A light dusting of snow over Hadrian’s Wall, with the Whin Sill cliffs riding west from Housesteads, an iron-coloured tsunami breaking into the white wintry sky. Once I had topped the dolerite crags beside the wonderful old Roman fort, an answering wave stood in view over the moors beyond the crags – the low dark billow of Wark Forest, filling the northern skyline.
First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
As I came clear of the sycamores on Housesteads Crags, the Whin Sill ran before me, a rollercoaster of sheer cliffs, with the snow-crowned strip of the Roman Wall standing proud as it has done for two thousand years. Down in a dip under Cuddy’s Crags I crossed the barrier that denoted the outer limits of Roman civilization, and struck out north along the Pennine Way into the barbarian badlands. Now the Whin Sill showed its harsher aspect as I looked back, pale green columnar crags in a dinosaur spine a hundred feet tall.
Sedgy and ice-crusted, the Pennine Way straggled towards the forest over rough grazing where blackfaced sheep stared before bolting. Out east beyond Broomlee Lough rose the King’s and the Queen’s Crags, outcrops of the Whin Sill where Arthur and Guinevere quarrelled over a game of catch – if legend can be believed. Once in Wark Forest, crags and moors were shut away by the dark, timeless shade of a million white-powdered conifers.
It wasn’t long before I was out on the wide moors of Haughton Common, scratching my head for a sight of the footpath. Bless the fabulous freedoms of the Countryside and Rights of Way Act! Haughton Common is all Access Land these days – anybody’s to wander over at will. I set a course along Crow Crags, then plunged and crunched across the moor towards the beckoning clump of trees around isolated Stell Green farmhouse on its lonely crag. The delight of tramping the whitened farm drive towards the bared teeth of Sewing Shields Crags, with the prospect of a final mile beside the Roman Wall towards a gold and silver sunset, brings a retrospective rush of pleasure even as I write.
Start & finish: Housesteads car park, Hadrian’s Wall (OS ref NY 714684) – £3 all day (coins)
Getting there: Rail (www.thetrainline.com) – nearest station Bardon Mill (4 miles);
Bus (01424-322002; www.hadrianswallcountry.org) – Hadrian’s Wall Bus AD122; Road – A69, Newcastle-Carlisle; at Hexham, A6079 to Low Brunton; B6318 Chollerford-Housesteads.
Walk (8½ miles, moderate/hard, OS Explorer OL43): Left along Hadrian’s Wall from Housesteads Fort for ½ mile; at Cuddy’s Crags, right on Pennine Way (781686; white acorn symbols, yellow arrows) for 1½ miles by Cragend (782700) and ladder stile near East Stonefolds (780707) into forest. In 300 yards (781709; ‘Haughton Green’ fingerpost), ahead off Pennine Way to Haughton Green cottage (788713). Ahead (‘Lonborough, Fenwickfield’ fingerpost) for 100 yards; left across stream; follow yellow arrows to leave forest (791717) onto Haughton Common (Access Land: choose own path!). Follow top of Crow Crags for ½ mile to sheepfold among trees (778722). Aim a little right (due east – boggy! Some streams to ford!) for ⅔ mile to Stell Green farmhouse, in tree clump on ridge (808722). Follow farm drive south for 1½ miles to Hadrian’s Wall at Sewing Shields (811703); right to Housesteads.
NB Conditions: Boggy ground on Pennine Way; trackless across Haughton Common! Wear waterproof legwear. If inexperienced on open moorland, keep this walk for fine weather.
Online: Maps, more walks at www.christophersomerville.co.uk.
Lunch: Twice Brewed Inn on B6318 (01434-344534; www.twicebrewedinn.co.uk)
Accommodation: Carraw Farmhouse, Military Rd, Humshaugh, Hexham (01434-689857; www.carraw.co.uk).