|Total distance:||20.5 km||12.8 miles|
|Height gained:||731 m||2,375 feet|
|Maximum altitude||347 m||1,128 feet|
|Total time:||5 hours and 45 mins|
Ask anyone who knows the area what sort of weather you should expect in the Cheviots in February and the words, ‘grey, cold, wind, snow’ are likely to feature prominently. You certainly wouldn’t anticipate that they will use words such as ‘sunshine, balmy, summery, pleasant, clement’. However these latter were precisely the adjectives that were most appropriate for our walk last Monday. This was the day that a winter temperature of over 20°C was recorded in the UK for the first time since records began. And whilst these heady heights might not have been quite reached in the Cheviots then temperatures in the upper-teens must have been. It was so hot there was a real concern that Bob would be stripped down to his vest before we’d even reached the first summit of the day.
Fortunately that didn’t happen even though Steve lived up to his promise of several “short, steep, ascents”. We started out from the where the buses were parked in Wooler and within about a mile faced the first of these with a climb to the top of Humbleton Hill. An interpretation board at the bottom informed us this was the site of the Battle of Homildon Hill, fought between the English and the Scots (who else) in September 1402. The victorious English army was led by Harry “Hotspur” and the battle makes a passing appearance in Shakespeare’s Henry IV, part 1 (act1, scene1) where ten thousand Scots are described as being “Balk’d in their own blood… On Holmedon’s plains”.
But there was no blood spilled today as we fought our own battle to get to the top and enjoy our coffee stop amidst the ruins of the Iron Age hillfort with extensive views over the Northumberland coastal plan with mist in the valley and the North Sea glittering in the distance in a very un-February like way. But Steve had promised us not one but ‘several’ ascents and so we were soon off to tackle our second summit of the day, Akeld Hill where we stopped for lunch. By this point everyone was down to their shirt sleeves and the one member of the group who had dressed sensibly for February was regretting wearing her thermals. We dropped off Akeld Hill and faced another of Steve’s steep ascents onto White Law, then over Tom Tallon’s Crag (the name apparently comes from a large Bronze Age burial cairn known as Tom Tallon’s Grave that was located about 100m to the south-west of the crag which was destroyed in 1858). Coming off Tom Tallon’s Crag we picked up the St. Cuthbert’s Way for a short distance before some heather bashing and the last major climb of the day took us to the summit of Watch Hill (tea) from whence it was a short hike to the fifth and final summit, Fredden Hill.
Then it was downhill all the way firstly into Bell’s Valley, where a rare male hen harrier was quartering the opposite hillside, before picking up St. Cuthbert again, along with Michael Webster’s group, at the edge of Kenterdale Woods for the final stretch into Wooler in the lovely late afternoon sunshine.
It was a most remarkeable day weather wise. One that wouldn’t have been out of place in June or even July. Let’s hope the frogs that had already laid frogspawn have not been too quick off the mark.