Tuesday 30 September 2014

Exploring the Hen Hole

kept busy with a few hospital appointments over the last few weeks, I really felt in need of  at least a few days away before another round of minor surgery. Initially I had a few grand ideas, a couple of days good walking. However, heading out from Wooler on the Thursday afternoon, I did not feel that energetic. It was warm and dry but with a strong, blustery wind. My original intention had been to press on toward Hethpool in the College valley and camp nearby. Throwing that plan out of the window, I stopped early. A block of forestry and a patch of ground out of the way of the wind near to Scaldhill. A lazy enough afternoon.

There where a couple of heavy showers early Friday morning which meant a late start. After a hesitant start it turned out be a nice day. However, it remained windy and that saw me abandoning another plan. The original intention had been to head up the College valley having a look at the Hen Hole on the way past. From there the intention was to proceed up to the refuge hut on the saddle and camp on the grassy area near to the shelter. Not such a good idea given the windy conditions. Instead I ambled up the valley and camped fairly high up. Another slack packing day, enjoyable though and I had spent time trying to photo the feral goats that wander the area.
Saturday was where I got a tad ambitious. Having abandoned plans A and B, I was now somewhere around plan C. The intention now was to leave the tent where it was and explore the depths of the Hen Hole. This is a geological feature apparently sculpted out by  glacial action some thousands of years ago. It is a huge gorge or narrow corrie biting deep in to the flank of the Cheviot. Narrow with towering crags, it certainly is impressive. From the mouth of the gorge the way in looks slightly daunting but impressive. A series of waterfalls tumble down over over rocky outcrops. There is some easy scrambling but with care there are no real difficulties.

Working my way up toward the final waterfall, the way ahead looked daunting, however, by keeping to the left a very easy scramble led up and over and in to the inner reaches of the corrie, the back of which opens out to a T shape, flanked all round by steep ground and high ridges.

The water here is low, in wet conditions things obviously would be a wee bit more exciting! More care would be needed too but well worth having a go.

At the top of the gorge I possibly made a mistake. Instead of bearing right and heading up toward the the Auchope cairns, I headed straight up the steep facing slope. That was hard going and it brought me out to some rough and broken ground. Fortunately, due to the recent dry weather, the ground was not too boggy. It was not easy going though as I picked my way over toward the Cheviot. A dark, low lying cloud  brushed the top. With it was a mizzly dampness. Not enough for waterproofs, just enough to make things damp. Turning tail I headed back over to the Auchope cairns and then on to the refuge hut.

A spot of lunch at the hut where I saw my first walkers for the last two days. It was surprising to see so few folk out.

It was a gentle stroll down the Red Cribbs. Apparently this used to be a regular route for the Border Reivers bringing their rustled cattle over the border. It was early when I arrived back at the tent. However, it had been an enjoyable day. Went for a bit of a potter. A lot of native tree planting round about. Early that evening I had visitors. A few snorts and snuffles alerted me, a small group of young bullocks had come wandering up the valley and where now standing in a semi circle staring in rapt fascination at the tent. Like naughty school boys, they jostled each other. Talking to them softly, I herded  them around the tent and took them a bit further up the valley. The one downside was that I was in my bare feet. Tramping through bracken and thistles was not fun!
Sunday morning saw a few showers passing through but it was exceptionally mild. It was now a case of heading back over to Wooler. By now I think I was on plan D? Took a wider sweep around by Coldburn and followed the Lambden burn up. Saw herons, kestrels and buzzards. Forestry extraction around by Coldscleugh had left some hideous scarring on the hillside. Beyond Coldscleugh I had a few map problems. What was on the ground and that which was depicted on the map did not correspond. A few blocks of forestry had been partially cleared and that acerbated the problem. Suspecting that a a section of track had recently been added to an existing one I cast about and found what I hoped was the footpath I wanted.
Crossing moorland that has a plethora of tracks, grouse butts and burnt sections of heather meant a close eye had to be kept on the map. Several burnt areas had even obliterated the path, tedious!
Fortunately I was on track and was glad to see that I was heading for Broadstruther. As I approached the small cottage/bothy I noticed a large group of folk sitting sitting out in the sunshine. A large generator was chugging in a small enclosure. A table was laden with food and drink. The folk where having quite an alfresco picnic. A gent glanced over at me, " Are you lost?" Trying hard not to eye up all the goodies on the table, I assured him I knew precisely where I was. Being polite I asked if this was their club hut. A chap, in a rather supercilious voice, looked me up and down, "oh no, this one of the properties my boss owns, I am allowed to use it whenever I want" Oh my, come the revolution I am going to have guys like him painting the curbstones from John O'Groats to Lands end!  Harbouring dark thoughts about  folks who never even considered offering a drink to a passing stranger, I pressed on. Something I found slightly incongruous was that this was the end of September and I was in a tee shirt and feeling quite warm in that.

Was in Wooler fairly early, somewhere around four thirty. Picked up a few bits of food for supper and headed up to the youth hostel. Just a few days out, not a lot done but pleasant. For some reason or another I have been feeling awfully tired, annoying!
Monday, sitting in the sunshine in Berwick waiting for the train, I was getting sunburned, most odd!

Monday 1 September 2014

St Cuthberts Way

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