Whatever the season, a wander over the humps and bumps surrounding the lower Breamish Valley makes for a delightful introduction to the Cheviot Hills. The area is peppered with the remnants of prehistoric hillforts, Bronze Age burial cairns and ancient cultivation terraces and is undoubtedly one of the most important archaeological landscapes in northern England. Even for the veteran Cheviot walker it is an area worthy of regular re-visits.
With late autumn beginning to turn into early winter I parked my car close to the tiny hamlet of Ingram, pulled on my boots and headed off with a spring in my step. I had decided to forsake the more formal Hillforts Trail, a walk I had followed the previous winter when the hills were covered by a blanket of the purest snow, and to follow a route which would take me briefly outside the boundaries of the Northumberland National Park.
Once past the fine part-medieval Church of St. Michael I left the narrow road behind, climbed over the gate next to the 1928-built Ingram Village Hall with its array of 2010-installed solar panels and followed the access track towards Ingram Mill. I barely had time to get into my stride before I was crossing the Fawdon Burn and beginning the short climb towards the summit of East Hill.
The tiny trickle of Fawdon Burn marks the boundary of the National Park and, as I made my way steadily upwards, I wondered why the superb ridge Iwas about to cross, consisting of East, West and Old Fawdon Hills, should have been excluded from the National Park when it was established back in 1956.
Already, the views were opening up behind me with the various crags on Dunmoor Hill and the cloud-dusted top knot of Hedgehope Hill particularly catching my eye. A short diversion across the grass-carpeted back of East Hill soon delivered me to the tiny cairn marking the highest point of this tiddler of a hill. The current edition of the Ordnance Survey map indicates that the summit is home to a hang gliding club although, as I paused to enjoy the extensive view, there was no sign of any winged activity of the human kind.
Back on track I headed downhill to Fawdon, little more than a few farm buildings huddled together, from where I picked up a south-heading footpath signposted to a three mile-distant Prendwick.
With the breeze on my back I wound my way through a series of gates enjoying the easy contours of the lower slopes of West Hill whilst admiring the cone-shaped Gibb`s Hill, a short way off my intended route. A hill, I thought, for another day as I left the path behind and headed instead to the triangulation pillar-adorned top of Old Fawdon Hill. The grass-covered summit, once the site of an Iron Age hillfort, enjoys fine views across the deep cleft of Fawdon Dean to the enticing, bracken-covered slopes of Cochrane Pike. I soaked up the silence.
However, what goes up must come down. So, without much further ado, I headed back downhill to re-join the path I had left half an hour previously. I was now on my way back towards the unmarked National Park boundary close to where the Rocky Burn seeps into the Fawdon Burn. A well-worn track stretched out in front of me, slipping past Thieves Road Plantation and onto towards the unremarkable Lumsden Hill. There is absolutely nothing to distinguish this flat stretch of rough grassland from its immediate surroundings and, with the better prospect of Cochrane Pike ahead, I hurried on.
Standing at a height of 335 metres above sea level, Cochrane Pike offers a widescreen, high definition panorama stretching from the Cheviot heartland to the brooding Simonside Hills. It was the highest point of my walk and I lingered longer than I had intended. Finally, however, I cranked up my motor and, with my eyes firmly fixed on my final hill of the day, I left the summit behind and headed to the nearby Wether Hill.
Like so many other parts of the area, Wether Hill has seen several periods of settlement, including Neolithic, Bronze Age and Iron Age, and as I paused for a moment to take one final look across an ocean of becalmed hills I reflected on the vastness of time and space.
My fifth and final top was now in the bag and it was time to saunter back to the valley on an easy downward winding track. As I re-connected with my outward route, the weak afternoon sun cast soft shadows across the tree-shrouded Church of St. Michael.
With time to spare before heading for home I just had to take a closer look. I was not disappointed.
|Relevant Map||Ordnance Survey Explorer OL 16 & Sheet 332|
|Starting Point||Parking Area just beyond Ingram Bridge, Breamish Valley (GR NU017163)|
|Length||12.9 km (8 miles)|
|Toilets||Bulby`s Wood, Breamish Valley|
|Guidebook||Walks on the Wild Side: The Cheviot Hills-Geoff Holland (`The Alnhammoor Classic` which gives the majority of the directions as part of a longer walk) (http://www.trailguides.co.uk/prodpage.asp?productid=33 )|
Category: Exploring the Cheviots