Search Results : northumberland

Jul 112020

First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
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When the weather decides to throw a wobbler on the Northumberland coast, it doesn’t do it by halves. Winds whistle, waves thump the beaches, the sea grumbles, gulls go tumbling across the sky. And when the Shiel family of Seahouses cancel their boat trips to the Farne Islands just offshore, you know that it’s going to be a vigorous sort of day.

Seahouses Harbour was built to withstand anything the North Sea could throw at it – a great deep basin of solid walls that dwarf the sheltering fishing boats. Seahouses fishermen still go out after crabs and lobsters, and the piles of creels they stack along the harbourside streets bear witness to an age-old industry.

We set out into the wind along one of the most beautiful coasts on earth – if you like your beauty harsh, stripped back and elemental. Tan sands, black rock scars, orange bladder wrack, grey sea, as simple and striking as that. On one hand the dunes with their velvety nap of pale marram grass, on the other the long surfacing-submarine shapes of the Farne Islands clinging to the sea horizon.

How under heaven did St Cuthbert stick out his eight years of eremitic solitude on Inner Farne? Ancient tales tell of the demons that battled the saint, of the eider ducks – ‘cuddy’s ducks’ – that he loved and protected, and of the seals that brought him fish and sang to him. It certainly seems that only divine intervention could have sustained life in such a lonely place, windswept, storm-battered and hard as iron.

As we walked north between dunes and sea, the massive fortification of Bamburgh Castle grew steadily larger and more upstanding ahead. The castle is all walls and turrets, keep and battlements, high over everything. It radiates power and impregnability.

Some sort of stronghold has dominated land and sea from this perch on a dolerite crag overlooking the ocean for at least the past 2,000 years. Wandering through its stone chambers among suits of armour, delicate Meissen porcelain and framed photographs of the resident Armstrong family, we heard the wind booming down the chimneys and looked out over the enormous beach below where sea and sky were blown into tatters by strengthening gusts from the north.

The homeward path lay along wet pastures where black cattle grazed, and through fields of young wheat where every step released a shower bath of raindrops and skylarks sang themselves high into the scudding grey sky.
Start: Seahouses town car park, Northumberland NE68 7SW approx. (OS ref NU 218320)

Getting there: Bus X18 (Beadnell-Berwick)
Road: Seahouses is on B1340, signed from A1 at various points between North Charlton and Warenford)

Walk (6¾ miles, easy, OS Explorer 340): From Seahouses harbour (220322), head north-west along the beach for 3 miles to Bamburgh. Return towards Seahouses along B1340. 200m beyond The Links car park, right over stile (186347, ‘Coast Path’). Cross fields, aiming for Redbarns (190343). Follow waymarks for St Oswald’s Way and Northumberland Coast Path/NCP. At Fowberry (192334), left along road; follow road and NCP for 1 mile to T-junction at Shoreston Hall (204326). Right; in 25m, left (stile, NCP) across fields for ⅔ mile to stile into road (210318). Right; in 150m, left on old railway path (210316, NCP) to Seahouses harbour.

Lunch: Bamburgh Castle Inn, Seahouses NE68 7SQ (01665-720283,

Accommodation: Springhill Farm, Seahouses NE68 7UR (01665-721820, Beautifully run, welcoming self-catering place.

Info: Seahouses TIC (01670-625593);
Bamburgh Castle: 01668-214515,;

 Posted by at 01:51
Jun 222019

First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
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The nuns of Holystone Priory must have been a tough and determined bunch, to have maintained their prayerful community through all the hard times, Border battles, reivers’ raids and lack of funds associated with the Northumbrian borderlands of the wild Middle Ages.

There is a faint whisper of their presence in the little 12th-century (but much restored) Church of St Mary, and a breath of their holy spirit on the still waters of Lady’s Well, just north of the hamlet of Holystone. Legend has St Ninian, stern pioneer of Christianity in these parts, baptising three thousand sinners in the well around 500 AD. Today the waters still dimple and run, and the brook below the well is lined with beautiful monkey flowers, gold with orange-spotted nether lips.

We followed a lane through forestry, looking for the red squirrels that inhabit these trees. Bog myrtle in the verges released a churchy incense smell as we crushed the leaves between finger and thumb.

A scramble of a path up through the pinewoods of Cat Law brought us out into the heather uplands of Daw’s Moss. Within the walls of a cross-shaped plantation stood the Pedlar’s Stone, mysteriously named and never explained.

At lonely Craig Farm in the valley below, the massively strong structure of a bastle formed part of the farm buildings. A bastle was a fortified farmhouse, its stone walls five feet thick. With the animals locked in the vaulted basement below, the ladder pulled up and the family barricaded behind tiny windows, a farmer living here four hundred years ago could hope to hold out against the reivers – buccaneers who made their own laws and rustled cattle as a day-to-day business.

From Craig Farm our way led east across trackless moor where curlews bubbled their melancholy warning cries. We passed the Five Kings, a line of rough and rugged standing stones (four in number – one’s now a gatepost elsewhere), and came down to Dueshill Farm.

The farmer went bouncing across the pastures on a quad painted up like a racing car. The sheep ran bleating towards the field gate, and an old hand of a sheepdog kept the whole show together, now bullying, now coaxing – a masterful display of crowd control.

Start: Forestry Commission car park, Holystone, near Rothbury NE65 7AX (OS ref NT 951026)

Getting there: Holystone is signed from B6341 between Elsdon and Thropton

Walk (7 miles, strenuous, OS Explorer OL16, OL42): Right along road. In ¾ mile, beside Forestry Commission ‘Holystone Common’ sign (941020), fork left past barrier along forest track. In 500m track curves left (purple arrow/PA) to cross Holystone Burn (934013). In 250m, hairpin back left up track (933012). In 200m pass PA post on left; in 100m, right (935011, unmarked) up bank, then rough path south through trees to stile and gate at top by MoD notice (935010). Ahead with wall on left for 500m to road at Pedlar’s Stone walled copse (934005).

Ahead down road to Craig Farm. At farm entrance, left (938999, fingerpost ‘Dueshill 2½’) over stile. Follow grassy track into valley, aiming for far right corner of field with conifer plantation beyond. Over gate (943995, waymark post/WP); in 100m right across Keenshaw Burn; in 100m recross (footbridge). Follow edge of plantation (WPs). In 400m leave corner of plantation (948995), bearing a little left away from fence on right for 700m over rough ground (faint track), aiming for right hand corner of plantation ahead.

At MoD notice at corner (954999), ahead, keeping close to fence and trees on left. In 200m, cross stile at angle of fence (956000, yellow arrow/YA). Keep same direction for 150m through wood, picking your way over fallen timber, to MoD notice at far side (957001, stile). Ahead, keeping uphill of Five Kings standing stones, to left corner of plantation wall (958002, YA). Half left to gate (959003, YA) and on. At WP bear half left and follow fence downhill, keeping it on your right, to left corner of plantation below (959006).

Through gate (YA); ahead (YAs) for 350m to join farm road (960009). Left to Dueshill Farm. At gates (960013), through gate, across dip, through next gate with shed ahead. Left; through field gate (YA); right up field edge. At top of plantation, right over stile (960016, YA); left down fence. In 100m at edge of trees, ahead for 700m, crossing 2 stiles (YAs) to road (958023). Left into Holystone.

Conditions: A tough walk, reasonably well waymarked on faint tracks. For experienced self-guiding ramblers, properly equipped and clad.

Refreshments: Picnic

Accommodation: Coquetvale Hotel, Station Road, Rothbury NE65 7QH (01669-622900, – modernised former railway hotel

 Posted by at 07:50
Aug 262017

First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
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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.

Lunch: Picnic

Accommodation: Holly Bush Inn, Greenhaugh (01434-240391, 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 (;;

The January Man – A Year of Walking Britain by Christopher Somerville (Doubleday, £14.99).

 Posted by at 02:12
Dec 032016

First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
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Walking through the pine trees towards the sandhills of Hadston Links, we could hear the sea pounding the sands of Druridge Bay. A big roaring wind was building in the south, and once we were through the dunes and heading down the beach we had a half gale in our faces and the whole enormous bay – give or take a handful of dog ball throwers – to ourselves.

Druridge Bay is designated a Heritage Coast and a Site of Special Scientific Interest. This seven-mile curve of beach from Amble to Cresswell is totally unspoiled, a simple and grand arc of dull gold sand backed by flowery dunes, with crashing steel-grey waves coming in off the North Sea under huge overarching skies.

This is a beach for runners and kite-fliers, joggers and diggers, idlers and strollers. Black matchstick figures of men, women and dogs pushed hard into the wind. The sea rolled in, roaring softly on the sand and hissing up the beach in diminishing flounces of white foam. The air over the bay was laced with spray, lending a diffused pearly glow to the sky.

A flight of ringed plover went twinkling in black and white across the ribbed pools that had collected in the sands. On the landward side of each sandy ridge in every pool, a skin of gritty black had collected – tiny flecks of coal, sifted out of the low-lying hinterland behind the beach and filtered through the dunes by the trickling flow of tiny burns. The richness of the bird and flower life here, the windy solitude of the beach, make it easy to forget that this is coal-bearing country.

A couple of miles along the beach we cut inland through the dunes and past the wetlands and wildfowl lakes of Druridge Pools. Isolated in the fields beyond stands the lonely ruin of Low Chibburn Preceptory, a medieval chapel and hospital of the Knights of St John built on the ancient pilgrim route to Holy Island. The Hospitallers’ refuge has done duty in its time as a grand dower house, a cattle shed and a Second World War pillbox.

Before setting back for the beach and the return walk, we wandered slowly round the ruin, admiring its finely carved piscina, its arched windows and handsome stonework, survivors of changing fortunes over the course of seven hundred years in this remote corner of the Northumbrian coast.

Start: Druridge Bay Visitor Centre, near Amble, Northumberland NE61 5BX (OS ref NZ 272998)

Getting there: Visitor Centre signed off A1068, 2 miles south of Amble

Walk (6½ miles, easy, OS Explorer 325. Online maps, more walks at From car park, follow ‘Beach’. Path through trees, then dunes; down steps onto beach (273996). Turn right/south for 1½ miles. Where the dunes dip to a pool and Dunbar Burn, pass a pipe (broken in two) across the beach (277972). Continue along beach for 500m, then turn inland between tank blocks through gap in dunes (277965), past concrete blockhouse. Through fence gap (North Sea Trail ‘N’ waymark); right along road; in 200m, left between boulders (275966) on path (yellow arrow/YA) past Druridge Pools and on across 2 fields (YAs) to Low Chibburn Preceptory ruin (266965). Return same way. Nearing Visitor Centre, look for wooden steps up through dunes.

Lunch: Snacks at Visitor Centre café (open daily summer, weekends winter)

Accommodation: The Bridges B&B, 3 Togston Crescent, North Broomhill, near Amble NE65 9TP (01670-761989).

Druridge Info:, 01670-760968;;

Britain’s Best Walks: 200 Classic Walks from The Times by Christopher Somerville (HarperCollins, £30). To receive 30 per cent off plus free p&p visit and enter code TIMES30, or call 0844 5768122

 Posted by at 01:20
Oct 172015

First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
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Our friend and walking companion Dave Richardson had only just taken delivery of his new concertina from Wiltshire master maker Colin Dipper after a decade of waiting, and had brought it down with him to Northumberland to play us a few tunes. But first some inspiration, in the form of a walk in the Cheviot Hills.

On a morning of smoking cloud and pearly light we set off along the College Valley with Dave and his wife Lucy, and their chum Liz Anderson, for company. This deep, sheltered cleft in the northern flank of the Cheviots held several sheep farms not so long ago. These days, just two farms account for some 12,000 acres of hill grazing.

It was a stiff pull up the slope of Great Hetha to the Iron Age fort at the summit. We walked a circuit of the double ramparts of stone, looking out at hills folding to the south in steamy grey waves. Below us lay the lonely farmhouse of Trowupburn. ‘Burn of the Trolls?’ queried Dave. Past generations of Cheviot dwellers lived with legends of these grumpy giants who would snatch unwary musicians to entertain them in their caves.

Near the farm we crossed the Trowup Burn – the only way for a mortal to escape the trolls, who dared not go over running water. On the far bank a splendid bull in a cream-coloured coat was swinging his tail and murmuring in the ear of a young heifer. We left them to it and climbed the bracken slopes beside the Wideopen Burn where whinchats were singing wee-chit-chit!

Up beyond Wideopen Head we found the Stob Stones, a pair of stumpy porphyry boulders where the local gypsies once crowned their kings. Here we had a breathtaking view northwards over thirty miles of low-rolling border country. A long moment to stand and stare; then we cut east along the upland track of St Cuthbert’s Way to the College Valley.

That night we feasted on wonderful music. The new concertina might have been made within sight of the Wiltshire downs, but it was pure Cheviot that Dave brought forth from it – the hornpipes, reels and jigs of these hills, while we sat and dreamed back over the day.

Start & finish: College Valley car park, Hethpool, near Kirknewton NE71 6TW approx. (OS ref NT 894280)
Getting there: A69 (Wooler-Coldstream); B6351 to Kirknewton; Hethpool signed just beyond, at Westnewton.
Walk (8 miles, moderate/strenuous, OS Explorer OL16): From car park, left along road (detour to stone circle on right, 893278). In ½ mile, fork right (891275, ‘Great Hetha’) up left side of plantation. At top of wood (888277), left up to Great Hetha summit fort (886274). Don’t turn right off summit towards Elsdonburn, but keep ahead (south-west) along green ridge (white arrow) till you look down on a white house. Half right here down grass track to stile (877269, ‘Hilltop Trail’); left down farm track to Trowupburn (876265).

Past house, bear right through gate and up grassy lane with fence on left. In 600m, left across Trowup Burn (871262); in 500m, recross burn and a stile (867261), and turn left to continue through bracken. In 200m bear right at circular sheepfold into valley of Wideopen Burn. Follow path through bracken up right side of valley to Wideopen Head. Meet a fence here, and go through a gate (861265). Keep ahead on grass track for half a mile to meet Pennine Way (854269). Right along PW for 500m (detour left to see Stob Stones, 851270), to 3-finger post (850272). Right here (‘Elsdonburn 1½’), and follow waymarked St Cuthbert’s Way for 3½ miles back to Hethpool.

Accommodation: Tankerville Arms, Wooler NE71 6AD (0168-281581,
More info: Cheviot Centre, Wooler (01668-282123);;

 Posted by at 01:41
Nov 222014

First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
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Hadrian’s Wall, its observation towers and guard-posts, the roads and townships that served it, form the most remarkable monument in Britain to those energetic, organised and life-loving invaders, the Romans. They wrenched our history so forcefully out of its former courses; and yet it’s the tiny details of their quotidian lives that fascinate us most.

How incredibly angry the tile-maker of Vindolanda must have been when that stupid pig walked all over the nice new clay flooring he’d left out to dry in the sun. A surviving tile from the spoiled batch, on display in Vindolanda’s museum just south of the Wall, carries the prints of the pig’s incurving toes, as sharp today as the hour they were dinted two thousand years ago. And here alongside are the hobnailed shoes and thong sandals of this Roman fort’s inhabitants, their nose-picks and knives and scribe-written birthday invitations; while outside lies the foundations of the town they lived and loved in, its houses, temples, wells and paved streets.

Walking the rushy meadows a mile or so to the south, I looked up at the thin line of the Wall as it rode the rollercoaster crags of the Whin Sill, the volcanic rampart that strides across the neck of Northumberland. A magnificent bull, muscled like a body-builder, lion-coloured and sporting a leonine mane, watched me cross the broad grassy ditch or vallum and turn east along the Wall.

The stepped path swooped me up the crests and down into hollows of the dolerite sill, passing the sites of the milecastles and turrets where conscripts from the Low Countries paced and shivered and looked out into the debatable lands to the north from where the wild Picts might come screaming at any moment. As I stared out from the Wall to the looming black line of Wark Forest, the blue humps of the Cheviot Hills beyond, it was all too easy to imagine those young men sulkily clutching their cloaks around them and wishing they were down in Vindolanda where the latrines ran with clean water and the stew came hot to the table.

The old house and barns of Hotbank Farm lay huddled on the slope of Hotbank Crags, their walls much patched with Roman stones. Here I left Hadrian’s Wall and headed across the vallum and down flowery meadow slopes, with Vindolanda spread below me in the evening sunlight.
Start: Vindolanda car park, near Bardon Mill, Northumberland NE47 7JN (OS ref NY 767664)

Getting there:
Bus – 685/85 to Bardon Mill
Road – signposted from B6318 at Once Brewed (north of A69, between Haydon Bridge and Haltwhistle at Bardon Mill).

Walk (8 miles, moderate – many short, steep slopes – OS Explorer OL53. NB: detailed directions, online maps, more walks at From Vindolanda car park, left along road; in 100m, left through gate, down track; in 400m, right (766660) on path (stiles, yellow arrows/YAs). NB After passing barn at Kit’s Shield (764659), negotiate tree blocking path! Skirt Layside (760659, YAs); on to road (756658). Left, then right along lane (‘Cranberry Brow’) for 1⅓ miles to road (735655). Right (fingerpost) on drive to Hill Top; on to road (730659). Right to cross B6318 (729663, stile, ‘Shield on the Wall’).

Path along field wall, then diagonally left across Roman Vallum ditch to Hadrian’s Wall (727669). Right along National Trail for 3 miles to Hotbank Farm (771680). Leave National Trail here; right down farm drive to B6318. Right along grass verge for 400m; left (770674, stile, ‘Vindolanda’) across field, aiming to cross stile on left of High Shield house (769672, YA). Left to stile (YA); down fields with fence on left. In 2nd field, fence trends away left, but keep a beeline ahead to stile and road at bottom (772665). Right to Vindolanda car park.

Conditions: Short, steep ups and downs on Hadrian’s Wall. Bulls, cows, calves may be in fields.

Refreshments: Vindolanda Café

Accommodation: Twice Brewed Inn (on B6318 near Bardon Mill), NE47 7AN (01434-344534; – very cheerful, walker-friendly stopover

Vindolanda: 01434-344277;

Information: Northumberland National Park Centre, Once Brewed (on B6318 next to Twice Brewed Inn) – 01434-344396. Open weekends only in winter.;;

 Posted by at 02:30
Feb 082014

On a day like this, with strong sunshine and blue skies pouring across Northumberland, there isn’t a more welcoming range of hills in these islands than the Cheviots. Bosomy, rounded and dressed in brilliant green and purple, they seem to beckon, especially to walkers. First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
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In the farming hamlet of Akeld, just outside the regional capital of Wooler, stands a bastle, a rare reminder of a savage history. These old fortified farmhouses with their tiny windows, ‘upstairs’ doors and walls many feet thick date from the days when the Scottish Borders were aflame with cattle-thieving and murderous feuds. Back then, any man who wanted to live would barricade himself and his family into the upper floor of a bastle and hope to see out a siege.

Above Akeld a winding path led us away through bracken and heather across the hunched back of White Law. We dipped into a hollow, then climbed past the circular foundations of ancient beehive huts to the summit of Yeavering Bell. This high and handsome hill is the king of the north Cheviots, its knobbly brow encircled by a great wall – once ten feet thick, now scattered – and crowned with a cairn.

Up there we sat, catching our breath and savouring the view – the chequerboard plain stretched north at our feet, a steel-blue crescent of North Sea, and the rolling heights of Cheviot as they billowed away south into the heart of the range. Then it was down from the peak and on through the bracken to find the broad green road of St Cuthbert’s Way striding purposefully through the hills.

The hard rock outcrop of Tom Tallon’s Crag rode its heathery hilltop like a salt-brown ship pitching in a russet sea. We passed below the crag, then followed a grassy old cart track into the cleft of Akeld Burn. Suddenly all the birds of the air seemed to be flying about us – meadow pipits in undulating flight, kestrels and sparrowhawks hanging in their hunting stances, and a raven flapping with a disdainful cronk! out over the northern plains before us.

Start: Akeld, near Wooler, Northumberland, NE71 6TA approx. (OS ref NT 957297)

Getting there: Bus service 267 (, Wooler-Berwick
Road – Akeld is on A697, 2½ miles west of Wooler. Park carefully beside green – please don’t obstruct entrances!

Walk (6 miles, moderate, OS Explorer OL16. NB: online map, more walks at Walk through farmyard; up track (blue arrow/BA). Pass to right of Gleadscleugh cottage (952290); through next gate; in 100m, right over stile (950288; yellow arrow/YA). Follow path, bearing right up left rim of stony Glead’s Cleugh*. Follow YAs on posts for 1¼ miles over White Law (943290) and down to stile and gate in fence under Yeavering Bell (932290). Path up to saddle to right of summit; at wooden palette marker (931294), left on path to summit cairn (929293). Follow path half left off summit, though scattered stone wall (928292); here fork right (YAs, ‘Hill Fort Trail’) to St Cuthbert’s Way/SCW at stile (923287). Left, following SCW for 1 mile. Pass Tom Tallon’s Crag; through gate in wall (933278); in 300m, at near corner of conifer plantation, turn left off SCW through gate (935277); follow track to Gleadscleugh. Right (951289, BA) on track to right of house; zigzag across burn; on by wall; follow yellow arrows to Akeld, passing bastle (958294) on your left.

* NB Cottage is Gleadscleugh, valley is Glead’s Cleugh, as written!

Lunch: Picnic

Accommodation: Red Lion Inn, Milfield, Northumberland, postcode (01668-216224; – cheerful village pub with rooms.

Info: Wooler TIC (01668-282123);

Berwick-upon-Tweed Walking Festival, 5-7 April: 01669-621044;

 Posted by at 01:52
Sep 072013

The granite cross of the Flodden Monument stood tall against a blue sky where white clouds were billowing like gunsmoke.
First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
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The image struck forcibly as we looked south to the long slope of Branxton Hill, across the valley bottom where nearly 60,000 Scots and English clashed 500 years ago. Fourteen thousand men were hacked and piked and bill-hooked to death in just two hours. The Battle of Flodden, fought on 9 September 1513, resulted in the wiping out of virtually all the nobility of Scotland – including the country’s dashing and intelligent king, James IV.

An excellent Battlefield Trail explores the site. Down the slope in the valley bottom we gazed up at what suddenly seemed a steep rise to where the Scots army had arrayed itself along Branxton Hill. How easy it must have looked to the Scottish pikemen as they started their charge downhill – a quick hop across the valley and they would be in among the English, as their king had wanted and expected ever since they had crossed the River Tweed a fortnight before.

But weeks of torrential rain had turned the innocent-looking valley to a treacherous sucking bog of mud. The 18-foot pikes the Scots carried were worse than useless; the English wielded 8-foot billhooks that chopped up both the pikes and their carriers. The valley became a slaughterhouse, and ten thousand Scottish nobles, knights and men – including my own ancestor, Sir John Somerville of Cambusnethan – died in an orgy of killing.

From the battlefield we walked a slow circuit through this rolling Border landscape – long shallow ridges of corn and pasture, farmsteads like tiny townships, and the handsome 18th-century mansion of Pallinsburn in a swathe of beautiful parkland. Sunlight poured down on us, yellowhammers wheezed in the hedges, and all seemed right with the world. It was strange to come out of the Pallinsburn trees and find oneself looking over once more at the granite cross on its ridge, the broad sweep of Branxton Hill beyond, and the fatal slope down which the flower of Scotland had charged to destruction in the quagmire of the killing fields below.

Start: Flodden Field car park, Branxton, Northumberland, TD12 4SN approx. (OS ref NT 892374)

Getting there: Branxton and Flodden Field are signposted off A697 at Crookham, between Milfield and Cornhill-on-Tweed

Walk (6 miles, easy, OS Explorer 339): Follow track to monument (890372). Ahead to hedge; left and follow ‘Battlefield Trail’/BT to bottom of slope; through gate; left to next gate (892370); right uphill (‘Viewpoint’) to notice board; left to road (897369, BT). Right along road for 150m; left through hedge and gate (BT), anti-clockwise round field to cross stream (899373). On over crest with hedge on right; at bottom, through gate (898375); right along hedge. At field end, right through hedge, left along track. At field end, over stile (902377) and through trees. Cross stile; across field to top left corner (904377) at Mardon. Left down lane to road (901381). Right round bend for 200m; pass Inch Cottage; left over stile (903382, ‘Inch Plantation’). Follow hedge to gate (904383, yellow arrow/YA) into wood. Leave wood by stile (904384); up slope to cross stile; ahead to gate onto A697 (904387).

Right for 150m (take care!); left (‘Crookham Eastfield’) along road to farm. Left between barns (908391); half left across 2 fields (YA); through gate; right (902391) along Pallinsburn House drive. Pass house; in 400m drive bends left (894391, YA), then right through gate. In 300m track turns left through Cookstead farm to reach A697 (890384). Right for 200m (take care!); left (888384, ‘Branxton’) down side of Crookham Westfield farm; over gate, down track to fence; left to corner of field (890379). Right over footbridge and stile, to road on left side of house (890378). Left up road; right at top (893375, ‘Flodden Field’) to car park.

Refreshments: Blue Bell Inn, Crookham (01890-820789;

Accommodation: Collingwood Arms, Cornhill-on-Tweed, postcode (01890-882424; – classy, extremely comfortable, relaxed atmosphere.

Battle of Flodden anniversary:;; The Battle of Flodden – Why & How by Clive Hallam-Baker (pub. Remembering Flodden Project)

 Posted by at 01:04
Jan 052013

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
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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:

Info: Alnwick TIC (01665-511333);

 Posted by at 02:40
Jul 282012

It was a fantastically blowy morning over the Northumbrian moors.
First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
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The night before, safely tucked up in a cosy bed at High Keenley Fell Farm high on its ridge, I’d heard the gale roaring like a monster in the larches and over the farm roofs. But down here in Allendale Town, sheltered in the cleft of its deep green dale, the wind was sounding more of a continuous, mighty sigh in the racing heavens over Allendale.

Up on the fellside to the north of the compact little town, I looked over to a great rise of stone-walled fields topped with broad dun-coloured moors and the upraised fingers of a couple of industrial chimneys. It’s all sheep and cattle around here now, but back in the day Allendale Town was a noisy, two-fisted settlement of 6,000 people, most of them employed in the lead mines up on the moors. The chimneys poured out noxious and toxic sulphur fumes, brought through nearly a mile of stone-lined flues from the dale’s big smelting mills. Allendale’s lead business all came sliding to a stop in the late 19th century, and these days you couldn’t find a quieter dale in these lovely northern hills.

Late-flowering cowslips and milkmaids danced crazily in the wind as I followed the hillside path past Housty and Stone Stile farms towards Catton. The spine-tinglingly poignant bubble of curlew calls came from the fields, and I caught a flash of white as the stout wading birds with their long down-curved bills settled themselves among the sedges with an ecstatic shiver of sabre-shaped wings.

Catton lay silent around its village green. In the fields beyond, fat lambs ran riot, one actually prancing on top of its mother’s back as she lay imperturbably chewing the cud. Below Old Town a bridge crossed the shallow, peat-brown River East Allen in its sheltered little gorge. Before following the riverbank path back to Allendale, I paused, leaning on the parapet and watching two white-breasted dippers bobbing on midstream stones while a flycatcher swooped out, up, over and back to its branch above their heads with a beak full of insect fodder.

Start & finish: Allendale Town square, Northumberland NE47 9BD (OS ref NY 837558)

Getting there: Bus 688 (Hexham-Allendale)
Road: Allendale Town is on B6295 between A69 (Hexham-Haydon Bridge) and A689 (Stanhope-Alston)

WALK (7 miles, moderate, OS Explorer OL43. NB Online map, more walks: From Allendale town square turn left (Hexham direction) along main road (pavement). In ¼ mile, cross Philip Burn (841562); in 50 m, right up side road by ‘Dene Croft’. In 100 m, left up walled path, (842564; fingerpost ‘Housty’); in 100 m, left over ladder stile (fingerpost). Follow yellow arrows/YA across fields to Housty. Keep left of house and over stile (836572; YA); follow drive to road (834575). Right for 200 m; left (836576; fingerpost ‘Stone Stile, Catton’). Skirt left of barn, over stile (YAs); bear half-left down field; through gate (833577; no YA). Bear right through next gate (no YA); bear left down to cross wall by stone step stile; cross Catton Burn footbridge (832578). Bear right up wall; in 100 m, left over ladder stiles, through fields and farmyard (YAs) to road in Catton (829577).
Right; in 50 m, left by ‘Catton 2000’ stone seat, down lane. Cross footbridge (827577; YA) and follow green lane (YAs) for ½ mile, past Pasture House to cross road (818578; fingerpost). Turn right through gate (fingerpost ‘Old Town, Bishopside’; YA) across field above Struthers; then follow wall (step and ladder stiles) for ¼ mile to Old Town (814579). Through yard (YAs) and on across fields (YAs, stiles) to road (812581). Turn left downhill; descend Colliery Lane to cross River East Allen at Oakpool bridge (808577). Turn left (fingerpost ‘Allendale Town’); don’t bear right up waymarked field path, but keep ahead past front of Oakpool Farmhouse and on along track, then path, on right bank of river, over footbridges, through house garden at Bridge Eal (818573, YAs) to turn left across river on B6295 by weir (831566). Turn right along left bank (fingerpost ‘Allendale Town’), sticking close to river. In 1 mile, opposite cricket pavilion, bear left up walled lane (836560) to road; left to town square.

Refreshments: King’s Head PH, Allendale (01434-683681); Forge Studios tearooms (01434-683975;

Accommodation: High Keenley Fell Farm (01434-618344; – very comfortable, good food and stunning view

Information: Hexham TIC (01434-652220);

 Posted by at 10:39