First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
The Holly Bush Inn at Greenhaugh is one of a very rare breed – an old drovers’ inn, long, low and full of character, in a hamlet tucked into a fold of the Northumberland National Park. They welcome you here in a no-nonsense way, no matter where you’re from.
We followed the rough lane to Boughthill between fields of cut hay and pastures grazed by blackfaced sheep. ‘A fair lambing this year,’ said the farmer, stopping his old Land Rover to find out if we were lost. ‘Not a good summer so far, though. But if farmers weren’t complaining about that, it’d be something else, eh?’
Past the grey stone barns at High Boughthill we turned up the hill road to Thorneyburn. The verges were spattered with colour – pink campion, purple heads of knapweed, sharp yellow of meadow vetchling, and the brilliant scarlet of rowan berries, hanging in bunches and dripping with the last of the afternoon’s rain.
High Thorneyburn farm lay on its lonely hillside in a protective collar of shelter trees, looking out over sedgy fields across the North Tyne valley to the rise of Snabdaugh Moor and the ripples of rocky crags beyond. These upland farms, beautiful though their aspect is, are tough places, demanding practical ingenuity from those who work them. The sheep dip and pens beside the lane were a marvel of clever construction, with little gates, lath fences and runways to direct the animals exactly where the shepherd wanted them to go.
Beyond High Thorneyburn we scrambled round the flooded spillway of Slaty Ford, and climbed a path knee-deep in heather up over the shoulder of Thorneyburn Fell. At the entrance to the forest of Sidwood a pack of siskins went flitting through the birch tops with a flash of yellow and a thin burst of twittering.
The wind rushed with a sea-like murmuring through the pine tops as we followed the forest track down to the valley of the Tarset Burn. The moorland path led home by way of the stark stone ruin of a pele tower, built back in the dark days of raiders and reivers when all these hills and valleys were dangerous, debateable land.
Start: Holly Bush Inn, Greenhaugh, near Bellingham NE48 1PW, (OS ref NY 795873)
Getting there: Greenhaugh is signposted off B6320 between Otterburn (A68) and Bellingham.
Walk (8 miles, some boggy sections, OS Explorer OL42): From Holly Bush Inn, right along road. In 200m, right (fingerpost, ‘High Boughthill’) down drive. In 500m cross Tarset Burn by footbridge (793867). On to turn right through Boughthill farmyard (2 gates) and up track (occasional yellow arrows/YA). Pass Higher Boughthill barns (789867); ahead with wall on right through trees. Through gate (787867); left along back of plantation and on to road (785862).
Turn right. In 350m, fork right through gate (782864) and on along moor road. In 1¼ miles, at turning on left at High Thorneyburn farm (766872), ahead through gate along track to Slaty Ford (767874). Scramble round to the right to avoid the stream. 50m beyond, through gate; in 70m, right (‘Sidwood, 1½’ fingerpost), on clear track to cross Thorney Burn, then NE up well-trodden path through grass and heather over Thorneyburn Common for 700m to a gate beside wall opposite Stank Well (765881, blue arrow/BA).
Ahead into Sidwood. Keep ahead on broad track. In 600m cross a forest road (770885, BA); continue on path, descending among trees for 600m to cross forest road (775889, BA). Ahead on path among trees to road in valley (776890). Right along road. In ⅔ mile pass Redheugh (784885); in another 500m, right (‘Thorneyburn’) to Thorneyburn church (786877).
Just past church, left through gateway, down west wall of churchyard. On through garden; out into a field. Head half-right (YA), steeply down a rough slope, to cross burn by footbridge (786875, YA). Climb far bank; head half left across open moor, aiming for low ruin of pele tower (787872). Ahead to stile in fence – don’t cross, but turn left (YA), keeping fence on right, to bottom of field (790868). Right through gate; left through gateway (YA); ahead to waymark post (YA). From here aim ahead, steeply down bank to cross burn (791867). Steeply up far bank to waymark post at top (YA); down track to Boughthill farm and retrace route to Greenhaugh.
Conditions: Route over Thorneyburn Common faintly marked in places; Slaty Ford wet and slippery.
Accommodation: Holly Bush Inn, Greenhaugh (01434-240391, hollybushinn.net) open Mon-Fri from 4 pm, weekends from noon.
Info: Bellingham TIC (01670-620450); Kielder Forest TIC (01434-250209)
3 September: 50th Rossendale Round-the-Hills Walk, Rawtenstall, Lancs (realtd.co.uk/50th-rossendale-round-hills-walk)
The January Man – A Year of Walking Britain by Christopher Somerville (Doubleday, £14.99).