Despite innumerable Cheviot wanderings over more years than we cared to admit, neither of us had ever ventured into the rocky heart of what is known as ‘The Bizzle’. With September kicking off in fine style, it was high time to put that glaring omission from our comprehensive ‘Cheviot CVs’ well and truly to bed.
A jaunty sun and honey-scented heather still savouring summer’s farewell kiss greeted us as we wandered past the slumbering, white-walled holiday cottage of Dunsdale and headed towards the shadowed-depths of The Bizzle. An intermittent path led us towards the impressive Bizzle Crags, steady walking into a stiffening breeze before the slightly more taxing work began.
We carefully picked our way through the purple maze, soaking up the spectacle of that fabulous Ice Age relict, a vast bowl, steep cliffs and near-vertical screes, high drama in a lonely and rugged amphitheatre. Here, snuggling into the northern flanks of The Cheviot, a fine collection of buttresses offer twenty one superb climbing routes with evocative names such as, ‘Spitfire’, ‘Devious Flightpath’, ‘Flying Fortress’, ‘Where the Hills Meet the Sky’ and ‘Lost World’, names reflecting both the history and location of this very special place.
Once beneath the crags, two huge fallen boulders marked the point where we needed to cross the burn and then, after one final flourish of heather, grass and rock took control. Suddenly the wind, funneled by the narrowing, v-shaped valley, hit us head on and the gradient took an abrupt upwards turn. Forward movement was painfully slow as we sought the easiest line up the steep-sided valley. Outcrops of grey rock barred our progress forcing us to descend to the burn and to follow its damp course. We criss-crossed the burn, stepping from one potentially slippery stone to another as threads of pure mountain water seeped out of the slopes on either side. Tiny waterfalls tumbled into crystal clear pools.
We stopped briefly, boots firmly pressed into the soft turf of a convenient burn side shelf and picked a few wild bilberries, lovers of acidic and nutrient-poor soils and often referred to as blaeberries or whortleberries. At last, a tasty and vitamin-rich interlude and a chance to enjoy the heady view down the stone-stepped course of the pencil-slim burn. In the far distance, beyond the upper edge of Bizzle Crags, a tidal wave of green, rounded hills stretched out towards Glendale and Milfield Plain. A small frog jumped across my boot and disappeared into a cushion of rich green moss.
On we went and soon we were passing a 45 degree turn in the valley. Ahead, the gradient eased towards the northern reaches of the vast Cheviot plateau. With the dark heart of the valley behind us, the ground on either side of the burn had become dominated by a variety of mosses and grasses, sponge-like and boot-squelching. To our left, the dry slopes of Mid Hill climbed skywards, slopes I remembered from an earlier brief crossing of this delightful and lonely burn.
Finally, we had reached the point where we needed to exit the valley and to make our way to our next port-of-call, Braydon Crag, where the morning sun would be briefly replaced by dense low cloud. The day still had much to offer in the way of variety.
by Geoff Holland © 2014
Geoff Holland is the author of four books of self-guided walks, ‘The Cheviot Hills’, ‘Walks from Wooler’, ‘The Hills of Upper Coquetdale’ and ‘Walks on the Wild Side The Cheviot Hills’ , is a regular contributor to ‘TGO (The Great Outdoors)’, ‘Country Walking’ and ‘The Northumbrian’ magazines and is the operator of the highly acclaimed website www.cheviotwalks.co.uk. His books are available online from www.trailguides.co.uk or from all good bookshops and he can be heard reading a selection of his poems on www.listenupnorth.com. He has lived in Monkseaton for almost 40 years.