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
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.
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)
- From the Car park up to Shillhope Law summit
- Shillhope Law along to The Middle
- The Middle, down and up to the Border Gate
- Border Gate up to Windy Gyle
- 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 🙂
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.
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.
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.
(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)
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;
- The direct & shortest one straight to the car keeping east of the Trows Burn;
- Slightly longer keeping higher and down over Loft Hill to Trows & the car
- Go west over the Pennine Way diverting south down ‘The Street’ bridleway
- 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
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.