There are hills which you visit once, take in the view and then, when you have returned to the comfort of your suburban home and have reflected on the events of the day, you choose, for whatever reason, never to visit again.
You may well have enjoyed the moment, the thrill of reaching somewhere new, the empty landscape that seemed to stretch out into infinity and the sense of having been totally alone in an unfamiliar place.
But then there are those hills which you visit over and over again, heart pounding with excitement, blood rushing through your veins. Like dear old friends these are hills which draw you back, reminding you of shared experiences as you merrily make your way once more to their familiar summits.
For me, Shillhope Law is one of those hills.
It was a cool, crisp February morning and the sun was still creeping up from the distant North Sea as I parked my car close to the River Coquet at Shillmoor, roughly 10 miles north west of Rothbury, in Upper Coquetdale.
It was the ideal place to start the approach to one of my favourite hills and, as I wandered along the last stretch of tarmac towards higher ground, I was looking forward to the day ahead.
Soon I was climbing the steep south eastern slope of Shillhope Law pausing occasionally to take in the view. A film of mist obscured much of the finer detail although the faint outlines of the surrounding hills and the occasional haze-piercing sparkle from the River Coquet were more than enough to tickle my tastebuds.
By the time I had reached the superb grass-carpeted ridge across the subsidiary top of Inner Hill the pale winter sun had chased away the mist and the Usway Burn could be seen in all its glory, twisting and slithering like an adder, way below.
I continued on to the saddle close to where Shillhope Cleugh cuts through the western side of the hill and then as I headed uphill through bleached white mat grass, two fleet-footed roe deer bounded effortlessly across the barely discernible track in front of me.
As they rapidly disappeared over the brow of the hill I could only envy their ease of movement across the rough and ready ground. I pressed on and before long I was striding purposefully across the flat top of Shillhope Law towards the highest point of this fine 501 metre high hill.
The three summit peat pools mirrored the now almost clear blue sky and, as I reached the tumbledown stone shelter which encloses the hill-topping triangulation pillar, I wondered whether I was the only walker who had ventured out into those northern hills on that superb February day.
I was most certainly the only person enjoying the fantastic views over Upper Coquetdale to Windy Gyle and, in the opposite direction, the distant horizon-hugging Cheviot.
Difficult as it was to drag myself away from the breeze-brushed summit the day was still young and I had many more miles to cover. So, on I walked, first downhill, with the cosy and tempting farmhouse tearoom of Barrowburn way below me in the valley, and then across lush green turf towards the prominent and shapely Kyloe Shin.
I had only a smattering of white-faced Cheviot sheep for company as I followed the helpful indentations of the local shepherd’s quad bike to my next elevated point and then sharply down towards the straight boundary line of the vast Kidland Forest.
The semi-dark confines of the endless rows of regimented trees engulfed me briefly as I crossed Middle Hill en route to the chattering Usway Burn and the pleasure, once again, of full daylight.
Once over The Middle, a small hill with excellent views towards the isolated farmstead of Uswayford, I crossed the Usway Burn and followed Clennell Street sharply uphill.
Once a well-used cross-border drover’s road, the medieval Clennell Street is now a superb artery for walkers wishing to explore the Cheviot Hills.
I stuck with the easy-going track for the next few miles, first through another short stretch of the Kidland Forest, and then across the partially conifer-free ground of Nettlehope Hill. Views not seen for more than 50 years were beginning to reappear as the first cycle of harvesting stripped the hillsides of their dark green covering.
I savoured the moment, all too aware that replanting had already recommenced and that, in time, those views would once again be lost to passing walkers.
It was now time to choose the best route back to Shillmoor and by far the most obvious way would have been over the curiously-named Copper Snout, a well-walked track and one which offers fine wide open views.
However, I knew of a more spectacular route and one which, in my experience, was rarely trodden. So stepping off the popular route, I followed a downhill tumbling quad track towards Spit Hopes and the beautiful narrow winding valley of the Usway Burn.
Ahead, the huge continuous bulk of Shillhope Law and Inner Hill, visited earlier in the day, rose almost vertically from the valley floor casting deep shadows across what must rank as one of the finest burns in Northumberland.
When I finally reached the base of the steep, grass-covered slope I stepped over the burn via a picturesque bailey bridge perfectly at one with its more natural and wild surroundings, glanced briefly upstream and then turned to follow the burn downsteam the short distance back to Shillmoor and the River Coquet.
As I took off my boots and prepared for the journey home I thought how lucky I had been not to have seen another soul all day. The Cheviot Hills can be like that.
|Relevant Map||Ordnance Survey Explorer OL 16|
|Starting Point||Shillmoor, Upper Coquetdale (GR NT885077)|
|Length||15.4 km (9.6 miles)|
|Guidebook||The Cheviot Hills-Geoff Holland (`The High Circuit of the Usway Burn` which gives directions for a similar although not identical walk) (http://www.trailguides.co.uk/prodpage.asp?productid=4 )|
Category: Exploring the Cheviots