Tuesday, August 04, 2009

The Cheviot Five Valleys Challenge Ride 2009

How can you possibly re-capture again, the beauty and splendour of, The Cheviot Five Valleys Challenge Ride? Having done it once, Would doing the ride again, take away the magic of it?

Earlier this year my riding friend, Bobby, was diagnosed with heart disease, he was scheduled to have a heart op, sometime this year, therefore wouldn’t be able ride for at least six months.
Not only was that devastating news to him, I was totally surprised. But we both came to the same decision, one of us would do the ride for the other. I have to say that Bobby has had his op, and is on the mend , so for that I am thankful.

Back in March this year, Bobby and I were attending a fabulous ride near Newton Stewart, in Galloway. It was there that all this started again.
I hadn’t planned to do the ride over the Cheviots without Bobby, but things took a different turn…………………

After the publication of my article last year, about our ride, The Cheviot Five Valleys Challenge, interest was surprisingly intense. The main question was, “How difficult is it?” To answer that, was difficult. It all depends on the rider and the horses fitness.

So what now follows is a diary of this years ride, there and back, it includes grid references, where required, and if you seriously want to do it, I can supply further information.

Thursday 9th July 2009

Travelling to Cliftoncote Farm, nestled deep in the Bowmont Valley, has become a pleasure. It is the anticipation of what is to come, and the great pleasure of meeting old friends once again. I had left my home, near Lockerbie, just after 1pm. The sun was hidden, behind a blanket of grey cloud as I finally arrived at Primsidemill, a small hamlet, at the head of the Bowmont Valley. This little hillside community, was devastated in 2008, by the worst floods for over twenty years. The flood waters had wiped away the road bridge, and had taken many sheep and cattle. But to look at it now, there was only the bridge, being repaired, that gave any indication of the bad weather.
From Primsidemill, I drove down the valley towards Cliftoncote. There I was to meet my two riding companions, Linda and Shiela. They would be travelling from there homes in Galloway.
As I pulled up the hillside drive into Cliftoncote Farm, all the memories from last year came flooding back. The excitement of the ride to come, made the hairs on the back of my neck, stand up.
I was met by the smiling face of Angela Freeland-Cooke, the driving force behind the family and the farm. A hard working lady, and a great cook! After the hellos, and the catching up, it was time to unload Gracie. Angela is a Gracie fan, and had plenty of caresses to give her. The horse paddock, a gentle sloping field with good meadow grass, saw the arrival of one of natures great grass eaters! No sooner was Gracie in, than huge mouthfuls of grass were being consumed! As Angela patted Gracie goodbye, she noticed something that all horse riders, who are engaged in long distance riding dread. A loose shoe! They were only two weeks old, and I had checked them before leaving the stables earlier that day.
Angela was superb! A short while later, she re appeared with directions and telephone numbers for a local farrier, Mick Cross. I had to reload Gracie, she wasn’t happy! Then drive towards Wooler, some 45 minutes away. On my arrival at the home of Mick Cross, I was greeted with a cup of coffee and a very hearty welcome. Two nails later, and at no real cost! I was back on the road to Cliftoncote. I hoped that this wasn’t a sign of things to come. But with the last words of Mick, ringing in my ears, ”That shoe wont come off!, it`ll get you through no bother!” I was feeling a lot better.

Linda and Shiela were due sometime later, and with there horses, Warrior and Leah. A late dinner was eaten a little after 7pm, where the three of us caught up on the last three days. I have to tell you that, after one of Angela`s dinners, you really don’t want to do much!
While resting and finalising the route for the next day, Shiela informed us that she would be unable to complete the Five Valleys challenge ride, as she felt that her horse wasn’t fit enough. It is a decision that takes guts to make, however much the rider would want to do a ride, the horse comes first. This decision although disappointing, wasn’t going to spoil our weekend.
Shiela then presented her options, and it was agreed that she would ride over the Border Ridge, via Clennell Street. This route is well marked and has good tracks. I was reluctant at first as I didn’t want to split the group up, however, after we agreed emergency plans, Linda and myself were happy.
An early night was called for, and after we said our goodnights, and having checked the horses, I finally flopped into a lovely comfy bed.

Friday 10th July 2009

Linda and I had arranged to begin our ride at 8am. With a hearty breakfast set for 7am, we were both up and had the horses sorted by 6.30am! Shiela wasn’t far behind.
There can be no feeling like the one that grips you, before setting out on a long ride. Having done this ride before, and knowing what was to come helps, but the look of excitement and trepidation on Linda`s face said it all. After careful checking and re checking of our equipment, our Goodbye`s said, and wishes of “Good Luck” from both Angela and Shiela, we were off.
Shiela was due to leave on her ride at 10 am.

The three mile ride down the single track road past Belford, Mowhaugh, and then Sourhope, passed by with ease. The sun had finally come out, and the breeze gently, wafted the manes of our horses, as they trotted along. Immediately, as you leave Sourhope, travelling East, the road ceases, and becomes a rutted track, that climbs upwards and meanders behind an “L” shaped wood, passing ancient settlements, and cultivation terraces, before meeting a stalkers track that runs North along the Western side of a hill known as The Schill. This track is fabulous, good going and with plenty of width, so that if you wanted to chat to your companion, there is room for two abreast.
Two kilometers North of the “L” shaped wood is the small occupied settlement of Schilgreen. Here the track begins to rise steeply, and inexorably towards the col, between The Schill and Corbie Crag. There a wall stretches North to South, following the Pennine Way, for most of its route. The track from Schillgreen peters out at
GR 864228.
There is a stone wall at this point, an easy marker for passers by. Linda and I were enjoying the day, Linda taking pictures and remarking on the wonderful scenery. Both horses, had settled well, and were busy playing “follow me”, up the hill.
From the stone wall at the GR864228, the track disappears, only a faded sheep track, marks the way ahead. The rider here, must bare slowly right, and begin to ascend to the Pennine Way track, that passes between Corbie Crag and The Schill. At the GR863233, there is a slip gate through which this route passes. Once through, there is time to admire the views, and rest the horses, after the long pull up. We were now standing at a height of 472 m.
Looking back to Sourhope and Schillgreen
(Looking back, towards Sourhope, and Schilgreen)
With the horses grazing on the only real grass around here, we indulged in some photos for the album. Linda was amazed at the views, and at the varying landscape. I ate a butty!
(Grazing, the cross over point below The Schill)

From here down to Mounthooley, has been in the past a bit of a nightmare. There are soft bits,(bogs) and last year, we lost at least an hour at this point, with route finding. However, this time we were well aware of the issues and I was prepared for anything.

We began our decent as per the route shown on the Explorer map OL16. The Bridleway shown, has become a little lost. It has marker posts, and they are clearly visible, but!!!! After leaving the wall, the track heads down and Eastwards. There is after 600m, a small gate, by a stream. Pass through this.
From here we headed to the right, and towards the high ground at the 410m contour. Follow this and do not drop below this contour, until you reach a ruined sheepfold, shown on the map at GR876232.

Linda and I tried this, and found this to be a much drier route, with easy ground. I cant stress here, that care should be taken, do not follow the Bridleway markers after the gate.
It was then a short hop, down to Mounthooley. This small group of houses, lies at the head of the College Valley. It is now privately owned and caters for walkers and really importantly, horse riders! There is also a bunkhouse that can be rented for the summer season.

Our next leg was from Mounthooley, to Goldscleugh. This was to be done on a single track road, that heads North from Mounthooley, for three kilometers, and meets the road to Goldscleugh at the Sutherland Bridge. The horses, and ourselves were enjoying a wonderful day. The blue sky above us, and with Gracie and Leah, surging ahead, it wasn’t hard to feel the pleasure of the ride.

We passed through Coldburn, and Dunsdale, arriving at Goldscleugh for midday. Although time isn’t that important, it is nice to know how you are doing. The Goldscleugh road stops at the hamlet of the same name. here we could see the valley ahead passing between Broadhope hill and Blackseat hill. But before that lunch was on the cards! For us and the horses.
(Lunch above Goldscleugh)
After passing through Goldscleugh, we took the track over the burn heading south, it passes through a gate and turns left, (East) along an old forestry road. At GR924227, at the corner of a small copse of Silver Birch trees, there is a good resting place with good grass, and with a wooden fence running around the trees. This can be used to tie the horses.
As during last years ride, we unsaddled, and groomed the horses. It was while doing this that Leah, Lindas horse, developed the Australian habit! It went walkabout! Normally I would have gone after it for her, but? Well, Linda was doing a stirling job! After several dives at the lead rope trailing behind the horse, and failing, it was hot foot over the ridge and never to be seen again! At least that’s what I had visions of, but no! With Leah in hand, Linda, breathing hard, returned to the fold! There was an exchange of words with the horse, but I never really heard that!!!!

Saddling up, it was time to move on, Linda and I were well rested, the horses uncomplaining, and with full bellies, they strode out towards the track that leads to the Hawsen Burn.

Linda and Myself, in the Goldscleugh Valley
(heading towards Hawsen Burn from Goldscleugh)
Linda looking down to Goldscleugh
(Linda looking back to Goldscleugh)

It was while passing South of Broadhope hill, that we met our first Human of the day. A lone walker, shorts and all! Greetings were exchanged and after some general chat, he offered to take a photo of us, “Marvelous!” Photo shoot over, we rode on to the slip gate at GR 935230.
It was my turn for the gate, that done, we were on our way down one of the steepest sections of the ride.
The slip gate above Hawsen Burn
(This is the slip gate to Hawsen Burn)

The Hawsen Burn dives deeply into the soft rock of Blackseat Hill, eventually washing into the Harthope Burn in the valley below

.The Hawsen Burn
(This is the Hawsen Burn, with the Langlee Crage in the distance)

After leaving the slipgate high on the moor, we rode quietly down the well used Bridleway, past Grouse Butts, and below Hawsen Crags. Here the track drops very steeply, and with the loose surface gravel, it is advisable to dismount. This we did, and while saving the horses feet, it also avoids the risk of the horses slipping.

Passing the ford, at Butterwell Syke, the track begins to climb slightly and drops again to the road, that wends its way through the Harthope Valley. A mecca for tourists and painters.
Linda by now had settled into the ride well, an experienced Endurance rider, with many miles in hand, she was clearly enjoying herself. Once on the road, we turned left and headed towards Langlee, a small settement, on the Eastern side of the Harthope Burn at GR963233. There is a bridge here, easily crossed, and having done so, the track turns sharp right, at a finger post, indicating “The Dod”. The track over the bridge, is declared to be private, but in fact is not. We headed South West, along the flank of the base of Langlee Crags, after a short distance on a good track, there is a well built sheepfold.
It is here that you will find out just how fit you are! Not what you believe yourself to be!!
Linda and I dismounted for this! And then the sun really came out! The wind dropped, and out came the dreaded cleggs!!!!!!
The climb starts at the 250m contour, and continues ever upwards and passes the 350m contour! A heart wrenching and lung bursting climb!

It was here that I thought my heart was climbing out of my chest to get air! Of course the ever young Linda was way ahead. There are no photos of this, as neither one of us could hold a camera steady!!
At the 350m contour, GR 962221, there is a gate in a wall. It is here that the route could become very difficult. DO NOT GO THROUGH THIS GATE!! Instead turn North East, and follow the stalkers track, shown on the map that travels clockwise
around Langlee Crags.
To Middleton Crags
(The stalkers track around Langlee crags)

This track presented us with no problems and gave the horses and us, a rest. The route continues around the Crags until it meets with another coming from the North. We joined this and headed South. This then would lead us to Middleton Crags, where the route heads South East downhill, passing Steel Crag away to the right. Behind Steel Crag, is the Northerly point of Threestoneburn Wood.
Threestoneburn Wood
(Threestoneburn Wood)
Reknowned for its red squirrels and Stone Circles. Unfortunately, within the next couple of years, the Lilburn estate will fell this one million tree site, leaving a very large scar on this hill. There are plans to build a 6 kilometer road to the wood, but with local objections, the row is fierce.

Our track continues SE, and joins the gravel road from Threestoneburn Wood at GR985202. This continues on to The Dod, a lonely farm nestled high on the Cheviot Hills. This was our half way point on the ride, well almost!

To avoid any confusion, this part of the route causes more problems than enough. So here we go! Pass by The Dod, keeping it on your right. This track heads East towards the sheep pens that are attached to the farm. There is a sign that indicates a Bridleway through the farm. This is wrong!!!! Carry straight on until you come to a sheepfold at GR 999195. The Bridleway from here is indistinct, however, there is a track heading SW, and leads into a very messy area. But, as you travel this path, a quad bike track will appear on the left. Follow this, it leads to a second sheep fold at GR995184. Keeping this sheepfold on your left, follow the quad bike trail across the marsh, until a large gate is seen ahead, at GR 993181. ( I don’t generally follow quad bike routes, as they can cross ground that horses cant, but in this case, it was crossing marsh grass on good ground.)
Once there, the route becomes an open grassy Bridleway all the way to Linhope.
The Moor across to Linhope
(Bridleway to Linhope)

Following the Way markers, is not a problem.
The heat of the afternoon was quite something, made worse by the clouds of flies surrounding the horses heads and our own.

Arriving at Linhope was a real pleasure, a very rural place, situated at the head of the Ingram Valley, with the Breamish River running through it. Visitors regularly come here to see the Linhope Spout, a waterfall of some repute. Our time showed just a little before 4pm. This was an outstanding time, well in advance of the previous years timings. But last year Bobby and I had some route finding issues. A short break was called for at Linhope, all the horses were sprayed liberally with fly repelant, as were we. With the horses grazed, we pressed on, our pace was a brisk walk mostly, with the odd trot, here we were able to trot on to Hartside, a small farm 1km, East of Linhope. There we turned right and followed the very rutted road to Alnhamoor Farm.

Our route was to pass by the farm, and cross the River Breamish some 200 m further on, here we watered the horses and noticed that there were several Mink traps. They obviously had problems with them!
Crossing the Breamish, we had our second canter of the day across an open flat field, before we began the final short climb of the day towards the ford at the corner of a wood known as Cobden Cleugh. This gate was stapled shut last year, but as was promised by the local farmer, it was open! Our ride had been wonderful, wonderful scenery, great company from Linda and despite her worries at the start of the day, she had committed to a ride, based on face value, and with trust. I thank her for that. Her smiling face throughout the ride, and with all the difficulties we did encounter, such as flies, cleggs, and hard going, Linda never once made any reference to them. A fine intrepid rider and good company, and I am happy to call her my friend.

With Cobden Cleugh behind we started for the Red Track, that runs across Leafield edge to Northfieldhead Hill. This track, was destined to be cantered! And we did! A fine collected canter along the old Roman Road, so called Red, because of the colour of the surface material.
The Red Track above Alnham
(The Red Track above Alnham)
Above Alnham

Our final descent was to be from above the Medieval Village of Alnham. But before we could, we received texts from Shiela, who had reached Well house farm earlier that day. Shiela had crossed the Border Ridge at around midday, and arrived at the farm by 3.30pm. A fantastic achievement.

Our descent to Alnham was uneventful, and led Linda and I, to the road for Scainwood. A short trot along to Scrainwood, allowed both of us to take stock of a fabulous ride. The next section was easy, at Eli Law, we crossed two fields and passed through Cote Walls, from there it was a short hop to Well House Farm. 
(WellHouse Farm)
We arrived at 7.30pm! The horses were still in good heart, and although we were tired , we felt elated! A cry to the house! “ Hello the house?” And the welcoming figure of Jan, the owner of our resting spot, giving cheery “hello`s!” She was accompanied by Shiela, we dismounted and with hugs all around, we led our mounts to the field.
A good feed for them both, and Leah and Gracie leapt into a sea of quality grass! There we left the pair, a couple of real hero`s!

For us? A bath for Linda and a hot shower for me! What can I say? It was truly brilliant, and I needn’t have worried about recapturing the pleasure of last year. All was well.

We had a fine meal that evening, made even better by Jan`s wonderful Cinder Toffee ice cream, home made! By the time we all told our stories of the day, it was late, and I for one was tired. So a little after 10pm, I adopted the prone position, and slept.

Saturday 10th July

Rest day! I was up at 5.30am! Fantastic, checking the horses, and feeding Gracie was a pleasure, She was covered in sheep muck! Green was her new colour! However, after a good wash and a brush up, she looked normal again, I checked for any injuries but found none. That was the most gratifying event of this day. After a short walk before breakfast, I returned to Well House Farm and there spent a pleasant hour talking to Jimmy, Jan`s husband.. The talk of the day was silage, and what the weather was doing. Breakfast was a sight to behold, eggs, bacon, mushrooms! And more!

The rest of the day was spent relaxing and checking the horses, and while Linda and Shiela visited Alnwick Gardens, I had an afternoon snooze!
A very nice evening followed, made even more wonderful by pleasant company.

Sunday 12th July
The return journey, all three of us. Our goodbyes were said and breakfast over, horses saddled, and sandwiches packed. With a wave of our hands, we left the comfort of Jan and Jimmy`s place, and trotted off down the road, towards The Peels.

Leaving Wellhouse Farm
( Leaving on the last day)
The three miles to Alwinton, some passing gate openers! And with a calmness born out of a settled mind, we rode on.
Shiela and Linda paired up and chatted amiably, it was pleasant to hear. However as we passed through Alwinton, I noticed that the pub was closed, well it would be at 9am!

Our first turn off was at GR906065, a bridleway leaves the road and climbs gently up to Pass Peth, at 300m.

A small plateau, with a view towards Upper Coquetdale. Well possibly, was it not for the impending rain clouds! The ride down the NW side of the hill was slippery, due to the rain that had started. I donned my slicker and rode on, the girls stopping for their jackets. By the time we got off the hillside it was that thick fine drizzle, that soaking kind.
At GR 896072, the map shows a waterfall, well almost, and in very wet weather I could possibly see it. Only now it was dry and very rocky, and slightly steep. The horses scrambled up it, and over. We passed sheepfolds and after a short while we arrived at Schillmoor Farm. Here we are back on the road again, for several miles until passing Barrowburn, we reached the start of The Street.
Lunch at Swineside Law
(Resting at Swineside Law)

The grid reference for this is GR859114. The Street rises from the road, and climbs above the Rowhope Burn. The Street, a Roman Road of great antiquity, passes above a small wood called Dreary Syke, and then follows a fence line across Hindside Knowe. From the start of this route, you must keep to the right of the fence line. The climb upwards reaches heights of 410m. We rode along the track that countless Roman troops had trod, that they had fought for, and died making. It is quite impressive to see this road, still working today and solid. We had lunch at Swineside Law, the eastern slope has a purpose built “patio” for horses and riders to enjoy the view from. I took time out to survey the scene, for those of an artistic bent, the vista was magnificent, stretching away to the North and East, were the summits of Windy Gyle, Kings Seat, and the great Cheviot. All strung with the necklace of the Pennine Way.

Our route was showing its wildness, as the rain came down again, destroying the views. Undaunted we re-mounted and rode downhill towards the coll, that lies between Swineside Law and Black Braes. Again we headed North along the ridge that forms the The Street, easily followed, and as we did so, it became clear to see why the wily Romans built this high road.

We crossed the summit of Black Braes, lying at 509m it is windswept and beautiful. At Plea Knowe we came across a lone walker, he and his dog, were resting between showers of rain, a good move!
From Plea Knowe, we rode slightly downhill, along a rough cleft in the hillside, until
we arrived at Foul Step.
Foul Step
(In the section known as Foul Step looking NNW, its raining)
From here we began our descent.
Shiela & Myself at Foul Step
(Descending from Foul Step)
The horses, began to show signs of knowing that they were on there way home. Ears pricked and feet quickening, the slope down to Gunners Well, a long easy graded route, was a real pleasure. We were strung out in a neat line, all with our own thoughts, Sheila, our navigator, had done a brilliant job. Staying faithful to the line of The Street, we found ourselves at Mid Hill. Calroust Common, an area of flat land with two marked fields. The Street was heading NW at this point, and so did we, stretching far away into the distance we were able to see The Schill, where Linda and I had started on the Friday before. How long ago it seemed.
It is worth noting here that this area is full of wonderful earthworks and hill forts, such as Blackbrough Hill. Our route was to alter course soon after this, and lead us on the homeward leg.
Linda, on The Street,
(On the homeward leg, Linda smiles)
It was almost 2.30pm, and already the end of our day was insight. After turning down towards Belford, we enjoyed the afternoon sun on our backs, the talk was of everything and anything. Passing sheep folds full of ready to sheer sheep, at Belford Hope, we followed the Hall Burn into the tiny hamlet of Belford. From here it was but 15 minutes to Cliftoncote Farm
Nearly there, Belford.
( The Belford track, stony, but easy)
I was sad, and happy, that we had completed the trip, all three of us were intensely satisfied at the achievement of man, woman and horses. It had been a fine route.

At our arrival at Cliftoncote Farm we were greeted by a very happy Angela, who informed us that a late afternoon tea was waiting for us. Having unsaddled and letting the horses graze, we indulged in some rather good quiche, cheese cake, and rock buns. All washed down with a fresh cup of Earl Grey tea. Wonderful! I will be back.

Then it was home time.

Leah Warrior Sorry,Gracie wouldn’t appear!
Leah. Warrior

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