STEPPING OUT: Exploring a favourite part of the Cheviots

The Schil
The Schil

We have ventured into a remote part of the Cheviot Hills for this month’s walk.

This wonderful walk explores my favourite part of the hills. You climb up along St Cuthbert’s Way to the Border fence, from where you are treated to a real sense of isolation.

The Schil

The Schil

The highlight of the walk is the ascent of The Schil, from where you are treated to some of the most spectacular views in Northumberland.

To start, turn right out of Hethpool car park on to the road. Cross the cattle grid and walk through the small hamlet of Hethpool. As the road bends around to your right, turn left, crossing a cattle grid and continue along the single-track road, passing some sheep-handling pens immediately on your left. Continue on the road, ignoring the permissive path going off to your right.

Away to your left there is a prominent peak with bracken covering its slopes. This is Little Hetha and once had a fort on its summit.

The road drops down and crosses a cattle grid. You are walking along a section of St Cuthbert’s Way.

Jon Monks walk'The Schil

Jon Monks walk'The Schil

St Cuthbert’s Way is a long distance path (62 miles) which runs from Melrose, in Scotland to Holy Island.

The walk is named after a 7th century saint. Cuthbert was a native of the Borders who spent his life in the service of the church. He achieved the status of Bishop and when he died he was buried on Holy Island. He was called a saint 11 years after his death.

Continue on the road as it winds its way up the valley. Ignore the permissive path going off to your left (leading to Great Hetha). Just after the path bear right, at the fork in the road and pass a sign for Elsdonburn 1⁄2.

Cross over the cattle grid as you head up the valley to the farm, passing a plantation on your right.

Immediately after you cross a small bridge taking you over the Elsdon Burn turn left (signpost, Public Footpath - Border Ridge 1 1⁄2).

Walk up, passing the bungalow on your right, then turn right, passing through a large gate. Follow the track as you rise up, passing the bungalow on your right as you climb away from the farm.

After a short while you reach and pass through a large gate. Shortly after this, bear right at the fork in the track and follow it as it drops down, crosses a small burn called Shank’s Sike and rises up to a large gate.

Pass through the gate in to the field and walk in the direction of the arrow on the marker post pointing directly across the centre of the field, rising up to the forest.

Away to your right you have two prominent hills. The one on the right is called Ring Chesters, this had a fort on top. The one on the left is called Coldsmouth Hill. Between these two hills on the lower lying ground is a circular sheep stell. This would have been used in the past to protect stock during poor weather.

The hill forts in the area were built by ancient Britons over 2,000 years ago. They were not built solely for defence but may have been used for ceremonial or ritual use.

As you approach the forest you can see a gap in the trees where the path enters the plantation. Cross the stile into the forest and follow the prominent path.

Continue on the path as it runs along the edge of the forest before going back into the body of it.

Cross the stile taking you out of the forest. Walk directly away from the forest for about 25 yards, then bear right on a path that slowly descends, passing a marker post on your left down to a burn. Cross it and follow the prominent path as it rises up through a bracken-covered hillside, passing a number of marker posts.

The path rises steeply as you approach the border fence. As you reach the highest point you are greeted to a spectacular view of the lower lying ground of the Scottish Borders.

Drop down to a small gate, pass through it and enter Scotland.

Continue on and follow the prominent path away from the gate, passing a marker post as you drop down and rise up to a Public Footpath sign.

Turn left at this sign (signpost - Pennine Way) and follow the prominent path. Just before you reach the Border fence again you bear right (signpost – Pennine Way).

Follow the path that is running parallel to a wall on your left as you drop down and rise up steeply to Whitelaw Nick. You are walking along the last section of the Pennine Way so keep your eyes open for weary walkers coming in the opposite direction who are treading the last few miles.

The Pennine Way was the first UK Long Distance Path (now National Trail) and was officially opened in 1965.

In 1989, it was 502km (314 miles) in total, including loops. By 1994, rationalisation of some of the misalignments had reduced this to 463km (289 miles).

Continue to climb up to Whitelaw Nick. Upon reaching it you cross a ladder stile and turn left (signpost - Pennine Way) following the Border fence on your left as you climb up to White Law.

The summit of White Law is approximately where the three fences meet on the high ground. Continue on, with the Border fence on your left as you drop down steeply.

Follow the Border fence as you climb up to and cross a stile. Continue to follow the fence on your left then cross another stile. Bear right on the prominent path as you leave the Border fence.

The path drops down to a large signpost. Upon reaching the three-way signpost bear left (signpost – Pennine Way). Away to your left you have the summit of Black Hag (549 metres).

At the fork in the path bear left, passing a marker post. A four-wheel drive motorbike has created the track going off to the right.

In recent years the four-wheel drive motorbike has revolutionised the hill shepherd’s life. It has changed the ways the uplands have been farmed, making the hills far easier to farm.

Cross over the ladder stile and turn right (signpost – Pennine Way, Public Footpath The Schil 1). Continue along the prominent path with the wall on your right and pass over the stile.

After a while the wall goes off through 90 degrees to the right but you continue to follow the fence as you start to ascend up to the summit of The Schil.

Upon reaching the top you have to cross the fence on your right to get to the true summit which is the rocky outcrop.

The Schil stands at 601 metres high. This sadly does not make it to the magical 610 metres (2,000 feet) high. This is the height when hills are classed as mountains.

The Schil still treats you to some of the finest views in the Cheviots.

If you visited the summit return to the fence and cross it, taking you back on to the English side.

Turn right and follow the fence on your right. Just as you start to drop down there is a rocky outcrop on your left. If you leave the path and look around the back of this you will see a small brass plaque in memory of Steve Bertram, who died on 20/11/99.

Continue following the fence on your right as you drop down. Away to your left you get your first view of the College Valley. Drop down to and cross a stile. Continue on, following the fence on your right.

The path that we want is located just before a small red-coloured valley on your left. We will return back to it, but if you have the time it is well worth a short detour to the Mountain Rescue Hut just a little way on.

The hut that stands here replaced an old railway wagon, placed on the other side of the border fence by the Border Rescue team in 1971 and was brought up by tractor. The present hut replaced it in 1988 after being airlifted in by helicopter.

Return back to the red valley (Red Cribs) you passed earlier and immediately after it turn right down the path to the valley floor below.

Cross the small burn, which runs under the path in a large pipe. Turn left after this at the marker post and follow the prominent path with the burn on your left.

Continue on, crossing the burn again and follow the path that runs parallel to the College Burn, which is on your right.

Pass through a tall gate in to a newly-planted area and continue on the prominent path. Leave the plantation through a large gate next to the information board and continue along the bridleway (don’t go down to the gate to your right).

Continue along the track and bear right at the fork (don’t go through the gate taking you into the plantation) and go to and pass through a large wooden gate. You pass below some sheep-handling pens as you continue along a lane with the College Burn away to your right.

Pass through a large gate and continue on, passing a house called Mounthooly on your right. You come down to the road, bear left along it.

Pass through the large wooden gate and continue on sticking to the road as you make your way down the valley. You cross threecattle grids before passing Fleehope, a white bungalow.

Just after this you pass some sheep-handling pens on your right. Continue on, passing through the metal gate.

As you continue down the road you come across the War Memorial, opposite the village hall. It is in memory of the allied airmen who lost their lives in the Cheviots 1939–1945. On the top of the memorial stone is an informative map indicating the location of all the air crashes in the Cheviots during the Second World War.

Continue on the road as you go down the valley. Ignore all the paths leading from it and eventually you will return back to your car.


taking in The Schil is the difficult route and will take around seven hours.


Explorer OL16.

Start and Finish

Hethpool car park (Grid reference – NT 894281). From Wooler go north up the A697. Just after Akeld turn left along the B6351; pass through Kirknewton and in Westnewton

turn left (signpost, Hethpool). Upon reaching Hethpool pass through the village. The car park is situated just after the cattle grid after you leave the village.

The route is good underfoot

but strong shoes and waterproof clothing are essential.