The Cheviots are the long line of hills that straddle the Anglo-Scottish border from North Tynedale all the way up to the Tweed valley. The Pennine Way finishes (or starts!) near the northern terminus of the Cheviots in the Scottish town of Kirk Yetholm.
There is only one major road that crosses the range, the A68 from Newcastle to Jedburgh which reaches an altitude of 418m at Carter Bar. The moors to the south of the A68 are part of the Kielder Forest Park while to the north they are part of the Northumberland National Park.
The Northumberland National Park was formed in 1956 and is the second smallest national park in the UK. Despite also containing the finest stretch of Hadrian’s Wall it is also apparently the least visited National Park in the country. This rather sad state of affairs speaks more of the Park’s remoteness rather than any deficiency in scenic merit. In fact the remoteness of the range does have the happy benefit of making the hills much quieter than more popular and easier to reach areas such as the Peak District and Yorkshire Dales.
The heart of the Kielder Forest Park is Kielder Water. Kielder Water was completed in 1981 and is the largest man made lake in the UK. Surrounding the reservoir and covering almost all the slopes of North Tynedale is Kielder Forest. Pre-dating the reservoir it was initially planted in the 1920's and is the largest man made forest in Europe.
Reaching the moors above Kielder usually involves a long walk through the plantations followed by a fair bit of heather bashing. Sighty Crag is sometimes sited as being the furthest Marilyn from a road in England. The finest top I have been to so far in the area is Peel Fell. The border runs along the summit and there are fantastic views across Liddesdale to the Southern Uplands of Scotland.
The main Cheviot range heading north-east from Carter Bar leaves the east-west watershed to instead mark the border with Scotland. Known as the Border Ridge this fantastic area also sees the final miles of the Pennine Way. One of the highest points on the border is Windy Gyle which is also the best viewpoint I have so far come across in the Cheviots. Although a man made border there is still something rather special about this high level walk between England and Scotland.
There are six two thousand foot summits in the Cheviots. By far the highest at 815m high is The Cheviot itself, a huge bulk of a mountain. Its summit is a huge peaty plateau and is one of the few places I have been glad to find a paved path. Apparently the peat bogs are so deep in places that horses have been lost up there.
While the main underlying rock is rarely in evidence when it does break through the surface it usually does so to great effect. Amongst the finer rock features I have so far come across are Housey Crags above the Harthope Valley, Hen Hole, the steep rocky gully on the western flanks of The Cheviot and the giant erratic boulder known as The Drake Stone.
While the Kielder fells are often rough and heathery the Cheviots themselves are mainly grassy and this allows some scope for exploration away from the main paths. There are a number of historical routes crossing the Cheviots including Dere Street, a route of Roman origin and Clennell Street a drovers road which in its heyday in the 18th and 19th century would see 100,000 cattle a year driven across the border.
In fact throughout the Cheviots there are sites of historical interest. In particular there are the remnants of numerous hill forts. The largest and most impressive is on Yeavering Law at the northern end of the range. Other notable sites include Humbleton Hill, Great Hetha and Castle Hills above Alwinton.
The Cheviots have also witnessed numerous battles and skirmishes over time. Many of these were between different clans of the celebrated Border Reivers who inhabited the remote valleys either side of the border. The northern ballad, ‘The Battle of Chevy Chase’ commemorates one such battle. Larger engagements also took place including Hotspur’s victory over Douglas at Homildon Hill in 1402. Even more famous is the Battle of Flodden Field in 1513, a disastrous battle for the Scots in which King James IV of Scotland was slain. Other long forgotten acts of violence are remembered today by names such as Murder Cleugh and Bloodybush Edge.
Even today there is a large military presence in the Cheviots in the shape of the Otterburn Training Range. This covers a huge area of 90 square miles of Cheviots hills and moors. While certain public paths are open on designated weekends of the year large areas are completely inaccessible to the public. Fortunately only one of the major summits, Thirl Moor, stands in this area.
Linked to the main Cheviot range are a few smaller groups of hills. The finest of these are the Simonside Hills above the lovely town of Rothbury. North of Rothbury are the hills of Rothbury Forest, the highest point of which is Long Crag, one of only 8 Marilyns in the English Cheviots.
The Cheviots are too far away for me to be able to visit comfortably in a day trip. Instead I have had to settle for long weekends or longer holidays in the area. I have thoroughly enjoyed every visit to the area (although watch out for the mosquitoes if camping in Kielder). George MacDonald Fraser, author of the Flashman novels and an expert on the history of the Border Reivers, described the Cheviots as the most romantic hills in the world. This may seem a bold claim but it is true that they do exert there own unique appeal.