One of my new year resolutions this year was to explore the Breamish Valley in Northumberland (also known as the Ingram Valley). Breamish Valley is the most visited Cheviot valley in the National Park, lying nearest to the urban centres of Newcastle, Gateshead and Sunderland to the south. Few visitors venture past Hartside within the valley however, which is as far as visitor cars are allowed. Because I lived on the Scottish Border when I began walking, I tended to visit this part of the southern Cheviots less often than the north, which was one reason for wanting to explore this valley a bit more. The turn off for the valley lies just north of Powburn on the A697 to Coldstream.
This weekend was planned on the spur of the moment using Ingram Village Hall, who allow people to indoor camp in the hall at a fixed cost, which is good value for money if you are part of a group of 2 or more. It was lovely to wake up to such a beautiful view of the hills with sheep munching grass a few feet from my window and have access to a fitted kitchen and facilities.
- Ingram to Chesters Roman fort site circular. Leisurely. (7 miles)
- Hartside, Salters Drovers’ Road and Linhope Spout waterfall. Moderate. (9 miles)
- Old Bewick to Blawearie ruined cottage circular. Leisurely. (4 miles)
These routes are now available on my Viewranger profile with the proviso that they are best done when the bracken isn’t so tall.
1/ Ingram to Chesters Roman Fort circular
I arrived on the Saturday morning to complete this 7 mile circular walk borrowed from a 15 year old book, which has its risks. This is quite a leisurely route up to the remains of the Roman hill fort, which has no steep climbs and is mostly on good paths.
However, one section of the route was problematic because the bracken had obliterated a bit of bridleway towards the house. I should know that the bracken is high at this time of year, but I sometimes wish that guide book authors would indicate the places where this might be a problem.
Anyway, as the path dips down towards Chesters Burn, I had to wade through this bracken to cross the strip of fenced woodland to the uninhabited farmhouse and the hill fort remains which lie close by. There may be a better route but it wasn’t obvious on my map. The bench in the garden provides a perfect spot for a lunch break with a great view of the hills.
From there, good paths descend gently back into the valley at Ingram, where I spent my first night at the peaceful village hall with some fine camping food and a good book.
2/ Hartside, Salters Drovers’ Road and Linhope Spout waterfall.
The following day was also bright and sunny. I opted for a more strenuous 9 mile circular route beginning from Hartside and heading southwards via Alnhammoor to pass along the wild section of the Upper Breamish Valley at Salters Road, before returning across the moors to lovely Linhope Spout waterfall. Hartside is a far as you are allowed to take your car, so there are often a few other walker’s cars on the verge there. That said, it is uncommon to meet many of them while walking, except at Linhope Spout.
As my guide book was a bit old, I was grateful to chat to a friendly farmer about the route and the state of the paths, all of which turned out to be valuable guidance. Although I lost the trail a couple of times, he had given me landmarks to look out for on my way through the quad bike tracks and the ubiquitous bracken at the start of the route.
You can see from the picture above how much we owe to the farmers who keep these tracks open and clear for walkers like me to reach some of the best bits of countryside. This stretch of Salters Road, once a wild and remote drover’s route, now has a couple of farmhouses on it, although neither of them seemed to be occupied.
Although it seemed really attractive in the sunshine, I kept trying to imagine what it must look like during heavy snow storms. I have read stories of local people who lost their lives near here during bad winter storms. Luckily Salters Road is a lovely broad path to walk on in summer, and is blessed with fabulous surroundings.
Just before Shiel Clough I turned sharply north east to climb High Cantle along a rougher track. From here it is a few miles along slightly damp quad bike tracks before turning south east around the side of Ritto Hill to join the path heading north to Linhope Spout waterfall.
I had hoped to stop for a rest here but midges forced me to bid a hasty retreat back to Hartside via the lovely hamlet of Linhope. It was then back for another peaceful night at the village hall.
On my third day I was up with the larks but when I realised how hot it was at Ingram by 9am, I knew that it wasn’t an ideal walking day so no miles were covered that day.
3/ Old Bewick to Blawearie Shepherd’s Cottage
On the fourth day with a slight breeze blowing, I decided to do a nearby walk which is not in the National Park. The start of this 5 mile circular route is at Old Bewick which lies further east on the Eglingham Road, and not so far from the River Breamish on its way north to join the River Tweed.
When I realised that access to and from my route involved passing through a field with a bull in it, I decided to talk to the farmer first. In spite of my remonstrations about the fate of Tony Archer, he persuaded me that the bull was right up at the other end of the field so I would be alright, and fortunately he was right. The broad track climbs gently for a mile and a half up to the remains of Blawearie shepherds cottage, built in the 19th century and occupied until World War 2.
Nearby are an ancient enclosure containing several burial cists and the remains of the garden built by the shepherd who lived at Blawearie.
From these atmospheric ruins my route headed south across a plateau of vibrant purple heather set against the bright blue skies, past Corby Crags, and back into yet more thick bracken.
The paths had so far been too good to be true – clear, broad and dry. However, as I headed south the bracken became higher, like a maze, and it got a bit damp underfoot. I turned west around the aptly named Tick Law, before skirting around to the south of Bewick Hill, which is where the bracken finally wiped me out. After a 20 minute struggle in the heat of the early afternoon sun, I was forced to admit defeat and clamber over a low drystone wall onto a field margin in order to return to Old Bewick the easy way.
There are disadvantages to walking in high summer – the bracken, the midges, the risk of dehydration and the paraphernalia of the shooting season, but the walking was mostly stunning and the colours in nature are really unique at that time of year. The Breamish Valley has a great balance of a friendly community and splendid wildness and isolation.