A part of the English uplands that I have neglected over the years is the northern Pennines. I have been up Cross Fell, Murton Fell and The Cheviot which are the higher ones in this part of the country. But I have not really explored any further. That was a shame because there are quite a few North Pennine Marilyns. It was time to put this right.
The northern Pennines do not have pointy peaks, do not have wide seascapes and certainly do not seem to be as popular as the Lake District, the Yorkshire Dales or the Peak District. It is an area of wide open spaces. Often windswept. Normally rough and boggy.
There are broad river valleys and it is sheep farming land. Big swathes are given over to military training and firing ranges.
As I have explained elsewhere a “Marilyn” is a British hill of any height with a prominence of at least 150 metres. In England there are 175 of them. One day I might have climbed them all.
So this blog describes four days of walking on 19th, 20th and 21st May and 3rd June 2017 and covers seven Marilyns.
We had driven up from home to Northumberland. So it was a relatively late start (3.30pm) under heavy skies but it kept largely dry in the chill breeze. At this time of year, daylight was not going to be a problem. We started from Callaly at the public footpath just west of the village where there is space for one car on the highway verge. From there we followed the path to the Access Land. The public footpath shown on a rising traverse was obliterated by bracken in its summer prime. So we walked alongside the fence to the stream where some ponies were grazing. Fortunately they showed no interest in us.
We then more or less followed the stream up from there over rough ground avoiding incipient crags to their left. On reaching the level ground we picked up a path that enabled us to make our way to the cairn at point 271m. From the cairn Long Crag can be seen 2 kilometres away across a shallow valley.
There is a (wet) path running in a southerly direction from the cairn along the edge of some woodland. At a stream it joins another path and we turned south-west. The path then continues in that direction up the steepening of Long Crag. A short 120m ascent takes you up on the flattish top of the hill. A walk eastwards took us past a cairn and brought us to the trig point and summit.
The trig point had clearly been recently painted. It was one of the whitest that I had ever seen! It was chilly at the top, especially for a late May day. The views were widespread, if gloomy and we could see some of the hills we would tackle over the following days.
The breeze soon drove us off and we returned to the car the same way.
We had booked a B&B at nearby Rothbury so we did not have far to go and we stopped en route for some fish ‘n chips in Rothbury.
The next day I had three hills in my sights. After a leisurely breakfast at our B&B we set out with a little reluctance. It was an absolutely foul day.
The first hill was Ros Hill. Ros Hill is a bit of an outlier. It is owned by the National Trust and has a long history dating back to Iron Age times. It has been a fort. You can understand why with its vantage out over to the coast.
Today we weren’t going to see much of that. It teemed down with rain which was driven in a fresh wind. So I decided to take the easy option of driving up the road to the south of the summit, ignoring the car park a little lower to the west.
We were soaked in the 15 minutes it took us to get up. There is a viewfinder at the top. We could just make out Lindisfarne and (with a bit of imagination) Bamburgh Castle. But other than a few wind farms, no other features of note could be seen. The Pennines and Cheviots were socked in. A shame because it is clearly a great viewpoint with its 222m of prominence.
Being gluttons for punishment, after getting soaked on Ros Hill earlier in the day we thought we would repeat the experience. Only this time it was worse.
Housedon Hill is England’s most northerly Marilyn and just 6km from the Scottish border. It is also near the Flodden Moor battle site where in 1513 the Scots were decisively defeated by the English army of Henry VIII. King James IV of Scotland was killed in the battle. There is a large memorial on a hill within the battlefield.
It was a bit of drive around to Reedsford. We sat for a while watching the rain but then decided that there was nothing for it but to grit our teeth and go for it.
From the end of the road the public footpath continues on past Housedonhaugh and into the Access Land. Instead we turned left and took the track that follows the stream between Housedon Hill and Homilton Hill (technically this was trespassing because it is not a public right of way or on Access Land). There was a convenient gate on the right where the track petered out and then it is just a question of ascending the open grassy slopes on the west side of Housedon Hill (now on Access Land).
This is quite steep but straightforward and it brought us up onto the crest of the hill and a bit of a walkers’ track.
There was then a brief further climb to the pitiful collection of stones that marks the true top. As we were now so wet I decided that we would also go to the (slightly) more substantial cairn at the edge of the woodland to the north. Our backs were soaked on the way up and our fronts were soaked on the way back down!
Thankfully we were out only for just over an hour. Oh and there is a good view of the Flodden Battlefield memorial from up there.
The third of the three Marilyns ascended today – and the most pleasurable with the rain having abated. We had a drive back to Rothbury, south on the B6342 and then right on the minor road towards Great Tosson.
We stopped at the car park at NZ052998 which is also the car park for Old Rothbury Hill Fort and Garleigh Moor. But we went the opposite way up the public footpath over Dove Crag and Simonside. Some footpath restoration work was being carried out in the early stages. Once on the higher ground there were nice views to the right.
Long Crag from the previous day and the Cheviot Hills to the north ringed the horizon. Our clothes started to dry out as an added bonus.
From Simonside there is then a descent down to the forestry road. A lot of the woodland has now been harvested so the forest shown on the OS map no longer exists. A gentle ascent takes you back to point 422m which is about 1km from the true top of Tosson Hill. This is grand open country with the chortling of grouse and the calls of other bird life.
It was good to stretch our legs on a longer outing. As usual we went back the same way. I was briefly tempted to follow the forestry track under Simonside but this looked to stop in the middle of the forest or take us too far out of way. So we decided against that.
This walk involved a 10km round trip of around 3 hours including stops.
It was then back to the B&B in Rothbury via some more fish n chips or, in my case, a Chinese.
The forecast for our final day was a lot more promising. After another relaxing breakfast we bade goodbye to our hosts and set off west and then north to Shillhope Law. After Sharperton you are into MoD land with red warning flags and signs suggesting the place is littered with unexploded ordnance. A narrow windy road leads up the valley to Shillmoor.
There is ample car parking on the highway verge opposite the farm at Shillmoor. Once parked we followed the road over the bridge and around to the public footpath which leads up the deep valley of the Usway Burn. Almost immediately we left this when the track split and took the left hand fork. This takes you up the spine of the hill over the intermediate bump of Inner Hill and unerringly to the top.
The day was mainly dry but still grey above and with a cool wind. The most obvious features seen from the top were The Cheviot to the north east and Tosson Hill (which we had climbed the previous day) to the south.
After two days’ walking having seen almost no-one else, this hill had three other parties including a group undergoing Mountain Leader training. We returned the same way although a descent north then north east and down into the depths of Usway Burn valley might have been interesting.
This was an easy 3 hour round trip before we had to return home.
A couple of weeks later we made another foray north, this time just for the day and for two hills.
The first was Cold Fell to the east of Carlisle. This hill marks the northern end of the Pennines. We had a pleasant drive Teesdale and then over the tops to Tynedale, through Alston and finally to Hallbankgate. Here there is a sharp left turn at the pub and a narrow road that leads to a car park at Clesketts which serves the RSPB reserve there. The car park was almost full when we arrived but we managed to squeeze in after persuading another couple who had just arrived to move their car.
It was a bright and breezy day. The walk starts off along a rough vehicle track to Howgill. From there we turned left and followed the instructions on the sign directing you to Bruthwaite viewpoint. The sometimes boggy ATV track then took us up on to the broad and fairly featureless slopes of the hill. After our relatively dry last few months, it was all quite good underfoot. We passed by the viewpoint from where there is a northerly panorama from the northern parts of Carlisle around to the Cheviot and the windfarms on the east coast.
The atmosphere was a little murky. Eventually the track brought us to a lone shooting butt on the broad “col” between Cold Fell and the 547 spot height (on which there is a standing stone). From there the ground rose up gently over rough ground and we sought out the occasional faint animal or vehicle track to aid progress. A paraglider floated by.
Finally the summit trig point, beehive cairn and shelter came into view. Being fairly well isolated there are views to Cross Fell and its neighbours, the Lake District, the Solway Firth and the Border hills. We stopped here for some lunch.
We went back the same way – any other way and you are likely to have to battle peaty groughs and bog.
We drove back through Alston and the road to Teesside.
Here we made a quick trip up Burnhope Seat late in the day from Darngill. Recent dry weather had tamed the reputation that Burnhope Seat has as one of the boggiest in England. There is no path so we just navigated our way up the broad slopes.
The trig point is not the highest point of the hill. The high point is about 500m to the west. We visited various mounds which might qualify for the summit (hopping over the fence a couple of times in so doing) – all of which my GPS showed as being higher than the reported 747m height. I reckoned that the mound with the small cairn on it is probably not the highest. But there is little in it.
We then weaved our way across the bogs to the trig point. From here (the Historic County top of County Durham) the true summit did indeed look higher and my GPS recorded this point as 4m lower (i.e. more than the 1.5m given in the Database of British Hills).
I thought the view was slightly better here looking down towards Burnhope Reservoir. There are a pair of cute, worn steps to help anyone wanting to climb up on to the plinth upon which the trig point sits.
We returned the same way with Jet taking advantage of a paddle with the “summit” on one of the lumps in the background.
That just leaves two more Marilyns to do in the far north of England. They will probably have to wait until 2018.