Sunday, 2 August 2009


Gets a whole blog entry to itself. A working hill farm run by the Freeland-Cook family, the emphasis is firmly on the 'working' - they don't often stop! Sheep, cattle, goats and hens, contracting, a digger business, as well as the farm b and b and self-catering cottages. While I was there, Angela was recovering from broken ribs - if that was her at half-throttle, full throttle could be a bit alarming!

The solid farmhouse, parts of which date back to the 1600s, sits in a prominent position with extensive views up and down the Bowmont Valley. Currently those views include the havoc wreaked by the recent severe flooding: fences destroyed, river-borne rubble everywhere on those lovely river haughs and big bale feeders crushed into mangled shapes and tossed aside, as if by the hand of a malevolent giant.

Cliftoncote, sitting high above the river, was spared water through the house and farm buildings- though some neighbours weren't so lucky: with several houses still cut off by the time we arrived in the valley. Heartbreaking, especially as this is the second flood of these proportions within six months. Farmers explained that the river valley is an SSSI, and thus, Scottish Natural Heritage and SEPA are reluctant for them to interfere with the course of the river by building flood protection measures - although it looks as if a compromise may have to be reached before the valley inhabitants are all bankrupted covering their repeated losses.

But nothing can take away from the ancient pull of the land. Everywhere there is evidence of ancient settlement: hill forts, cultivation terraces and old homesteads. The OS map has more antique curly writing than modern Helvetica (or whatever font they use).

I have written elsewhere of the sense of humble excitement and history I get from travelling these ancient tracks: I can so easily imagine early farmers, soldiers, drivers and the like using them before me. In an area like this one, it's not hard to half-close your eyes and feel what it must have been like a couple of thousand years ago. (Except it would I think have been warmer: I understand that's why the cultivation terraces etc were abandoned, as the climate cooled and got wetter - could they really have grown vines here?)

The Cheviot tracks are an intricate maze of cross-crossing byways - in places it's the Spaghetti Junction of its day where half a dozen tracks may intersect. Fabulous to ride on too, many of them springy turf stretching away onto the distance. You do need a good map and compass would be fairly easy to get lost, especially in poor visibility. Your horse needs to be confident crossing water and soft ground, and in some places the tracks are stony. VyvWood-Gee, the trackmeister who has done such sterling work for access all over Scotland, describes the Cheviots as the finest riding in Britain, and from what I have seen (a small sample) I would absolutely agree. But we didn't see one other rider, nor indeed hoofprints or dung suggesting we weren't the first - so it's for riders who like their solitude!

Yeoman's temporary lameness turned out to be a blessing - instead of a quick look before hoofing it over the Cheviots, we were forced to stay nearby for a few hardship that.

I don't think I had really realized how tired I was: well, you don't, when each day is taken up with packing up and moving on. Cliftoncote gave me a chance to let my soul catch up with me and take some rest in a very comfortable home with (very) ample supplies of delicious food...and an excellent pub in the village!

Great facilities for horses too, and those fabulous tracks radiating out in every direction (more about those next time).

It's a good job I don't live any nearer or I'd be down every other weekend- but Cliftoncote, we'll be back...

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