First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
The bastle stood on its rise of ground, looking west over the turrets of Chillingham Castle towards the distant lumpy line of the Cheviot Hills. Everything about this 15th-century fortified farmhouse, its tall fractured walls of sandstone ten feet thick, spoke of hard and dangerous times along these borderlands in an era where might was right and the Hebburn family held sway on this spot.
We followed the Chillingham estate wall uphill, and at the crest turned off the road to climb a steep zigzag path to the crest of the thousand-foot knoll of Ros Castle, a stronghold through the millennia. From up here the view was stupendous, northward to the grey North Sea and the coastal castles of Lindisfarne, Bamburgh and Dunstanburgh, west to the smooth dome of Hedgehope Hill and the dominant whaleback of The Cheviot itself, monarch of the Cheviot range.
Nearer at hand, I could just make out a bunch of the Chillingham herd of wild cattle browsing under the estate trees. These pale horned beasts have been grazing these borderlands for uncounted centuries. Unhandled, untamed, they live out their own natural lives in genetic isolation here.
Back on the moor road we put up a snipe that swerved jerkily away, piping its disapproval of being disturbed. At Botany Farm a trust-the-walker roadside freezer yielded an ice lolly apiece, a sugar-shock that propelled us past the storm-tattered trees of Halfcrownhall Plantation and out onto the open heath of Quarryhouse Moor.
A broad green bridleway led southwest across heather moorland where the rushy ditches reflected the sky in iridescent silver. Our planned return route via Hepburn Wood turned out to have been swallowed by the bracken, and we were glad to have the old cart track as a guide past Blawearie Farm, a lonely ruin among shelter trees hissing in the wind, abandoned now for nearly a century.
What a tough life it must have been at Blawearie, farming these hard acres of rocky moorland, walling in the nearby prehistoric stone circle to make a sheep pen, enduring the bitter winters with the nearest neighbours far across the hill and out of sight.
How hard is it? 9 miles; moderate, with one short steep ascent; moorland tracks and country roads. NB Option 2 (below) includes short section of woodland tangle and undefined path.
Start: Hepburn Wood car park, near Chillingham NE66 4EG (OS ref NU 073248)
Getting there: From A697 south of Wooler, follow ‘Chillingham’.
Walk (OS Explorer 340): From car park, right along road. In ⅔ mile at top of road, left (081249, ‘Access Land’) to Ros Castle summit (082252). Return to road; left. In ¾ mile pass Botany Farm (093248), then Halfcrownhall Plantation. In next dip, right (102245, fingerpost ‘Blawearie, Old Bewick’) for 3 miles, passing Blawearie ruin (085223) and continuing to Old Bewick (068215). Just before house, through gate.
Option 1 – continue past house to road; right; in 500m fork right (064219); in 1¾ miles take first turning on right by estate wall (061245); follow road past Hepburn Farm to car park.
Option 2 – from gate, right across field, aiming for Old Bewick church. Right along far field edge, through gate (069220); in 150m, left (stile, YA) into messy woodland. Right to footbridge (069222). Keep close to fence on left, uphill; pass gate (YA). Up field edge (hedge on left) to Bewick Folly (068226). Left to road (062226); right; then as Option 1 above.
Accommodation: Tankerville Arms, Wooler NE71 6AD (01668-281581, tankervillehotel.co.uk)