When I first moved to the country, I anticipated taking long sturdy walks every few days, filling my lungs with fresh air, and gradually – proudly – achieving the weathered complexion of a Norwegian fisherman. Such is the variation in outdoor complexions in rural parts, Farrow & Ball could start a new range: shepherd’s sunburn, builder’s brick red, farmer’s frozen snout.

A friend who moved from London to Edinburgh before finally settling in a village in the Highlands, was quick to disabuse me of my perambulating dreams. In the city it’s easy to clock up miles on foot without even noticing, simply going about daily life. In the country, much of what you do requires a car or bus. Unless you have a dog – and a great many people round here do – it would be possible to live in the lap of hills, heath and woodlands without stepping beyond the garden gate in good weather and the front door in bad. This friend can go for months without getting her crampons on.

Yet it is hard resist the call of the wild. On fine weekdays, as I sit at my desk, I hear the village’s retirees clumping past in their hiking boots, leaving base for an attempt on the nearby peaks, or merely a gentle stroll along the riverbank. Hoolet has more than its fair share of Munro-baggers, lean folk with the legs of grasshoppers and enough puff to inflate a hot-air balloon. There are so many dedicated walkers, in fact, that it probably partly explains why they’ve chosen to live here. Whatever the starting point, there are enough paths and trails to carry you across the borderlands and deep into Northumberland without using a drop of petrol.

Another of my northern chums – she works on farms but still has the face of an English rose – has been planning a visit with her pony. She hopes to ride through Roxburghshire to Lindisfarne, a journey of 50 or 60 miles. As she B&Bs her way south, she requires not just bed, bacon and scrambled eggs but a basket for her sheep dog and grazing for her packhorse.

Few things are more frustrating than not being able to stretch your legs because you’re working, knowing that others are out there having fun. My husband is often one of them, returning bright-eyed, invigorated, and caked in mud. He could feature in a detergent ad, though moleskins and scratchy socks coated in a rich chocolatey goo are not as photogenic as grubby football strips or toddlers drenched in spaghetti sauce.

When I do get out, however, there is nothing quite like it. I can either walk up the back garden and out of the gate through the sheep field towards the lower slopes of the hills, or head into the village until I reach the woods. The first route takes me past cherry trees that in summer are laden with fruit, dangling from every branch as if someone has gone overboard decorating the Christmas tree. It’s no wonder the place is alive with birds, who can gorge themselves on a daily replenished source of fruit, nuts, seeds, and the insects that nibble among them. With the squirrels getting back up to speed after winter, competition will soon heat up.

One of our bird feeders fell out of the apple tree last week, thanks, I suspect, to a swinging squirrel that chases off the finches and blue tits whenever it swarms up the tree trunk. I watched the other morning as it dangled upside down from the summerhouse roof, desperate to find a way into the new feeder we’ve hung there, specially designed to keep it out. So far it’s showing far more interest than the birds. Who knows, maybe it will return with wire-cutters?

Up in the woods I once followed a squirrel that ran ahead of me for half a mile, turning to peer over its shoulder every few seconds as if to make sure I was keeping up. Occasionally I’ve come across roe deer, who take a startled look before leaping away like show jumpers. These woods are my favourite part of the walk, beech masts crunching underfoot, and thick drifts of leaves hiding treacherous roots and holes. Thanks to the abundance of larches and pines, I sometimes catch the scent of the aftershave my father used to wear. And, even when rain is thundering, the canopy is so dense that in here it is dry.

It’s another world when you emerge from cover and start climbing. Leaf mould gives way to gorse and heather and a rutted track. We once met a man leading his horse as he bent double poring over the ground. He was retracing the route where, at some point, he had dropped his car keys. We took his number in case we came upon them, but you’d need a metal detector out here to have any chance. Scree and boulders, waist-high bracken and swamps of moss could swallow anything pocket-sized for the rest of eternity.

By this point it’s high enough to catch a breeze, even on virtually windless days. Out on the hilltops themselves it can blow so hard that not just untethered hats are in danger but even sunglasses can go flying. Yet blustery or calm, sodden or sunny, the view from the summit stops time in its tracks.

Spread out below is a peaceful landscape of fields and trees, sheep and cattle, and the occasional dawdling car. The hazy blue Cheviot hills fade into the distance, snow still clinging. In one direction lies the nearest town, dinky as Lego. In the other the horizon disappears much as it has for centuries. On my favourite peak, in fact, there is evidence of bronze age settlement, the trace of ancient forebears right beneath our feet.

It’s a reminder that, geology apart, what you see from up here is a largely manmade picture, the product of aeons of habitation and cultivation. Despite, or perhaps because of, that, getting a lark’s eye view is a great leveller. This vantage point invites you to think of those who came before, and those who are to follow. It also heightens respect for those creatures working ceaselessly to survive, never knowing what tomorrow holds. The sense of smallness and transience this provokes is oddly reassuring.