First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
Redesdale runs south from the Scottish border at Carter Bar, a beautiful broad valley bounded by rolling green grazing country and criss-crossed by Roman roads. West Woodburn lies in a dip, right on the River Rede, and the Romans’ highway of Dere Street comes barrelling through it between one crest and the next. The houses of gold and black stone form a guard of honour for the road, to which the village owes its existence and prosperity.
On a bright windy morning I set out up Redesdale from the Bay Horse Inn. On the eastern outskirts of West Woodburn stands Cherry Trees, a solid stone-built house with tiny windows and the outline of an arched doorway in its thick walls – evidence of its former role as a bastle, a farmhouse fortified against rogues and thieves during former lawless times on the Scottish border. Big, thick and forbidding weren’t the only building styles in past eras hereabouts, though. The 18th-century East Woodburn bridge, by which I crossed the river, was as slender and graceful in silver-white stone as any Italian Renaissance masterpiece.
Farms and former farmhouses line the banks of the Rede. I passed through broad meadows bright with buttercups, groves of gnarled old silver birches and pastures where the corduroy seams of medieval strip farming still showed through the grass. Yearhaugh, Halls Hill, Hole Mill, Dykenook: they lay like beads on the string of the bridleway I was following. As I reached the road under Monkridge Hill, I was aware of a hollow banging noise a great way off, like a demented giant kicking his way out of a tin shed – the big guns firing on the Otterburn ranges over the hills to the north.
You wouldn’t walk down a rural road for pleasure in most parts of the country these days, what with crazy drivers in ‘fat cars’. But the back road to East Woodburn is a different kettle of fish entirely. Traffic-free, fringed with meadowsweet and tormentil, it’s a genuine pleasure to walk.
Under jagged Darney Crag I came to a superb viewpoint over Redesdale – East and West Woodburn lying in two grey huddles at the bottom of the dale, a glimpse of the river curling there, scattered farms, and a long skyline of shallow steps and ridges. I could cheerfully have stood there all day, just staring and whistling to myself.
Start & finish: Bay Horse Inn, West Woodburn, NE48 2RX (OS ref NY 893868)
Getting there: On A68, between Corbridge and Otterburn
Walk (6 miles; easy; OS Explorer OL42): Leaving Bay Horse, right along road; in 50 yards, right along lane. Pass Braewell Nursery; in 50 yards, left over step stiles (898871; ‘East Woodburn Bridge’) across 2 fields to cross East Woodburn Bridge (901876). Left (‘footpath’ fingerpost). In 300 yards river bends left; ahead here through gate (blue arrow/BA), and follow bridleway (BAs) around Yearhaugh, past Halls Hill (left of house) and Hole Mill to reach Dykenook and road (902895). Right for 2 miles to East Woodburn. Cross road (907868, ‘Ridsdale’); continue uphill. In 100 yards, right through gate; aim for corner of fence; same line to gate (904864); green lane to A68 (898860). Right for 100 yards. Cross A68 (take care!); go through double garden gates by house. Bear right through plantation, through gate (BA); down field by wall to barnyard. Down left side of barn; far right corner of next field; through squeeze stile (894865); left into West Woodburn.
NB: Online maps, more walks: www.christophersomerville.co.uk.
Lunch/accommodation: Bay Horse Inn (01434-270218; www.bayhorseinn.org).