Apparently, for many people their favourite section on St Cuthbert’s Way is the path that meanders around the Tweed near St Boswells. Not me. My favourite section hands down was the Cheviot Hills. I am inclined to think that Leonard Woolf nearly got it right when he said of the Cheviots:
There is an extraordinary stillness and peace in their forms; and nowhere in the world is the light and colour of earth and sky more lovely than in this bit of England.
Our fifth day started with a hike out of Kirk Yetholm. A short section along the tarmac and we were soon into the hills along a path which the St Cuthbert’s Way shares with the Pennine Way. After about 20 minutes of walking up hill and St Cuthbert’s Way diverged from the Pennine Way eventually reaching the English-Scots border. From there we descended down hill, across moor land and through forest until we came out at a farm with some very fat sheep. A quick chat with a farmer on a four wheeler with border collie in tow revealed my lack of agricultural knowledge as it turned out that the sheep, North County Cheviots, were not fat but were due to give birth to twins in a couple of days. We were also given the correct pronunciation for Cheviots – “she-v-ots”.
As I continued down the hill deciphering our discussion with the farmer (whilst notionally we speak the same language, unless I concentrate I don’t have a clue what anyone is saying) another short section on the tarmac took us past the small village of Hethpool and a welcome sign for the Northumberland National Park. Leaving the tarmac, we ascended up into the hills again, stopping only to have a chat with Peter, a fellow St Cuthbert’s walker, who was having a kip in the sun on the top of the hill. Crossing the tops we passed hills with interesting names like Yeavering Bell (hill of goats), Tom Tallon’s Crag, Gains Law and Humbleton Hill. Humbleton Hill was the site of a battle referred to in Act 1 Scene 1 of Henry IV in which the Scots were defeated in 1402 by an English army led by Percy, the First Earl of Northumberland, and his son, Harry Hotspur.
We continued across the tops, enjoying the sun and history, every now and then disturbing grouse before we began the descent down to Wooler passing through farms and forest to arrive at our accommodation, the Black Bull (chosen because it was cheap and allowed us to continue a collection of stays in old pubs named after animals). The day was more than 20km with over 600m of ascent and descent, but the scenery had been such that I had barely noticed the length of the day.
Day Six did not start as promisingly as the previous day and was to turn out to be our least favourite day of our walk on St Cuthbert’s Way. A lengthy section along the tarmac took us out of town and past the domestic waste facility. Once out of town we walked up a hill to enjoy an all too short section of moorland hill tops before descending once again to the tarmac. A lengthy section of walking on farm lanes followed, with the only really interesting features being a couple of old bunkers left over from the days when it was feared that the Northumberland coast was the likely site of a German invasion.
By the time we left the tarmac for more interesting country our feet had already had a hammering, so we decided to have a lengthy stop at St Cuthbert’s Cave. Unfortunately for poor old St Cuthbert it is unlikely that he ever visited this pleasant spot when he was alive. Instead it is believed that it is one of the caves which sheltered the Bishop and Abbot of Lindisfarne when they fled Lindisfarne with the bones of St Cuthbert in 875 to escape the raiding Danes.
From St Cuthbert’s Cave it was about an hour and half’s mainly downhill walk to Fenwick with occasional glimpses of the coast and the next and final day’s destination, Lindisfarne.
For more information: see St Cuthbert’s Way – An Overview.