On average July is the warmest month of the year but it is also one of the wettest. However, as I stood in the narrow, emerald green valley of the Rowhope Burn, less than one hour into my first walk of July, the air was already as warm as a freshly barbecued chicken. The ‘Weather Gods’, it seemed, had woken up in a particularly pleasant mood.
I was about to start the exceedingly steep climb up Rough Knowe, a south western spur of iconic Windy Gyle – a hill I have visited more than any other but never by this particular route. With nothing in the way of a path or sheep trace to guide me, I simply made a bee-line to the highest visible point through a dense forest of knee-high bracken. I was mightily relieved to reach slightly easier ground close to the head of Outer Green Cleugh.
The views opened up around me as I plodded on over knee-jarring terrain whilst a succession of impressive hill-splitting cleughs slipped down from the distant high ground of the Pennine Way. I could clearly pick out the deep incision of Foulstep Sike, an aptly-named watercourse I had crossed on numerous occasions in the past. Mile after mile of rolling hills stretched out in every direction as I continued upwards in boot-placing, muscle-stretching concentration.
Then, all of a sudden, little more than 50 metres ahead, I spotted a herd of wild goats happily grazing on this lonely and rarely-visited hillside. I stopped dead in my tracks, desperately hoping that I had not been spotted by these shy and sensitive creatures. But to no avail, my cover was instantly blown and, after the herd had cautiously sized me up, they moved, almost in unison, slowly and easily uphill. I continued behind them and, initially I was able to keep them well within my sights. But man is no match for these fleet and sure-footed beasts, custom-built for the wild and rugged Cheviot terrain and soon they had all disappeared from sight.
On I went, clambering over the damp, peat-riddled source of the Rowhope Burn, on over the post and wire border fence and then finally along the boot-worn Pennine Way path to the summit of Windy Gyle. It had taken me two lung-expanding hours to reach the highest point of the day and, as I sat with my back against the hill-topping triangulation pillar, I was joined by a further four like-minded souls. Pleasantries were exchanged before I then made tracks towards the age-old border crossing at Hexpethgate and then onto the meandering line of Clennell Street. An easy stretch of downhill walking led me towards my next port-of-call, the summit of Hazely Law and thence to the Hepden Burn, where I splashed my face with the cool, clear water of this beautifully sheltered burn.
I was well on my way back to where I had parked my car close to the River Coquet, a mere stone’s throw from the quiet farmstead of Windyhaugh. From a number of alternatives I decided on a route which would eventually take me over Shorthope Hill, grass-carpeted and enjoying superb views of the tidy farm of Rowhope. With little in the way of additional climbing how could I resist a visit to this fine little hill. How indeed!
by Geoff Holland © 2016
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 over 40 years, also operates the award-winning website www.cheviotwalks.co.uk. His poems have appeared in a number of publications.