Everything you need to know on how to climb and walk the Cheviot Hills in England’s Northumberland National Park
What it’s like?
The Cheviot Hills in England’s Northumberland National Park sit right on the border of Scotland and England and were formed some 350-400 million years ago when two continents (what is now Scotland and what is now England) collided, resulting in violent and explosive volcanic activity. Pinpointing the actual vents has been relatively inconclusive but the rolling hills we see today are the ancient lava flows that cooled all those millions of years ago.
The valleys are often described as romantic, while the hills are barren, scarred with heather and often boggy. This is some of the more desolate and lonely landscape in Britain but on a good day, when the sky is clear, the views can be spectacular. It’s not Snowdonia or the Lake District but it is still English countryside at its best. And it features the long-distance walking trail the Pennine Way.
The view from The Cheviot, the highest point in Northumberland, is not particularly spectacular because it’s on a plateau (walkers we met described it as the Somme) but join with the Pennine Way and you get views of Scotland. The views from Hedgehope Hill are supposed to be much better if you are lucky and get a clear day (we weren’t).
Our two-day walk took us from the town of Wooler to Barrowburn via The Cheviot (815m) and then back to Wooler via Hedgehope Hill (714m). There are numerous walks in the Cheviot Hills – both those from the Harthope Valley to the summit of The Cheviot and Hedgehope Hill have relatively well-defined paths (albeit boggy) though signposting is not brilliant. The Pennine Way, however, is well signposted in the Cheviot Hills section. Some of the other summits have much less defined paths and considerably more bogs. A map and compass (and knowing how to use them) are recommended for all outings.
One way from Langleeford in the Harthope Valley to the summit of The Cheviot (815m) – about 4.5km/1.5-2 hours
One way from Langleeford to the summit of Hedgehope Hill (714m) – about 3.5km/1-1.5 hours
Likely to be very boggy in areas, which can make walking a little more dodgy and strenuous. Some sections (such as from Comb Fell to Hedgehope Hill) require small deviations to walk around larger bogs that can’t be jumped over. Factor in additional time for walking this more demanding terrain.
Difficulty and fitness
A good degree of fitness is required for climbing The Cheviot and Hedgehope Hill, both of which are quite steep giving them a difficult/strenuous grade. The two-day walk we did was very demanding. Some previous hill walking experience is recommended.
If unfit the physical challenge can create a mental mountain, particularly if you don’t like mud. The bogs can be fun at first but can become tedious and take additional time to navigate, which can become stressful, especially in poor weather and fading light. Some might argue (not me) that the landscape is a bit samey and therefore uninspiring. Reaching the summit of The Cheviot can be an anti-climax because of the lack of stunning views from the peak.
No special skills other than map reading required for summer walking (and potentially bog hopping).
Overall beginner rating
Moderate for climbing The Cheviot and Hedgehope Hill. Moderate plus for those wanting to go more further afield.
Expect rain and wind. Visibility can deteriorate with low cloud and the summits of The Cheviot and Hedgehope Hill can both quickly be hidden by cloud. Temperatures will be much cooler at the summits.
Best time to go
Summer for beginners. Heather will bloom and paint the hills purple in August.
Equipment and kit
For summer season walking: Sturdy waterproofed walking boots with ankle support are essential and walking poles highly recommended. Ensure you have enough layers for cooler temperatures, as well as waterproof jacket and trousers. A map and compass (and knowing how to use them) are recommended, as is a head torch (plus extra batteries) in case you are out longer than you anticipate. Additional preparations are required for winter walking, including ice axe and crampons as well as winter walking experience.
There are no toilets or food outlets in the Harthope Valley, nor on the summits. Carry all food and water required for the walk (and carry out all rubbish as there are no rubbish bins). As the hills are pretty bare there are limited private areas for mid-walk toilet breaks. I suggest going before you set out or finding a cheeky tree in the valley before you start the climb.
The Cheviot and Hedgehope Hill are the more popular mountains to climb in the region, so expect crowds during the weekends. Week days will be quieter, while further into the depths of the Cheviot Hills you can expect complete isolation. Our two-day, mid-week walk was a lonely affair – the number of walkers we passed over the two days I could count on two hands.
Expect midges in the summer. Take insect repellent.
Sheep and feral goats. You may come across Highland Cattle, in which case be cautious and keep your distance. Other wildlife includes black grouse, red squirrels and deer, mainly around the valleys.
No permits are required for walking the trails in the Cheviot Hills. There are no specific health and safety considerations but do be aware of bogs, which can be slippery and could be a potential cause of sprained ankles and lost walking pole tips.
The Cheviot is England’s 35th highest mountain and part of an ancient volcanic system (cool!). Battling the bogs makes for a good yarn.
The view of Scotland from England (connect with the Pennine Way from The Cheviot summit to view). The challenge of navigating muddy bogs if you’re into mud and wet feet.
Print your OS maps on waterproof paper in an easy-view case – saves having to refold the map in the wind and rain.
How to get there
Wooler is an excellent base and a simple hour-long bus ride from Berwick-Upon-Tweed train station, which is on the Edinburgh to London rail line. However, it is a two-hour walk from Wooler just to get to where you start climbing The Cheviot or Hedgehope Hill from the Harthope Valley and there is no public transport. There is adequate road-side parking, however, just before the farmstead of Langleeford in the Valley.
Highburn House, Wooler (www.highburn-house.co.uk) – Camping plus cottages, excellent facilities and very friendly ducks.
YHA Wooler, Wooler (www.yha.org.uk/hostel/wooler-youth-hostel-shepherds-huts) – Camping and Shepherds Huts.
Who to call for help
In the case of an emergency, contact Mountain Rescue – call 999 (or 112 from a mobile) and ask for Police and then ask for Mountain Rescue. You will be required to provide your location using a grid reference or key landmarks. Stay where you are.
Don’t attempt a mountain climb without the right experience or kit. Let someone know of your plans and always check the weather conditions before setting out.
Have I missed anything out? Let me know in the comments below.