Waterfalls, like people, come in all shapes and sizes. Worldwide there are some mightily impressive cascades where millions of cubic feet of wild, white water tumble hundreds, even thousands of vertical feet into deep dark swirling pools.
From the long thin strand of Angel Falls in Venezuela to the extensive span of Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe, from the high-volume Kaieteur Falls in Guyana to the tiered Gullfoss Falls in south west Iceland, the world possesses a magnificent array of outstanding waterfalls.
By comparison, British waterfalls are mere babies lacking both the height and volume of their international counterparts. Nevertheless, there are more than sufficient fine specimens in our tiny island to satisfy even the most difficult to please waterfall connoisseur. However, at first sight, our home county of Northumberland appears under-whelmed with foaming cascades of the quality that would have sightseers travelling from far and wide to gaze in utter amazement. Blockbuster waterfalls, it would seem, are in pretty short supply.
But all is not lost for those who are prepared to look beyond the coffee table guidebook and to seek out, preferably after heavy rainfall, some of the little gems, many of them nameless, which can be found in the beautiful Cheviot Hills at the heart of the Northumberland National Park. Here are just a few of my own personal favourites and of some of the writers who wandered these lonely hills long before I pulled on my first pair of walking boots.
The College Burn
The College Burn has its source close to the highest point in Northumberland, the windswept summit of The Cheviot, at an elevation of almost 800 metres above a distant sea level. Over the first 2.7 kilometres of a wandering downhill journey this, the most delightful of burns, passes through some of the most dramatic scenery in the Cheviot Hills including the narrow Ice Age-sculptured cleft of the Hen Hole. In this initial, relatively short distance there are four significant waterfalls each with its` own very special characteristics.
Seen from above, the first waterfall (GR NT894197) appears out of the blue, a tiny fracture in the ground bounded on both sides by grass-covered, rock-dotted slopes as it turns 90 degrees, drops and then tumbles in three distinct steps. The burn then turns again and continues its journey through the first of two superb corries in a series of slow-moving oxbows.
Then another sudden drop in height as the burn bids farewell to the flatter, grass-sided ground of the corrie and forces its way through two steep rock walls as it snakes over slippery slabs angled at 45 degrees (GR NT893202). It then emerges into a second, wilder corrie, via a series of small easy steps. Caught between the vast sides of West Hill on one side and the rapidly rising slopes of Auchope Cairn on the other this is a noisy mountain amphitheatre of cascading water far from any care in the world.
The burn turns again, first treading lightly over gently sloping terrain and then, after a short time, another abrupt and electrifying drop as the burn now thrusts through a slender passageway and falls in a single thread (GR NT889202) into the narrowest part of the Hen Hole. Huge rocks are strewn everywhere and high crags rise almost vertically above as the burn now hurries downhill towards the finest of the four waterfalls, the `Three Sisters` (GR NT886202). The burn spreads out ready for one giant step, slips over the ledge, falls in three pronounced strands and plummets to the huge rocks below.
Whenever I clamber through the Hen Hole I am reminded of H. O. Wade`s booklet, `Exploring the North East The Northumberland National Park` (1967) in which he wrote, “Wild, rugged and completely unspoiled, this romantic gorge, down which the College Burn flows in a continual series of cascades and waterfalls is, of its kind, the most outstanding feature of the Cheviots”. I cannot disagree!
A short distance beyond the `Three Sisters` waterfall, the burn enters the ruler-straight College Valley and continues on a scenic journey that is second to none. Eventually, long after leaving the narrow confines of the Hen Hole and after slipping past the tiny hamlet of Hethpool, another fine waterfall worth visiting is encountered. Relatively easy to reach and, therefore, one of the better known of the Cheviot waterfalls, Hethpool Linn (GR NT902285) sits in a narrow, heavily wooded valley obscured by a variety of trees, bushes and miscellaneous foliage. Whilst difficult to see from the adjoining bank side footpath, a short wander downstream to the centre of a small, wooden footbridge offers a reasonably good view of a waterfall which noisily announces its presence long before the burn passes beneath your boots.
The Bizzle Burn
The Bizzle (GR NT899221) lies just a short distance from the point where the Lambden Burn converges with the College Burn and is as dramatic a feature as the Hen Hole little more than 2 kilometres away as the crow flies. Formed during the latter stages of the Ice Age by a local glacier the Bizzle consists of steep cliffs with near-vertical screes immediately below them, a marked step in the valley profile and a huge hollowed-out floor.
It was described in Ward Lock`s Illustrated Guide Book, `The Northumberland Coast` (circa 1949) as, “a wild precipitous ravine”, through which, in the words of H. O. Wade and W. Balmain in their booklet, `Green Tracks & Heather Tracks` (1976), flows, “an almost continuous succession of rills and waterfalls, a long cascade of clear mountain water”. It is without doubt one of the outstanding natural features of Northumberland where, from high up on the north facing slopes of the mighty Cheviot, the Bizzle Burn flows through gently sloping grass-carpeted hillsides before tumbling over a series of rock ledges to the giant flat-bottomed bowl below.
In her book, `Northumberland` (1948), Ann Sitwell described both the Bizzle and the Hen Hole as, “the only dangerous parts of the Cheviots”, a point which was highlighted in February 1988 when two walkers fell to their deaths when hard packed snow gave way beneath them as they climbed up the edge of the Bizzle. However, with care and common sense, an exploration of this unique and awe-inspiring area along with its various small but pretty waterfalls is perfectly feasible for most fit and experienced walkers.
The Harthope Burn
In Ward Lock`s Illustrated Guide Book, `The Northumberland Coast` (circa 1949), Harthope Linn (GR NT927202) was described as being half a mile above Langleeford Hope, “in a tree-filled ravine” whilst W. Ford Robertson in his book, `Walks from Wooler` (1926) added that it consisted of, “two waterfalls, a lower and a higher”. The higher of the two waterfalls is the actual Harthope Linn but, because of its secluded location, it can be difficult for the first time visitor to locate.
It was suggested by W. Ford Robertson that you should follow the bed of the burn from above the lower waterfall through a, “narrow gorge”, soon after which, “the lovely surging pool and thundering spout of Harthope Linn will come into view”. It is perhaps sensible to ignore this potentially hazardous advice and to find a convenient viewpoint on the right hand side of the burn, heading upstream, from where you will be able to look down on the single and impressive fall of this, “thundering spout”.
The lower waterfall, smaller in scale than the upper one, is set beneath a canopy of trees and consists of two distinct steps over which the slim strand of water slips through moss-encrusted rock into a picturesque pool. It is relatively straight forward to reach as you pass by on the thin public footpath towards the upper waterfall. It is, to my mind at least, as attractive a waterfall as the higher one and makes a delightful spot to while away the time.
The Linhope Burn
Lying in the dark shadow of Dunmoor Hill and in sight of the conical-shaped Hedgehope Hill, Linhope Spout (GR NT958171) is probably the most visited and best-known of all of the Cheviot waterfalls. It can be reached from Hartside Farm in the Breamish Valley on a relatively straight-forward and extremely attractive 4.8 kilometre out and back walk.
Described by Agnes Herbert in her rather quirky book, `Northumberland` (1923) as a, “booming cataract”, by Nancy Ridley in her book, `Portrait of Northumberland` (1965) as, “one of Northumberland`s loveliest waterfalls” and by Ann Sitwell in her book, `Northumberland` (1948) as falling, “twenty feet in an unbroken white column of water half hidden in heather and bracken into the round pool below”, the single strand of Linhope Spout is indeed an impressive sight whatever the conditions.
Officially stated to be, “a 60ft (18m) chute of water which lands in a plunge pool 6ft (2m) wide and 16ft (5m) deep”, Linhope Spout receives its ample supply of water from the Linhope Burn which, in turn, is fed by three other substantial watercourses, the Het, Standrop and Coldlaw Burns. It stands near to where the Linhope and Dunmoor Burns collide and little more than 400 metres above a second waterfall, Black Lynn (GR NT961167). Aptly named and surrounded by a fine exposure of grey Cheviot granite, Linhope Spout is especially spectacular after rainfall and when autumn creeps in on a cool northerly breeze turning the surrounding bracken a rich golden brown. With a little bit of luck on your side you will have it all to yourself.
The Usway Burn
High on the rough slopes of Cairn Hill, the watercourses of Coldwell Strand and Shedding Sike trickle slowly into life and then, after little more than 1 kilometre, they join together to form the Usway Burn. Over the next 3 kilometres this delightful burn receives an additional supply of liquid fuel from the windswept, rain-soaked heights of the border line via Davidson`s Burn, Buttroads Sike and Tod Sike before eventually reaching Davidson`s Linn.
Described by F. R. Banks in his lovely little booklet, `A Guide to the Cheviot Hills` (1950) as a, “charming fall”, and by Dippie Dixon in his book, `Upper Coquetdale` (1903) as, “a fine waterfall of considerable height where the flowering willow grows in great luxuriance”, Davidson`s Linn is now all but surrounded by the suffocating coniferous mass of the Uswayford Forest. It is perhaps the bookies favourite for the title of `the finest of all the Cheviot waterfalls`.
Not as high as Linhope Spout, Davidson`s Linn consists of two separate strands one more prominent than the other. The main strand, lying to the right facing upstream, starts its journey by squeezing through a narrow, fast-flowing channel before bending towards the left and slipping, thread-thin and snow-white, over sharply angled rock. It then fans out, stretches sideways towards near-vertical bank sides, a rockery of tangled grass and mosses in numerous shades of green, before finally tumbling into the peat-brown pool below. In April and May the area is dotted with a multitude of tiny yellow stars, a profusion of wild primroses heralding the birth of a new season.
The second strand, lying to the left, is easy to miss as it slips through the tinniest of gaps in the pale grey rock and, in normal conditions, is little more than a dribble of crystal-clear water. However, when the burn is in spate, it springs into life, lively as a new born lamb, rushing pell-mell towards its ultimate destination, the River Coquet. Catch it, if you can, at its very best.
In his book, `The Northumbrian Uplands` (1989) Geoffrey N. Wright referred to the valley of the Usway Burn as, “narrow, steep-sided”, and as you make your way downstream towards and then beyond the former farmstead of Fairhaugh that steepness becomes more pronounced. In total, there are 8 waterfalls shown but not named on the Ordnance Survey map of the area between Davidson`s Linn and the confluence of the Usway Burn and the River Coquet, a total distance of more than 10.5 kilometres, together with many more waterfalls along the way which are not marked on the map at all. Whilst relatively small in stature, these waterfalls are not without their distinctive charms and, as you wander alongside the banks of this exceptionally pretty burn, the sweet sound of hurrying water over rock is a constant companion.
Smaller waterfalls in Northumberland
This is just a small, fairly random selection of the waterfalls which are spread across the many creases and crumples of the Cheviot Hills and a quick glance at the Ordnance Survey map will reveal many more worthy of closer examination. Some are named, such as Lindhope Linn deep in the Kidland Forest and some, like Careyburn Linn, a mere stone`s throw from the popular Harthope Valley and one which could easily have been made it into my list of favourites, seem to have gone totally unnoticed by the mapmakers.
You will have your own preferences, some of which will be known to other walkers and some which you will undoubtedly want to keep under your hat. However, as I tramp about these lonely hills perhaps I too will someday stumble upon one of your favourite waterfalls and maybe, just maybe, as I sit there enchanted by the beauty of these wonderful Northumbrian hills I will have it all to myself.
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