I am much too long in the tooth for New Year’s resolutions. Once made, they are there to be broken and, in my experience, they are invariably in tatters by the end of January. Instead I prefer to have a list of objectives, goals which offer a challenge but are reasonably achievable given a fair wind and a modicum of good luck. Then, as each goal is reached, the spirits rise. On the other hand, failure to keep resolutions can lead to feelings of negativity. Semantics perhaps, but better a sense of half full than half empty!
It was late January and, with my list of objectives nicely prepared and for the time being mentally filed away for longer, warmer days, I made plans for my first solo hill walk of the year. It was raining when I clambered out of bed at an unearthly hour but with an improving weather forecast for the remainder of the day I took my chance and headed north to the Breamish Valley.
The rain had abated by the time I reached my starting point and, as I pulled on my boots and donned my down jacket, the sun made a brief appearance through the thick layer of cloud hanging over the upper reaches of the surrounding hills. On the highest hills just below cloud level I could see a hint of freshly fallen snow and my heart began to race with excitement. Perfect!
I was soon away at a canter, nicely primed for my first taste of the white stuff for nearly twelve months. I crossed the River Breamish and headed on past Alnhammoor, first following the wandering course of the Shank Burn before making a direct line towards the southern slopes of Shill Moor and the ancient Salter’s Road. Next, a short walk downhill along this well-travelled track and I was ready for the two kilometre steady climb to the summit of my first hill of the day, Cushat Law. At 615 metres high this is the fifth highest of all the Cheviot Hills and, from where I was standing, totally invisible beneath the swirling blanket of cloud.
I immediately joined a clear quad track, saturated after a long period of rain, and followed it up shapely Bush Knowe. I quickly reached the first traces of snow, slush at first but soon becoming firmer and more widely spread. However, nothing to trouble me, easy walking and, for the moment at least, sheltered from the strengthening westerly wind. Then, suddenly I entered the cloud and the temperature dropped like a stone as the gradient became steeper and the snow deeper. Undeterred, I plodded on. making firm boot prints in the white, heather-covering carpet, the faint furrows of the quad track now barely visible.
Eventually, I crested the final slope and there, standing in a lonely and semi-dark monochrome world, I spotted the crumpled, slightly rambling shelter cairn which more or less marks the top of domed Cushat Law. Grey stones piled high against the weather, splattered with frozen snow and topped with an old fence post slanted towards the harsh winter wind. This was hardly somewhere to linger longer than absolutely necessary on a day like today, just sufficient time to savour the wildness of this elemental place and to hurriedly eat a sandwich or two. And that is exactly what I did before setting off once more, fleet-footed, to my next port-of-call: the cloud- and snow-free summit of neighbouring Shill Moor.
by Geoff Holland © 2015
Geoff Holland is a regular contributor to a number of magazines and the author of four books of self-guided walks, ‘The Hills of Upper Coquetdale’, ‘The Cheviot Hills’, ‘Walks from Wooler’ and ‘Walks on the Wild Side: The Cheviot Hills’. All books can be purchased online from www.trailguides.co.uk.Geoff, who has lived in Monkseaton for 40 years, also operates the award-winning website www.cheviotwalks.co.uk. His poems have appeared in a number of publications.