Close by the Scottish border, the Cheviot massif is the most northerly hill group in England. Six of the hills attain Hewitt status. I walked the four highest on my cross-England walk in April 2016, and came back that June to pick up the other two.
The Cheviot. The highest of the group at 2674ft / 815m, its summit is the terminus of a Pennine Way spur. Though the dominating hill of the group, the peat hags and boggy ground of the summit plateau have given it a miserable reputation. Approaches from the east and north would be less uncomfortable under foot. My chosen route however was the Pennine Way, ie from the west, before a short backtrack and descent south before the climb up to Comb Hill.
Hedgehope Hill, 2343ft / 714m. Easily the nicest of the group with quite a nice, almost pointy summit and a proud position over the plains encircling Wooler. To the east, a few crags are unexpectedly scattered across the moorland, hosts to long-vanished settlements.
Comb Hill, 2139ft / 652m, intervenes between The Cheviot and Hedgehope Hill. It’s one of the most unappealing hills I’ve ever climbed, with deep peat hags in the col from The Cheviot and much wet ground, even in a dry spell, on what is laughingly described as the ‘top’. The source for these things evocatively defines the high point as a ‘thick fence post’.
The top of Windy Gyle, 2031ft / 619m, is shared with Scotland – it’s the only Hewitt on the border ridge. The Pennine Way marches right past it, but approaches from Bowmont Water (Scotland) and the upper Coquet (England) would be worth exploring too. It has a grand cairn sited on a rarity for the area, level grass that would be good for a high camp.
That leaves the two southernmost Hewitts, Cushat Law (2018ft / 615m) and Bloodybush Edge (2001ft / 610m), which rise above the Kidland Forest north of the Upper Coquetdale village of Alwinton. See below for my route to these.
Tuesday 7 June 2016. Alwinton to Auchope, 14 miles.
This day and the following, I had two objectives: climb the remaining two Cheviot Hewitts, and finish the Pennine Way. To do both in one day would mean 21 miles of walking, not a problem in itself, with 5000ft of climbing, which I didn’t fancy. After all, who would know what the weather might bring?
I didn’t have the option of an early start either. Alwinton has buses just three days a week, the first arriving at 11.15 (alas, my logistics didn’t permit at a stay at the village pub the Rose & Crown or the nearby Clennel Hall camp site). By now the heat of the day was building up, well into the mid-20s, and bringing with it the first towering clouds. There was still plenty of sunshine as I set off along the ancient trackway of Clennel Street, but reaching the edge of Kidland Forest, logging lorries driving up dust, the atmosphere became yet more heavy and foreboding. Still, no difficulties as I made my way through the trees.
The first rumbles of thunder came as I climbed up towards the forest edge, Cushat Law now in sight. Reaching the firebreak at 924132, in which a sketchy path leads to the summit, the grumblings were more frequent, and the rain was not far behind. I was surprised to meet a walker descending the hill; he’d planned on heading for Bloodybush Edge too, but reckoned a lower route and perhaps retreat might prove safer in the conditions.
I quickly made the summit, which has a cairn-cum-shelter, and turned along the ridge. Not without some worries though, indeed with growing concern, as the thunder cracks came closer and the lightning sparks between the clouds more brilliant. I spent a bit of time hunched and still in the approved manner. At one point I even turned to retreat towards another firebreak, though whether progress between trees would have been any wiser is a moot point, but met the other lone walker heading towards me. Together we took the brave pills, and strode off towards Bloodybush Edge. Navigation was no problem; the cloud was at least high, and a fence gives unmistakeable direction.
It also has to be said that the going was much easier than I expected. Comb Fell in April had led me to expect the peaty worst, but there was little to stop good progress. Indeed if it wasn’t for the dangerous weather I would thoroughly have enjoyed these two hills. The worst of the storm seemed to have passed by the time we made the trig point on Bloodybush Edge, and though the rain had not stopped, it never reached the torrential / stair-rods category that the Met Office had warned about.
We parted at the summit, he heading south-west to regain Clennel Street, me going north-west to reach Davidson’s Linn. I’d wild camped there in April so I knew it would be a good place for my delayed lunch, the original planned hill-top venue not having being advisable. I also needed to fill water bottles for the overnight stay at the Auchope refuge hut. As I left, the rain at last stopped, and I was on familiar ground too, making my way up to the border ridge, then taking the Pennine Way to the Cheviot junction cairn. From here, the Auchope hut was a simple downhill mile, and my 45-year completion of the Pennine Way was just a morning’s walk away.