Location: The Cheviot,

Scottish Borders

Grade: Moderate hill walk

Distance: 14 miles/22km

Time: 6-8 hours

IT’S been called ‘England’s best-kept secret’ and that might be the case for most general tourists, but many hillwalkers are very familiar with the delights of Northumberland, particularly the wild and secluded upland areas that surrounds the ancient volcano known as The Cheviot.

I’ve climbed The Cheviot from the English side of the Border and have gruesome memories of wading through oozing, glutinous peat. But tackle it from the Scottish side and not only do you get a largely peat-free ascent, but a much prettier one. Indeed, the walk-in from Sourhope Farm in the Bowmont Valley is a sheer delight, wandering through narrow valleys rich in ancient remains and traversing sheep-grazed slopes by good paths.

About 12km beyond the twin border villages of Kirk and Town Yetholm, the single-track road comes to a dead-end at Cocklawfoot. An old farm here sits at the foot of the high ridge-line that forms the Scotland/England border, the edge of a high and lonely plateau from which long ridges ease their way down into secretive sheep-cropped valleys.

Our plan was to follow farm tracks all the way up to the Border Ridge just south of Black Hag. From there, the ridge would carry us over The Schil, past the hill refuge hut and onto Auchope Cairn from where it’s an easy walk to The Cheviot. We would return to Auchope Cairn and resume our ridge wandering, over Score Head and King’s Seat and onto Windy Gyle, almost 16km from The Schil. From Windy Gyle a track runs north down Windy Rig to Kelsocleuch Farm and the farm road past Cocklawfoot and back to the start.

The tidy Sourhope Farm was all quiet as we walked through and found the track that would take us around Fasset Hill to the lonely farm of Auchope. Man has farmed these slopes since the 14th century and long before that Iron Age settlements were established on the slopes of Fasset Hill itself. Today the farm is used as a centre for land use research, mainly the breeding of Cheviot sheep.

Beyond Auchope we struck uphill towards the Border ridge. Just before Black Hag we left the path and climbed eastwards, keen to reach the main ridge and the easy climb to the tor-studded hill known as The Schil. At 601 metres The Schil just falls short of the 2000-foot mark but stands on the route of the Pennine Way. Indeed, it’s the last real summit on the Pennine Way and may well have a poignant significance for those wayfarers who have hiked the 260-odd miles from Edale in the Peak District. For us it was the first top of the day and a superb viewpoint with the North Sea on one side and the hills of Dumfries and Galloway on the other.

Descending south from The Schil we found ourselves walking along a line of stone slabs that form much of the Pennine Way route from Byrness in Northumberland. When they were first laid down these slabs caused some controversy but I suspect most walkers prefer them to the previous boggy footpath that turned to mud after any period of rain.

I’ve never visited the temptingly beautiful College Valley whose upper reaches lie to the east of The Schil but it looked magnificent today, as did the dark and gloomy corrie of the historic Hen Hole. This rocky recess boasts some climbable crags and local tradition suggests that men and women are occasionally lured into its dark confines by sweet and beautiful music, never to be seen again.

A wooden mountain rescue hut lies at the foot of Auchope Cairn and we took advantage of it to shelter from the brisk breeze before we tackled Auchope Cairn. Beyond the summit wooden duckboards float across the bogs to Cairn Hill and The Cheviot itself, 815 m/2,674 ft. I don’t intend saying much about The Cheviot’s summit as it’s a wet, boggy and glutinous kind of place and we wondered why we bothered. We returned to our ridgeline as soon as we could, following the Pennine Way slabs through the heather to Score Head, King’s Seat and then across the old drovers’ road of Clennell Street to Windy Gyle, at 2032ft/619 metres the third highest top to straddle the Border.

An easy descent took us down to Kelsocleuch Farm and from there the Cocklawfoot road took us back to the start, the end of a magnificent high-level stravaig across a quiet, unspoiled and beautiful section of the Borderlands.



Maps: OS 1:50,000 Landranger sheets 74 (Kelso & Coldstream) and 80 (Cheviot Hills & Kielder Water)

Distance: 14 miles/22km

Time: 6-8 hours

Start/Finish: Junction of roads near Sourhope Farm (GR: NT840198)

Route: Walk through Sourhope Farm, cross the bridge and take the first main track on the L. This track takes you round the flanks of Fasset Hill high above the Sourhope Burn. Stay with this track, pass Auchope Farm and TL just before you reach forest plantations on the L of the track. Follow the hill track until it reaches a wall. TR here and climb to the shallow col between Black Hag and The Schil. Climb The Schil then follow the obvious Pennine Way route S over Birnie Brae, past the hut and up Auchope Cairn. Continue to 743m top then follow signposted route to summit of The Cheviot and back. Now follow Pennine Way slabs SW then S over King’s Seat to Windy Gyle. Cross Windy Gyle and descend Windy Rig, taking R fork on path to Kelsocleuch Farm. Follow road past Cocklawfoot Farm to the start point