The low-rolling Northumbrian hills enclose Elsdon in a loose embrace. First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
The plain and dignified stone houses of the ancient community stand scattered round their big diamond-shaped village green, which lies complete with a circular pound for stray animals (Elsdon was a famous stop-over for cattle drovers on the long road south) and the broad and handsome Church of St Cuthbert (the monks who were carrying the saint’s body away from Holy Island and its Viking marauders rested here over a thousand years ago).
As we set out across the sheep pastures on a brisk morning, yet more bloody and stirring Border history looked down on us from the stark stone battlements of Elsdon Tower, a grim pele or stronghold built when Scots and English raided each other and their own compatriots in a wild and lawless medieval era. Times have changed, however. We found a couple of contented coppers sitting outside the Elsdon Tea Rooms in the shadow of the pele, drinking tea and yarning with the owner.
Near Folly Farm a big brown hare leaped up almost under my boots and went away like a miniature racehorse, its long black-tipped ears erect as it sped off. We pulled up for a breather and to admire the blotchy tan-and-cream waves of heather and moor grass along the spine of the distant Simonside Hills. Frisky bullocks were cantering together in the fields at Fairneycleugh, and horses in red winter coats stood companionably nose to nose down at Soppit Farm.
This mid-Northumbrian landscape is all open country, big pasture fields, sedgy moorland and dark conifer blocks sitting together in a pleasing blend. You stride out more vigorously and breathe the clean air more deeply in such surroundings. Whomever the owners of Haining farmhouse may be, they are making a superb job of restoring their stone field walls, and they have planted a wide new woodland of native species – alder, rowan, willow, hazel, cherry and hawthorn.
Above Haining we crossed the ragged little knoll of Gallow Hill, looking down on a memorable view of Elsdon laid out below with the far-off Cheviot Hills standing grandly on the northern skyline. A notice board at Hillhead Cottage, warning of an application to build a clutch of wind turbines six times the height of the Angel of the North on pristine Middle Hill just alongside, was a sharp reminder of the views we can lose through simple lack of vigilance. It was a sobering thought to carry down the hill and back to Elsdon.
Start and finish: Village car park, Elsdon, Northumberland (OS ref NY938933).
Getting there: Elsdon is signposted off A696 (Newcastle-upon-Tyne to Jedburgh) between Kirkwhelpington and Otterburn.
Walk (6 miles, easy, OS Explorer OL42):
From car park, left into Elsdon. Cross ladder stile between Bird In Bush Inn and Elsdon Tea Rooms (936933, ‘The Folly’); ahead over fields (stiles, yellow arrows/YAs). In 3rd field, steer right of reservoir with mast to junction of tarmac lanes at stile (926940). Ahead (fingerpost) up drive past The Folly; in almost ½ mile, left off drive (920944; fingerpost) to Fairneycleugh farm. Go through gate across track (917940). Left down grassy track to Soppit Farm (920934, blue arrows/BAs), then on through trees to cross B6341 (922932, fingerpost) and on to Haining (YAs). Keep right of farmhouse; at yellow arrow post (925927) right for 50 m; left (YA) uphill through plantation on grassy track. Cross stile (926920). Left (BA) to cross road. On (fingerpost, ‘Hillhead Cottage’) over Gallow Hill (931919), keeping wall and fence close on left. 650 m after crossing road, go through gate (933919) and follow wall on right to Hillhead. At waymark post (939919, BA) go right; in 50 m, left through gate; cross cottage drive; through gate ahead (YA) along fence on left and through gate (940918, YA). Aim half right for Lonning House; cross next stile with 2 YAs; follow right-hand one towards Lonning House. Cross road; on down farm drive (943921, YAs). On across stable yard beside house (944921, YAs). In field beyond, aim diagonally left between electricity poles, descending to cross stile into lane at West Todholes (945925). Right to East Todholes. Just before farmhouse, left over ladder stile (946926, YA); in 50 m, at post with 2 YAs, keep ahead, descending beside plantation and through gate (946928, YA). Left along fence, follow YAs to cross Elsdon Burn (943929) and bear left. Aim for the corner of the fence on your left; turn 90o right here (941929, YA), aiming a little away from fence on your right to cross ladder stile in a bend of the stone wall far ahead (940931). Aim ahead for Elsdon Tower to return to car park.
Refreshments in Elsdon: Bird In Bush PH + B&B (01830-520804; Tues-Sat evenings, Sun from noon); Impromptu Tea Rooms (01830-520389); Coach House Tea Rooms (01830-520061)
Middle Hill Wind Turbines: middlehillactiongroup.com