Wednesday, 10 August 2016

The Cheviot, The Dip and the Black Black Mud.

                                                ALL PHOTOS CLICK FULL SCREEN.
A 5:00am rise saw me having breakfast in the dawn light before driving across the city to pick up David then both of us switching into Graeme's car for the two and a half hour run down from Glasgow to The Cheviot. This is East Kilbride in the early hours, above.
It was a lovely drive down through great scenery as we took empty back roads that see little traffic via Carluke, Carstairs, Peebles (seen above) then Kelso.
This is the impressive ruins driving into Kelso with a fine sunny day ahead of us. Just Graeme, David and I as Alex had bagged The Cheviot a few years ago. Kelso looked an interesting and colourful border town with the River Tweed a scenic feature running right beside it and a spacious central square framed by handsome buildings.
A snapped view of Floors Castle on the outskirts as we motored past, hence the blurred foreground vegetation. All the above photos were taken as a car passenger as we kept to a steady pace and stopping to take numerous photos of the scenery would only increase our travel time. Handy link here to Floors Castle where they filmed Tarzan, and an additional link inside to The Cheviot, including a location map of the district.

Although most of the Cheviot Hills summits lie over the English Border in Northumberland they can also be reached from Scotland via a couple of minor roads. This is Yetholm village shop and a very pretty little place it is. Although this route has quiet but good roads all the way once you pass Wishaw reasonable navigation skills and road map reading are required due to some convoluted minor junctions but it's straight easy progress otherwise. (unless of course you use Sat- Nav which might not take you this particular route to the hill.)
After passing through Town Yetholm we took the minor dead end road to Cocklawfoot Farm where there is a grass lay-by for half a dozens cars at most, just before the farm buildings and ford across the stream.
Doing The Cheviot from this direction does feel a road less travelled and there was only one other car here. As the occupants inside went elsewhere we had the hills to ourselves and lovely grass paths once clear of the farm tracks.
As we climbed higher expansive views opened out across the other Cheviot Summits. The Cheviot Hills straddle the Scottish/ English border and form a large part of the Northumberland National Park with the mighty Cheviot itself at 2,674feet, 815 metres, being the highest mountain in Northumberland.
It did feel like a real adventure, especially as it was a latter day raid into England. David and Graeme enjoying the sunshine. This entire region used to be notorious for cross border raiding parties. Scotland and England are still separate today with different attitudes and values. Most of Scotland would never vote a Conservative government into power, unlike England, and recently we voted to stay in Europe whereas England voted the opposite, as usual, and dragged us out of the EU with it. However Europe may well implode anyway with the numbers of new economic migrants and refugees arriving every year and no real solution to stop it.
Our first close up view of the upper slopes was this one with the obvious rugged gorge of Hen Hole just past the Auchope Emergency Shelter. You can just see that wooden hut here, above. Like most of the Pennine Way, England's first long distance footpath, there is very little natural shelter on this moorland plateau route and this small modest hut without a fire is still a real lifesaver in grim conditions.
It's not a bothy, just a refuge but we met our first other hill-walkers in here- a guy with a small dog passing through and a National Park volunteer warden who popped in to check the condition and tidy up.
It has wooden benches and a visitor notebook inside but the main reason it is here is to provide a water and windproof dry shelter that in winter or vile conditions could save a life. The hut lies just within the Northumberland border so we have entered England here by the unguarded back door.
At this point I decided I had to go up through Hen Hole as it was the most interesting feature on this side of the mountain with steep rock walls and several waterfalls. David and Graeme were happy with the normal path up the ridge so we split here, agreeing to meet up on the slopes above.
Although I enjoyed it in retrospect  it was not the easiest ascent I could have picked. A very faint path, often obscured by rock fall and knee high tussocks and other vegetation hiding deep holes where every second step was a slip or a stumble. Add to that an exit at the far end up steep knee high hanging gardens of lush foliage ascended mainly on hands and knees had me cursing my choice of an extra add on. It wasn't particularly hard or exposed anywhere just extremely draining at what turned out to be the start of an unexpectedly long day. With a 5:00am start I only had two hours sleep as I've never been someone that can just switch off if not tired so I ended up reading to 3:00am, wide awake. Although a nice feature down here among mainly rounded hills if it was placed in Scotland it would be just another mountain gorge and not particularity noteworthy.
I met up with the others on the vast plateau above and we were soon making our way across the moors and bogs of the upper levels. As with Cross Fell, another Pennine Way summit posted on the blog back in June 2016 a long flagstone pavement stretches for miles leading to the high point. This must have used the entire National Park budget for years to come I suspect  as many of the flagstones were so heavy they could only have been lifted into position by helicopter. Apart from limiting erosion of the surrounding bog I presume a major incentive for laying them must be for walkers safety.
Plenty of signposts telling you where to go across this featureless terrain. It was only when we arrived at the connecting paths leading up from the English side that we started bumping into other hill walkers. Even from here it felt like a surprisingly long way to the final summit over numerous false tops
In some places, like here, deep thick mud appeared on both sides of the flagstones. I never really thought too much about this but in one place under Cheviot summit the flagstones were missing altogether, about 3 or 4 gone, leaving a 12 foot gap. Maybe they had just sunk as there was no sign of them in the vicinity. The gap had been bridged with 5 or 6 thin springy planks spanning the mud which bent down under the surface for several inches when you crossed and didn't seem to be supported from below. Being nimble I made short work of that and even tossed my walking pole back to several others behind at this bottleneck to steady themselves across. No drama occurred.
We could see the sea and a large chunk of Northumbria from the summit with its sizable square stone plinth, trig pillar placed on top. Although the Pennine Way detours to take in this high point many long distance trekkers miss it out altogether as it's a long 29 mile section already on weary feet.
As it was such a dawdle crossing the gap on the ascent I was a bit too cavalier and lighthearted coming down and ran across the thin boards using balance alone without the support of the pole...
and promptly slipped off into the bog.
Normally in Scotland you would only go in knee deep but I immediately sank in waist deep in under a heartbeat but luckily the grass edge was near and I grabbed that  to pull myself out. It was all over in a matter of minutes and apart from muddy trousers I was fine. What I was worried about was water damage to my wallet interior and car card reader but they were fine too. No harm done except to my pride.
It was only when I thought about it later I realized my feet had not touched bottom and I was still sinking when I grabbed the firm edge. Nowhere I can think of in Scotland after 40 years of exploration has soft peat been that deep or so much resembled thin porridge so either it's a peculiar feature of this hill or as I suspect it's been aggravated by generations of Pennine Way walkers sinking in and general popularity making natural conditions far worse. I could see now why the flagstones are so essential to safety. I'm six feet tall and some of the bog is 2 metres deep in places or 6 foot 7inches deep before you hit bottom. A young child, sheep or a dog would have little chance here of being saved if their owner or parent wasn't nearby to pull them out as it was just like falling into water with the same speed of descent. Yet it was mud and just as reluctant to let you go once sunk past a certain point. I'm not exaggerating- it was that dangerous yet it looked deceptively benign and if I hadn't fallen in I would never have expected it to be that deep and fluid a surface to drop into.  And I've crossed thousands of peat hags everywhere else so know that type of terrain well to walk across.  Unlike the 4th photo up it had no standing water on it just flat mud. A lesson learned as disappearing below the surface in an instant is usually confined to bad horror movies. Even an adult backpacker might have trouble getting out again if they couldn't reach firm ground with the weight of the pack dragging them down if alone. Having seen the rapid growth of new long distance routes all over Scotland recently I look forward to finding out if any tourist income and economic benefit will be gradually eaten into by continuous long distance path maintenance and repair given our rain drenched climate. Before the heavy duty slabs were laid there was a boardwalk here.
The rest of the trip was uneventful and I soon swapped muddy trousers for clean waterproof bottoms and trainers back at the car. Driving back down the glen we noted just how prosperous looking this farming district was with abundant mixed livestock in every field, hundreds of young pheasants scampering about and a real need to go slowly to avoid hitting them with the car.
We managed to avoid them all, even though they had suicidal tendencies, insisting on diving in front of us at the last minute but we saved every last one of them for the estate guns instead.
A young male pheasant just getting his adult plumage in. We got back to Glasgow around 10:00pm after a quick stop in Galashields town centre for chip suppers. As luck would have it we appeared in town at the same time as a bus load of girls dressed as naughty nuns and St Trinian schoolgirl types which provided a surreal but highly decorative backdrop to our chip munching as we sat on benches nearby watching them disembark in a giggling flurry of black stockings, tiny skirts and high heels.
A view of Tinto.  2,333 feet or 711 metres high.
 An 18 hour day in total- 6 hours walking 5 hours driving. (Being further away I got in at 11:00pm) Thanks to Graeme and David for being great company as usual- many thanks to Graeme for the hill suggestion and driving... and thanks to Cheviot itself for showing me what a sheep dip really feels like. An unforgettable experience and a genuine first for me :o)



Linda said...

Your posts are always fascinating and delightful and I always enjoy them along with your lovely photos. Thank you so much for sharing.

Carol said...

Hell that's a bloody long day after an early start! I had no idea any of the Cheviots were in Scotland - I thought they were all ours ;-) I've never been actually.

You'd probably have stopped sinking when you landed on the bobble of the hat of the last sunken walker in that bit ;-)

The gill you walked up looked really nice and I'd have gone for that exploratory option - I always just have to see what's along that kind of thing or around the next corner.

Anabel Marsh said...

I was enjoying that till I got to the sinking in the mud bit! Terrifying (or it would be to me).

Linda W. said...

Beautiful country - and a nice way to sneak into England :) Glad you made it out of the bog okay - your slip sounded scary.

blueskyscotland said...

Thank you Linda.

blueskyscotland said...

Hi Carol,
I had to look that question up. All the highest summits along the ridge sit in Northumberland except Windy Gyle which straddles the border with the summit cairn reputedly in Scotland. The real point I was making is that you could do many of the high summits from the Scottish side as well no problem as our original intention was to have a big 20km walk over all the horseshoe of summits. Too long a day driving from Glasgow unless extremely fit and fast but no problem if you were in that area, say camping around Kelso or Melrose and you could also do the Eildon Hills to make a nice varied weekend of walks.

blueskyscotland said...

Hi, Anabel,
It happened so fast I just reacted to the situation in the moment and didn't really think about it until later when I realized how dangerous that could be for a child if not supervised as I wouldn't fancy swallowing that mud.

blueskyscotland said...

Cheers Linda W,
It was mainly my own fault for taking it too fast and in too casual a manner. At least it added some more excitement to the day. Funnily enough, we never noticed any sheep once up on the high moors so they are probably fenced off to stop them wandering in. Sheep are notorious for getting stuck in bogs at the best of times due to that heavy fleece dragging them under once wet.

Kay G. said...

My goodness, I am glad you were able to grab hold of the grass and pull yourself out, that sounded very scary to me!
Julie from her blog, HOME JULES, wrote about her visit to Northumberland. Both of you make me really want to see it.

Mike@Bit About Britain said...

Hah - an undercover raid into English territory through a carelessly unguarded backdoor - not sheep rustling, but I suspect flagstone pilfering by the sound of it! Jesting aside, I've not walked anywhere in the Cheviots and your description was great. Photos, as usual, first class. The bog experience would have terrified me. As I get older (and I've noticed I'm doing a lot of that), I find myself much less adventurous than I used to be. But I still enjoy gently clambering along paths in the Lakes or the Dales - with the promise of a pint or 3 at the end. On the other hand, I guess a bunch of girls - oh, never mind (what was I saying about getting older?). :-)

Rosemary said...

I seem to recall having seen a news item showing helecopters placing stone slabs on the Northumberland moors because of so much walking traffic - sounds as if there should also be a notice warning about the dangers of the mud.
What an action packed almost 24 hours - you must have felt exhausted at the end, but appear to perk up very quickly with a bag of chips and the girls!!!

Allison Simpson said...

Cheviot is my local hill I have walked/ran up onto Cheviot many time and by many different routes. It matters not if that be from Scotland or England.
The main flag stones were laid quite a while ago although the ones on the west side were only laid a couple of years ago.
Prior to the flag stones you could only walk to the sumit trig point if the ground was frozen or in a drought.
Some of the flag stones are only just under the Surface.
Like all mountains/hills its magnificent and well worth a visit its rarley busy except on fell race days.

Allison Simpson said...

i must also say for anyone visiting the area the dairy at Doddingtons makes the best ice cream and cheeses.
Ice cream can be purchased from the Wooler milk bar in the summer simply delicious 😍

blueskyscotland said...

Hi Kay,
Yes it's a nice area, loads of quiet beaches and climbing crags.

blueskyscotland said...

Cheers Mike,
Same here. Ever declining circles but luckily still finding new motivation to get out and about, like yourself, with things that interest me.

blueskyscotland said...

Hi Rosemary,
It was a nice bag of chips and Gallashields is a surprisingly lively place at night on the weekends, like a lot of small towns where everyone seems to know each other as it acts as a central hub for the wider surrounding area.

blueskyscotland said...

Hello Allison,
Thanks for the local info. I've been to Northumbria a few times now but usually on rock climbing weekends.

Neil said...

More or less the same route that I took about half a dozen years ago Bob. The mud appears to have got worse though! Just as well the powers that be have laid flagstones and planks in the worst places; otherwise it would be one of the most awkward Marilyn summits to reach.