Ten weeks ago whilst driving back from the Cheviot hills my trusty old Mondeo lost power up the steep road out of Rothbury. Repair would be expensive especially with an impending MOT, so the hills were out of bounds until a replacement was found. Last weekend with a new car and hopefully no illuminated warning lights, it was time to get back outdoors.
Plan A for a smaller car turned into plan D a bigger car, not quite sure how that happened. It certainly added some width uncertainty on the twisty single track road up Northumberland’s Coquet valley. Hopefully I’d soon get used to it and luckily there was little traffic on this rare sunny February Sunday.
Nearing the small lay-by at Trows Rd End I realised the army were in residence. There was also an odd brown thing I’d never seen before in the grass by the river. As I got nearer this turned out to be two snipers in camouflage gear, pointing rifles directly at my car. They were securing the car park. Now that’s a new experience!
Managed to squeeze into a parking space, chatted with the army guys and joked about finding green paint scratches on my motor when I return. They were from Catterick on an exercise recruits had to pass before they could Pass Out. All in full gear, huge heavy packs and heavily armed. They set off in single file north to Trows Farm and I assume up over Windy Gyle, whilst I headed east to Barrowburn for a longer approach.
It was unexpectedly mild. After only 5 minutes I’d removed my gloves, two clothing layers and switched caps. At Barrowburn Deer Hut I met more troops on their way down. Again in single file with full gear, heavy packs and heavily armed. I nodded to most, one even said “Hello Sir” (he was my favourite). I didn’t envy them, they were having a hard day at work whereas I’d escaped work to enjoy myself in the hills. Wearing light clothes, light pack and no weapons, I had it easy.
The easy bit was about to end as my ascent began. For various reasons this was only my fourth walk since the Highlands in October. After another 5 minutes I met a couple descending, they had come up from Cocklawfoot across the Border and were off for a cuppa at Barrowburn before walking back up the ‘Street’. My cunning plan was to chat to anyone and everyone to give my unfit body time to recover. But this was the Cheviots where solitude prevails, I wouldn’t see another human for 2 hours.
Next came a few minutes in the Kidland Forest, I diverted down past Fairhaugh to check the storm damaged footbridge. No sign of damage as no sign of bridge! Couldn’t see any obvious alternative crossing over the Usway Burn without getting wet feet. Not sure how long till a new bridge will be in place. (Edit – new bridge now in place). A few more trees were down in this area and the path through the dark forest was blocked. A surprise but no problem to walk around.
Out of the restrictive dark forest into the open and up to The Middle, a small hill with big views. Then down into the Usway valley to join Clennel Street and a slow steady ascent up the side of Hazely Law. A grassy plateau is reached fringed by dark conifers where any feature seems magnified. The Cheviot came into view 4 miles away, attractively streaked with rivulets of snow, the peaty Cheviot is of course rarely attractive. I was instantly reminded about a special Cheviots quality up here. It can be breathtakingly quiet, no waterfalls, cascading streams, no people, no sheep, no noise. It aint the Highlands, it can’t compare to the variety of the Lakeland Fells, but on a day like this it can be joyously wild.
The damp ground was partly frozen, just enough to nicely firm it up without being slippy. At the Border Gate I met a guy descending from Windy Gyle. We briefly discussed the theory that the Munro of Lochnagar can be seen on a bright day from the Cheviot, neither of us were convinced. I then started up the paved Pennine Way along the Border Ridge.
Sometimes this section can be grimly exposed, a head down walk wrapped up against the wind. Today it was the opposite and I was still just in my ancient capilene base layer and still no gloves. Fitness wasn’t great, fairly slow going up to my favourite Cheviot summit.
Three walkers were already sat in the large cairn taking photos, so I sat in the smaller one. Time for a nice cuppa tea, some jam tarts, chocolate brownies and views.
Gear testing time. Normally on Windy Gyle my hands get a bit nippy after faffing about on the phone. They can take a while to warm up, even wearing Gore-Tex gauntlets. I’d brought some new gloves to try but this unexpectedly mild weather wasn’t helping, (some people are never happy). I’d sat gloveless hoping for colder hands, bizarre but always best to try these things in controlled conditions. Firstly Montane Power Stretch Pro Grippy, liner gloves which are smartphone friendly and should give better grip adjusting walking poles on the move. Secondly Buffalo Mitts, very light and compact, yet good insulators according to reviews. I liked the idea of mitts and Buffalo’s are supposed to keep the heat in even when wet.
The idea was the Buffalo’s would go over the Montane’s but I found the hands might warm up faster with nowt underneath. The heat from fingers clenched together could be better than separated by material. Not conclusive but I liked both. The Montanes are an improvement than my previous liners whilst the Buffalos could be really useful. I have two sizes so can wear one inside the other for maximum warmth. The smaller ones would also be great emergency gloves to carry all year round. Buffalo sizing is odd, I take a medium Montane but a large Buffalo, with an extra large one needed to fit either glove underneath. (see next weekends snowy walk for a glove update).
From the summit I took the longer route back along the Pennine Way then south via the ‘Street’ bridleway back to the car. Initially it’s as near a ridge walk as you’ll get in the Cheviots, but it doesn’t last long. Nice views, it can be very windy and if lucky you’ll see some wild Cheviot goats. Today I was lucky and virtually walked into em.
I’ve discovered the Street can be very special. It keeps to the high ground gradually descending, with two bumps and two troughs. Both bumps are just slightly off the path but well worth the diversion if time permits. Up here in fading light enjoy a peaceful Cheviot experience, with shadowed valleys either side, below a mosaic of illuminated rolling hills. All you’ll hear is silence, or perhaps a distant shepherd and his sheepdog.
There are many advantages of starting and finishing late, the peace and light being two of them. The fact that I can’t get out of bed early is entirely coincidental.
Back at the car, that moment when you whip off your base layer and change into a clean freezing cold shirt. I did this manfully of course. Seems in the Cheviots no one can hear you scream 🙂
- 10.7 miles distance, 2,164ft ascent, max height Windy Gyle 2,031ft (619m)
- Start/Finish = Trows Rd End/Slymefoot near Barrowburn, Sunday 28th Feb 2016
- Similar walk in snow 7 days later!!
- Alternative 13 miler inc Bloodbush edge & Davidsons Linn
- Slightly longer route including Shillhope – 10 miles
- Trows Rd End inc Lamb Hill – 15 miles
Link to Windy Gyle weather forecast