I had a short walking holiday by car in March to enable me to visit some routes which are difficult by public transport, but which are among my favourite Northumberland / Borders shorter walks. Instead of being clustered around a particular place, these five walks are dotted around a bit. I stayed in Rothbury which is fairly central, but Wooler would have been another possibility
Although spring hadn’t really got going yet up here, there was a sense of anticipation in the hesitant sunshine, the daffodil buds and the noisy birds. These are five of my favourite walks and places.
- Wooler common to Yeavering Bell Hill Fort. 7 miles. Moderate. (Full route 11.5 miles)
- Kirknewton to Hethpool Linn walk. 6 miles. Leisurely.
- Thrunton Woods to Long Crags walk. 11 miles. Moderate.
- Holystone, Lady’s Well & Dove Crag walk. 6 miles. Leisurely.
- Hethpool to the Scottish border fence. 8 miles. Moderate.
The first three routes are currently available on Viewranger.
Best hill-fort: Wooler common to Yeavering Bell Hill Fort walk (Linear – 7 miles / 11km – Moderate)
As I didn’t arrive in Wooler until noon I shouldn’t really have attempted this walk as I knew I wouldn’t get right round in daylight. I set off knowing that it would be a linear walk and that I would have to drop down from Yeavering Bell to the road. I chose the walk because Yeavering Bell has a large late pre-historic walled hillfort spread across both summits creating a 12 acre enclosure.
I set off north through the woods from Wooler common to Gleadsclough (pronounced Goldscluff according to a local taxi driver). The weather was cloudy but set fair as I climbed towards Humbleton, enjoying the fact that I had finally made it to the hills again. At Humbleton I turned left, with the Glen valley plain to my right, and headed west towards Gleadsclough House.
The path on to Yeavering Bell was much less distinct so I needed to keep an eye on my compass. I climbed up to the ridge after which the house is named and sat down for lunch looking down at Glendale and starting to feel a sense of escape.
When I reached the summit of White Law after lunch I was rewarded by my first sight of Yeavering Bell and a snow capped Cheviot off to my left. The footpath dipped down ahead of me before curving around and up to the saddle between the double summits of Yeavering Bell. There were still pockets of snow on the higher ground and a skin of ice on the hilltop ponds.
It was late afternoon when I climbed to the summit and, although it was cool, there was hardly a breeze. It would have been a good night to camp up there if I had brought my tent.
After exploring the large enclosure and earthworks I was forced to head briskly down to the hamlet of Yeavering on the road as dusk fell.
Best romantic spot: Hethpool Linn Waterfall on the Kirknewton to Hethpool Linn walk (Circular – 6 miles / 9.5km – Leisurely)
This was one of the first walks I did when I moved to the borders and it manages to be lovely at all times of the year. I have stood on the little wooden bridge at Hethpool in the depths of winter during heavy snow with icicles hanging all around making it look like Santa’s grotto and I have been there on days when paddling in the water downstream was the only way to keep cool.
When I parked the car at Kirknewton village hall and started to get my boots on, the sun was shining and the sky was blue with a few clouds. The burn was babbling beside me and large clusters of snowdrops were everywhere.
I turned right onto the B6351 which zig zags towards Old Yeavering. When I reached the turning on the right I set off up the long track, gradually ascending above a burn on the left to join the St Cuthbert’s way just before Torleehouse. At this point lovely views of the surrounding hills in dappled sunshine started to open up around me.
As I got higher the native trees had grown into fantastic windswept shapes around me. After a mile or so I dipped down to the wooden bridge at Hethpool Linn waterfall.
I sat down on the far side for some lunch on the banks of the burn hoping that the sight see-ers would leave me alone. After lunch I turned sharp right to follow the path along the side of The Bell where they say the oak trees were originally planted by Admiral Lord Collingwood to provide timber for Nelson’s navy.
I then followed the College Burn back to the road near Westnewton in the sunshine before turning right over the bridge to Kirknewton and back to my starting point.
Most atmospheric place: Castle hill fort site on the Thrunton Woods to Long Crags walk (Circular – 11 miles / 17.5km – Moderate)
I find walks around large managed plantations such as Thrunton Woods a navigational challenge, as all tracks often look identical at junctions deep in the woods, and the forests keep morphing as areas within them are felled. However this route visited another of my favourite sites of which more later. Don’t let the enormous electric pylons which run close to the road put you off walking in this area.
I headed north up the road from Thrunton Woods car park and followed the edge of the forest around to the south west along the base of the lovely Thrunton Crags which will have to wait for another walk.
The broad track skirts around the side of Humbleton Hill to reach the small unmarked wooden gate on the right which takes you up to the ancient beech wood on the summit plateau of Castle Hill. This ancient site is now encircled by gnarled old beech trees.
After enjoying the summit for a short break, I walked down the hill to a small stile where I crossed over to climb up to McCartney’s Cave which was created by a 19th century local monk as a retreat.
Having clambered up there I can attest that it is the perfect retreat as nobody would ever find you up there. I sat down and had lunch before following the track south which takes you up to the start of Long Crags and Coe Crags which have some dramatic views across the woods.
I then followed the smaller footpath down the hill following the stream back to the road just as dusk fell.
Most magical place: Dove Crag on the Holystone, Lady’s Well & Dove Crag walk (Circular – 6 miles / 9.5km – Leisurely)
This is a rewarding short walk with lots to see on the way. I started out north up the forest track until I came to the sign 100m up on the right for Lady’s Well. This heads across open pasture to the fenced enclosure around the well which is still the main water supply for Holystone. A sign on the gate tells us that it dates back to Roman times when it was a watering place on a main route from Redesdale to the coast. Paulinus is also said to have baptized 3,000 Northumbrians in the waters here in AD 627.
After heading past North Woods I became a bit confused as I kept seeing sunshine coming from a direction which was shown on my map as a conifer plantation. It turned out that the footpath now traverses a recently felled area of the plantation. All ideas I had had of a shady walk in deep forest evaporated as I emerged blinking into the sunshine and the loggers debris. Conifers are grown as a crop which is harvested like any other and so the landscape of Northumberland is constantly changing as old plantations disappear and new ones are planted.
It was a relief to get back into the woods after the stretch through the felled trees. I reached one of those plantation junctions where every track looks identical and headed southwest towards Dove Crag. This rocky area with a thin waterfall into a large grotto is supposed to be the home of the fairies.
After lunch and a brief rest, I headed back into the woods where the hall of mirrors effect meant that I walked past the turning south towards Holystone Burn twice. It was a relief when I finally found it and headed down the hill to join the rough track which follows the burn back into Holystone.
Best views walk: Hethpool to the Scottish border fence (Circular – 8 miles / 22.5km – Moderate)
I had saved this exhilarating walk until the end of my holiday and was really pleased when the sun began to break through just as I arrived at Hethpool car park in the gorgeous College Valley.
I set off westwards along the St Cuthbert’s Way with old cultivation terraces on my right and the babbling Elsdon Burn on my left. The day was lovely and peaceful and I had only birdsong for company up to Elsdonburn Farm. Here the St Cuthbert’s Way turns southwest and climbs gently through the edge of a wood to Eccles cairn where you have great views across the borders. From here I descended to the little gate where the St Cuthbert’s Way enters Scotland.
From here I followed the border southward a short way until I reached the path which turns south eastwards around White Law. I stopped for lunch on the ridge here to enjoy the views before turning downhill along the quad bike track towards Trowhopeburn.
At Trowhopeburn I headed eastwards along the forest track back to the College Burn at the bottom of the valley and my starting point.
I look forward to returning to these routes when the leaves are on the trees and the wild flowers have transformed the hills. My attempt at route recording did not work at all on these walks, so I have created them on the map.