 12.00pm

Leave the road through the gate. Shillhope up ahead

Leave the road through the gate. Shillhope up ahead – 12.11pm

Shillhope Law summit cairn

Shillhope Law summit cairn – 12.45pm

View from Shillhope north

View from Shillhope north

Shillhope bullets

Shillhope bullets!! Last time up here I met the army, it’s very close to the Otterburn range

Stage 2 – Shillhope Law to Middle Hill – as you plunge back down to the gate your eyes are ever drawn to the beautiful rolling green hills before you. Go through the gate and veer off your ascent route towards the two higher hills ahead trying to lose as little height as possible, There’s a little bump which provides a nice view down the Usway Burn valley. I circumvent between Kyloe Shin and the higher unnamed hill along to the end bump which then slopes down to the edge of the Kidland forest. Detour slightly east to catch the impressive view down to the remote cottage of Fairhaugh. The overriding thing on this section is green, lot’s of green, different shades of green, very attractive green. At the forest stile you meet the bridleway from Barrowburn mentioned earlier. The quicker way once over the stile is to take the left path which goes straight through the forest over Middle Hill, The recommendation instead is to follow the path straight ahead which drops down through the trees then suddenly & surprisingly opening into a glade containing Fairhaugh holiday cottage. This is sheltered and very pleasant, a really good food stop. From here you take a rising dry path through a dense dark patch of forest in stark contrast to what has gone before. I like to pretend this is the haunted wood of death. Seems to add interest when I’m walking alone. Bit muddy at the top.

Descending Shillhope looking up the Coquet

Descending Shillhope looking up the Coquet – 1.10pm

Descending Shillhope with thw walk route ahead

Descending Shillhope with thw walk route ahead

The remote Fairhaugh holiday cottage

The remote Fairhaugh holiday cottage – 1.45pm

Fairhaugh

Fairhaugh – 1.53pm

Fairhaugh 1

Fairhaugh

Muddiest mud of the day

Muddiest mud of the day through a short section of the Kidland Forest – 2.05pm

Stage 3 – Middle Hill to the Border Gate – emerging out of the forest brings another change of scene as you head straight up to the cute hill called The Middle, which gives views all around to bigger stuff and up along the Usway Burn to Uswayford. On a sunny day it’s good to sit up here, today was just too windy and I carried on down to a stile which provided a rare dry seat. At a signpost you join the ancient drovers road named Clennel Street, where Scottish cattle & sheep were brought down to English markets. From here it’s a steady incline along the grassy path surrounded by even more grass. The views back are pleasant and once some more height is reached the Lakeland peaks can be seen 80 miles away. PS due to the weather I’ve only seen ever them 4 times 🙂 The path  continues up then levels off once past Hazely Law until soon you are in what seems like a huge overgrown sloping football field, edged with dark trees. Just as things start to get a bit tedious you catch a glimpse of a signpost up ahead signalling a more dramatic change in scenery. The signpost marks the Border Gate on the Pennine Way & the border with Scotland. The ground drops away giving an unexpected and rewarding view north.

Ignore the sign, fork left straight up The Middle for the views

Ignore the sign, fork left straight up The Middle for the views – 2.10pm

From The Middle with Uswayford right

From The Middle with remote Uswayford farmhouse right – 2.20pm

From The Middle with the route following right of the forest

From The Middle with the route swinging left & up following right edge of the forest

At the crosspaths, looking back over The Middle

At the ‘crosspaths’, looking back over The Middle, joining Clennell St path – 2.30pm

Higher up looking back again over The Middle with Shillhope above

Higher up looking back again over The Middle with Shillhope above – 2.40pm

The grassy field section on the way to the Border

The grassy field section on the way to the Border – 2.55pm

Looking back, this is the most trudging bit of the day

Looking back, this is the most trudging bit of the day – 3.05pm

Final section before the Gate

Final section looking up with the Border Gate on the horizon – 3.05

The Border Gate on the Pennine Way looking to The Cheviot

The Border Gate on the Pennine Way looking to The Cheviot – 3.15pm

Border Gate looking to The Schill

Border Gate looking to The Schill

Guess which one's the Schill & how far away it is!

Guess which one’s the Schill & how far away it is!

Border Gate looking to the next stage up to Windy Gyle

Border Gate looking to the next stage up to Windy Gyle

Stage 4 – Border Gate to Windy Gyle – Also known as Hexpethgate or Coxlawgate the Border Gate was used by cattle drovers and even smugglers years ago. After the obligatory sit down on the wooden post it’s time to make the final ascent of the day up the paved Pennine Way path to Windy Gyle. As you gain height please note these three things, 1) Any reservations you have about walking on a pavement are soon forgotten once you survey the boggy ground either side, 2) That cairn you are heading up to is a false summit, 3) Remember to enjoy the views left & right.

Once past the false summit cairn you see the real one with the path angling away from the hill edge. From the untidy gate & stile a red carpet walk (pavement) leads to the summit which then provides a most impressive grand opening scene as you crest the top. I’ve never met anyone who doesn’t tire of the views up here. There’s a large shelter providing a very welcome refuge from the wind and I always stay too long faffing with my phone taking pics until fingers are stinging with cold 🙂 Do walk out to the north shoulder for even better views and photos. Enjoy.

Some snow on the paved section up to Windy Gyle

Some snow on the paved section up to Windy Gyle – 3.45pm

The muddy stile leads to Windy Gyle summit

The muddy stile leads to Windy Gyle summit – 3.50pm

Along the red carpet - grey flagstoes

Along the red carpet – grey flagstones

Windy Gyle to The Cheviot

On Windy Gyle looking out to The Cheviot – 3.50pm

Windy Gyle

Windy Gyle Summit Cairn & Trig Point (obviously)

(PS. someone’s been buggering about with the rocks on Windy Gyle, lots of writing scratched on several dark rocks that have been moved for this purpose, you can see one mid left. This is a historic bronze age burial mound and should be treated with more respect, I will rub this off over next visits when warmer. Rant over)

The Cheviot in cloud from Windy Gyle summit shelter

The Cheviot in cloud from Windy Gyle summit shelter, Russells Cairn – 4.20pm

Soon the clouds lifted off The Cheviot and I took this short video panorama with freezing cold hands failing to commentate adequately over the wind. I left the top at 4.30pm.

Stage 5 – Descent to Trows Car park – Now a choice of 4 main routes back to the car park, check out the other routes from here under the Cheviots category or on the links below;

  1. The direct & shortest one straight to the car keeping east of the Trows Burn;
  2. Slightly longer keeping higher and down over Loft Hill to Trows & the car
  3. Go west over the Pennine Way diverting south down ‘The Street’ bridleway
  4. Much longer diversion along the Border Ridge/Pennine Way to the Lamb Hill Refuge Hut, then down to Carlcroft followed by a road walk to the car.

Today due to rapidly deteriorating weather I chose number one, the direct route south. You retrace steps back over the fence and stile following a boggy track downwards which bends left. This path drops down so you are roughly heading in a line for Shillhope. A useful path marker indicates where you swing south

Descent path marker, keep right

Descent path marker, keep right, heading for that tiny patch of trees on the right

Pleasant descent route

Pleasant descent route, steady gradient, decent ground

The two farm buildings at Trows ten mins before the car park

The two farm buildings at Trows, ten mins before the car park

That this walk was possible seemed a minor miracle leaving Hexham that morning in wild windy dismal rain. Only an improving forecast and a certain resolve kept me going. I know this area well so only constant rain was going to keep me away, (bound to need mountain rescue after typing that). Once past Otterburn a small patch of blue sky appeared over the coast soon revealing some cloud topped hills. This slowly lifted and whilst the west stayed gloomy the Cheviots and coast seemed fine. There was even 2 hours of brightness whilst further west & south seemed dark & foreboding. Eventually it all deteriorated on the descent from Windy Gyle with stinging rain so it was a good day to have chosen the quickest route down for once. One thing remained constant though, the cutting high winds all day with the only shelter found in the Kidland Forest where the sudden silence came as a welcome surprise.

For anyone wanting a shorter route then the standard one is up The Street around to Windy Gyle and down today’s direct descent route back to Trows Rd End. This can be done in around 3.5 hrs but in my view unless you’re a local or in a rush why drive all that way just for a short walk 🙂 The Street is also an excellent descent route late in the day with no one else to be seen and the sun lowering in the sky casting it’s magical light.  There are few waterfalls in the Cheviots so on calm days it can be particularly peaceful.

If you want to know anything more about these routes drop me a line via the Contact page or by commenting on the blog. Enjoy.

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About MART IN THE HILLS

Hillwalker with dodgy knees and dodgier sense of humour. Lover of the outdoors, Lakes, Highlands, Cheviots, nature, good food, real ale and leaf tea.
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5 Responses to A Favourite Walk in the Cheviots – 10 miles over Shillhope Law and Windy Gyle from Trows Rd End (Slymefoot) in Upper Coquetdale

  1. Mmmmm this is soo detailed that I have to do this one 🙂 I still have a couple of options to go here so all I need is some good weather. Did you track this one on SYA as well? Is it possible to download your gpx data? Thanks for sharing again.

    BTW how come you had cold hands at all? Weren’t you wearing gloves?

    • Hi I’ve changed the map link so it doesn’t open on full screen in Social Hilking, you should see a GPX option at the top of the map 🙂 The Street would be excellent to run down by the way.

      Had one glove off sat on top for too long, faffing with the phone then did 2 videos as the cloud had come down on the first.

      • Ah, will check that to see if I can find the GPX. Thanks Martin. But… a suggestion. I recently abought… tafdaaaa Egloves here in the UK. Excellent touch screen gloves. Never thought I would need those but with my new phone with the Viewranger maps and good camera I needed those as to be able to fully control the phone WITH gloves!!! Just check their website you won’t regret buying a pair with al the walking you do. I bought the sports as well as the extreme variant.

      • You should find the GPX button easily above the map but download the one with The Street on too. You will enjoy the extra length.

        Have ordered a cheap pair pf Tech Gloves. These should work better than the fingerless ones I sometimes use for phone moments.

  2. Pingback: A wintry weekend walk up Windy Gyle from Wedder Leap – Cheviots 9 miles) | MART IN THE HILLS

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