Snow on the Northumberland Coast in December, although not unusual is not always expected, but even Bamburgh Beach and the Holy Island of Lindisfarne at the end of 2017 got an inch or two of the white stuff and very pretty it looked too. However, it's the Cheviot Hills in Northumberland National Park that are the big attraction for those of us who like a bit, rather than a lot of snow and the walking is fantastic. I don't own crampons or an ice-axe, so to be able to get out and about on a winter's day is something I look forward to.
It was eight o'clock in the morning so with sub-zero temperatures in the Breamish Valley and the ground frozen stiff, I set off from Hartside Farm with the aim of reaching four summits over the course of the day. The hills I had in mind are notorious for being amongst the boggiest in the National Park and I have squelched my way across the summits and over the plateaus that link them on many occasions. It's quite good fun, soft landings when you tumble over, but tiring and eventually you know that at some point your boots will fill with black peaty water when you misjudge a step and sink into the ooze. With all that frozen ground and a light dusting of snow above 400 metres, it was shaping up to be a good day.
I followed the trail to the Shepherd's Cairn, standing as a memorial to two shepherds who died in the snow during the winter of 1962/63. A tragedy happened here and it is a salutary reminder of just how dangerous the hills can be for those who farm these remote uplands.
Ahead Hogdon Law, the first proper hill of the day loomed, at 540 metres, a decent enough hill and I have often regarded it as one of the tougher ascents in the National Park. Hill summits are always windy and Hogdon Law was no different today; bitterly cold with a light dusting of snow it was no place to pause. There's no path off the summit, just a hack due west over the snowy frozen peat, tussocks and heather to reach the fence that bounds the Kidland Forest. Tiring stuff, but it got easier after that on the way to Cushat Law, which at 615 metres is the highest summit on this route. The scenery was stunning now, huge views, snow covered hills surrounded me, there was sunshine and blue skies, just very, very cold, but I had coffee and cake!
The next two hills, Cushat Law (615 metres) and Bloodybush Edge (610 metres), there's a name to conjure with soon passed, the frozen terrain easing my progress across these remote hills. It was at Bloodybush Edge, I actually met another hill walker, a rare sight in the Cheviots. We shared stories and he returned towards Alwinton and I descended to the Salter's Road, an old drover track that crosses the Border near Windy Gyle high up on the Border Ridge. I was out of the snow now, but great sheets of ice kept me cautious as I made my way down the hill to begin the ascent of my final hill of the day, High Cantle. Looking back from this summit, I could see where I had walked and with the snow topped Cheviot and Hedgehope, Northumberland's two highest hills away to my left I crossed the grouse moor to Ridge Cairn, down to Linhope and back to my start point at Hartside.
It had been a good, challenging and satisfying hill walk and as I said at the beginning, just enough snow to make it interesting and perfect walking conditions in some bright sunshine. For those who want to know the details, I walked 24 kilometres (15 miles) with 953 metres of ascent and 977 metres of descent in 7-hours and the maximum elevation was 615 metres, the summit of Cushat Law.
If you are interested in joining a Footsteps guided walk on the coast, in the National Park and many places in between, then please get in touch.