Words and photos by Geoff Holland
At sleepy Kirk Yetholm in the Scottish Borders I followed the narrow single track road uphill and when I eventually emerged out of the deep shadow of Staerough Hill, I was temporarily blinded by the low, early morning sun. Unable to see the road ahead I stopped the car, paused and then slowly edged forward until, as the road began to head downwards, the long line of hills on the opposite side of the valley blocked out the worst of the sun`s glare.
Suddenly, a wide-angle, heart-pounding panorama was revealed, a bevy of border beauties, billowing waves of gorgeous green hills with ridges and shanks leading upwards to a cornflower blue sky. I was, it seemed, in seventh heaven, entering the quiet Halterburn Valley and ready to tackle one of the finest grass-covered ridge walks in the Cheviot Hills, a high-quality rollercoaster ride over four delightful Scottish hills. With the lure of a couple of English hills thrown in for good measure I was, like a thorough-bred race horse, ready for the off.
I parked my car close to the sparkling Halter Burn and then headed straight towards the lush slopes of Staerough Hill. I was determined to save a modicum of energy for the tail end of the day so I took my time climbing the muscle-stretching gradient. As the going eased I picked up a convenient quad track and headed towards the 331 metre high summit. Adorned with an incredibly pristine white triangulation pillar, squeezed up against a fine dry stone wall and a wooden fence, this hill affords an eagle`s-nest view of Kirk Yetholm and a wide-ranging panorama of the surrounding hills. Particularly impressive amongst an amazing array of small, green hills was the shapely trio of Crookedshaws Hill, Wideopen Hill and Grubbit Law.
For the next two undulating miles of this `five star` ridge, my senses were assailed by a constant stream of eye-catching views. The hills rolled away in every direction as I strolled from one mouth-watering summit to another. A short, bone-rattling descent followed by a lung-expanding climb and yet another fine view. Each new top offered a totally different perspective and so it continued until I was standing on Latchly Hill peering up at the towering bulk of The Curr.
It was still relatively early but my crack of dawn breakfast was now a distant memory. I was feeling a tad peckish, so I sat with my back against the summit-crossing dilapidated dry stone wall, or dry stane dyke as they prefer to call these structures north of the border, munching merrily at my ample supply of tasty sandwiches. As one sandwich followed another I gazed at the high line of hills across the valley and time floated by like a dream. But as they say, time and tide wait for no man. So, suitably re-fuelled, I vacated my grandstand seat and made tracks downhill to the head of the Halterburn Valley where I immediately joined the low level, bad weather alternative route of the 1965-inaugurated Pennine Way.
Turning to my left, I followed this popular long distance route towards the tree-invaded ruins of Old Halterburnhead which, set against the impressive backcloth of White Law, looked totally at one with their more natural surroundings. This isolated and oddly picturesque building was already in a state of steady decline when James Logan Mack commented in his 1926-published book, `The Border Line` that, “this cottage is in ruins not by reason of its age, but on account of the fact that the roof was blown off in a storm and not replaced”.
I was now ready to head to higher ground and, as I turned to my right to begin my abrupt climb towards Steer Rig, I took one final look at Old Halterburnhead and wondered how long it would be before those tumbledown walls would be finally laid to rest. A relatively clear grass-carpeted track lead me to the saddle separating the fine line of Steer Rig and the steep south facing slope of White Law. As I paused for a moment next to the post and wire border fence I was all too conscious that the final climb to the summit of this 420 metre high hill would require slightly more than just a few grams of effort.
Then up I went, huffing and puffing like an old steam train until ultimately, with my heart beating like a drum, I reached the dome-shaped top of this invariably windswept hill. Breathless, I turned to admire the magnificent view over Steer Rig, caught between the Halterburn Valley on the Scottish side of the border and the valley of the secretive Trowup Burn on the English side. Standing there momentarily spell-bound, I pondered whether this was the finest English/Scottish cross-border view. It was, I concluded, a major contender.
The actual summit of White Law stands on English soil and is little more than a stroll away from cairn-capped Madam Law. Like Lord Darlington said in Oscar Wilde`s `Lady Windermere`s Fan`, “I can resist everything but temptation”, especially when it involves climbing to the top of a hill, so off I headed, first to Wideopen Head and then uphill to Madam Law, at 397 metres above sea level yet another fine viewpoint.
From there it was an easy walk back into `bonny` Scotland via White Swire, first documented in 1222 and a favourite crossing place of generations of reivers and drovers. These days it is a quiet spot frequented only by the occasional cross-border wanderer.
I was now nearing the end of my walk but before calling it a day I wanted to visit the Stob Stanes, the two stones which mark the spot where the gypsy kings and queens were traditionally crowned. A short detour satisfied my curiosity and, now with nothing to detain me, I virtually galloped downhill following once again the winding route of the Pennine Way. As I contoured the steep slopes of hillfort-capped Green Humbleton I began to think about a possible quick wash down in the ice-cold waters of the rapidly approaching Halter Burn. Now, what was that I said about temptation?
|Relevant Map||Ordnance Survey Explorer OL 16|
|Starting Point||Halterburn Valley (GR NT839276)|
|Length||11.3 km (7 miles)|
|Nearest Town||Kirk Yetholm/Town Yetholm|
|Guidebook||Walks on the Wild Side: The Cheviot Hills-Geoff Holland (`The Ultimate Halterburn Circuit` which gives directions as part of a longer walk) (http://www.trailguides.co.uk/prodpage.asp?productid=33 )|
Category: Exploring the Cheviots